June 22, 2017 Special Dispatch No. 6972

Post-Soviet Russia's Foreign Policy: In Search Of Identity

June 22, 2017
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 6972

In January 2017, the Russian magazine, Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn, which is officially associated with Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ran an article, titled "Post-Soviet Russia's Foreign Policy: In Search Of Identity," authored by the veteran Russian diplomat and Senator Vladimir Lukin.[1] Commenting on Lukin's article, Ivan Timofeev, Director of Programs for the Russian think tank RIAC, wrote: "The publication made a splash, because no one outside the academic community had discussed Russia's foreign policy identity in earnest during the last few years, despite the tectonic shifts that occurred in its foreign policy. This could be attributed to the fact that professional discourse on identity issues requires a rare combination of scientific depth, a mind with a philosophic cast and considerable political experience. Today, however, these issues are discussed much less frequently than in the 1990s and 2000s. As if by default, many in Russia and elsewhere believe that Russia has finally reached an equilibrium and has made its choice. This means that the identity problem is, as it were, solved. But Vladimir Lukin painted a totally different picture and the points he raised demand further explication."[2]

According to Lukin, without a meaningful foundation for a modern Russian state identity, it is hard to imagine "a consistent and long-term strategic foreign policy." Lukin wrote that the President of Russia Vladimir Putin declared that patriotism itself is the national idea in Russia. However, the Russian Senator stressed that 'patriotism' belongs not to the category of meanings and concepts but, rather, to the category of values. Lukin added: "Identity and 'national idea' are not one and the same thing." He then specified: "Identity is the fixation of belonging to something whole, culturally and historically integrated, to a unity in time, space, in the individual consciousness and the collective unconscious, which almost instinctively creates (outside the borders of this unity) the situation 'us and them.' It's very important to emphasize that this dichotomy does not involve opposition but difference (with a huge number of common features and parameters)… The identity of any country is the foundation upon which any more or less substantial national strategy can solidify and be formulated upon. And without such a strategy, any operational foreign policy maneuvers are tactically ineffective and, for the most part, strategically futile."

Lukin explained that in the last decades there were intensified attempts to define the face of new Russia as "a direct continuer, successor and heir to the U.S.S.R." However, Lukin stated that the Russian elite may have the desire to go back to the Soviet times, but there are no resources to that. Furthermore Russia's neighbors' leadership, while possessing a wide range of resources, "clearly doesn't have the desire." On the other hand, Lukin stressed that Russia's "modest (in comparison with the strategic intent) integrational-nostalgic actions" to portray its Soviet self-image "produced quite a considerable reaction abroad." Lukin wrote: "This reaction was negative on so many levels that a discussion broke out all around the world (including in our country) about the probability of renewal of the second stage of the long cold war, which seemed to be over in 1980s-90s. The paradox of the situation lies in the fact that, if the first cold war was a confrontation of two real powers that had all the key parameters of strength (from military and economic to ideological and value-based), now the situation has radically changed. With the current variation of identity, a truly Kafkaesque situation emerges: virtual bi-polarity in the absence of bi-polar background. 1.5% of the world GDP, which Russia has, is perceived by the protagonists of the new fit of bi-polarity as sufficient foundation for an all-encompassing confrontation with an opponent who has over 40% GDP (this is the cumulative GDP of the U.S. and EU)."

Lukin stressed that Russia should not look back towards the 20th century to find its identity, but should instead focus  on a page that should delineate Russia's place in the world of the third millennium. Lukin did not provide an answer on the form that the new Russian identity should assume, but he stressed that the search for this national identity will be "complex and time consuming," especially because Russia is "held back by the natural egotism of a considerable part of our new national elite." Lukin added: "Like a crayfish, they [the members of the Russian elite] are walking backwards into the pseudo-bright past, thinking more or less sincerely that they are heading into the future. It is held back by stereotypes inherited from the Soviet mentality of over-suspiciousness of everything that is 'not one of our own' and the simultaneous subconscious feeling that we are constantly lagging behind all that is 'not our kind' on the most basic level. The dangerous cultivation of antipathy to 'the alien' stands in the way of our constructive self-determination, our peaceful and self-confident adaptation in the modern world."

