By Rostislav Ishchenko
Translated by Ollie Richardson and Angelina Siard
cross posted with http://www.stalkerzone.org/rostislav-ishchenko-filling-the-vacuum/
When the Western Roman Empire collapsed, in Europe the so-called dark centuries came there for a long time. Modern historians claim that they were not that dark, and cite as an example the Justinian attempt to restore the empire, the Carolingian renaissance, and say that Levantine trade continued not only before, but also after the Arab conquests. Nevertheless, the level of comfort, prosperity, personal security, education, transport connectivity, the organisation of society and the state, and the technological development reached by the Roman Empire by the third century of our era was surpassed by Europe only in the 18th century.
The main problem was that neither barbarous kingdoms, nor the feudal states that succeeded them, neither Byzantium, nor the Caliphate (especially its fragments) had enough resources to organise normal life on the territories that were liberated from imperial guardianship. In fact, almost a millennium of European feudalism (prior to the beginning of the Renaissance) represents the consecutive atomisation of society and state institutions (even within the framework of existing ones: the empires of the successors of Charles the Great, the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation, and the so-called Angevin empire). For small semi-independent feudal possessions that united only for the sake of military campaigns or to defend against external aggression, it was easier to keep conditional order on limited territory on the basis of a common law and local traditions. They didn’t possess neither the technologies of building roads and the organisation of regular communication, nor enough administrative staff for the organisation of a uniform system of governance, nor enough material resources in order to educate this staff. The simple system within the framework of which the fighter (a knight – a feudal lord) was at the same time not only a defender, but also an administrator, an economic leader, a judge, and a police officer, appeared to be the only organisation of state and public life for a certain period of time.
When the Russian Empire collapsed, external forces (interventionists) laying claim to the partition of imperial inheritance tried to fill the arisen vacuum, but their forces weren’t enough to cope with the internal force that declared a claim not only for the inheritance of the Romanov dynasty, but also for the reconstruction of the whole world. The Bolsheviks quite successfully filled the vacuum on imperial lands, quickly returned temporarily lost territories, and even moved on to political and ideological expansion.
However, after colonial empires failed and the vacuum captured huge territories of Asia and Africa, it became clear that not only the resources of the USSR, but even the joint resources of the USSR and US would be enough to fully fill the vacuum. As of this moment the majority of African countries are represented by tribal regimes, which in terms of their level of stability are rather comparable with early feudal formations, and not European states of the 16th-17th centuries.
The strain stemming from the dominating ideology was one of the reasons that the USSR fell. If the US was establishing purely neocolonial control and some of the spent resources were compensated for by looting controlled territories, then the USSR unproductively injected huge resources into a tribal vacuum, trying to provide subordinated countries with a jump from tribal or early feudal society directly to communism.
After the collapse of the USSR, the US and the EU at first filled the vacuum quite successfully, having concentrated on mastering its European heritage (both the former states of the socialist commonwealth and the territories of the former Union). However, it soon became clear that even global military-political hegemony doesn’t allow to, on the one hand, concentrate enough resources in order to fill the post-imperial vacuum, and on the other hand, to reliably control the rest of the world.
The US started feeling resource hunger already at the turn of the 20th and the 21st centuries. Hence their attempts to reduce the price of mastering the post-Soviet space with the help of colour revolutions, which transferred victim countries to the status of colonies whose resources had to help further expansion in principle.
The idea by itself was beautiful. All calculations showed that the resources of the victim country must tie down two-three times more resources of Russia – the only opponent of the US in the post-Soviet space. Even disregarding the general resource superiority of the US, three-four colour revolutions had to completely nullify the free Russian resource and lead to more catastrophic external/internal political consequences for Moscow than was expected from the sanctions imposed in 2014.
The mistake was that in such kinds of coups it is possible to place a stake only on the comprador bourgeoisie, the business of which objectively revolves around plundering their own country. Of course, the national producer and a considerable part of society starts resisting compradors at the stage of their journey to power. As a result, the US was required to commit considerable resource investments to ensure the seizure of power by their own “son of a bitch“, and a considerable part of the resources of the victim country was spent on the internal political fight.
But the most unpleasant thing started after the victory. The compradors who seized absolute power and weren’t constrained by anything performed such a brilliant plunder operation that the resources of the victim country – however large they may seem – disappeared in two-three years, after which the US was obliged to put this regime on its maintenance. I.e., instead of using its resources to tie down the resources of Russia, the US tied down its own resources.
