Neo-Empire: Russia in the Modern World, by Rostislav Ishchenko
Translation by Scott Humor
Various historical epochs have not only seen the different internal structures of Russian state (Pre-Mongol Russia is not identical to the Moscow Kingdom Russia of the XVI-XVII centuries, and in turn, had little in common with Russia of the XVIII-early XX century, or the Russian Empire, which was fundamentally different from the Soviet Union,) but also different forms of state protection of its external interests. At the same time, such internally different organisms as the Moscow Kingdom, the Russian Empire, and the USSR in the first half of the twentieth century employed identical forms of actions in the international arena, seeking to solve the same problems by the same means and methods.
With time, the forms of interaction between states in the international arena begin to change critically.
Moving at the direction of the “last sea” Genghis Khan’s warriors practiced genocide of the conquered population and the establishment of direct Mongolian rule over the occupied territories.
Europeans of the colonial era preferred remote military and political control over local authorities, avoiding the introduction of direct mechanisms of control over the colonies when possible. Since the second half of the twentieth century, the formal sovereignty of dependent states has been scrupulously observed in the post-colonial era. The center of gravity of control has moved to the financial, trade, and economic spheres.
In our time, the most important role is played by the control of resources. At the same time, when we talk about the resource base, we mean not only and not primarily natural resources (although their availability is also important). We are talking about a complex of resources of raw materials, industrial, agricultural, financial, political, diplomatic, military, demographic, etc. And not only those resources that are owned by the state are taken into account. The most important factor is the control of resources beyond the own borders. It can be direct, through investments, purchase of the corresponding companies, etc., or it can be indirect, at the expense of use in the interests–it is desirable on a mutually beneficial basis–of allied and friendly states. The highest acrobatics is the use of resources and efforts of the geopolitical enemy and its allies and satellites for the realization of you own goals.
For a modern empire, the size of its territory and population is important, but with a certain value (providing military and political security) is not fundamental. The stronger and more dynamically developing modern empire would have greater inflow of resources produced by each invested unit. Just like in business, if your profit is equal to one hundred rubles per one invested ruble, then you have more potential than someone who produces only one ruble of profit per each ruble of investments. Hence, the desire of the mired in debts United States, and of quite prosperous in the financial sense Russia to maximize efficiency of foreign policy operations. They should not be placed on a list of expenditures and losses. After the first investment, foreign policy shares should begin to make a profit as soon as possible.
I would like to emphasize that this profit is not measured exclusively in billions of dollars coming to the Treasury. The end game of modern foreign policy operations is to establish control over the main resource flows, their intersection points, their direction, and closure to their territory. Under these conditions, old relationships often become irrelevant, supported by inertia, and the tendency to transfer them into self-sufficiency prevails.
The era during which the junior allies were sustained by dominant powers is over. Very clumsily, this transfer towards more pragmatic relations with allies was made by the USSR, which resulted in failure due to the low quality of the performers who made this attempt. Nevertheless, 25 years after the partition of the Soviet Union, both Russia and the United States are almost simultaneously declared a transition to pragmatic relations with their allies. Both empires offer no pay for being in a union with them. In the union framework, Russia offers to work together to make profit, and the United States offers to rob together.
This approach causes hysteria among both groups of states. They threaten Washington with “the loss of Europe,” while Russia is being blamed for “the loss of Ukraine, the loss of Belarus” (Kazakhstan, Armenia are further down the list). To avoid “losses,” both Washington and Moscow are asked to continue paying for loyalty to them by their respective allies, regardless of the cost.
These ideas are expressed not just by the “fifth column” or “enemies of the Fatherland.” Certainly, they are also present in the choir and among the speakers, but mostly the idea of a “payment Union” is being promoted by those who sincerely care about the greatness of the homeland. They are divided into two large groups. The first is made up of elites and the citizens of allied nations (or potential allies), as well as the business associates of these countries, earning on the benefits of being allies. They just don’t understand why to demolish something that works well for them, because they don’t separate the good for themselves from the good for Russia. They sincerely threaten “to be offended,” believing that their personal reaction is equal to the reaction of entire nations, which it is not, with some exceptions.
The second group of those calling for payments are patriots living in yesterday and preparing for yesterday’s wars. They, no less sincerely, consider it necessary to resolve any dispute on the battlefield, sending the army to war “to protect national interests” anywhere in the world where the United States received a temporary advantage. They have been waiting for twenty years for “the US missiles near Kharkov” and ” NATO tanks near Chernigov.” Any past defeats (including Afghanistan) they associate exclusively with “betrayal of the top” (though many occurred for objective reasons). Any potential war they see only as a Russian blitzkrieg, “a little blood on foreign soil.” Such problems as an overstrain of the economy, falling living standards, stagnation of trade, problems in the financial system (the inevitable consequences of even a victorious war) do not interest them at all. They see allies only as means to protect Russia from direct enemy attack. They must die, while giving Russia time to mobilize forces and means. In this paradigm, funds invested in allies don’t seem to be a pointless waste, but the cost of sacrifice. Just like with pigs fattened not for humanitarian reasons, but so that when the time comes to harvest them for food or trade.
