I would like to salute my colleagues, whose research is closely related to our own research program. Eurasia is not only our common home, but also, as you know from the foundations of geopolitics, a target of political aspirations by many influential political forces. This is why we have to recognise our strengths and weaknesses—in order to determine and design our own lives, the lives of our people, and of our children and grandchildren. This is the essence and importance of our work. I sincerely hope that my visit will make it possible to become better acquainted with this aim. I will also attempt to inform you of our results, in order to better understand how we can help each other in solving our common challenges.
General Overview of the World’s Geopolitical Situation. The world is unstable due to the intrinsic ambiguity and inevitable decline of the neo-liberal globalisation ideology (see the article by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Foreign Affairs). Today’s global crisis is regarded essentially from an economic perspective. Crises in the economic sphere are always the most discernible, and carry the greatest repercussions for governments, businesses, and the general population. The crisis that has afflicted humanity since the end of the 20th century became a popular topic only around 2008 and 2009, once the world economy went into a recession. In the meantime, scientific assessments warrant a more detailed analysis. The Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute forecasted the critical phase of the crisis far before Wall Street’s events in 2008, and five years ago identified it as systemic. When we speak about it being systemic, we mean the overall architecture of the global international structure, which consists of numerous subsystems, whether they are local or regional political formations, sovereign nations, or emerging or developed democracies.
Current Challenges. Last year, the crises expanded and became more obvious: the pronounced BREXIT in Great Britain, and the election of a new president in the United States whose opinions conflict in many ways with the essential elements of neo-liberal globalisation. We should not expect much political composure in the current year: US-China relations are uncertain, Europe is facing several elections that may enhance the position of Eurosceptics, and Peking will hold its Party Congress, during which major decisions will be made regarding the country’s future expansion. This mutable political landscape affects practically all of the world’s political players: The USA, China, the European Union. Consequently, what should we anticipate from other countries such as Russia and Iran, both of which have rather complex relations with many players in world politics? My answer as a political scientist is the following: carefully explore and scrutinize the overall environment because former theories and models are no longer viable. Further, one must explore objectively to better understand the major challenges, not succumb to emotions; and operate rationally and precisely—particularly when it comes to one’s own national interests. This appears to be the principle trend in world politics.
World politics are becoming increasingly “nationalised”, and many have taken note of this trend. Those who support liberal ideals describe this trend as a nightmarish (such was the position of most attendees at the recent Davos Forum) growth in nationalism, protectionism, and populism. Some, however, consider this as a return from “ideocracy” to “real politics” and “normal statehood”.
Conflict – People and the Elite. There is a conflict between the people and the elite that became apparent during the 2016 elections in the USA. As indicated by Trump during his inaugural address: “Today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another – but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People.”
The people want growth, and this does not necessarily translate into growth of the GDP, it means fighting poverty, job creation, strengthening the quality and availability of education and healthcare. The electorate reproached the singular pursuit of power by the West’s elite.
However, as we recall, this is the conflict that was used in order to enflame and colour revolutions, when the only recipe offered was the construction of “proper” regimes. As it was revealed, the capitals of democracy and liberalism—Great Britain and the USA—have the same problems. But we should not dwell in malicious benevolence; there are serious reasons for jointly identifying a way out of this complex situation so that these issues do not result in deadlock.
Nevertheless, let us examine the topic that will possibly be of most interest—Eurasia.
Post-Soviet World. It is rather clear that this is our major concern. The events that occurred in the post-Soviet space affect the common interests of our countries. The situation in Ukraine serves as a good pretext to examine the processes taking place in post-Soviet nations, and illustrates that the collapse of the USSR was not entirely accomplished and that instability might arise anywhere. Last year, in this regard, we prepared a cycle of reports regarding the condition of the political environment in the former republics of the USSR. These reports are in Russian, but fully available. We will discuss the results of the report on Central Asia at the Moscow State University in February 2017 in the framework of a round-table, and we hereby extend you an invitation to attend.
Upon analysing the politics of the post-Soviet environment, we uncovered some significant particularities of government policies in these countries. An in-depth scientific analysis demonstrated that there is no integral and systemic recognition of these particularities in the scientific discourse, and most importantly, in the academic sector.
The latter is especially important since it represents a serious shortfall among political scientists capable of adequately carrying out research and providing recommendations to politicians and public officials. In order to overcome this shortcoming, we have reached an agreement for implementing a master’s degree program in English entitled Post-Soviet Public Policy at the Moscow State University.
The program will cover several key issues: reasons and consequences of the collapse of the communist system at the end of the 20th century, the composition of the political system that replaced it, the particularities of its economic development, the structure of post-Soviet civil society models and political culture, the character of political elites, the problems of international positioning for post-Soviet nations, and other specifics of post-Soviet modernisation.
