October 7, 2018 Special Dispatch No. 7699

Former Kremlin Advisor Karaganov: We Have Exhausted The European Pantry… Russia Is An Authoritarian Power By Its 'Genetic Makeup'

October 7, 2018
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 7699

In an interview with the Russian publication Ogonyok, former Kremlin advisor Sergey Karaganov talked about the inevitability of Russia's "turn towards the East."[1]

According to Karaganov, the entire world has been shifting towards East Asia, since being pro-Western today means belonging to the past. "Those who look ahead to the future must be interested in the East," opined Karaganov.

As for Russia specifically, Karaganov asserted that by the start of this millennium Russia had already exhausted the European pantry. The former Kremlin advisor described Europe as no longer capable of being a leading source of development. "Europe is stagnating and dysfunctional, it is in a multidimensional crisis," stated Karaganov.

Furthermore, Karaganov reproaches Europe and the West in general of failing to understand or being unwilling to understand Russia's "genetic striving for sovereignty and freedom of choice." He then added that the West wanted to impose its "modern values," whose utility, Karaganov believed, was rejected by most Russians.

Contrary to the West, the East does not indulge in political or cultural missionary activity but is rather pragmatic, and attitude is precisely what Russia is seeking.

Karaganov explained that Russia has a European and an Asian heritage. "Russia is a country with a largely European high culture and economy, but a partially Asian mentality and attitude to power. It's a very odd and original blend of European, Byzantine and Asian civilizations," the former Kremlin adviser stated.

This Asian heritage leads Russia to be an authoritarian power by its "genetic makeup". "One must calmly acknowledge this and use it as a competitive advantage," Karaganov added.

However, turning East does not mean that Russia wants to leave Europe. Karaganov explained that Russia hopes that Europe will decide to embrace a Eurasian partnership, in order to crawl out of its current "stagnation". China also does not mind European approaches to it, but like Russia, China expects to be treated as an equal partner. "Russia must turn towards Asia as soon as possible, without giving up its European ties and roots. Because that, too, is part of us," Karaganov concluded.

The interview was conducted prior to the September 11-13 2018, Eastern Economic Forum (EEF-2018) in Vladivostok. The forum's main topic was "The Far East: expanding the borders of opportunities".

Below are excerpts from Karaganov's article:[2]

Sergey Karaganov (Source:


The Center Of Economic Life Of The Entire Planet Has Been Shifting Towards East Asia

Q: "Sergey Aleksandrovich, the Vladivostok forum is the traditional venue for declarations about 'turning towards the East'. Why, then, have we still not made the turn?"

Karaganov: "The venue is good indeed: over the past three years, the forum has evolved from an almost domestic event into a giant, multifaceted and strategic forum not only for this region. Not only economics, but politics as well are discussed there. The current round of the 'turn' was established 10 years ago, but it effectively began in 2012–2013. And as for 'not making the turn'We have! The entire world has — the center of economic life of the entire planet is tangibly shifting towards East Asia. And in the Russian Far East, the economic growth rate is twice the Russian average, and dozens of factories are being built. Changes in mentality of the top elite are already noticeable: they have stopped regarding our country as the fringe of Europe, [and pursuantly] ready to pay for permission to draw closer to the 'center'."

Q: "How does it view Russia now?"

Karaganov: "As the center of the rising 'greater Eurasia'. It is a powerful shift, and one can no longer stop it. But, as usual, it is happening without our realizing why and towards what we are turning. In the Peter the Great era, Russia did not understand the Europeans or Europe on the whole, but it actively tried to get into this 'club'. The same is true about 1980s–1990s. The result of the last drive is not impressive, to put it mildly. Currently, we are moving towards Asia in the same way — 'blindly'. Today, Russia is sorely lacking not even hundreds or thousands, but tens of thousands of experts in Asian studies. Preparing such an army of experts needs time, but today we aren't even using what we do have — the knowledge and experience of residents of the Far Eastern regions, with long established contacts with their Asian neighbors, who know and understand them. And it is to this human, cultural, educational turn, that our new, sixth Valdai report from the series 'Towards the Great Ocean' is dedicated; it will be presented to the public, state and the world during the EEF-2018."

