Tensions between the United States and Russia do not appear to be decreasing, in spite of a “Russian agent” having been elected to the White House. What’s the whole point of having a Russian agent installed in the most powerful office in the world, if your agent then turns our back to you? Letting this little thing aside, the recent Russiagate has contributed to one strange phenomenon: people, in the US, in Europe, in Russia and ultimately across the world seem to have divided into two large opposing camps, those who side with the United States and those who side with Russia. It is obviously an extreme simplification, but it works well as a functional simplification for our analysis here. Whatever the arguments and the justifications offered to explain and understand the morality and the rightfulness of the actions of the two rivals, one giant piece of rhetorical weapon always looms large in this sort of disputes. It may not be an entirely fair point, but we cannot deny that it has some legitimacy. The argument roughly goes like this: look at the US and look at Russia, which country is a better shape? The United States is the only global superpower, the United States is the leading force behind technological progress; and ultimately the United States is so much richer than Russia, it has a GDP per capita of almost $ 60,000 a year, whereas in Russia the average salary is $ 450 a month! And there must be something to it, right? Would you rather like to live like the average wealthy American or like the average poor Russian? What world would you rather live in, the world built on the example of the most prosperous and progressive society on Earth or in the world created in the image of Mordor?
Well, for one thing, being wealthy does not have to equate to being right and just, does it? We know this from our own lives; why what would sound absurd at the level of individuals (wealth, morality and justice have very little to do with each other) should be true at the more general level of countries and nations? And second yes, the United States is stronger economically than Russia; but how did it come to this? Saying that Russia is simply economically inept is really too simplistic an argument. Certainly, the Russians have made mistakes when they transitioned from a highly inefficient centralized system of prices and production quotas to a market economy in the 1990s but perhaps their biggest mistake is precisely that they looked West for too long, putting their entire trust in institutions like the IMF and the World Bank and being willing to follow all the prescriptions of a group of Western advisors eagerly to engage in one of the most destructive social experiments of history, market fundamentalism. In fact the West was instrumental in building the very oligarchy that is still present today. The West directly advised Gaidar on what policies to implement. How ruinous was shock therapy for Russia? But the West at the time did not have much to say about this, because they believed an oligarchy in Russia would act as a bulwark against a swift return to Communism.
In the space of a just a few years, from the moment the Soviet Union collapsed to when Russia defaulted on her foreign debt in 1998, the Russian economy had declined by more than 50%! And there is also the question of geography. Of the roughly 140 million people that make up the population of Russia, almost 110 million live in the European part of the country, that is to say, West of the Urals. The natural market for Russian products and goods would appear to be Europe. For several reasons, all the various resets in relationship with the West got Russia nowhere and the country has almost been forced to change policy and forge closer ties with Asia. In fact, geography in every sense of the word is vital for this huge country: Russia’s size itself presents a formidable challenge.
Economic comparisons with the West are not really fair, because they deceive. The West rose at a critical point in human development, and this development also had its moments where decline set in: colonisation and imperialism, not to mention slavery, have at times all brought great economic development. And this colonisation is still very important today. The West has done really well at protecting its position as the leader in the world. This has been built on three tenets. One, trade tariffs protect against the global South and against poorer countries. Two, the corruption of African leaders ever since the end of colonisation (replaced with neocolonisation) gave the West access to cheap commodities: the Chinese have understood this very well and now it is in Africa that they are challenging the Western hegemony, having learned the art of corruption and bribery too. The third crucial point is capital flight to the USA and Europe of corrupt money from all around the globe, that is money from outside this transatlantic space. An example for every single dollar of money that goes to Africa, 3 leave and come to the financial centres of the West. This is corrupt money that the West knowingly accepts and that the West plays a prominent role in creating. The West has also offered security to foreign investment, the block works well together, the whole of the West pulls in one direction, because generally Western countries have common interests. The question is: does the West profit from destabilising other regions on purpose? For certain the West gains from chaos elsewhere.
Additional factors include the IMF, the WTO, the World Bank: in one way or another, all of them seek to perpetuate the dominant position of the West, and when there are disagreements the West does not refrain from imposing sanctions on other countries through these institutions. All the many accrediting agencies are American. In brief, the West dominates in a world where the conditions are not equal for everyone, and where the major institution in fact perpetuate this rigged system. Brzezinski’s Chess Board theory is important even economically, because the key point there is: do not to let Russia dominate the Eurasian plain. Let them share a free market with the EU, then let’s see where Russia will be in 20 years. Russia would be too heavy a weight for such an organism like the European Union: this is the main reason why it will never be let join this common market. The mere spectre of Ukraine, a country whose economy lies almost in ruins since the collapse of the Soviet Union, possibly joining the Russian guided project of a Eurasian Union, presented a not small risk to the West, let alone Russia being able to trade openly with all of Europe. In short: there will always be a reason to place sanctions on Russia, you can pull any excuse from the sky. But the whole of liberal institutionalism is based on the idea that economic exchange is the way to advance democratic and peaceful interstate cooperation, so why does not the West let Russia trade freely, instead of consigning them to be a mere commodity state? The reason the West does not do such a thing is because Western leaders don’t believe their own theoretical bulls**t. Their position, they feel, is threatened by what would be a more powerful Russia.
Sure, Russia had made mistakes, even in the management of the economy but they alone are not to blame, and the West can change Russia’s economic development more than Russia can. They are simply not interested in doing so. But this order of things will certainly not be eternal and it is bound to change at some point; just one example: is having a 19 trillion debt (and growing) to maintain to best way for your country to work long term? I wonder what Russia (or any country, for that matter) would do with 19 trillion and all the same conditions the US has.
Yes, the image of Western wealth is very attractive, and things work rather well here, this is a strong propaganda point. Society at our level is not so corrupt, I don’t need to pay a bribe to see the doctor and in general people in Europe don’t pay for such things, although it is on the increase. But in general, the West is heading slowly that way, where the democratic, progressive policies are being undermined by the neoliberal business outlook, nations are spiralling downwards in debt, and the system needs an overhaul. Russia was a failed state effectively 26 years ago, the shock therapy made this even worse. They did well to recover. But the idea that Russia can have a successful future based on a Western liberal model is complete fantasy, because the global liberal order is all about power too, and Russia, by definition, cannot be allowed to become more powerful than the West irrespective of the political model. In fact, when Putin emerged, inheriting in fact a broken country, he was very friendly to the West and he filled his cabinet with liberals and friends of the West, these very liberals who had been privatising all the state assets, bought by Western firms. History has proven this was not the right course for Russia and it has been justly reversed. If Russia wants to prosper, it needs to keep her core industries in the grip of the government. In this respect, she will never be like the West: but why should she would have to? Is the West really the only possible form of modern civilization?