These people simply do not understand that each era corresponds to its format of Empire and her military actions. If you continue to fight in the past format, then you get smashed, as in the Crimean or Russian-Japanese wars or in the summer of 1941. And no investment in the army or in the allies will help. The state and the army of the past are always inferior to the state and the army of the future.
The modern war has already started yesterday. It is a permanent war, that’s why is it called a hybrid. The parties are trying to do it without military clashes at all, since the use of the military is an extremely costly way to clarify relations. The disputes are being resolved in the information, political, and diplomatic spheres. The army is needed as a safety net in case our enemy, seeing that he is failing in the chess game he plays, will try to smash a two-by-four over your head and go to fight without the rules.
Simultaneously, you have to not only finance the fighting on the invisible fronts of the hybrid war, but also to ensure that the standard of living of your population, at least did not fall, but better would grew, as any economic and social problems will be immediately used by the enemy. And the modern army, as mentioned above, also needs to be funded, otherwise no one will compete with you in the intellectual field, and they will do to you what they did with Serbia and Iraq. In general, there are so many items on the expenditure list that it’s prohibitively expensive to buy loyalty and to finance the “allies” for fear that they will run over to the enemy and in exchange for them periodically making statements indicating their loyalty.
This is an unreasonable waste of resources, which means a direct path to defeat. In recent years, the superpowers, not being able to enter into a direct military clash with each other, but not willing to abandon the practice of global confrontation, are trying to force their enemy to waste resources unproductively. The more of these political black holes that consume resources, the more certain defeat.
Russia is pursuing a normal neo-imperial policy, for only this way she can protect national interests and sovereignty from the encroachments of the United States, conducting the same neo-imperial policy. If the actions of the United States, designed in the form of a strategy for the XXI century are responded with the strategy of the second third of the twentieth century, a rapid and catastrophic defeat would be inevitable, even despite the fact that Moscow is now much closer to victory in the global confrontation than Washington.
If you understand this simple point, you will understand the reason for Russia’s sluggish reaction to the protracted Ukrainian crisis. Moreover, the prospects for the development of relations between Russia and the territories that are now part of the Ukrainian state, as well as other post-Soviet States, will become clear.
Russia is not seeking a mechanical reunification of territories, even if they are home to “the same people” or “fraternal people.” In order to achieve inclusion into Russia (to achieve it, not just to agree to it favorably), the territory must have strategic importance (like Crimea) or its population must create conditions under which Moscow’s refusal to join the territory of its residence would entail greater moral and political costs than the possible material costs of integration. Donbass went this way, and almost solved its problem. The question now is not whether Donbass will be part of Russia, but when it will be, in what borders, and how will it happen. Just after five years of war, life under fire in a state of humanitarian disaster for the majority of the population of the region, Russia cannot, without prejudice to its international authority and the authority of the authorities in the country, abandon the reintegration of Donbass.
In all other cases, Moscow in neighboring countries is satisfied with any government that provides full-scale economic cooperation. This approach provides a serious geopolitical advantage is based on the strategy of “the thrifty Empire”. On one hand, a larger, more technologically advanced and more efficient economy always suppresses the smaller ones if it is put in conditions of equal competition with them. On the other hand, the local authorities are responsible to the population of allies for their standard of living and any other problems. The more independence this power demonstrates, the more convenient it is for Russia
Over decades of post-Soviet integration, “pro-Russian” Lukashenka squeezed out of the Kremlin many times more benefits and concessions than “multi-vector” Nazarbayev. At the same time, translating his language to the Latin alphabet from Cyrillic, the Kazakh leader Nazarbayev was an initiator of integration processes in the post-Soviet space in contrast to preserving the commitment of the Belarusian Cyrillic Lukashenka, who is blackmailing Moscow with his “turn to the West”.
Despite the growth of Kazakh nationalism and the lack of projects for the “Union state” of Moscow and Astana, the real integration of Kazakhstan into joint projects is much deeper, because it is based not on an emotional ideology, but on a mercantile economic basis. Kazakhstan is sovereign in its relations with Russia as much as its economic contribution to the common Treasury. Belarus is trying in exchange emotionally fraternal statements for more and more economic preferences, which significantly exceed its real weight in the implementation of joint projects.
Of course, nothing lasts forever, and Kazakhstan, under a new government, can change its foreign policy orientation. In any society there are always groups that are diametrically opposed in their views on the prospects for the development of their country and its foreign policy priorities. They can replace each other and the authorities, respectively changing policies. But it is far more difficult to turn a country connected with millions of economic threads, than the state emotionally declaring brotherhood in exchange for financial preferences. It took 30 years to turn Ukraine away from Russia, and it was finally accomplished only by completely destroying its economy. In any case, the brotherhood usually ends with preferences (as it did with the socialist Commonwealth of the states, and the Soviet Union).