Being 'Pro-Western' Today Means Belonging To The Past

Q: "What prevents the authorities from being industrious and adventurous now?"

Karaganov: "The resistance of the domestic elites, is motivated by different reasons. Somebody is unprepared to accept the obvious: the fact that being 'pro-Western' today means a man of the past, and those who look ahead must be interested in the East. Many are concerned for their investments made in the West over the past 20 years; we have fostered strong comprador sentiments. Both kinds of people fail to see that they are hopelessly behind, and the economic and financial 'global hub' has moved from the West to the East. I myself was Europe-centric about 15-20 years ago. Until I worked out where the world was going and what kind of country we are."

Q: "Do you think that Russia has exhausted the Western path?"

Karaganov: "We have already got almost everything we needed or could get. This is one of the points in the report — over the long 'Peter [the Great] -dominated' period in our history (from 17th till late 20th century) we received their technologies and military organization, we created high culture by alloying our own and the European one. And even the fact that Russia became a great power is, undoubtedly, the consequence of our 'march on the West', because it was there we 'became infected' with the very idea of 'great-powerness'. But by the start of this millennium we had already exhausted the European pantry. Now, Russia can and should cooperate with Europe, but it is no longer capable of being our leading source of development. The one exception is the issue of environmental regulation: some 'discoveries' are still possible here. Maybe also the elements of municipal democracy and self-government. But all the other things that the West has, we either already have or they are unaffordable for Russia — we simply cannot utilize them. Russia is an authoritarian power by its 'genetic makeup'. One must calmly acknowledge this and use it as a competitive advantage. Another thing steering us towards the turn today is the fact that Europe is stagnating and dysfunctional, it is in a multidimensional crisis, whereas Asia is developing at a fast pace. Not least thanks to military protection on the part of Russia."

Q: "Whom did we protect?"

Karaganov: "I am speaking figuratively. Not all people, in Russia or outside it, realize that our country played the part of 'the midwife of history' in the rise of Asian countries. First the USSR, then modern Russia deprived the West of its almost 500-year-old military supremacy, which was the basis of its economic, political and cultural dominance in the world, in particular, in the East. It is prohibitively dangerous now to threaten a major war. The freedom of choice field has expanded for dozens of countries.

"Lately, Russia had a victory in Syria, it plays the part of a mediator between Turkey and Iraq, India and China, in some other Asian conflicts. Thus, we can offer the countries of this region not only resources and transfer opportunities; we also play the role of the largest security provider."

There Will Be Two Major Economic-Political Centers In The World: The 'Greater America' And The 'Greater Eurasia'

Q: "If history teaches us something, it is the fact that Russia's greatest woe came from the East, and the Mongol-Tatars were the only ones who conquered the country, whereas all the threats from the West, even the most massive ones, were repelled…"

Karaganov: "The Yoke of the [Tatar Golden] Horde was a historical vaccine, which formed our political tradition and national character. I think that those two and a half centuries of semi-dependency are the reason why Russia so fiercely strives for sovereignty. And maybe, they are the reason why we were so successful at crushing all the European conquerors. Unfortunately, the West did not understand or did not want to understand our genetic striving for sovereignty and freedom of choice. They made a strategic mistake in the early 1990s, failing to integrate Russia, which was then ready to be incorporated into the 'European team', as a sovereign part. If the West had agreed to it then, the world would have been different. The collective West would not have lost — forever, it looks like — its military superiority, which was the foundation of its former power past. The failure of the last Russian 'drive towards Europe' can be partially explained by the greed and stupidity of the collective West, which decided on the expansion of its alliances — the zone of its direct control, which wanted to impose its modern values, which most Russians are in no position and do not consider useful to accept. Partly, we too were at fault: we harbored illusions, were ignorant, did not know where we were going. In the East, the approach is different — they are not hampered by political or cultural missionary activity.