The 2008 crisis, against the background of the strategy of colour revolutions failing, led to it being Obama who came to power with a program that was very similar to Trump’s program (only softer). However, it not only wasn’t succeeded to realise this program in eight Obama years – it was necessary to continue the previous policy. By this time the US’ own comprador elite developed, which controlled power and plundered both other countries and the US in the interests of abstract globalism and, specifically, in its own interests. Changing the foreign policy vector is like death for this elite, because it cuts it off from both power and the source of profits (it leads to the financial-economic and political crash of very specific and more-than-successful people – whole clans that governed America and laid claim to controlling the whole world over decades). That’s why their resistance was extremely rigid. Even in 2016 they risked putting the US on the brink of civil war in order to not allow Trump and the national capital standing behind him to come to power. Even now they fight to the death, not to live, and its outcome isn’t clear.
But what interests us today in all this story is that after 1.5 decades of struggle, the national capital of the US, leaning on conservative public circles, broke through to power in order to relieve the US of a resource-intensive policy. The impossibility for the US to fill by itself the post-imperial vacuum in connection with a shortage of resources and the partial restoration of the forces of opponents became not only obvious, but the continuation of the policy of building a global empire started to destroy the US.
Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” is not just an apt invention of technologists and not the audacity of an aged billionaire. This is a key to the program not only and not so much even for Trump, but for the national capital [money – ed] standing behind him. Trump, with his ambitiousness, implements this perhaps not in the best way, and not always consistently, but in general he doesn’t deviate from the general line.
Despite the regular recurrence of an imperial policy, in reality the US leaves several key zones of the planet that they kept under its complete military-political control for the past two decades. In the near future they are going to leave several more. The European Union without the military-political support of the US isn’t capable of filling the vacuum even in North Africa, not to mention other regions of the planet. Huge territories must plunge into new dark centuries.
This indeed concerns a situation that is quite comparable with the one that caught up with Europe after the Western Roman Empire fell, but only this time in the scale of the entire planet. Regardless of how we relate to the US, it is necessary to recognise that over last 20-30 years they indeed carried out the function of the world police officer. This police officer was corrupted and inclined to using violence in an unjustified way. But it provided some order, trying to dictate norms that are uniform for all. The Roman Empire, by the way, also wasn’t a gift in this respect either.
Now the US leaves, and the huge regions of Eurasia and Africa remain without supervision and are sucked into the post-imperial vacuum. Moreover, even the EU (especially its Eastern European neophytes) isn’t guaranteed against being split up and slipping into the vacuum. Now Europeans had an epiphany and try to build some strategy that will provide them a place in the sun in the post-American world. Maybe they will be in time and will be able to find the answer to the post-imperial challenge that suddenly fell at their feet. But there is no guarantee. Firstly, the time was hopelessly missed, the answer should’ve been looked for outside the chessboard. Putin warned them 11 years ago in Munich, but they didn’t want to hear. Secondly, Europe is tied to the US by millions of personal, corporate, political, and economic threads. The EU in relation to the US represents some kind of Ukraine in relation to Russia. All these ties could be reformatted smoothly for a couple of dozen years, but now there is a need to be urgently engaged in this in real-time. We saw the example of the instant collapse of the Ukrainian economy, and we saw what happens in such cases where wrong decisions are made. European bureaucracy, of course, is manyfold more qualified than the Ukrainian one, but it is also not guaranteed against mistakes when decisions have to be made based on incomplete information. In addition, the US started playing against Europe, and this additionally complicates the situation, reducing the space of possible decisions. Thirdly, in Europe there is an influential layer of politicians that doesn’t want to change anything and dreams of surrendering to the US on any conditions, even if Europeans at this time will be subjected to the fate of Ukrainians, but the politicians themselves won’t suffer (at least that’s what they think).
So, the US leaves and Europe itself is in crisis. Only Russia and China can fill the post-imperial vacuum. But their joint resources aren’t enough to be able to quickly establish military-political and economic control over the territories liberated from the US. If to hurry and to try to instantly swallow everything, you with guarantee will choke. Quick capture leads to an instant resource overstrain, which over almost thirty years consistently ruined the USSR, destroyed the world hegemony of the US, and now threatens to disintegrate the European Union.
Meanwhile, the growth rates of free post-imperial zones aren’t too great, and the common strategy of Russia and China aimed at consolidating Eurasia and occupying several key strategic points in other regions justifies itself, allowing to quickly react to the changing situation without serious overstrain.
