A speech and a program, by Jacques Sapir

The speech given by the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin [1], during the meeting of the eleventh “Valdai International Discussion Club” which was held in Sochi, is expected to play an important role in defining the foreign policy of Russia. This is not the first time that Putin engaged in such an exercise. He had already done it in Munich in February 2007 [2]. Whatever one may think of Russian foreign policy, one should stop and try to understand what such a discourse means. It’s not every day, in fact, that an officer of the importance of Putin expresses himself about the fundamental nature of international relations. The comparison between the speech of October 24, 2014 in Sochi and that of 2007 will become even more important. Coming after a period of international tension caused by the US invasion of Iraq, the Munich speech was expressing some sort of net result. This speech showed at least recognition of a dangerous crisis in representing international relations with respect to which it was important. It is unfortunate that this speech, although discussed and widely commented on among scholars, did not have more impact. It anticipated in a surprising way the various crises that the world was on the verge of going through in coming years. The 2014 speech comes as international relations have largely deteriorated again. The Ukrainian crisis has brought Russia, supported by a large portion of countries considered as “emerging”,  face to face with the United States and its allies. Perhaps less rich in terms of principles, but certainly more accurate regarding the definition of risks and threats, this speech is also an important step in international relations.

[Please click below to read]A pessimistic statement.

In his speech of October 24, 2014, Vladimir Putin expressed a strong pessimism about the evolution of international relations. While the Munich speech in 2007 was largely a speech proposing a new logic to these relations, today he expresses the contrary conclusion that, nothing having changed, degradation is inevitable. Let us review his expressions. The first statement concerns the nature of the international situation: “First of all, changes in the world order – and what we see today are events of this magnitude – have generally been accompanied if not by a world war or world conflicts, at least by chains of intense local conflicts. Second, global politics is above all a question of economic leadership, of war and peace, with a humanitarian dimension, including human rights. ”

In the words spoken, and it should be remembered that, for a politician, words are somehow acts, we can see that there is no longer a question of a multipolar world organization but rather of what he calls economic leadership, that is actually the question of hegemony. This question immediately poses the problem of war and peace. The dramatization of the issues is in relation to current times. Since 2011, we have known the Libyan war, the consequences of which were felt throughout the Sahel and particularly in Mali, Niger and Nigeria, the Syrian war that overlaps a large part of the Middle-East and now an undeclared war that dare not speak its name, but it is real, in eastern Ukraine.

The conclusion drawn is marked by a deep pessimism, as if Putin, and with him a large part of the Russian political elite, had truly believed in the possibility for international powers to overcome conflict and arrive at a timely cooperation, and was sorely disappointed by the reality of  behaviour of some countries, primarily the United States. One clearly feels that the incompetence but also the aggressiveness displayed by leaders in Washington, whether under George W. Bush or his successor, have left deep traces among Russian leaders. But this pessimism also comes from the realization of the alignment of the European Union with the United States and of the absence of restoring forces counterbalancing American politics. In doing this, he pronounces words that sound like the requiem of this dream of cooperation. The fact that he reduces current events to an issue of economic leadership is a measure of the pessimism of his speech.

The question of law.

Putin then turns his audience towards the consequences of this situation and makes an extremely important parallel between the current situation and that after the Second World War. This section contains a theme constantly put forward by the Russian President since 2007, that of international law. He starts again with a statement: “Unfortunately, there is no guarantee and no certainty that the current system of global and regional security will be able to protect us from changes. This system has been severely weakened, fragmented and distorted. International and regional organizations for political, economic, and cultural cooperation are also going through difficult times “. This conclusion could also have been drawn in 2003, when the United States went against the decision of the Security Council and invaded Iraq. Then, comparing the current situation with that prevailing in 1945, he states the need to establish a system of international relations that allows a form of regulation of the interests of powers. This brings us back to a “Westphalian” world, that is a world governed by rules, the very origin of which is the existence of the United Nations: “The important thing is that this system has to be developed and, despite its various shortcomings, it should at least be able to maintain the current world problems within certain limits and regulate the intensity of the natural competition between nations. I am convinced that we could not take this mechanism of brakes and balances that we have built over the past decades, sometimes with the greatest efforts and difficulties, and simply destroy it without rebuilding something in its place. Otherwise, we would be left with no instruments other than brute force . We see expressed here the fear of a world without rules, open to what Vladimir precisely calls “brute force”.