"Western pragmatism has long ago become a cliché, but in reality, this approach is more characteristic of the East today. It is less susceptible to dogmas and, strange as it might sound, it is much more liberal towards the ideas its partners espouse. In Asia, they are much less likely to use sanctions for political purposes. In contrast, the West uses the sanctions leverage more and more, and not only against Russia. It has lost the opportunity for military pressure, and sanctions are supposed to replace it."

Q: "Aren't you idealizing the East?"

Karaganov: "Rather, I am being too cautious — the world is changing too fast. In about ten years, if I am still alive, I will write another report; I won't tell you the topic because I don't like to be wrong, and the chance of that is big here. But one thing is certain — the world will change again by that moment. I am almost certain that there will be two major economic-political centers in the world: the 'greater America' and the 'greater Eurasia'. Russia will not be able to join the former for a number of reasons; it is no use even trying —it is only a waste of time. Although we need to maneuver. So we must inevitably try and take our place in the 'greater Eurasia', the center of which will, naturally, be China."

We Must Move In The Only Direction Possible To Us So Far — East

Q: "But when one places a bet, one may lose. Especially if the bet was forced…"

Karaganov: "It was not forced. The turn was thought of when our relations with the West looked quite decent. It was Peter the Great who staked all he had on the European way of development. Today there are no illusions: Russia is not Asia, but it is not Europe either. Russia is a country with a largely European high culture and economy, but a partially Asian mentality and attitude to power. It's a most bizarre and original blend of European, Byzantine and Asian civilizations. This Russia is expressly forbidden to stake everything on one center; it should differentiate its risks and opportunities and take the most profitable. Therefore, when I say 'turn towards the East', it does not mean that we must turn our back on the West. Nobody calls for termination of ties that had existed for centuries. Even if today those ways are partially blocked. We will wait until Europe overcomes its crisis and becomes ripe for new Eastern, currently Eurasian politics. But waiting does not mean freezing all development.

"We must move, and move in the only direction possible to us for the time being— Eastwards. But this movement is not forced or involuntary; rather, it is a way home, to our unique Eurasian character. But it is seriously complicated by internal problems, the chief of which is ignorance of the East. Moreover, many of our intelligentsia are ashamed of acknowledging this Asian 'half' of themselves. It is time to stop being ashamed of the fact that Russia is as much a successor of Genghis Khan's empire as China, which he also conquered and where his descendants ruled for centuries. This is our historical and genetic code, and it's time we stopped feeling ashamed that historically, we are committed to the authoritarian system of government and not to liberal democracy. If we were not authoritarian and centralized, we would not have existed in our current borders. But shame comes from ignorance as well"

Q: "Ignorance of what?"

Karaganov: "First and foremost, of the 'Asian part' or Russian history. And of Asia. Since school years, we hammer the history of Russia's European way of development into our teenagers' heads, but do not pay due attention to our ancestors' advance to the East. And there is plenty to talk about there! Not only Yermak,[3] but also [the trade colony] 'Mangazeya boiling with gold' — the Russian Eldorado of the 16th century. Few heard about Russia's 40-year war against the Manchurian Empire (Qing) and about such its glorious episodes as the defense of Albazin in 1686. The man in charge was a Russified German, Afanasy Beiton, whom the Cossacks had chosen as their leader. The story of the first reception of a Russian ambassador by the Chinese emperor is worthy of a novel, because the ambassador was a man born in Holstein, called in Moscow by the name Yelizariy son of Yelizariy Isbrant; he drew the first map of Siberia.

"Most of the events, names, and dates of 500 years of Russian history have been forgotten. Not many people remember today the name of the chief promoter of the Trans-Siberian Railroad project, Sergei Witte. But without his vision and his administrative talent, our country would hardly have been able to keep Siberia. And it was Siberia that saved us during the last, horrible war. The entire expanse of Siberia — from the Urals to the Pacific Ocean — is still the 'zone of historical silence'. How can one be proud of something one does not know? The situation must be changed immediately, because our children and grandchildren will live in the world where Chinese, Indian, Japanese and Korean dynasties occupy the same place in history as the Hapsburgs, Bourbons or Romanovs. In order to make the 'turn to the East' successful, we must sharply increase investments in education to prepare experts in Asian studies."

