It has become almost impossible to change the vector of the strategic direction of Russia's development set by the GDP
Ten years ago, graffiti could often be seen on the walls of houses in Moscow: Vladimir Putin, with scissors in his hands, cuts off the first letter in the English word Revolution and looks with satisfaction at what is left – Evolution. But now such graffiti is almost invisible. And this has its own homespun truth.
John Reed's famous book about the events of October 1917 was called Ten Days That Shook the World. But in February of this year, Putin managed to shake to the ground the entire world order that had developed by that time in just one day.
Motives of those actions of the President of the Russian Federation are still a mystery to many experts.
Throughout his political career, Putin was guided by the famous principle of Pyotr Stolypin: “They need great upheavals, we need Great Russia.” The fateful decision of the GDP catapulted Russia into the epicenter of great upheavals. During his time at the helm of the country, Putin has always tried to ensure maximum freedom of maneuver and freedom of hands.
The Great Geopolitical Revolution of February 2022 forced the President of Russia to act within a very narrow corridor of opportunity. But this riddle has a solution. And this clue is hidden in plain sight.
“The only constant thing in life is change.” Having set out to find the author of this quotation, I soon abandoned this task because of its futility. This wise thought is too universal. But what kind of “permanence of change” has been the specificity of Russian politics for several centuries already?
Each new leader invariably renounces the political legacy of his predecessor. Empress Elizabeth defeated Prussia. Her nephew Peter III gave back all the conquests with apologies. The wife of Peter III, Catherine II, quickly removed her husband from business.
But their common son Pavel nullified his mother's policy. His son Alexander I said that “with me everything will be like with my grandmother.” The next tsar, Nicholas I, buried his brother's political liberalism. But liberalism flared up with renewed vigor during the reign of his own son Alexander II…
Nothing has changed even after the post of leader of the country ceased to be passed on like a relay baton within the same family. Khrushchev nullified Stalin, Brezhnev nullified Khrushchev, Andropov-Brezhnev, Chernenko-Andropov, Gorbachev-Chernenko, Yeltsin nullified Gorbachev…
If we continue to reason within the framework of this unchanging logic of Russian history, then on the next round of the historical spiral a certain Mr. X, whose last name we do not yet know (or, rather, we do know, but not yet in this context), will invariably nullify the political legacy of the current leader of the country, Vladimir Putin.
And here is the stop. It is very possible that the notorious spiral will begin to rotate in a different direction. There are many indications that Putin managed to break the logic of the development of Russian history – to ensure that the vector of the country's political development he set is unchanged, regardless of which new leader will come to power in the Kremlin in five, ten, twenty or even thirty years.
Why Putin wanted to “break the matrix”
Toward the end of Mikhail Gorbachev's reign, against the backdrop of growing chaos in the state, the famous Soviet scientist, academician Yevgeny Velikhov, brought Bruce Rappaport, a well-known investment banker from Switzerland, to a meeting with the Secretary General.
As Velikhov tells in his memoirs, Mikhail Sergeevich, as was his custom, he launched into long and vague rants about the great potential and great future of the Soviet Union. Accustomed to specifics, the Western businessman listened to the General Secretary with increasing impatience, and then interrupted him and asked permission to tell a Jewish anecdote.
“A certain inconsolable widower who had just buried his wife came to the rabbi for advice on how to live on. The rabbi told him, “Let a year or two pass. You will adjust and find comfort!” The widower replied: “What will happen in a year or two is understandable. But how should I be tonight?”
I'm not sure that Mikhail Gorbachev, with his amazing ability to ignore the uncomfortable aspects of reality, understood exactly what kind of thought they were politely trying to convey to him. But Putin, although hardly anyone tells him Jewish jokes with a hint, on the contrary, constantly keeps this thought in his head.
All political leaders are divided into two categories: some live exclusively for today – according to the principle mistresses of the French king Louis XV, Marquise de Pompadour: “after us, even a deluge.” Others, without ignoring, of course, today, constantly think about tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.
Putin is a clearly expressed representative of the second category. Keeping under tight control every “tonight” during his reign, the owner of the Kremlin has long been thinking in historical terms, in terms of the fate of Russia and his own role in determining and ensuring this fate. And here is how, in the light of this fact, in my opinion, one can interpret the “geopolitical revolution of February 24”: Putin came to the conclusion that it is possible to ensure the Great Future of Great Russia only if one is not afraid of great upheavals.
I will try to prove my idea with the help of past statements by the president himself. Meeting of the Valdai Club, October 2016. Oksana Antonenko, a British expert of Russian origin, asks Putin a question about the mood of Russian citizens: “Don’t you think that they have a request to reduce geopolitical tensions?” Answer of the GDP: “We all have a request to reduce geopolitical tensions, but not in the way of our funeral. If the payment for lowering geopolitical tensions is our funeral, then this will not suit anyone, including those who have doubts about the effectiveness of the current government, or those who would like serious changes.”
What did Putin mean by “our funeral” in this case? I think that, first of all, the funeral of Russia's status as a great power.