Indeed, for Lukin the direction of Russia's national identity should not be confrontational and it should not be a challenge for Russia's external environment. "It is a challenge for us", wrote Lukin, adding that "patriotism" as mentioned by Putin, "boils down to the idea that we must respond decently to this challenge."

Below are excerpts from Lukin's article:[3]

Vladimir Lukin
Vladimir Lukin ( Source:

Communism's red star
The five-pointed red star, symbolizing both communism and socialism. This photo accompanied the article in Russia in Global Affairs (Source: Russia in Global Affairs, March 3, 2016).

'Identity And The National Idea Are Not One And The Same Thing'

"Fortunately or unfortunately, the current post-Empire and post-Soviet Russia is only now beginning to define itself. It is not easy for a country, whose modern state incarnation is but a quarter of a century old, to formulate and address 'urbi et orbi' a clear and convincing message about its fundamental nature and the best ways of realizing it in the surrounding world around it.

"Meanwhile, with each new zigzag of Russian foreign policy practice, one question is becoming increasingly relevant: what message does modern Russia direct to the modern world, how does it imagine itself in the world of the immediate future and how does it perceive its mission in this world? To what extent is this coveted role compatible with the basic interests of other important global actors and where can one see the dangerous seams of a clear and acute conflict with their interests and aspirations? Is a balance of long-term strategic interests discoverable, or will the specter of forcible redistribution of roles hover above the world again – in its 'cold' or 'hot' variants?

"In our time, the main criterion for foreign policy successes or failures, or, in other words, the performance efficiency of foreign policy, has been more and more measured by the increase (or decrease) in the ability of the state in question, firstly, to ensure the security of its territory and citizens at minimum cost, and secondly, to create external conditions for favorable economic, social, and cultural development. The latter is in direct correlation with the capacity and ability to effectively provide a tranquil (ideally, friendly) close and more distant foreign policy environment.

"In this context, what is the case with modern Russia's state identity and the search for this identity? Absent this meaningful foundation, it is hard to imagine a consistent and long-term strategic foreign policy.

"It is not often that Russia's identity suffered transformations, even if measured by the temporary standards of 'historical Russia.' Between [Orthodox monk] Philotheus's concept of the Third Rome [Philotheus (Filofei) was the first to call Moscow the Third Rome][4] and the Bolshevik idea of Russia as the advance outpost of the global proletariat revolution, there lies over half a millennium. The only things that changed over that period were sub-varieties of this concept. At some points in time, the Orthodox Church aspect was most prominent, at others – the Pan-Slavic aspect, at yet others – the Russian ethno-national one, and sometimes the European one.

"Even during the Soviet period, identity subtypes were distinct:

"The Lenin-Trotsky variant 'Russia as the ignition fuse of the global proletarian revolution' was replaced by the Stalin variation 'Russia as the center and leader of global Communist power.' It was replaced as a subtype of a single self-image, where the proportion of common features and differences fluctuated depending on different international and domestic circumstances.

"Over the quarter century since the emergence of modern Russia, the search, with different levels of severity for the so called 'national idea,' periodically became the center of the nationwide debate. The author believes this to be an exercise in futility. A short while back, the president of Russia declared that patriotism itself is the national idea in Russia.[5] It is true in and of itself. The problem, however, lies in the fact that the term 'patriotism' belongs not to the category of meanings and concepts but, rather, to the category of values. And values are interpreted in a variety of ways, sometimes even directly contradictory ones.

"In Spain, regarding the tragic 20th century events for instance, a memorial was erected to all the victims of the civil war in that country, on both sides. The inscription on it says 'To those who died for God and Spain'. In other words, [the inscription is addressed in either case] to patriots.

