Letter From the Editors

A phrase that has haunted political thought in Moscow since the Gorbachev era is “the end of history.” It dates to a 1989 article by a young RAND analyst named Francis Fukuyama, who predicted the triumph of Western liberalism over communism. As Fyodor Lukyanov writes in Rossiiskaya gazeta this week: “The slogan about ‘the end of history’ implied that from now on, everything would be fine but unchangeable – that what was supposed to happen had already happened. . . . The only question was when this future would encompass the whole world.” Lukyanov concludes that recent events belie the above assumptions: Despite the globalization and technological breakthroughs that seemed to put the future in our hands, that future has turned out to be messy and unpredictable. (By the way, Fukuyama would agree: A New Yorker review of his 2018 book on identity politics is titled: “Francis Fukuyama Postpones the End of History.”)

Moreover, in Lukyanov’s view, there’s also a new trend toward demonizing technology, rather than idolizing it: Witness the scapegoating of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. And, of course, there’s the pandemic, which has forced us to rethink how the world should and must work.

As if to emphasize the end of post-cold war unity, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that as of Nov. 1, Moscow is suspending the operations of its representative office in NATO, and that the activities of the alliance’s Information Office and military mission in Russia will be terminated. An official statement from Moscow said these measures were taken in response to NATO’s Oct. 6 decision to revoke the accreditation of eight employees of Russia’s permanent mission and to reduce the mission’s size from 20 to 10 people (which, according to NATO itself, was in response to suspected “malign activities” by Russia).

Andrei Kortunov contends that Brussels initiated this break to pave the way for a new strategy, but provoked Russia to finalize the break: “The fact that the Russian side eventually played this game, by taking reciprocal steps, confirms that Moscow also considers the partnership with NATO to be played out.”

What new partnerships might take the place of Russia-NATO cooperation? Well, Moscow recently hosted the Taliban for the first time since the latter seized power in Afghanistan, although the group is still officially banned in Russia. Yevgeny Trifonov explains that Moscow’s gesture “is laying the groundwork for the future: This is not the first or second time that the Afghan government has changed, so there should be a familiar place for holding talks with the Taliban and the anti-Taliban.” Experts point out, however, that Moscow has made no promises to recognize the new powers in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Turkey is flexing its muscles in the region by promising Tajikistan protection from the Taliban. This is just one of President Erdogan’s recent moves to position his country as a world power. A more dramatic one was his statement to the Angolan parliament that the fate of humanity cannot be left to the mercy of the handful of countries that won World War II (referring to the permanent members of the UN Security Council). Could Erdogan be the next disrupter of the world order? Vladimir Frolov concedes that, unlike most of today’s aspirants to greatness, he has an ideology, but what is it exactly – Neo-Ottomanism, pan-Turkism, pan-Islamism? When you look at Ankara’s politics more closely, Frolov says, it comes down to rhetorical statements and opportunistic agreements.

One agreement that may be more significant is a joint US-Russia resolution on responsible behavior in cyber space, which they submitted to the UN General Assembly. According to Andrei Krutskikh, Russian special envoy on information security, this “unprecedented move” was possible because the two countries set aside their political differences to adopt a pragmatic, constructive and responsible approach.

If this is what the future looks like – a world where people recognize their own divergent identities but work together toward reimagined possibilities – then that gives hope for our lives after “the end of history.”