This stems of course from the conditions at the end of the Cold War. Instead of ending with a stable framework, recognized by all, the end of the Cold War gave to a country, the United States, the illusion it was almighty. I described in a book published in 2008, the consequences of this illusion [3]. It showed the imperative to rebuild part of international law. This finding was based on another: that such a reconstruction could only proceed from states making them like sanctuaries. Yet just the opposite occurred. We continued down the path of the destruction of rules and of international law, in particular in 2011 when Western countries had “interpreted” unilaterally the UN mandate to engage in a war of aggression against Libya. Vladimir Putin, then continues: “Forgive me the analogy, but this is how the new rich behave when they suddenly find themselves with a large fortune, in this case in the form of world leadership and domination. Instead of managing intelligently their wealth, for their own benefit as well of course, I think they have committed many follies. We have entered a period with different interpretations and deliberate silences in world politics. International law has repeatedly been forced to retreat again and again by the relentless onslaught of legal nihilism. Objectivity and justice have been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. Arbitrary interpretations and biased evaluations have replaced legal standards. ”

But, and that the Russian president knows it well, the reconstruction of part of international law is a long-term project, which will involve significant conflicts, some of which will necessarily be military conflicts. In case, under the “Westphalian” law, State sovereignty had to be respected, an important addition was made in 1945, in the United Nations Charter about the freedom of people to decide for themselves, that is about the referendum process on self-determination. In that speech, it is clear that it is the principle Vladimir Putin refers to, because of its application to Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

Giving Russia the ability to cope with the new international situation.

One has not noticed enough that this analysis of the international situation implies a program for Russia itself.

From 2003-2004, American power has been perceived as a direct threat to the security of Russia, but also to that of its strategic allies. This perception escalated sharply in 2011, but it has also transformed. Until then, Russian leaders were hoping for a balanced cooperation, which countries would eventually adopt. Today it seems they are drawing the conclusion that US action is heading toward what they call “global leadership.” Vladimir Putin has been led to go probably further than he had imagined in 2000-2001 and even 2007. But his action, even if it has been as much reactive than active, has contributed to the failure of the American project and has redistributed the cards. From this point of view, the return of Russia has been a landmark event. Russia has a few points to make in favour of a large “front” of countries refusing American hegemony.

The political vision of Vladimir Putin and his advisers regarding the international environment is now much more pessimistic than that they had when they came to power in 2000 and this will have an impact in Russia itself, regarding the organization of the “model” of capitalism, which is expected to grow in the coming years. This pessimism therefore urges the Russian government to wish for a rapid rehabilitation of the technological and industrial capabilities of the industry sectors with a high technological content and armaments. The economic policy becomes in part determined by the analysis of the international situation. This justifies a strengthening of the interventionist approach to the economy through the establishment of large public companies in the energy sector (Gazprom, Rosneft, Transneft), but also state-owned groups in aviation, shipbuilding and non-ferrous metals. The return of flexible forms of protectionism is inevitable. The question is posed of a possible regime of capital control, despite statements of the government and of the Central Bank. It is hard to imagine that Russia could be in a long-term confrontation with the United States while remaining open to all financial flows, especially those with short and very short terms. International cooperation is a necessity, perceived as such. It is located at the intersection of geopolitical alliances with technological and industrial complementarities. If Russia wants to be a counterweight to US influence, that it now analyzes as hostile, the impact of this counterweight will not be the same depending on the countries concerned.

It is therefore clear that the events of recent months will radically change the development model that Russia had adopted in the years 2000 to 2004, a model that was still putting a large emphasis on international cooperation and international trade. Undoubtedly, Russia will not close itself off. It has also never been the case in its history, even during the Stalinist period of the Soviet Union. But this will involve significant adjustments in the nature of economic relations with its Western partners, as we have already had occasion to mention in this notebook, but also significant adjustments in the area of ​​domestic economic policy.

Jacques Sapir’s work as a researcher is oriented in three dimensions, the study of the Russian economy and transition, analysis of financial crises and theoretical research on economic institutions and interactions between individual behavior. He continued his research since 2000 on the interaction between exchange rate regimes, the structure of financial systems and macroeconomic instability. Since 2007 he has been involved in the analysis of the current financial crisis, especially in the Eurozone. His work can be read on his blog here.


Translation: Claude & Francois
Editing: Michael & Augmented Ether

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Oceania Saker.

[1] The original text can be consulted at the following address :  http://kremlin.ru/news/46860. For the English translation:http://eng.news.kremlin.ru/news/23137

[2] See the declaration of the Russian President at the Conference on Security which was held in Munich on February 10th, 2007. English translation :http://archive.kremlin.ru/eng/speeches/2007/02/10/0138_type82912type82914type82917type84779_118123.shtml

[3] Sapir J., Le Nouveau XXIe Siècle, le Seuil, Paris, 2008.

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