We believe that the post-Soviet countries remain unorganised and continue to search for a place in the global political and economic configuration. So far, these countries have only been offered a single alternative—to join a foreign project as a junior partner. Had we chosen such a solution, we would most probably have lost plenty. Post-Soviet governments need their own identity in today’s world. A first step in this direction is the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) project introduced by Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. And most decisive is the agreement that we reached with China for associating the EEU with the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB). An association does not imply assimilation; it implies complementarity, which has allowed us and our Chinese colleagues to reach a totally new level of cooperation.
China. Interest in China is growing rapidly, particularly because of the challenges and opportunities it provides in the framework of USA-China relations. With the largest population in the world, the fourth-largest surface area, and one of the highest GDP levels, China is leading the way in economic expansion, notably increasing its military might, and is now ready for a more active role in international global politics.
China’s success is indeed impressive. Back in 1978, China was populated by about one-quarter of the world’s population, but its share of world GDP represented less than 0.5%. In 2000, China’s share of the GDP had risen to 4.5%, and was 11.3% by 2014.
It is well-known that China’s economic growth in the 1980s and 1990s was reached due to the relative reduction and consequent freeze of its military expenditures. It is no coincidence that the People’s Liberation Army was at the bottom of Deng Xiaoping’s Four Modernizations list.
Projections show that by 2020, China’s share of world GDP will reach some 20%. The US share will drop from 21% to 15%, and Russia’s will decrease from 3% to 2.7%. Having created its economic foundation, China began building its military potential: from 2005 to 2014, China’s yearly military expenditures grew on average by 9.5%. In 2014, China’s military expenditures were budgeted at $130 billion, 12.2% higher than in 2012.
Such a combination of assets naturally creates serious apprehension among the American elite, which has for a long time considered China as a serious challenger for world dominance. This means that the time has come for us to reflect on how to elaborate Russia’s policies in Asia, actually in Eurasia.
Consequently, last year we carried out a research program entitled China’s Global Project for Eurasia, the major theme of which was the Silk Road Economic Belt. I will not dwell on its content; I will simply note some important matters.
- We are witnessing global transformations. Nevertheless, science, including political science, is substantially lagging when it comes to understanding these processes: while we try to grasp how globalisation actually functions within the framework of a unipolar world, the world continues to evolve. As scientists, we must attempt to describe not only that which is, but to forecast that which will be, and perhaps even anticipate the world’s future architecture. We are all in the same boat, be we Russian or Iranian scientists and experts.
- We consider China’s initiative as something definitely positive. In order for such projects as the Silk Road Economic Belt to emerge, a “Chinese Dream” had to arise, take form, and be tabled at the government level. China’s new strategy is a systemic and complex formula, one that it also expects from its partners hoping to reach “three dockings”: a strategic docking strategy, a political docking, and a docking with regard to regional cooperation. Russia has to develop and table some national and SREB partnership perspective proposals for these “three dockings”, as well as for all of the nations of the region. It appears that the identification of such proposals will require effort not only nationally, but also with our close neighbours, first and foremost with countries of the Eurasian Economic Union, other post-Soviet countries, and hopefully with Iran as well.
- The scientific expert community should consider fostering a serious scientific and practical effort to solve the issues related to the development of the Euro-Asian region, based on a national and international collaborative dialogue. In this regard, it would be most convenient to create a common scientific expert platform. We would like you to consider participating in the organisation of an international scientific-expert group with members from China, Russia, and other countries of the EEC in order to conceive strategic solutions for the amalgamation of all Eurasian initiatives. Our expertise has shown that this is not only possible, but extremely productive. We would like to invite you to join us in this project.
Europe. Let us consider the Old World. The European continent continues to storm, and the prospect that the storm will settle is minimal. Elections are forthcoming in some of the major countries of the EU.
Regardless of the outcome of these elections, mass discontent with the socio-economic situation holds questions for the future of European integration as we know it from the early post-war years. Euroscepticism is no longer a simple transient threat; BREXIT was a concrete confirmation that it has become a reality. What are the reasons for this change?
The major reason is that the project of a united Europe is failing the test of globalisation. Many consider the European Union to be a globalist project, but this is not necessarily the case. Rather, the EU was established as a regional integration concept and did not endeavour to dissolve Europe, but to give it a new identity and provide it with an incentive for its own development. The EU motto speaks for itself, United in Diversity. The EU integration project did not anticipate world globalisation, however, with one major dominating global player shaping the economic and cultural environment to its own liking.
The second reason for this change is more subjective, but still related to the first one. In 1990, a serious renewal of the political elite took place in Europe. All those that took part in the emergence of the European project and understood its original notion have irrevocably left the stage. They were replaced by people with a new disposition that considered the future European community in the context of a global perspective.
And finally, the third reason. A unified Europe felt confident for as long as it bordered with a strong Russia. This factor was real despite the confrontational policies and ideological antagonisms. The USSR, along with the USA, was an important pole for the formation of a unified European identity. Europeans’ special relationship with the Soviet Union transformed them from an object of international relations during the Cold War into subjects. The collapse of the Soviet Union created a wide area of instability along the EU’s eastern borders. The Europeans subsequently encountered numerous new problems whose complexity is only now being recognised.
