Interview with Director of the Foreign Ministry’s Foreign Policy Planning Department Alexey Drobinin published in the journal “National Strategy Issues” of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS), No 1, 2023

Submitted on Tue, 03/14/2023 - 17:12

Question:  Mr Drobinin, could you discuss the fundamental global trends in international politics, which determine the limits of the possible and the impossible?

Alexey Drobinin: President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin said we have entered the most dangerous, unpredictable and, at the same time, important decade since the end of World War II. I think this is a very succinct characterisation of the current stage of development which the world, our country and each of us separately are now entering.

The main trend is that the structure of international relations is changing in the direction of greater multipolarity. To clarify, we understand multipolarity as a political phenomenon. It is a special professional term for analysing the global configuration. It makes no sense to compare it with scientific notions from theoretical physics or geography. Its meaning is also different in certain respects from the established understanding of the concept of a “pole” or “polarity” in academic terminology.

What is the crux of the matter? The ability of one country or group of countries to dominate another is becoming a thing of the past. It is being replaced with a global configuration based on the balance of power and interests of the globally important decision-making centres. They may be represented by the leading states or geopolitical macroregions united in associations or whole civilisational platforms that are also raising their voice in world affairs via special institutions. This is the dominant long-term trend.

A new balance has not yet been found. For the time being, we are seeing a gradual diffusion of political power, with stronger positions for different non-Western players that are capable of choosing their own path of development and may become independent centres of the emerging multipolarity in the future. Such states or their associations are striving for independence or “strategic autonomy,” if you will. Their economic and scientific capacity is growing significantly and they are using their resources more freely.

I can mention a number of criteria globally important decision-making centres must meet in the context of a polycentric global configuration. First, they should be able to conduct sovereign domestic and foreign policy. Second, they should have enough resources of any kind to guarantee their socioeconomic sustainability and highly self-sufficient national economy. Third, they should have cultural assets of global significance. A person born in this or that culture or civilisation should have certain opportunities for self-realisation. One more important criterion is an ability to project one’s own philosophy of development and vision of international politics outward. Such centres should attract other countries and have the will to implement in practice their own integration projects. I would like to emphasise that projecting outward does not mean imposing on others.

There are not too many states in the modern world that meet these criteria. They can be counted on the fingers of both hands. That said, such centres are not necessarily equal in their economic and military might, size of their territory or population. Nonetheless, they are all able to affect the global situation and its development, and, most importantly, they are bringing their own views, traditions and preferences to a global discussion.

It would be appropriate to mention at this point that there is a “school of thought” whose adherents reject multi-polarity as an unattainable illusion. They are either talking about the world in terms of a vertical hierarchy or justifying the return of a bipolar model, this time American-Chinese. I believe this interpretation is mistaken regardless of explanation. An analysis of the current trends makes it possible to talk about the formation of numerous centres of world development. They will seek in multi-polarity an opportunity to preserve their sovereignty and sociocultural identity and to gain the freedom to determine their own future and develop harmoniously as they see fit proceeding from their own interests.

Now I will mention the obstacles in the way of a multi-polar world. It is no secret that the collective West considers this global configuration disadvantageous. Europe and the United States fear that it will cause them serious geopolitical and economic losses and is fraught with the final destruction of the globalisation system made in their image. In other words, the countries on both sides of the Atlantic are afraid of potentially losing the opportunity to be a parasite on the rest of the world. When several independent centres emerge, how will the Westerners ensure their priority growth at the expense of unequal exchanges, maintain the dollar monopoly and impose their standards and norms under the guise of universal rules? All these goals are called into doubt. So, it is possible to understand the fears of our colleagues on a human level.

It is no surprise that the West is doing all it can to preserve the privileges it obtained in the previous historical era – since the late 1980s narrowly defined and in the past five centuries more broadly. This is exactly why more pressure is being exerted on Russia and Belarus, Iran and China; the blockade of Cuba continues and the sanctions pressure on Venezuela does not abate. It is worth recalling that Muammar Gaddafi’s pan-African integration projects were one of the root causes of Western aggression against the Libyan Jamahiriya.

The traditional tools of force, financial and economic measures and information and psychological pressure as well as other hybrid methods are being used to preserve the positions that were established in the past. One of the main goals of trans-Atlantic  politicians is to remove Russia as a geopolitical player and rival that has already ruined more than once Washington’s plans to achieve global domination. There are many examples of this. It is enough to mention the freezing and potential confiscation of Russia’s gold-and-currency reserves and the anti-market initiative to set a ceiling on energy prices. Virtually all leading Western media are daily denigrating and demonising our country and all of its independent actions. In the past few months, they have been urging the creation of an “international tribunal” for the Russian leadership. It is revealing that a tremendous number of politicians, political scientists, lawyers and diplomats are involved in drafting these plans.

