Russia’s place in a post-COVID multipolar world
Ladies and gentlemen,
Allow me to start with the obvious: our world is not standing still. Just the opposite, it is dramatically and profoundly changing. The first sign that comes to mind is, of course, the coronavirus pandemic, which has had and continues to have a very tangible economic, social, political, scientific, and psychological impact on the entire global community. I will not describe a world without COVID-19 – for we will never surely know what it would have looked like and, besides, what practical use is there in speculating about scenarios that were not destined to translate into reality? I will focus on another point: the pandemic is certainly far from being the only significant factor reshaping the global landscape we all live and work in.
Here in Europe, "America is back", the slogan launched by Joe Biden, is seen as a key new imperative. I will not argue whether this is good or bad for the Europeans, Russia, the United States itself and the whole system of international relations. Instead, I would remind you that broad awareness of another geopolitical fact has emerged in recent years, in parallel rather than in opposition to this trend – "Russia is back". But rather than accepting this objective reality, the West got scared of its own invention claiming that Russians had allegedly returned with some kind of "aggressive imperial revanchism". Let me reassure you: this is not the case, as we are looking forward rather than backwards, without rancour or resentment. And we advise others to do the same.
The world economic map features a distinct trend of its own – "China is back". Today, China accounts for nearly 20 per cent of world GDP at purchasing power parity, and with its post-pandemic recovery outpacing others this share is rapidly rising. This is of course largely due to traditionally strong demographics, but successful technological development and an efficient socio-economic model contribute to no lesser extent. And this is not a historic anomaly, but rather a return to a natural order of things. After all, China was the world's largest economy for centuries until the early 19th century, and its combined share with India represented almost half of the global output.
Yet, the multipolar world is no longer someone’s dream or a threat, but an objective and established reality which is manifest in various, if not all, aspects of the functioning international system. I would cite the example of the G7 whose recent summit was solemnly held in Cornwall. This "close-circuit club" was artificial and pretentious at the time of its creation in the mid-1970s, while now appears to be an obvious anachronism that does not reflect the diversity of global political and economic life. The result of an attempt to give it “a new lease of life” by extending its membership to Russia is well known. Therefore, do not be surprised that Russia took the demise of the G8 painlessly and without a shadow of regret. Moscow would hardly be willing to return to this or any other similar non-inclusive format, even if urged to join. This would be utterly needless, as we participate in the G20, BRICS and SCO which are much more relevant today, keeping in mind, of course, the central role of the UN.
So, today almost everyone agrees that the world has already become multipolar. At the same time, this unstable world is approaching at full speed another major fork on the road. If selfish motives, pre-conceived notions, long-standing phobias and stereotypes guide the choice of the way forward, as they do now, then the system under construction may easily become bipolar again. This time, the US and the EU would be on one side, and China and Russia on the other. In my view, such a configuration benefits no one. But in fact, many in the West, particularly across the Atlantic, perceive it as inevitable, labelling it in advance as a historic battle of an “alliance of democracies against autocracies". Needless to say, we – as well as our Chinese friends, I believe – do not agree with this arrogant and confrontational presumption. However, if the West treats Russia in the spirit of the “push back – constraint – selective engagement” triad invented by the EU and focuses exclusively on further degradation of relations, without even trying to rectify them, it will only prompt us to choose the path described above. Believe me, our aim is not an alliance with China against the European Union and the United States, or with the "collective West" against Beijing. To reassure the most paranoid Atlanticists, I will add: we are not fantacising an alliance with the EU against America either.
What is, then, our vision of a new "strategic equation" that would enable the world not only to emerge from the pandemic wiser, but also to find answers to the uncomfortable awareness of the fragility of mankind and our planet’s civilisation? By the way, the recent irresponsible and dangerous provocation undertaken by the British destroyer off the coast of Crimea could produce the same sad thoughts.
Russia, for its part, does not just throw slogans around, but also confirms its words with deeds. Including at the Geneva summit, where, notwithstanding the low level of bilateral relations, Russian and US leaders, proceeding from a special shared responsibility for international peace and security, managed to renew dialogue on strategic stability. Our proposal to convene a meeting of leaders of the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council remains valid. Sometimes it is not a bad idea to recall the conclusions reached by our predecessors in the same city of Geneva more than 35 years ago and adapt them to the current situation: today no country can win either a nuclear war, or the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and other global threats.
Let’s admit: mankind has missed a historic chance to truly unite and join forces to confront a common enemy, which, unlike others, does not divide the world into “democracies” and “autocracies” but strikes at everyone. That is sad. But now, post-factum, it is important that this crisis serves as a lesson for the future for the world community. Rather than getting carried away by the obviously counterproductive search for the source of the virus and those responsible, efforts should focus on elaborating measures and procedures that will prevent chaos and paralysis of multilateral mechanisms when mankind faces the next pandemic or other universal threat. And, sooner or later, it will face one. With all due respect for the memory of the 4 million COVID-19 victims and sympathy for those they left behind, we should be well aware that the world encountered a virus with a fatality rate of around two per cent. The history of mankind has known deadly diseases with fatality rates of over ten and even up to ninety per cent. We cannot hedge against the emergence and spread of more terrible infections in the future, but we must be much better prepared.
For that, do not re-paint the bright diverse world in black and white colours of ideological bipolarity and arrogantly wait for the end of history, victorious only for your side, because it will come only with the end of all mankind. Do not wait for a nuclear Armageddon, let alone try to bring it closer, do not wait for a devastating pandemic. To avoid all of that, get rid of the false sense of exceptionalism, abandon the flawed logic of a "zero-sum game" and the practice of replacing international law with a West-centric concept of a "rules-based world order". Thereafter, on the basis of equality, mutual respect and consideration for each other’s interests, together we can and should work out collective, pragmatic and mutually beneficial solutions that would ensure stability and sustainability of the entire international system, rather than that of one of its individual actors, and its resilience to inevitable internal contradictions and powerful external shocks. I do not see any other "strategic equation". This is the only option, by and large.
As Russian President Vladimir Putin noted following the recent summit in Geneva, “we have a lot to work on”. Russia encourages all those who want to see our planet peaceful and prosperous to work together precisely in this way.