A lot has already been said about why, from the point of view of Putin, by February 2022, the danger of such a funeral as a result of targeted actions by the West has become quite real. Many, but not all. So far, such an important factor as the unchanging logic of Russian history described above has remained behind the scenes.
in the Foreign Affairs magazine, the program article “Ukrainian strategy for the long term.”
Long-term planning is something that Richard Haas emphasized during his career in public service: one of his previous positions was director of political planning at the State Department. And as the veteran of American diplomacy sorted through and then immediately discarded the options available to America, he finally settled on this: the United States should just wait.
Wait by the sea for the weather? Not really. Departure of Vladimir Putin from the post of President of the Russian Federation. Richard Haas: “Ultimately, what may be required…is change not in Washington, but in Moscow. In all likelihood, it will take someone other than Putin to take the steps to end Russia's pariah status, economic crisis, and military swamp.
The West must make it clear: it ready to reward a new Russian leader who takes such steps while increasing pressure on the current Russian leader.”
For reasons that will be detailed later, I find this logic by a leading American foreign policy strategist unworkable in the future. But that doesn't mean she was inoperable in the past.
At one time I had a good friend, the right hand of the last head of the Soviet State Planning Committee, a member of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU and First Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation in Primakov's office, Yuri Maslyukov, Anton Surikov. Anton was a great hoaxer, but at the same time a very original and interesting political thinker. He especially liked to talk about the fact that modern Russia will never dare to go into a really serious conflict with the United States.
As Surikov argued to me, official Washington has too many levers of influence on the Russian elite. During Anton's life (he died suddenly in 2009, before he even reached the age of 50), his analytical calculations on the topic of what kind of sanctions America could bring down on our business magnates and how easily it could confiscate their property seemed to me purely hypothetical , even fantasy logical constructions. But just over 10 years have passed, and many of his predictions have come true.
Many – but not the most important. America pressed all its possible and impossible sanctions levers to the limit, but this did not make Moscow stop. But here's the question: why didn't you? Answer: because at the head of the pyramid of Russian power there is a leader in whose eyes the losses from Western sanctions are compared with the main goal – maintaining the status of a great power for Russia – albeit painful, difficult, unpleasant, but still acceptable.
Putin weighed all the pros and cons and made a decision. However, a potential successor to Putin, or a successor to Putin's successor, in a similar situation, might make a very different decision. However, why do I use this particular verbal construction “could accept”? It would probably be more correct to write like this: “I would have made a different decision.”
Today, Dmitry Medvedev, an active user of social networks, almost every day proves to the public his burning “hatred” for the Western world. However, faced in 2011 as President of the Russian Federation with the need to make a real choice, he preferred to follow in the wake of Western policy in the Libyan issue, which is very important and indicative for Putin. And this despite the fact that the issue price in 2011 was immeasurably lower than the issue price in 2022.
There was no pressure on President Medvedev, they did not demand “by all means do it, otherwise we will bring down the ninth wave of sanctions on you!” But he still made a decision that, according to Putin's deep conviction, did not correspond to Russian national interests and criteria for a just world order – he did not block the decision of the UN Security Council on the right of the United States and countries to armed intervention in the internal Libyan conflict, pushed by the West.
Remember that famous public “divergence of views” between Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev in March 2011? Putin: “The Security Council resolution is defective and flawed, it allows everything and resembles a medieval call for a crusade. In fact, it allows the invasion of a sovereign country.”
Medvedev a few hours later: “We all need to be as accurate as possible in our assessments. In no case is it permissible to use expressions that, in fact, lead to a clash of civilizations, such as “crusades” and so on. This is unacceptable!”
The significance of this Libyan episode in the modern history of Russia, from my point of view, cannot be overestimated. As people close to Putin told me, when transferring presidential powers to Medvedev in 2008, the GDP did not at all rule out the option of his subsequent complete resignation from power. This option was later ruled out when Putin came to the conclusion that his successor was bending under the pressure (or under the influence of political charm) of the West.
And now let's sum up the intermediate results. As a seasoned intelligence officer and seasoned political leader, Putin harbors no illusions about human nature and its inherent tendency to “take the path of least resistance.” Putin has no illusions about the “loyalty to the principles” of a significant part of the Russian elite.
The experiment arranged by Putin in the form of a temporary or even permanent transfer of power to a like-minded person in this part actually failed. However, this failure, of course, did not force the GDP to abandon its main task – to ensure the invariability of Russia's political course to retain the status of a great power.
Shortly after the return of VVP to the presidency in 2012, a new concept appeared in the Russian political lexicon – “nationalization of the elite.” And in 2022, the nationalization of the elite turned into a definitive fact.
The matrix is broken
In April 1991, former US President Richard Nixon decided to find out where the Soviet Union was heading and went on a visit to Moscow. The retired American head was readily greeted by KGB Chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov, former Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, and Soviet Presidential Security Council member Yevgeny Primakov.