All these negative factors suggest the conclusion that there is still a serious potential for the further escalation of tensions between Russia and the West. Ukraine remains a central arena of hot confrontation, a battlefield, but our opponents have brought confrontation literally to all areas of interstate relations – in the political, economic, information and humanitarian areas. The geographical component is also able to change.

I would like to mention the mounting disagreements in the Asia-Pacific Region as a key point that determines the vector of the development of world politics at the current stage. US-Chinese relations have become much more prone to conflict and their rivalry is comprehensive in character. True, there is also a big restraining factor – a giant bilateral trade relationship that surpassed $750 billion annually in 2021 and 2022.

The forces that are opposing an Anglo-Saxon hegemonic paradigm for the global configuration are gaining strength in conditions of the dual containment of Russia and China. They are creating an infrastructure of interstate ties that are independent of Western policy and immune to its pressure. This is yet further proof of our view that many countries and peoples aspire to fight for the choice of their own road rather than be oriented toward American-style neocolonialist globalisation.

In this context, Russia is acting as a sovereign global centre. It is carrying out its historically established unique mission of maintaining the global balance of power and ensuring the conditions for humanity’s steady advance based on a unifying and constructive agenda.

Question: We have been increasingly hearing prominent analysts talk about the crisis of globalisation. They are talking about such options as “glocalisation” or even a radical reversal of this global process. What are the reasons behind these phenomena? What role are the powers like Russia, the United States and China playing in the context of this “new globalisation?”

Alexey Drobinin: The Western model of globalisation is indeed sinking ever deeper into crisis. Fragmentation of the global economy is due to the decline of many former development models and tools and irresponsible macroeconomic decisions, including uncontrolled money-printing and unsecured debt accumulation.

Although even leading countries are now on the verge of recession, the world economy as a whole has so far been able to avoid protracted stagnation. Problems on the energy, food and financial markets encourage a search for solutions. Conditions are being prepared for an effort to diversify international trade mechanisms. New national and cross-border payment systems as well as alternative production and sales chains are being introduced.

The countries that are accustomed to following the logic of global domination in their thinking and actions – I am primarily referring to the United States – continue their attempts to contain technological and industrial development of their rivals, deprive them of a chance for progressive growth, and hamstring them by bans and sanctions. A classic example are the EU and US restrictions on high-technology transfers to China.  This method is not new. Suffice it to recall the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (CoCom), or the so-called Jackson-Vanik amendment directed against the socialist camp during the Cold War. 

Yet another factor behind the crisis of globalisation is that political considerations in the US and its closest allies have once again prevailed over economic interests.  They took to weaponising economic and financial tools in order to retain their competitive advantages. I am referring to their continuous use of sanctions, manipulation of the currency and stock markets, and even direct interference in internal affairs of other states.  

These shortsighted actions have aggravated the structural problems in the global economy and retaliated against the West itself. In particular, the public lost confidence in the US dollar, something that accelerates the process of its demonopolisation as the main medium of international settlements, savings, and investment. Let us be clear here: the US dollar is nothing more than a confidence-based slip of paper and the US government will never repay their galloping debt that has topped $31 trillion. The global banking and insurance market is being eroded. Economic problems exacerbated by anti-Russia sanctions are affecting Europe. Judge for yourself: the EU’s 2022 inflation exceeded 11%, whereas the share of the dollar in the world gold and currency reserves declined from 71% to 59% over the past 20 years and it continues to shrink.

Characteristically, the situation that took shape through the fault of the United States and its allies has created strong incentives for readjusting the world financial and economic architecture. We see countries exposed to outside pressure strengthening their cooperation. Regional and trans-regional economic interaction and integration mechanisms are emerging as multi-format partnerships designed to address specific common development tasks.  Promising associations of a new type include the Eurasian Economic Union, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and BRICS.

It is also logical that the centre of world economic activity has shifted to the Asia-Pacific region. Before our own eyes, China is emerging as an economic leader on the global scale. IMF experts estimate that China’s 2021 GDP calculated by purchasing power parity amounted to $27.2 trillion as against the United States’ $23 trillion. In the medium-term, China is highly likely to become an advanced technological power as well. This is nothing new, for China was technologically the most advanced civilisation and the richest country for centuries. Around and around goes the wind and on its circuits the wind returns. 

