A Values Chasm That Can’t Be Bridged… At Least For Now

My latest for VoR and US-Russia.org on Russia’s recent Foreign Policy Concept:

The new foreign-policy concept is a long-overdue adjustment to international realities. There can be no meaningful “strategic partnership” between Russia and the US or indeed Russia and the West in general, when their respective core values have diverged from each other so much.

Ironically, this divergence has occurred at a period in history when Russia has retreated from ideology; it now embraces a doctrine of national sovereignty and moderate social conservatism that a generation ago would have made it part of the European mainstream. But today it has been “left behind” as the West has moved on to democracy fetishism and pushing concepts such as gender feminism and criticisms of “heteronormativity” that sound alien to most Russians. Hence the disconnect between Russia and the West on a whole host of issues, from the Arab Spring to the Pussy Riot affair.

So even as Russia converged with Western civilization of the 1970’s, the West – in particular its Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, and Gallic constituent parts – has “transcended” itself, and we are again left with a gulf of mutual incomprehension as deep as in Soviet times. As such, the best that can be realistically hoped for, at least in the medium term, is mutually beneficial economic relations (i.e., oil and gas in exchange for machines and modernization). Anything “deeper” or more heart-felt will require cultural concessions on the part of either Russia or the West, and it is unclear how that could be made to happen even were it to be acknowledged as desirable in and of itself.

Given these cultural clashes, it is probably a good thing for relations to become more defined by markets, which peace theorists believe have a moderating effect on animosity and inter-state conflict. Fortunately, prospects in this sphere are good, the specter of the Great Recession notwithstanding. Russia’s GDP per capita in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms is now well above half the EU average and close to convergence with the likes of Portugal and Greece. Russia has joined the WTO, and will probably join the OECD in another year or two. De Gaulle’s vision of a unified space – at least in the economic sphere – from Lisbon to Vladivostok has a real chance of coming into being within the next decade.

China doesn’t see eye to eye with the West either culturally or geo-politically, but it too is rapidly converging with the developed world; wages in its manufacturing sector have recently surpassed Mexico’s. It is now for all intents and purposes a middle-income country, and its GDP in terms of PPP may already have overtaken America’s. Opting for a closer relation with China is a wise play on Russia’s part. Its economic dominance in one or two more decades is all but assured, and with an (economistic, non-ideological) exploitation of high-speed trains and the melting Northern Sea Route, Russia can make a fair bit of money by being a “bridge” to the Orient.

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