Talking points at the webinar held by the Foundation Prospective and Innovation & Dialogue of Civilisations Research Institute (8 May 2020)

75 years after World War II: achievements and future prospects

• We are in the middle of a crisis caused by the pandemic, but we can and should start discussing its consequences for the globalisation. And, by the way, “polycrisis” (a prophetic term used by the former President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker) would be a better name for the process we are going through as it will have an impact on almost all aspects of our life.

• The global economy has suffered a lot, and forecasts are gloomy: US GDP can drop by 15-20 per cent, EU losses can range from 6 per cent of GDP in Germany to over 9 per cent in Greece, Italy and Spain. The crisis has affected infrastructure, transport and energy sectors. In this regard I would note that it would be unfair and wrong to blame the fall in oil prices to certain Russian “intrigues”: first, the decision not to extend the OPEC+ deal was not ours, and second, “black gold” prices would have plunged anyway, with or without an agreement on output cuts.

• I believe the main point is that the coronacrisis has revealed our absolute lack of preparedness to hardships similar to the current one. It is striking, for instance, that the US healthcare system with its 17 per cent share of GDP expenditure – twice higher than in EU countries and 4 times as in Russia – has generally turned out to have feet of clay.

• I would then recall the articles I read a few months ago listing possible scenarios of potential global crises. Their authors suggested both blockbuster options such as an asteroid hitting the Earth and more realistic ones including the beginning of a new violent conflict in the Balkans, a military flare-up in Ukraine and a disaster at a European nuclear power plant. But nobody described a pandemic caused by an infection. No wonder the situation appears as it is now.

• Some seemed to believe that a global crisis like the current one would be able to help bridge existing differences between international actors and facilitate a union in the face of a common enemy. Alas, tensions between the US and China, the US and the EU won’t disappear. One may assume that whoever comes to the White House this autumn – be it Donald Trump again or Joe Biden – problems in Brussels-Washington relations will remain, as they are much deeper and tougher than many can afford themselves to believe.

• This situation is caused by a clash of ideologies of the actors I mentioned. Well, I would state that finding oneself within this framework is sort of unusual for Russia: the role of today’s main adversary of the West has been reassigned from my country to China, or to its Communist Party to be more precise. It is a new and peculiar nuance of modern-day propaganda. Meanwhile, unfortunately, it does not imply closing down the disinformation campaign waged against Russia – absolutely not, for it is a long-term policy.

• Today we are witnessing the largest world economy desperately searching for external forces responsible for the crisis instead of opportunities to unite efforts – all this to conceal its own insufficiencies in addressing the pandemic. But problems cannot be resolved by the way of sensational revelations or sanctions against villains who had ostensibly arranged the pandemic and accomplices covering them up. And sanctions, as any expert remotely familiar with the history of international relations knows, are usually quite useless for achieving the aspired result.

• The organisers of our webinar suggested we think about the lessons to be learnt from the current crisis. In my view, provided that key counties get ready to formulate a new model of international relations, they would have to agree to build it on common points and interests rather than differences – that have always existed and will always be there as long as mankind survives.

• Our history has already known quite positive cases of such common points and interests. On the eve of 9 May, Victory Day, it is proper to recall that the victorious countries of World War II, in spite of huge, intractable ideological differences, managed to build together a nucleus of a new architecture of international relations based on the principle of equal cooperation among sovereign states. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill is known to have called himself the most fervent opponent of communism – right up to the beginning of the war, and in the same year, 1941 his wife Clementine became the chairperson of the British Red Cross Aid to Russia Fund and provided substantial assistance to Soviet hospitals in this capacity. Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, participated in the creation of the United Nations and became the first US Representative to the Organisation. These are examples to remember when facing such common challenges of the current pandemic. In the words of Presidents Putin and Trump, jointly commemorating last month the 75th anniversary of the famous handshake on the Elbe, it was an example of how our countries can put aside differences, build trust, and cooperate in pursuit of a greater cause.

• Fortunately, we won’t have to make such enormous sacrifices. Our predecessors – politicians and diplomats – have already built a mechanism unique in its sustainability and reliability – the United Nations Organisation. It unites all countries of the world and therefore is genuinely legitimate, has many time-proven tools at its disposal that, if properly used, can address the most serious of challenges. For example, we have the WHO – the key international healthcare institution. But in 2019 it had a budget of only $60 million. You would agree that compared to trillions invested today to mitigate consequences of the pandemic this sum seems surreal.

• As far as the destiny of globalisation is concerned, I think its ultra-liberal bias will probably be cast aside. Meanwhile, this objective process will go on reasonably and perhaps at a moderate pace. Our world order will remain based on nation states, and logic suggests they will ensure the progress of globalisation by joint efforts, including in order to establish common response to global challenges.

• Do we need a new protocol of multilateral international relations under such circumstances? I do not think so. We have the UN Charter that constitutes the key basic source of international law. UN-centred system guarantees peaceful development of mankind given the background of absolutely natural divergence of interests and competition among key powers. Substituting primacy of international law by, for instance, a “rules-based world order”, is a dangerous attempt of revisionism fraught with emergence of new dividing lines, non-consensual, and therefore unsustainable, decisions unable to solve international problems.

• Russia, for its part, is ready to look for solutions to the crises hitting us together with all partners without exception. We are consistently open to interaction both with the East and the West in the spirit of equality and mutual understanding. One can certainly survive alone. Meanwhile, together is easier and more advantageous, if you wish. The coronavirus provides us with yet another chance, and, in line with the meaning of the relevant Chinese hieroglyph, we should not allow the catastrophic element of the crisis overwhelm and totally eclipse the opportunities it creates. Or, perhaps, I should conclude with an African proverb: if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.