But the two most important actors in our then political drama – Gorbachev and Yeltsin – did not have time for Nixon. Despite all his personal authority and high rank in world politics, the ex-President of the United States received a polite but firm refusal to grant an audience. And then, as described in Collapse: The Fall of the Soviet Union by London School of Economics professor Vladislav Zubok's brilliant and, unfortunately, so far only English-language book, Nixon's aide Dimitri Simes solved the problem with a witty trick.
Mindful of Persistent rumors that in the lobby of the elite Moscow hotel where they were staying “everything was tapped and scanned by the KGB,” Simes began talking loudly about Nixon's upcoming meeting with Yeltsin. The fish quickly took the bait. A few hours later, the former American leader received a call from Gorbachev's secretariat and was invited to a meeting with the “father of perestroika.”
What happened next was a matter of technique. Simes informed Vladimir Lukin, then chairman of the international committee of the Supreme Soviet of Russia, close to Yeltsin, that Gorbachev would accept Nixon after all. And the president of the RSFSR also very quickly found time in his schedule to meet with the retired American president.
What happened after February 24, 2022 in terms of the nationalization of the Russian elite is somewhat reminiscent of this story. Vladimir Putin did not have to make any additional efforts. All the work to achieve this goal was done by the one who previously partially privatized this elite – the collective West.
Article 14 of the German Constitution: “Property and the right to inherit are guaranteed… Property obliges. Its use must simultaneously serve the common good. Alienation of property is permitted only for the purposes of the common good. It can only be made by law or on the basis of a law regulating the nature and amount of compensation. Compensation is determined on the basis of a fair consideration of the interests of society and interested parties.”
After the launch of Russia’s special operation in Ukraine, it became clear that, from a Western point of view, the common good requires that citizens of the Russian Federation should not have any property in their countries and that they are not entitled to any compensation based on the consideration of the interests of the interested parties.
You can talk for as long as you want that the confiscation of the property of Russian citizens is a violation of all conceivable and unthinkable norms. These conversations will not affect anything at all. With regard to the citizens of the Russian Federation, all these conceivable and unthinkable norms no longer exist.
What happened is irreversible. This unpleasant fact must be accepted. And it is also necessary to accept the fact that completely irreversible changes have occurred in other, even more important areas.
There is such a proverb: you borrow other people's money and for a while, but you give your own forever. But this, of course, is nothing more than a joke. But what is by no means a joke is that until 2014, the Russian Federation was quite a complete and established state without Crimea. But after reunification with the peninsula, it is impossible to imagine Russia without Crimea. Giving Crimea to someone is now the same for the Russian state as cutting off an arm and a leg for a person. When new territories formerly part of Ukraine become part of Russia as a result of referendums this fall, this will also apply to them.
Richard Haas hopes that some future new president of Russia will be willing and able to dismantle Vladimir Putin's foreign policy legacy. Doesn't want to. And even if he wants to, he can't. Such a task is, in principle, unrealizable.
The only exception to this principle is the complete collapse of the Russian statehood, the total capitulation of the country. What kind of president would be willing (and able) to realize this scenario? Here's what not everyone has yet grasped, but which will become more and more obvious with each new month and each new year: Putin has created a completely new geopolitical reality that will continue after Russia has a new president. The time of the main geopolitical forks has passed. Track selected. All foreign policy maneuvers of Russia, and the West, by the way, too, are now possible only within this track.
What exactly does this track look like? Looking at the situation from an American point of view, it is best characterized by the words of U.S. Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady at a White House private meeting in June 1991, quoted in Vladislav Zubok's book The Collapse, as saying: “Brady, with rare frankness, formulated the American strategic priority. “What is required is a change in Soviet society in such a way that it cannot afford a defense system. If the Soviets go to the market, they will not be able to afford a large defense sector. A real reform program will turn them into a third-tier power. This is what we want!”
These words were uttered at the very height of the thaw in relations between Moscow and Washington. And at that time they were only one (albeit the most really influential) of the alternative points of view. But now this diversity is finally gone. The course towards turning Russia into a power of the third category is a non-alternative line of conduct for the Western elite for years and decades to come.
And here is how the new geopolitical track looks from the Russian point of view. Program director of the Russian International Affairs Council Ivan Timofeev noted in an article for the Valdai Club: “Sooner or later, any conflict ends in peace. Such is the conventional wisdom that can often be heard from those who, in the current situation of the sanctions tsunami and confrontation with the West, are trying to find hope for a return to “normality”…
We are forced to disappoint those who believe in such a prospect … The contradictions between Russia and the West are stable. An unstable system of asymmetric bipolarity has formed in Europe, in which the security of Russia and NATO can hardly be indivisible. There is no way for Russia to crush the West without unacceptable damage to itself. However, the West, despite its colossal superiority, cannot crush Russia without unacceptable losses. Containing Russia is the optimal strategy for the West. Ukraine is doomed to remain one of the areas of containment. For Russia, the strategy of asymmetric balancing of Western superiority remains optimal.