"Regretfully, we still do not have a memorial like that. For a long time, we have worshipped 'Commissars in dusty helmets'[6] and demonized 'the White Guard and the Black Baron.'[7] Now it looks like we are attempting to swap the heroes and the villains around, leaving the absolutist one-dimensionality and intolerance intact and thus failing to make a break from the psychological Civil War patterns, but on the contrary, incorporating ourselves within them. At the same time, it is definite that all the participants of these processes act on the basis of very patriotic motives.

"Identity and 'national idea' are not one and the same thing. Identity is the fixation of belonging to something whole, culturally and historically integrated, to a community in time, space, in the individual consciousness and the collective unconscious, which almost instinctively creates (outside the borders of this community) the situation 'us and them.' It's very important to emphasize that this dichotomy does not involve opposition but difference (with a huge number of common features and parameters).

"This is true about both individuals and groups of various levels and sizes. Including the area we are discussing here – national peculiarities.

"The identity of any country is the foundation upon which any more or less substantial national strategy can solidify and be formulated upon. And without such a strategy, any operational foreign policy maneuvers are tactically ineffective and strategically, for the most part, futile.

"Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan were, undoubtedly, excellent fighters and reached with their armies: one from Europe to India, the other – the same distance in the opposite direction. And what remains from them in culture and history?

"Whereas, [in contrast], ancient Rome did leave something substantial behind. First of all, [it bequeathed] the great cultural identity of Europeanism and, in particular, its specific stratum of the Third Rome and, consequently, you and me.

Attempts To Shape The Post-Soviet Russian Identity

"Since the first days of Russia's existence as a post-Soviet state, the most pressing conceptual problem has been its self-identification relative to its immediate predecessor – the U.S.S.R. In those fevered days, romantic zeal provided the impetus for identifying the new Russia as an independent, self-sufficient state – a country fundamentally different from both the Soviet Union and pre-revolutionary Tsarist Russia.

"Perhaps the only period of time that a 'legal' predecessor of 'the new Russia' existed, was the short stretch between February to November 1917,[8] when Russia was proclaimed a democratic state, and since September 1, 1917 – a republic (which, by the way, was declared by [Russian lawyer Alexander Fyodorovich] Kerensky [who after the 1917 February Revolution, joined the Russian Provisional Government,] in a totally unlawful way).

"However, even then this point of view did not enjoy a unanimous support. Firstly, in order for this idea to take root, it had to rely on something substantial, apart from the good intentions of a few liberal and social-democratic leaders and the sad history of a rapid disintegration of the country, its political and economic mechanisms, its army, and its social and moral standards.

"Secondly, the foreign policy of the Provisional Government in the spring and summer of 1917 fluctuated from [the Russian statesman and historian, who played an important role in the events leading to the Russian Revolution of 1917, Pavel] Milyukov's 'To victory and the Dardanelles' to the de-facto capitulation before the Soviet Bolshevik slogans 'Peace without annexations or indemnities.' The cynical dissolution of the Constituent Assembly by Lenin and Trotsky only emphasized the disadvantages of identification around such a short, troubled and contradictory historical experiment of marriage between Russia and the Western democratic system.

"Another attempt at providing identity to modern Russia was connected to its interpretation as a country that had been artificially stricken from the world community as a result of the Bolshevik October Revolution of 1917 and the succeeding establishment of a totalitarian communist state in the territory of historical Russia. According to this version, the August revolution of 1991 heralded the return of Russia to 'the world community,' the family of Western civilized powers, which meant the conclusive triumph of democracy, the end of the bi-polar world, a decisive victory for 'the European values' in the world, and in more practical terms – the leadership of the U.S. as a great power and the more or less disciplined adherence to this leadership by both the old and new democracies of Europe (and not only Europe), including Russia, of course.