However, now neither Russia, nor China (despite huge gold and foreign exchange reserves) have no extra resources. We are practically on the verge of having possibilities. At the same time, the government of the Russian Federation prepares for the probable (even not probable, but almost inevitable) deterioration of the world’s economic environment, trying to create a safety cushion should large global financial and economic shocks – that can occur at any time – happen.
In such a situation neither Russia nor China will be able to carry out a more active (i.e., expensive) foreign policy without jeopardising internal stability. Russia has already been forced to refuse a number of chances to fill the post-imperial vacuum. For example, Russia ignores Khalifa Haftar’s requests for help to establish control over all of Libya, despite the fact that this would allow to receive not only the foundations of the fleet in Benghazi, but also control over Libyan energy exported to the EU.
It would seem that this is profitable – Europe’s energy dependence on Russia amplifies, but, taking into account the common situation in Libya and the involvement in the Libyan crisis of both some EU countries and some gulf monarchies, Russia obviously doesn’t have enough cash resources to carry out a successful operation following the Syrian example. At least, until the Syrian crisis is solved – and this will require no less than a year (or maybe more). Russia occupied a strategic point in the Central African Republic, from where the possibility of controlling over half of Africa, including Libya, starts to arise. The operation in the CAR demands minimal resource expenses and allows to occupy a quite good bridgehead in the future. But whether this base will be used, and if it will be used, then when and how, depends on the general global situation.
Should events take place according to the soft scenario and Moscow and Beijing will be able to consolidate Eurasia within the framework of the SCO and other integration projects, then the accumulation of resources for a more active policy in other regions will happen quicker. If the EU isn’t able to find an adequate answer to internal and external challenges and we will face a large-scale European crisis (with another “decline of Europe”), then even scurrying around for resources for a fully-fledged solution to the Ukrainian question will turn out to be a problem.
Meanwhile the Ukrainian crisis at the moment is the most acute crisis of the post-Soviet space, having the greatest destabilisation potential. Its settlement would considerably improve the general strategic situation of Russia. However, the scale of the degradation of the Ukrainian economy, finance, society, and governmental institutions is too big. This settlement will demand huge resources – considerably bigger than what was spent on the Syrian operation. But without having the reliable resource base to start a full-scale settlement, this would be too risky. Failure will nullify most of the achievements of the past few decades and will be reflected in both external prestige and internal stability.
Thus, today we have two main problematic regions in the post-imperial vacuum left by the Americans: Africa and, with a high share of probability, Europe – or at least Eastern Europe almost with a guarantee. There are problems in Central Asia, but the joint Russian-Chinese influence and possibilities to stop possible destabilisation there are rather great.
Africa is rather far away and can be controlled remotely, and also by the targeted deployment of small forces, like in the CAR. I.e., resource expenses in this direction mustn’t grow critically. But the European crisis – which already affects us in the form of the Ukrainian crisis, but at worst can expand to the scale of a continent – represents a non-trivial problem. The most adequate version of its settlement lies in the preservation of the German-French kernel of the EU and its reorientation towards Russia. But this depends not only on Moscow, but also on the quality of the work of European politicians. If the main part of Western Europe is able to remain an effective system, the filling of the post-imperial vacuum in Eastern Europe through joint efforts represents a task that is difficult and expensive, but can be solved all the same. If this doesn’t happen and Europe will politically and organisationally return to the times before the 30 years’ war, the least resource-intensive exit for Russia will be the creation of a chain of buffer states and the gradual expansion of this buffer to the West with the simultaneous launching of integration processes. This must be reminiscent of the American frontier, which moved (by the way, also to the West of the US) thanks to the gradual accumulation of the necessary internal resources.
The biggest danger of the post-imperial reality for new leaders consists not in the presence of big weakly controlled territories, but in a natural attempt to establish a new global order as soon as possible. The advancing of values always demands resource expenses. If one overestimates one’s own possibilities, one will quickly overstrain.
But in general we have to be grateful to the group of American globalists, whose symbol is Hillary Clinton, for the fact that they delayed the curtailing of the American imperial presence at least for a decade, having allowed Russia and China to accumulate enough resources during this time to ensure the defence of their interests at least in strategic points of the post-imperial space. If a concept similar to Trump’s started being implemented in 2008 (not to mention 2000-2004), then it would be extremely difficult for us [Russia – ed], and most likely impossible, to combine the principle of the rational expenditure (economy) of scarce resources with the need to exercise post-imperial control in crucial regions.