Russia plays nice, but won’t be first to hide its claws

Russia is not seeking confrontation, but it won’t be the first to hide its claws

Maria Dubovikova

Published: Updated:

This year, Putin’s annual speech at the Valdai discussion club that took place in Sochi has already gone down in history. It was not as unexpected as the powerful Munich speech delivered in 2007, however. Now, not many are astonished by modern Russia’s strong and uncompromising stance on the international agenda and the will to be a respected actor on the world stage – to be talked to, not dictated.

At its core, this speech has mostly become a nice generalization of what was said before by Putin himself and by Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, as well as other figures of Russia’s political establishment. After this speech, there is nothing more to be said by Russia’s leaders. Everything was articulated in it and it was made clear enough that Russia is not going to change neither its position on the international agenda nor its perception of the global state of affairs.

I believe the international media was trying to ignore or conceal many parts of the speech in their coverage, or at best they were mostly focused on its harsh tonality and the open criticisms of the West, particularly the U.S. First of all, Putin himself notified the audience beforehand about his intention to speak “directly and honestly.” Secondly, Russia remains the only country that can attempt to openly criticize the U.S. without diplomatic twists and verbosity, using tough language and speaking in no uncertain terms. This also explains why Russia’s criticism causes considerable excitement in political and journalistic circles all over the world. And thirdly comes the question – was criticism the essential idea of the speech? Were its harsh declarations and revelations the key points?

Certainly, they were not. But for the most part, Moscow’s key signals remained ignored and unheard, muted by exclamations of discontent with insolent criticism of Western policies and approaches.

There were some remarkable points in the speech. Putin noted transformations “in global politics and the economy, public life and in industry, information and social technologies” which are incontestable. It’s quite clear that these transformations inevitably lead severe changes in the world order.

Putin’s alluded to the past with lessons from history, saying that such world order transformations “have usually been accompanied by, if not global war and conflict, then by chains of intensive local-level conflicts.”

Building on ruins

The lack of guaranties and certainties go without saying when it comes to such transformations. There is no instrument or institution that can be considered reliable. Nothing can guarantee anything. Instead, the remedy is not to be able to eliminate the disease, but to facilitate the course of disease.

Russia is not seeking confrontation, but it won’t be the first to hide its claws

Maria Dubovikova

The mechanisms that were established long time ago cannot be immediately destroyed and nothing new can be quickly built on their ruins. The existing system, elements and institutions should develop in an evolving, not in a revolutionary manner. Furthermore, the main purpose in global transition periods should be the retention of the “world’s current problems within certain limits,” Putin said. At a time of growing state dominance and tough realpolitik within international relations, there are high risks of the return to conventional confrontations and global and regional intergovernmental conflicts.

Taking into account the level of technological development and the might of the modern weapons and arms, that are becoming again “the focal point of the global agenda”, these risks pose a true major threat. They are dangerous for the fate of humanity, as a contemporary global conflict could become an incarnation of the weirdest of science-fiction scenarios.

In this sense, it should be common interest for all world powers not to let fiction leave the pages of its books. Criticisms of a unipolar system clearly have strong grounds, and skepticism towards it is shared among many experts in international relations all over the world. A unipolar system inevitably leads to a global dictatorship by one state. The answer to this threat is an international system that has the common interest of peaceful co-existence.

One more point from the speech that should be mentioned in this context is the danger of political decisions over the economy (which was vividly illustrated during the West’s sanctions punishment game against Russia) as it breaks the reasonability of the market. Economic interests have been offered as a sacrifice to momentary political pawns. Such approaches affect the whole economic system and existing economic ties. This promises nothing good in terms of future global economic prospects.

According to the ideas disclosed in Putin's speech, the system of international relations to be built should not regulate and manage the processes inside it, but instead determine the limits of what is permissible, leaving a space for free cooperation, the creation of new networks of interdependence, the establishment of new ties and partnerships, without supposing to create alliances or blocks against other players.

Despite the strong position demonstrated in the speech, the Kremlin has not shut its doors. It has left them wide open. Russia has no intention to distance itself from the West and global cooperation. It wishes to intensify international cooperation in the fight against terrorism, while the country is also ready for cooperation on nuclear disarmament, as there is a dangerous trend of guarantying state sovereignty through obtaining a nuclear bomb. The nuclear agenda could be a good possibility for the U.S. and Russia to move on from what is today’s point of confrontation towards cooperation.

Russia is not seeking confrontation, but it won’t be the first to hide its claws.

It has many proposals, truly based on global and common interests and they need to be addressed by the international community. For the moment, Russia seems to be one of the few countries proposing models for a change in the world’s harsh realities.


Maria Dubovikova is a co-founder of IMESClub (International Middle Eastern Studies Club), IMESClub Executive Director and member of the Club Council, author of several scientific articles and participant of several high level international conferences. She is a permanent member of the Think-tank under the American University in Moscow. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia) (honors diploma), she had been working for three months as a trainee at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Paris. Now she is a PhD Candidate at MGIMO (Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy of Russia). Her research field is Russian foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, the policy of France and the US towards the Mediterranean, theory of international relations, humanitarian interventions and etc. Fluently speaks and writes in French and English. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.