I was interviewed by Radio Sputnik, Moscow, yesterday.
The audio clip is not very good, but I am attaching it here.
The transcript is below.
– Back in 2007 President Putin delivered his famous Munich speech, but many analysts agree that it remains relevant up to this day. How justified are the assessments?
It remains relevant in the sense that, that was the first instance which gave Western foreign policy analysts an idea about the change of tone of Russian grand strategy. It is observed, post-Soviet collapse, the pattern in Russian foreign policy is of short periods of cooperation and Atlanticism followed by long period of disillusionment or outright confrontation. From 2007 onwards there was this idea cemented on both Russian and Western sides, that mostly the relation between Russia and the West will broadly be defined by geopolitical rivalry, even during times of cooperation. 2007 marked the year which saw Russia return to its confrontational form, and that confrontation between Russia and the West has remained constant, regardless of the “reset” in between. And that is where we are now.
– During his address, the Russian leader slammed the unipolar world order in which the US can take unilateral decisions on the most acute global problems. How different is the system nowadays? Has it changed for the better in your view?
Well, the system is still the same. It is still qualitatively a Unipolar world, in the sense that United States is realistically the only superpower with a truly global reach and capability. What has changed is the appetite in the West, for interventions and values and democracy promotion and nation building, especially across UK and US. There are regular surveys in PEW and recently from Chatham House that proves that public in the West are opposed to any sort of further involvement or engagement in Middle East, as well as opposed to any sort of migration from the Middle East. Middle East is sort of considered as a geopolitically cancerous zone, by a majority of public in Western Europe and US. Which is slowly starting to reflect in policy making and elections in the West as well. I’d say, the public mood in the West is not isolationism, but one of caution and retrenchment. That’s very different from 2007.
– The Russian president also warned against using military force over international law, arguing this could only make things worse. How reasonable has this warning proven to be? (follow-up: What can be done to restore the letter of law nowadays?)
Well, great powers, regardless of their ideology, or regime type, have always acted according to their perceived national interest, regardless of what the international law states. That has historically been the nature of international relations.
There is no global enforcement agency for any international law. International order is therefore essentially based on the whims and fancies of great powers, as well as their cooperation, and forces of economics.
If the mutual cooperation can be restored, then there is a chance of restoring the “letter of the law,” so to speak. That’s the only way. The other way is a renewed multipolar great power rivalry and spheres of influence, as it used to be prior to the First World War.
– Now, speaking about NATO’s expansion, President Putin said in Munich that the trend served as a provocative factor. Nowadays many experts share the same opinion, saying the expansion prompts further destabilization in the region? Why is it still in place?
NATO expansion, even during the late nineties, was a debatable issue among International relations theorists. That’s nothing new.
That said, NATO expansion is a result of a combination of factors, and it is naïve to blame it on any one particular side.
Some of them is a result of the historical legacy of the region, East Europe in particular. Some of them of course geopolitical reasons. What has happened however, is what we call, a Security Dilemma, or a spiral. Without commenting on whether it is justified or not, NATO expansion for some reason, does make Russia feel paranoid, which in turn, makes Russia militarise and act aggressively, which in turn, makes other smaller states feel threatened, who then want to be a part of a balancing coalition under Western umbrella. It’s a spiral model, and that’s precisely what’s happening now.
– In 2007 the Russian leader also highlighted the importance of further nuclear proliferation as a guarantor for global stability. The process, however, has recently come to a certain standstill. How do you see things playing out in this regard in the near future? What are the chances that will we see new nuclear proliferation efforts made on behalf of Russia, the US and other nations?
Nuclear proliferation is one of the major areas where there can be a realistic chance of cooperation between Russia and West. But at this point, the question is not whether it is important, but how it will be restarted. I personally don’t foresee, at least at this stage, any renewed or successful efforts given the current geopolitical scenario.
– Finally, some analysts hope that Donald Trump’s presidency might bring about positive changes and put an end to the unipolar world order. In your view, how likely is this? What internal and external forces could prevent him from doing so?
No, I don’t think it is likely, in the sense even if for the sake of argument, we agree that there will be a détente between Russia and the West, it possibly won’t last long. There are fundamental differences between Russia and United States, differences which are structural. Differences in national interests, for example with regards to Ukraine, and Iran, and those will stay regardless of who’s the President in either country. Trump’s presidency might also force Russia to slowly choose sides between China and United States, and I don’t think Russian policy makers at this stage are ready for that choice. In any case, one man cannot radically alter the direction of a country’s foreign policy, he will be constrained by forces of economics and geopolitics.
Having said that, there is always a possibility of issue based cooperation and finding common grounds, especially with regards to Islamist terrorism and North Korea for example. It is a probable ground for cooperation, but at this stage, difficult to predict.