The End Of Geography: Russia Is Looking For A Place In Multipolar World

I'm not sure whether the current inhabitants of the Kremlin have time to read books and, if they do, whether they've had a chance to read Fareed Zakharia's latest, "The Post-American World."  But I suspect that they're aware of the term "post-Americanism."  And I'm certain that the folks in the Kremlin have heard about the report, "Global Trends 2025", prepared for the next U.S. president by the U.S. intelligence community.

As described last week by the Washington Post,  the report predicts "a steady decline in U.S. dominance in the coming decades."  Taking place "at an accelerating pace", the decline spreads over "political, economic and arguably, cultural arenas."  Even the traditional U.S. superiority in military power won't stop the slide, because, report argues, "nobody is going to attack us with massive conventional force." 

The U.S. reaction to the results of the Five-Day War between Russia and Georgia appears to be the first tangible sign of the United States entering the "post-American" era.  

For years, the U.S. has been providing Georgia with military assistance, while pretending in the meantime that it didn't suspect how these newly-acquired military capacities will be used.  For all these years, it has been explicitly understood that the Saakashvili regime in Tbilisi had the full backing of Washington. 

Yet, when responding to Georgia's assault on South Ossetia on August 7th, Russian troops routed the Georgian army, the White House immediately made it clear that it was't going to defend its defeated client militarily.  And then, the United States has moved to the sidelines and abdicated all the responsibility for the political resolution of the conflict  in favor of the "resurgent" (diplomatically speaking) France.

David Ignatius of the Post has hailed the U.S. post-war response as a triumph of "caution over confrontation."  Hmm, there seem to be different ways of describing "post-Americanism"…

As far as Russia is concerned, the major task now facing its leadership is to find Russia's place in the emerging "post-American", multipolar world. 

What makes this task nontrivial is the fact that — as the war with Georgia has clearly demonstrated – Russia has very few, if any, real friends around the world.

For years, Russian political elites believed that they could leverage Russia's supposedly warm relations with China in their dialogue with the West.  Yet China's reaction to Russia's actions in Georgia has turned out to be somewhat between lukewarm and openly hostile.  The recent decision of the Asian Development Bank to approve a low-interest $40 million loan to Georgia suggests that such a sentiment might be prevailing over the whole Asian continent.

True, it's quite conceivable that privately, Chinese leaders sound more accommodating than in public.  However, it should be obvious to the Kremlin that "friendship" with China won't come cheap. 

A lesson that Russia would be wise to learn in the wake of the war is that the "West" — a unified force during the Cold War — doesn't exist anymore.  In the multipolar world Russia is so craving for, the "West" consists of the United States, Western ("Old"), and Central/Eastern ("New") Europe. 

Russian relations with the U.S. have hit rock bottom and will stay there for at least a year, until the next administration in Washington has time to go through a long list of urgent issues.  President Medvedev should use this "strategic pause" to compose a list of favors he could do for the next American president and, yes, a list of tough responses Russia would take should it feel that its interests are threatened or underappreciated. 

Medvedev is a more mature politician than either Obama or McCain, and it'll be up to him to set up an agenda for the future U.S.-Russian cooperation.  The "U.S.-Russia Strategic Framework Declaration", a document signed by Bush and Putin in Sochi in April, is a great place to start.  

I've said it before and can only repeat: strategic partnership between United States and Russia has no geopolitical alternatives.

Russia should turn down the rhetoric against its critics in Eastern and Central Europe, especially Poland and the Baltic countries.  No matter what their leaders are saying, they've learned their lessons of the Five-Day War, too.  There is no reason to antagonize them beyond limits.

Finally, the Russian leadership should realize that the major, if not the only, reason why Russia wasn't further isolated or even sanctioned is its 233-billion-euro trade with the EU, the bulk of which is falling on Germany, Italy, and France.  Given that 57 percent of Russia's import and one third of investments in Russia come from Europe, Russia's future European policy can be formulated in three short sentences:

Reward Germany.  Reward Italy.  Reward France.




About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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