This is not to say that Russia does not need an additional population. Territories beyond the Ural Mountains already require 30-40 million additional inhabitants. But we must understand that if Russia would absorb her historical territories somewhere in Europe or Asia, the local population won’t be sent in joyful columns to develop Siberia, but rather would stay where they are and begin to demand raising their standard of living to the all-Russian right in their place of residence (because they automatically acquire Russian citizenship by right of birth on those lands). In this regard, the state benefits from migrant workers who do not have to choose where to live, they move to live where there are jobs for them.
Moreover, judging by the fact that in recent years the adoption of Russian citizenship is limited to about two hundred thousand people a year–this is a number of people that Russia is able to integrate into society without overstrain, not just giving them all the rights and benefits available to natural citizens, but providing a material basis for their implementation. As in reality, the country employs up to ten million legal and illegal migrants who do not have citizenship (about half of them do not apply for it, and plan to earn extra money to return home), this means that Russia’s needs for additional labor significantly exceed its material capabilities for the integration of this labor force into Russian society on the rights of full citizenship.
The modern pragmatic empire looks cynical, but the romantics who tried to build a state policy on emotional and fraternal grounds, ended up destroying their own states, and with them the habitat of tens or even hundreds of millions of citizens of these dead states. By the way, Stalin, whom supporters of emotional and fraternal politics like to refer to, was the most pragmatic of the Soviet leaders. When he helped his allies, he always knew what he would get for it, or he realized that by not helping he would lose more than he would save.
We must understand that the global confrontation will not stop as long as there are at least two states in the world. If there are different countries, then will be a difference of interests, and if there is a difference of interests, then the transition of at least one of them from the regime of fair competition to the regime of power suppression of a more successful competitor is a matter of time, not principle. To successfully fight for their interests, in circumstances when the war (hybrid, which can be more destructive than hot) has become commonplace, the state needs a high stability. This stability is achieved through a balance of desires and opportunities, ideals and interests, objectives and resources.
Any state strives for the ideal, that is, to extend its power to the entire inhabited world (even if it does not realize this). However, the achievement of this ideal is a matter of the infinite future. It’s not even the fact that it is at all possible, because this contradicts the law of the unity and the conflict of opposites. if a political system is not balanced by anything outside, it is degenerating. Therefore, the state of war (in different forms) is the normal state of society for the foreseeable future. Therefore, we witness an appearance of current policy of saving resources that characterizes today’s successful neo-imperial formation. Own citizen has become a very expensive resource. An attempt to reduce its costs leads to a fall in living standards and threatens the stability of the state, which in turn is a necessary prerequisite for the successful conduct of a hybrid war. At the same time, the world around is full of cheap human resources that can perform the same functionality as their own citizens, but without any social guarantees and at times lower pay.
Neocolonial empires of the second half of the twentieth century moved production to states with cheap human resource. This, however, was contrary to the principle of resource concentration, as it weakened control over economic resources. Roughly speaking, a significant part of the industry and the economy controlled by the neocolonial empires began to work for the interests of the host states. Today, the neo-Empire has found another way out–the movement of cheap human resources to the regions that needs additional labor. And those States that do it on an ad hoc basis, benefit more than those who take the labor force on a permanent basis. “New Europeans” work much less and require much more resources than illegal migrants in the United States.
However, formation of the neo-imperialist attitude to a person as to an additional burden for the state is a weak link for any neo-empire. States are created to serve people. When a state starts to reject this function, then people lose their obligation to remain loyal to the state. Today, the ideology of dehumanization of a state, not just the priority of its interests over the interest of the individual, but the priority over the society of its citizens and even over all mankind, has not yet been formed completely. And it is in Russia that attempts are made to get away from the bad dependency of a thrifty empire on the theory of dehumanization of state. It is difficult to say whether they will be successful. In the end, not only the economic, but also the ideological model of a state is formed based on the needs of the real world. Better adapted to reality state survives, less adapted dies, the rest are trying to adapt, reforming their political system, in accordance with the requirements of the time and the changed world.
If dehumanization is a necessary condition for the survival of the state in the new conditions, sooner or later it will be recognized. But in this possible temporary victory will be laid its final defeat as a government without people cannot exist, disappears the meaning of its existence, as it makes no sense as existence of a car or plane in a deserted world. But, if in order for material values to become meaningless, the world must become really deserted, in order for the need for a state to disappear, it must only accept the principle of dehumanization as the basis of its activities.
If “extra people” are not needed, sooner or later this principle will be extended to its own population: first to one social group, then to another, and then to all. The Bolsheviks, having started to execute in the 1917 their class and ideological enemies, ended up to 1939 executing a large number of themselves, a fact that (with a small temporary backlash) was reflected in the renaming in 1952 of their party from the CPSU(b) to the communist party (since the Bolsheviks came to their end, so and the party of the Bolsheviks came to its end).
Russia’s task in the “beautiful new world” of neo-empires is non-trivial. It is necessary to walk between the Scylla of efficiency while fighting against the constant external threat and the Charybdis of dehumanization for the sake of efficiency, which undermines, however, the very foundation of the state. Our advantage over competitors (US, China, EU) is that we at the very least acknowledge this task and try to solve it, while other neo-empires are about to bring the meaning of their existence (representation of people) to Molek of abstract efficiency.