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Author: Anton Barbashin

How Russia sees the multipolar world

For more than ten years, Russian politicians and experts have been speaking of a coming multipolar world that
will dethrone Americas hegemony, and provide for a safer and more just world for everyone. Particularly
since the start of Russias Syria campaign, more and more voices find proof that this multipolarity is coming,
often citing Russias activity far beyond its near abroad without specific referencing to Washington.

Arguably, the time of 1990s and early 2000s when Washington could implement its foreign agenda regardless
of what other members of the international community thought has long passed. The question of what comes
next, however, is still quite open. Clearly, what international order should look like will vary significantly from
country to country, from one theory to another. What is interesting, though, is what we think the Russian
version of multipolarity is, and that it may very well differ from what Russian politicians believe it to be.

Theory vs. Practice

According to Sergey Lavrov, head of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), the principles of
multipolarity were formulated by the heavyweight of Russia politics, Yevgeny Primakov. Although classical
international relations theorists would questions this authorship, Lavrovs statement is principally important to
understanding the Russian vision of multipolarity. For Primakov, as for the Russian government later on, the
starting point for proclaiming the beginning of the shift towards multipolarity was the U.S. invasion of Iraq in
2003. Since the United States unilateral actions did not translate into success, Primakov called for the
denouncing of unilateralism as a principle. More evidence of the coming multipolarity, according to Primakov,
was the rising role of the European Union, and the inevitability of a transformation of economic might of
China, Russia, India and Japan into political influence. Primakov believed that a unipolar world is far more
unstable and dangerous than a multipolar world, though no proof was presented then, as there is still none

The same year, practically repeating the argumentation of Primakov, Putin took a stand in defense of the
coming multipolar world: If we want the world to be more predictable, more prognosticated, and then safer, it
has to be multipolar, and all the participants of international intercourse have to abide by certain rules,
namely, the rules of international law. Disappointed with Washington that had a pivotal role for Russias
foreign policy planning from September 11th 2001 to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Putin had reoriented for
France and Germany which, like Russia, were not happy about President George W. Bushs Iraq campaign.
Nevertheless, Moscow was not able to build an alliance with Paris and Berlin, for several reasons, not the least
of which was Ukraines 2004 Orange Revolution in Kyiv which Moscow and Europeans partners saw quite
differently. Then, in 2006, came the emerging economies of BRIC - Brazil, Russia, India and China - (BRICS
since 2011) which was seen as new evidence for Russia of the coming multipolar world. At least publicly,
Russia references the BRICS as the symbol of the future world order. It is also worth noting the Shanghai
Cooperation Organization (SCO) and Russias attempts to merge the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) with
Chinas Silk Road Economic Belt (OBOR).

And if we can safely take SCO out the picture right away, due to the insignificance of its institutional
functioning and practical meaning, the case of BRICS circa 2016 shows how temporary and artificial that
project was.

Over the course of the last ten years, BRICS has turned from a club of successful developing economies into
the club of nations with problems and those who are even worse off. While China and India have only slowed
their development facing structural problems and unsolved challenges of sustainable development, Russia and
Brazil have basically failed, and are continuing to go downhill, having both political and economic animosities
unresolved. Today, even the most eager BRICS-optimists conclude that due to the number of cultural and
historical specifics, as well as questions of political prioritization, it was rather pointless to expect BRICS to
expand anywhere beyond the level of fancy conferences and big proclamations.

What in 2003 seemed for Primakov as the inevitable future conversion of the economic might of Russia, India
and China into political influence was only partially true, but was far from establishing a new world order.
The desired has not become the real. With the same success probability today, we can name TICK (Taiwan,
India, China, South Korea) the next future as it is done now by yet another global trends guru.

Actually, Russia has never seriously counted on these kind of alliances and long-term commitments. The
European Economic Union and Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) partners should take note in
2015 Vladimir Putin stated: Thank God, Russia is not part of any alliances. This is also a guarantee of our
sovereignty. Any nation that is part of an alliance gives up part of its sovereignty. This does not always meet
the national interests of a given country, but this is their sovereign decision. Genuine multipolarity for Russia
is an independence from all.

What is freedom?

The Russian version of multipolarity is not about the establishment of a new system of checks and balances
between developing nations with a goal of creating a safer world based on the principles of international law,
as Putin spoke of back in 2003. Russia, circa 2016, would prefer not even XIX century Europe as we are
accustomed to hearing (remember the anti-Napoleonic coalition and Crimea War), but a world of the 1930s
where beside powerful France and England, the USSR and Germany could have an almost unchecked increase
in their potential, building their own centers of power and eventually dominating the neighbors.
Practically speaking, Russia views the system of international legal restrictions and obligations that the West
forced on Russia in the 1990s as the direct imposition of the rules of the game by a victor to the loser,
although Russia does not consider itself to be a loser. Russias ever persisting demand for the West to treat
Russia as an equal and the lack of a positive response from the West, forced Kremlin the break the rules of
the games in Crimea which Kremlin views as a just move.

A multipolar world for Russia serves as a possibility to break international law when it is just and fits with
the real balance of power as seen from Moscow.

This approach does not dictate Russia ruin the West, destroy the U.S., and storm Brussels with the tanks. In
fact, Putin, Lavrov and many other Russian high officials continuously highlight that Moscow would be happy
to come back to cooperation with its western partners if the West accepts Russias position on the matter.

A multipolar world for Russia is a tool to bring back some of the privileges and advantages of the former
centuries - times before the unilateralism of law and human rights, a time of rule of the gun and a constant
balancing just on the brink of war.

The world is no longer unipolar, but in a transitional state, with unipolarity fading. However, even if we
recognize that the world of one hegemon is truly unjust and that a new order which guarantees greater
engagement of developing nations is required, the solution cannot be based on the denial of the basic
principles that were achieved with the collapse of the last global empire in 1991.

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