It would be extremely tempting to acknowledge the collapse of the European project. However, this not the case.
Those who we identify as Eurosceptics are not really sceptics at all, but critics of the European integration format that it has embraced during the last ten years. Notably, the most prominent opponents of the European project in the EU do not suggest dismissing the integration project as such.
Rather, such critics support a “different Europe” that respects the national sovereignty of its member nations, their policies and economy, their cultural specificity, the configuration of a harmonised relationship with the EU’s neighbours based on equality, independent from any transatlantic meddling. These Eurosceptics should actually be called “New Europeans”.
I have specifically raised this issue in several of my papers published between 2015 and 2016; this is, however, a most important problem. We will be holding a major research project, the first Russian study of the phenomena of Euroscepticism, at the Department of Political Science of the Moscow State University. We will analyse Euroscepticism as internal phenomena of European countries, and as an important component of the international environment.
Points of Leverage. As we can see, Eurasia is facing many challenges and issues that we should seriously examine. What else can we mutually do to model the Eurasian future for a better life? During the course of my career I have devoted great efforts towards the development of transportation infrastructures. This was the case with my previous professional functions, but most importantly, it was conditioned by our country’s geographical, political and economic situation; Russia spans throughout Eurasia and borders with various nations, cultures, and civilisations. Understanding Russia’s course of development and governing principle in assimilating the Eurasian expanse in today’s global transformations means understanding that the platform for constructive and creative development is only possible by merging political and economic interests in accordance with mutual values. In 2011, Vladimir Putin voiced a corresponding formula in his paper titled A new integration project for Eurasia: The future in the making (Izvestia Newspaper, 3 October 2011), in which he wrote: “The Future in the Making: But these times call for a close integration based on new values and a new political and economic foundation”.
We would like to put forward a powerful supra-national association paradigm capable of becoming one of the centres of the contemporary world and functioning as an efficient bond between Europe and the dynamic Asia-Pacific region. This was the principle behind the transparent development of the Eurasian Economic Union, with proposals for integration in the West with the European Union, and in the East with China and other Asian countries.
As a response to the President’s directive, in 2014 we developed and submitted to the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences an integral unified development project for the Eurasian continent entitled Trans-Eurasian Belt RAZVITIE. The foundation of this project is the development of infrastructures— primarily transportation—as a platform for the formation of development belts and corridors both within the country and internationally.
The creation of a unified market and logistics infrastructure in today’s globalised world is often strained by the competition for markets and delivery channels between nations and trans-national companies. The consolidation of a country’s position within the international logistical network is directly associated with its GDP growth and its role in the global economy. We recommend proceeding in accordance with a philosophically-based mutual development strategy rather than competitively, whereby transportation corridor projects are not limited to actual physical structures, but make provision for economic cooperation and interdependency.
An integration union is easier to achieve in areas with transportation corridors. Russia is located between world trade centres that determine the development of logistic networks in its west and east, as well as the south and north.
The countries of the European Union and Asia-Pacific Rim represent the centres of economic gravitation for Eurasia’s West and East, while India is playing an increasingly greater role in the south.
Sanctions have been removed from Iran and it now assumes an active role in the world economy and trade, which increases its capacity and appeal for joint projects. Russia and Iran are now actively furthering their economic cooperation in trade, energy, and finance, as well as strengthening their interaction in the field of security, with good perspectives in the transportation field. We would recommend Russia and Iran explore areas of cooperation in a complex manner in the context of a new “development belt” that includes our neighbouring countries. In other words, going beyond the simple realisation of projects in various sectors, by way of a systemic, synergetic, mutual development environment that entails the movement of resources, goods, and services and the implementation of technologies, and also attracts investments. Such an approach is presently being lobbied by China in the form of its Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) initiative.
China was actually the first country to support the idea of Eurasian integration as a conjugation of the SREB and the Eurasian Economic Union. In the medium-term we can expect an increase in regional trade and economic integration in the Central Asian region among countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which will increase the movement of goods along its transportation routes. An important factor in the economic expansion of emerging new regions, particularly in centres facing the potential commercialisation of natural resources, is the facilitation of transportation and delivery and their participation in a general cooperative effort in the field of transport. Such a policy for an anticipated geographical expansion and range of transportation services will unconditionally stimulate economic growth on a state-of-the-art innovative basis in the regions adjoining international and regional corridors. Russia and Iran are already capable of actively initiating projects in order to offer an efficient north-south transportation corridor.
In view of the present dynamic expansion of our economies and of global economies in general, we can envision the potential expansion of not only the natural resources and energy sectors, but also of technology-based sectors such as machine building and IT.
Distinguished colleagues, there is much that I would like to discuss, but the subject matter is so overwhelming and multifaceted that it is hardly possible to fully cover in the framework of a single address. I sincerely hope that I was able to at least outline the key issues, as well as areas for potential collaborative efforts. Let us hope that this will serve as a starting point in our shared cooperation.