According to the Laws of the Bear

Putin’s speech at the Valdai confirms that Russia is aimed at actively participating in the formation of a new world order. Moreover, it insists that countries agree to its creation, or else the world will turn to chaos. There is another problem, though. After the events in Crimea, Russia’s actions will inevitably run into much more distrust from the international community. Our attempts to become a world leader also have fundamental economic limits.

The idea first came from the Sochi Valdai Club, which is not a diplomatic, politically correct, or secular function. It is an open dialogue with journalists and political scientists, and because of that, the president’s speech was rather colorful and tough in style. It wasn’t as belligerent as many expected, though. However, it was staunchly anti-American. The president gave his most famous speech critiquing the current world order in Munich in 2007 at a security conference. It is true that at that time, Russia was still playing by international rules — or at least it was trying — in power shows and interpretations about the advantages of those kinds of games. The Valdai address to Western colleagues was done when Moscow had already begun to doubt the very existence of the world order as it had formed after the end of the Cold War and the fall of the USSR.

We admit that the mechanism of international law has been destroyed, but not by us, by the U.S. “It wasn’t us who started it,” was a motif of Putin’s speech.

True, the obvious end of the phrase is, “but it is us who kept it going.” While Putin gave his speech at the Valdai Club’s annual session, the president was admittedly on “the inside” of the world order, although he sharply criticized it. Now, however, he is the first to say that he is “on the outside” of that order. Nevertheless, from what the president says, we can conclude that Russia is not aimed at putting up more barriers against the U.S., and especially not against Europe.

The fact is that Russia is not completely turning away from the West to the East, as much as it is trying to concurrently develop relations with the most dynamically developing world economy — China’s — which everyone is doing.

The West is there, too. The U.S. and the EU, specifically, are the most important international trade partners of the Celestial Empire.* Putin doesn’t doubt any of Russia’s actions in the Ukrainian crisis, and thinks that sanctions are a response to the steps we’ve been taking, not just politically motivated malevolence from the West. Putin is absolutely correct in saying that sanctions against Russia will bring harm to everyone. However, the goal lies in harming and holding back Russia after what it did in Crimea. It is a conscious decision by the West to take on losses in favor of its own ideas of international security.

It begs your attention that the Russian president and his minister of international affairs, Sergei Lavrov, distinctly and harshly criticize specifically the U.S., as opposed to the West as a whole.

It looks like separating Europe from the U.S., at least on the level of official ideology, is becoming one of the pivotal guideposts of the new Russian idea of the world. On that line of thought, Europe represents the victim of what, in Soviet mentality, was known as “American hegemony.” Only, in contrast to Russia, Europe has not put itself in the position for political, nor economic, audacity to stand up against the American onslaught.

Russia has that kind of power.

Putin says that we don’t want the isolation of Russia, nor the conservation of our own obsolescence. We are not looking for an exclusionary role in the world. We aren’t aimed at created a military-political block. We just want to be respected. However, the demand of “respect” is pretty blurry. The president cited the following example of disrespect: The EU didn’t ask Russia’s opinion when while deciding whether or not to sign a contract of association with Ukraine, saying, “It’s none of your business.”

Then again, from the point of international law, it actually isn’t Russia’s business. Ukraine is officially recognized by the world (including Russia) as a sovereign state, which has the right to negotiate with whomever it wants about whatever it wants. Putin, by the way, underscored that in his speech — that Ukraine has equally the same rights as Russia in regard to its independence and taking measures of national interest. Respect to the country depends on economic puissance. Russia can indeed consider itself politically equal to America, but it still needs to consider its GDP, which is eight times less than that of America. The argument of having nuclear weapons is, thankfully, not one that Russia is looking at. Putin, once again, underscored that Moscow is up for comprehensive disarmament negotiations.

The role and size of Russian claims to construct a new world order have yet to be clarified. The president says that Russia will not ask for forgiveness or belittle itself. There is no doubt about that. The president says that sanctions only bring our society closer together. That is also absolutely true and it is inherent in every country where its citizens feel the obligation to stick together. The country has stuck together. The country isn’t afraid of sanctions. They haven’t even had that significant of an effect. Stop ignoring us, belittling us, and cutting us down. Then we could treat each other like people. That is the motif of Putin’s speech.

While you are making peace with the fact that you can’t do anything to us, let’s try to negotiate. Double standards will not work with Russia. Russian “bear”-headedness will not allow its country to be manipulated. In its own territory it will play by its own rules.

The Valdai posit that “the bear doesn’t ask for permission from anyone, and it’s not going to start now” will likely go down in history has the most accurate description of Russian politics in the “post-Crimean” era.

However, the bear must be well-fed in order to gain a voice in the matter and avoid being trampled. Without economic might, it will be very hard to have a global political influence.

*Translator’s Note: From the Russian “Podnebesnaya,” an old name for the Chinese Empire.

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