Russia’s place in the world economy and the system of international division of labour is determined by the fact that it has considerable resources in all areas of life and is oriented to responsible leadership aimed at ensuring stable conditions for development for itself and others. Our country is working hard to strengthen ties with friendly states and associations, based on equality and mutual respect. The fact that the Russian economy and financial system have withstood the sanctions blow and failed to collapse under the weight of “sovereignty costs” actually confirms the high level of Russia’s economic self-reliance, which means a bid for becoming a “centre of attraction” in the emerging multi-polar world.

Question: The multilateralism principle helps political actors draft more well-thought-out positions and also hampers a unilateral approach to addressing international issues. Do major modern states interpret this principle in the same manner or differently?

Alexey Drobinin: Current tensions in international relations can be largely explained by these differing perceptions. Most countries, including Russia, believe that multilateralism makes it possible to facilitate long-term stability, security and neighbourliness, while retaining unique cultural-civilisational features and equal development conditions for all states, regardless of their location and size, their demographic, resource and military potentials, and their different political, economic and social systems. We perceive multilateralism as joint work aiming to solve a common problem. Figuratively speaking, this is a means for attaining and maintaining an equitable and democratic international order.

Countries accustomed to a privileged status in the global system continue to try to impose their own perception, specifically, the rules-based order, on everyone else. Sometimes, this concept is hypocritically called a “free and open international order.” We have repeatedly voiced our detailed opinion on this issue, and this is why I will not go into detail. I will only say that, in our opinion, the so-called order being imposed by the West aims to divide the world into a privileged minority that sets forth rules meeting its interests and everyone else who is to have subordinate status and abide by such rules.  In effect, this is a unilateral approach.

At the same time, the West politicises the work of international institutions and is turning them into venues for conducting largely fruitless propaganda battles. Classic multilateral diplomacy has been virtually paralysed, or deals with second-rate issues. When Western representatives have no decisive say in traditional formats, they use another option and see to it that their proxies are allowed to join these formats on an equal footing. This may involve international organisations, non-governmental organisations and private companies. The UN highlights this approach rather vividly. Western capitals, primarily Washington, are trying to use this method to erode the inter-governmental essence of multilateral venues.

Another tell-tale feature of Western states’ approach is that the so-called multilateralism being imposed by them is usually directed against certain parties to international relations. In the past, this approach was directed against the Soviet Union and countries of the socialist camp, as well as independent players on the hydrocarbons market. Today, this involves efforts to counter “autocracies,” namely, Russia and China, in particular.

We prioritise the reinstatement of genuine multilateralism. This implies expanded mutually beneficial and equitable cooperation with constructive-minded states and their associations within the framework of institutions and mechanisms of multilateral diplomacy. We are offering a promising alternative to Western-generated schemes that involve confronting other members of the international community.

As we see it, a key task in this sphere is the restoration of the UN’s ability to act as a central coordinating mechanism for coordinating the interests of member states and their actions to achieve the goals of the UN Charter.

Question: In the present-day conditions, can we talk about failures in the collective security system, at least in the regional context? In your opinion, will the current international tensions usher in an effort to coordinate new principles for the successful functioning of this system, or will the imbalance become further aggravated in the short term? 

Alexey Drobinin: These failures are obvious. But there is yet another aspect to this problem: Western countries are thoughtlessly destroying the collective security mechanisms that took shape in the 20th century, doing so to promote their time-serving political aspirations.  It is their arrogant and destructive behaviour that has deadlocked the proceedings at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), undermined the system of arms control treaties, created new hotspots, and generally aggravated to a considerable extent the threat to universal security. Moreover, Washington and Brussels have arrogantly turned down our December 2021 proposals concerning long-term and legally binding agreements on security guarantees for Russia.  They just did not want to discuss them in a serious manner and swept them off the table.

Even before the Ukraine events, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made an absolutely correct observation that we cannot take anything the West says at face value. Today, we see for ourselves that the Westerners do not honour even the written guarantees like the Minsk Agreements, political commitments of the OSCE, norms and rules of international trade, etc. Neither do they have any plans to honour them either. 

Today, the United States, their allies and satellites continue stepping up their military spending. They have thrown hundreds of billions of dollars into pumping up Ukraine.  The accelerated remilitarisation of Germany and Japan is a highly worrisome trend for the world.  Tokyo is planning to spend $320 billion on defence needs within the next five years, something that will make Japan’s military budget third in size in the world after the United States and China. Germany will allocate €100 billion. And, naturally, the former hegemon cannot stand still either. Washington has recently endorsed the military budget amounting to a staggering $850 billion for the fiscal year ending on September 30, 2023.

Let us be frank: the Ukraine crisis and everything that preceded it clearly demonstrate that our Western colleagues are unprepared to join efforts with others in building a collective security system.  Even though no one has cancelled the premise on the indivisibility of security in both global and regional dimensions, they preferred to disregard it and deliberately opted for an escalation. 