The West Does Not Like The Fact That Russia Has Abruptly Changed The Balance Of Power By Moving Towards The East

Q: "What else will we need?"

Karaganov: "While we still don't have the required number of experts, we must involve, as actively as possible, the representatives of Far Eastern regions who have experience dealing with our neighbors, our diaspora in the countries of the East, and experts from Asia. We must create 'Eastern clubs', which would unite Russian Eastern and Central elites, and unite them with the Asian elites. We need a considerable expansion of our personal ties in the area, because they have always been valued higher in Asia than law and contract. The most important thing required for the development of our Far East region with an eye towards entering the Asian market is the establishment of logistical centers. It can be especially beneficial in the mid-run, when the confrontation of the US and China in the Asia-Pacific region becomes quite fierce.

"Today, Beijing is already withdrawing from ocean transportation lanes, switching to land routes, but it can do so, inter alia, via Russia (another option is via Kazakhstan and Russia). Another of our advantages is massive reserves of water and energy. We don't need to further develop machine industry, as many said in the previous years. That would be a mistake. We need to offer our Eastern partners what they are interested in — raw materials and their value-added products, water-intensive goods. There is shortage of water throughout Asia. We can go deeper: who said that it is more profitable to sell computer chips than highly processed agricultural products or establishing 'plants' for big data storage? Because of the cold, this storage would be several times cheaper than in the rest of Asia. By the way, the first such plant has already been built in Siberia. In addition, business in the region should be given maximum preferences and freedom: Siberia developed quickly only when it was free economy. After all, European Russia really owes Siberia and the Far East after abandoning them to their fate in 1990s."

Q: "What about the settling of these territories?"

Karaganov: "It is time to debunk this myth as well. Yes, there was a considerable out-migration from the Far East and Siberia, but who says those who stayed are not enough to develop these territories? After all, imagine that the authorities got what they wanted and sent several million people to this region… How does this correct the imbalance with China with its population exceeding a billion? It seems like we don't know if the human resources available in the region will be enough to develop it, but making a stake on mass migration there is probably a mistake. Of course, I am not talking about much needed experts and people who are enthusiastic about participating in a big project that the country really needs. Let us count and discuss, how many people we need, what policy we need so that the Russians could play the part of civilizational, not just transport and logistical bridge between Europe and Asia? What policy we need so as not to be afraid for its safety?"

Q: "Aren't we too late? The West has been doing without our 'bridge' for centuries."

Karaganov: "We can either hop on the bandwagon of the train that has just departed or we can be left at the station. Europe and the US have already taken what's theirs: the use of cheap Asian labor has allowed the Americans and Europeans to continue their economic growth. We have a competitive advantage in our movement towards Asia: the cultural openness of the Russians. We have discarded ideological dogmas."

Q: "Won't they remove us from the train?"

Karaganov: "There are attempt to do so. For example, dozens of articles are released, which are rebroadcast [in our press], to the effect that Russia cannot and does not need to go to the East. The West does not like the fact that Russia has renounced the status of its periphery and has abruptly changed the balance of powers by moving towards the East. If one may say so, it has put aside the role of a student ready to pay for his lessons. Let our former 'teachers' try and talk to us on equal terms, let them join the policy of building a larger Eurasian partnership. The EU will have to face this outcome sooner or later, otherwise it will never crawl out of its current stagnation. Asia, by the way, does not mind Europe coming to it; not as it did centuries ago — as a master, but as an equal partner. China is coming to Europe; it wants to build the common space of 'One Belt One Road'. Here our interests coincide — we want the same thing. So, with a delay of about 10 years, Russia must turn towards Asia as soon as possible, without giving up its European ties and roots. Because that, too, is part of us."



[1] Sergey Karaganov is Dean of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs at Moscow's Higher School of Economics.

[2], September 11, 2018. Interview conducted by Svetlana Sukhova. The article was originally published by the publication Ogonyok, published by Kommersant Publishing Group.

[3] Under Ivan the Terrible, Yermak Timofeyevich began the conquest of Siberia.

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