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Huseyin Oylupinar (PhD)
Foreign Policy Institute
Last Wednesday (January 26, 2022), Sergey Lavrov , the Foreign Minister of Russia, reported to Duma about the Russian foreign policy when tensions are running historical high in international politics.[i] Using “government hour privilege” in Duma, he told a packed house that international arena is in a deep change. This address came just few hours before US handed over its response to Russian December 17 template agreement of security guarantees.
A Systemic Shift?
What is happening now is not another Ukraine-Russia confrontation as some like to call. What is happening is more complex and larger. Let me look at the Russian perception of what current turmoil through Lavrov’s speech.
From Russian perspective recent rise of tensions with Ukraine, US and NATO marks a systemic shift. Lavrov, in his speech, characterized the shift as a “deep change” that the international system is going through and this “sends shivers” down to the international arena.
“This change is not a positive one” as Russia calculates that the previous world order is breaking down into pieces. Yet, Lavrov announced that a new world system is hailing and the western countries “still cannot take in the reality of a multipolar world formation.”
The “historical west”, as Lavrov terms it with a Cold War connotation, “try to resist the objective flow of history” and reject the reality that the shift has taken place already. This shift is apparently justified for Lavrov that he emphasizes injustices of the previous order that is “abusive” in the sense that the westerners try to “secure themselves with one sided benefits and do not take the justified interests of other states”.
Here Russia is presented as the harbinger of a new democratic order, not abusive, not self-centered, not imposing as in the previous.
Ending the West
Lavrov’s speech is actually Russian declaration of the end of the western supremacy. I underline here, the end of the west is not imminent according to Lavrov, but it has taken placed already. Foreign Minister’s conviction is solid as a stone: “World is already longtime not American-centric, not western-centric, and will never be unipolar”.
To cut the gravestone of the west finely, he argues that the center of world economy and politics moved from euro-atlantic to Eurasia. Russia, he defends, plays the critical role in this new center as the largest state of Eurasia and Pacific, that it is the maker of the enlarged and well-functioning Eurasian space.
I argue that to counterpose US and its allies’ “abusive ideological dictation” and to seal the coffin of the unipolar world, Russia calculates that it is necessary to insulate Eurasian borders against US and western “infiltration”. Russia, therefore, needs a Eurasian cordon sanitaire,as I name it.
Lavrov draws, to me quite clear, picture of how Russia builds this functioning cordon sanitaire over the Eurasian borders. First, partnership with the main power centers is a key in forming up the cordon in Asia. Therefore, strategic partnership schemes with India is of critical importance. Yet, the China has far more vital importance in Russian calculations for the new center of the world to hold on. For Lavrov, the “partnership with China “passed, in some parameters, beyond military-political alliance levels”. In addition, Lavrov continues to describe how Russia weaves the Eurasian cordon against the western filtration by intensive cooperation with the fast moving economies of South-East Asia.
Continuity and strength of the chains of cordon sanitaire are essential for Russia. To achieve this, maintaining the order in Eurasia comes in handy. Sustaining order allows Moscow to claim authority withing the “new center of world order”. Russia’s actions in Kazakhstan, Afganistan, Korean Peninsula, Iranian nuclear crisis, Syrian and Isreali-Arab conflicts are presented by Lavrov as cases of order-bringing-leadership of Moscow. Making Russian view of Eurasian cordon sanitaire clearer, Lavrov moves to North and emphasizes the Russian “peacekeeping” and regulation in Nagorno-Karabagh and going further north, he proudly mentions “high integration levels achieved with Belarus”.
The chief of Russian Foreign Ministry openly accepts that this is “Large Eurasian Partnership” scheme envisioned by Vladimir Putin to “form material essence Eurasian security architecture”.
Ukraine: Gap in the Cordon Sanitaire
Russia sees Ukraine as a gap in the Eurasian cordon sanitaire. This gap is so large that it can sink the Putin’s flagship project of Eurasian security architecture. The gap needs to be closed before too late.
Russia established control over Ukraine until 2014 to the extent that Moscow could paralyse and destroy Ukrainian military high command. While being controlled to such an extent, Kyiv has been a chain in the Putin’s Eurasia project. Euromaidan wasted his investment which costed a lot over the years up until V. Yanukovych had to escape. Putin had to hold on to parts of the broken chain link over Ukraine, that is parts of Donbas and Crimea, with a hope to remold the repair the link and close the gap.
Now Russia considers that entire project is at stake thanks to the gap on Ukraine. Therefore, Russia perceives any US and the western support and military presence in Ukraine as a “dictatorial imposition” and use Ukraine to suppress and limit Russia.. To keep Russia checked, the Foreign Minister considers, provocations of sorts are employed through Ukraine: “the military exercises near [the Russian] borders, pulling Kyiv into NATO orbit, delivering lethal weapons to Ukraine, and encouraging it to run provocations against Russia”.
Therefore, Russia is ready to fight back with what it takes, including running its war machine, to keep the west in the grave which it believes dead, but afraid that it may still be kicking the coffin. The last nail on the coffin lid is the December 17 template agreements. By rolling NATO back to 1997, Russia will be relieved of a possible western resurrection.
We will soon see if the west is indeed dead and if the new center of the world is Eurasia. The proof of the fact is hidden in Ukraine.
[i] The video of the address available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9FryZ9L3R8