We had to respond in a fitting way and we will continue to act in the same vein. A special military operation has been launched in Ukraine and its goals will be attained. As President of Russia Vladimir Putin said at the meeting of the Defence Ministry Board on December 21, 2022, “Combat capabilities of our Armed Forces are increasing constantly and every day.” 

Reducing the potential for conflict and building a more stable security architecture can only materialise if the United States and its satellites renounce their focus on domination by force and realise that there is no alternative to peaceful coexistence and equitable cooperation, including with Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Belarus, Syria, Cuba and Venezuela. It won’t be easy to achieve this. So far, the geopolitical conditions are unfavourable to this option.

At the current stage, diplomacy is facing the “old new” task of preventing a head-on clash between the nuclear powers, which is fraught with the highest escalation risks. The likelihood of this clash has grown considerably because of the reckless steps taken by our opponents.  Everyone must realise that there can neither be winners, nor losers in a nuclear war. This war must never be unleashed.

Question: Mr Drobinin, what is the role of civilisational factors at the current phase of the global political process, which is marked by widespread technological competition and economic confrontation? Is cancel culture in the West an attribute of the prevailing state of affairs or the failed functioning of American-style liberal democracy?

Alexey Drobinin: In his remarks at the Valdai Forum on October 27, 2022, the President highlighted the importance of civilisational diversity for the ongoing world order transformation since civilisational communities, which often overlap with economic and geopolitical macroregions, will shape the future international relations.

More recently, and for quite an extended period of time, the Western civilisation has been at the helm of global affairs. However, today, the liberal democracy model that it promoted has become a mere front, which, in fairness, has almost crumbled. The West is dominated by neoliberal behavioural and political beliefs that are aggressive and totalitarian in nature and lead towards atomisation of society and degradation of humans as such.

Democracy is being replaced by democratism which is practically unlimited power of the ruling elites with formal observance of democratic regulations where democratic institutions serve as props. Family values are being eroded by gender-oriented policies and the LGBT agenda, as well as drug liberalism and the cult of consumerism and permissiveness.

In order to perpetuate neoliberal beliefs as something that has no alternative, they are using cancel culture as a punitive mechanism to erase from the public space anyone who dares to come forward with a different opinion. Harassment and censorship, including in the digital space, are far simpler tools to use than a dialogue based on facts, experience, common sense, laws and, importantly, intellectual integrity.

Let’s think back to the war on monuments in the United States, the Me Too and the Black Lives Matter movements, or removing content from social media. Having mastered these cancel culture elements at the national level, the Americans and their allies tried to apply these very mechanisms to other countries, including Russia. They made use of a wide range of tools from financial and economic sanctions and information campaigns to direct military and political pressure and cancelling Russian culture and history.

There’s more to it. Western “liberals” who are obsessed with the globalism mania do not steer clear from any methods; in fact, they actually prefer to use, as they think, the most effective tools to oppose their geopolitical rivals, namely, international terrorists and ultranationalists/neo-Nazis. I won’t speak for others, but here in Russia we remember well how the West supported terrorists in the North Caucasus in the 1990s, and we have seen it nurture and now feverishly promote its Russophobic Banderite Ukrainian Nazism project.

The West appears to have forgotten that the traditional moral and spiritual values that are common to all civilisations are more than a set of talking points. They underlie the harmonious development of a human being and are a prerequisite for sustainable progress at the level of an individual, society and the state. Departing from them is a recipe for crises and decline. History abounds in such examples.

There are no simple recipes to remedy the situation. We see the solution in working together with our like-minded partners to try to form a global agenda, to raise priority issues that are important for us and resonate with the interests of most countries, and to jointly and constructively look for ways to overcome them, as well as to work on reinforcing international legal principles in relations between states.

It may be dangerous to underestimate our country’s place and role in global processes. Russia is a distinctive Eurasian and, as we say, Euro-Pacific civilisation. Creating a continental – from Europe to the Pacific and from the Arctic Ocean to the Indian Ocean – space of peace, stability and mutual trust is the key to our progress, prosperity and security. Distancing from the West creates conditions for extensive cooperation with other major civilisational platforms, such as Chinese, Arab-Muslim, Indo-South Asian, African and Latin American, as well as the ASEAN geopolitical region. These regions are home to the bulk of our like-minded partners and friends. At the same time, there is an increased sense of Russia’s important role as a unique civilisation state capable of ensuring global balance.

Much will depend on whether we will manage to create a broad-based friendly interregional coalition with the participation of our priority partners. If we do, it will largely determine the success of Russia’s foreign policy and stability of international relations in the years ahead.