"In this global plan, Russian national identity looked rather vague and sketchy. It was perceived as a break with the historical past – tsarist, imperial, and communist. Russia, all of it, was crammed into the formula 'democracy vs. dictatorship,' and its modern political institutions and socio-economic structures were evaluated on the basis of one criterion only: how well they fit within the formulas, institutions and beliefs that existed in this Western country or another. Russia's national interests were almost completely subsumed under coalition (in fact, American) interests of struggle between the democratic good and the anti-democratic evil in the absence of an 'evil empire.'

"The turn of the century events, connected to the collapse of Yugoslavia, became the first serious durability test of this concept of Russian identity and they revealed its one-dimensionality and bankruptcy. 'The end of history'[9] did not arrive, so politological formulas that ignored significant historical facts, however pretty, turned out to be devoid of practical sense. In real Russia at the turn of 20th – 21st centuries this attempt at self-identification proved to be unfounded.

"After a series of 'post-Yugoslavia' conflicts, the attempts to find the 'gold key' to the shrine of the optimal Russian identity markedly intensified and took two quite beaten paths.

"Firstly, there was active discussion about deriving the post-Soviet Russia identity from pre-Soviet Russia in a broad sense; in other words, from the so called 'historical Russia.'

"As the wave of resentment in Russian society, caused by the American administration's policy (supported by its European allies) of solving the numerous acute problems related to the collapse of Yugoslavia in an anti-Serbian spirit despite Moscow's very clearly articulated opposition crested, generalizations emerged about the intrinsic and timeless antagonistic hostility of the entire 'West' towards the eternal Russia. Not unlike the unknown authors of the well-known (mostly because of its title) book by the second president of Ukraine [former President of Ukraine from 1994 to 2005, Leonid] Kuchma 'Ukraine is not Russia,' the advocates of this version of identity united under the banner inscribed 'Russia is not Europe.'

"All the narratives that supported this direction of Russian self-perception were drawn out of dusty cellars – the Third Rome (even though the European roots of this doctrine are obvious from its name); [Count Sergey] Uvarov's triad 'Orthodoxy. Autocracy. Nationality';[10] hunting for Turanid or other Eurasian roots of 'true Russianness', cleansed of all that does not come from Genghis Khan; and, finally, the Pan-Slavic variant of identity (with all the striking discrepancy between this ideology and the actual practice of Russian-Balkan relations before and during the First World War).

"In addition, 'historical Russia' itself was very different in different epochs – diverse and multi-faceted both in its internal structure, ethno-political and geographical expanse, and in its external environment and corresponding orientation (both on the cultural-civilizational and on the strictly political-diplomatic levels). Therefore, it is not the serious researchers or even more or less inventive ideologists who limit themselves to only one (in this case, anti-European nationalistic) direction, but the opportunists who hasten to catch up with the fleeting political fashion. So, the choice in favor of identification on the basis of 'historical Russia' is as indisputable as it is undefined. It is very similar to a choice between everything and nothing.

"Secondly, the last decades have been characterized by intensified attempts to define the face of the new Russia as a direct continuer, successor and heir of the U.S.S.R. This variant is actually very specific. Its advocates depart from the idea that post-Soviet Russia remains mostly Soviet. It was only as a result of the pernicious activity by a host of evil wills, eternal foreign enemies and no less eternal 'internal enemies,' although their external shape is in constant flux, that the perfect and harmonious edifice of the Soviet communist empire suddenly and completely collapsed. In the end, Russia was left as a federation – a part of the U.S.S.R. (only a more modest one) with, figuratively speaking, a Soviet anthem but an anti-Soviet flag. Therefore, the internal drive and the meaning of the modern Russian state's existence should be the greatest possible (ideally, complete) alignment of the flag and the anthem, with the latter also brought as close as possible to its original version.

"Hence, the top foreign policy priority: possibly, a more complete, although phased restoration of the post-war Stalinist world order. Of course, not literally – that idea could only occur to overstimulated minds nostalgic for mythologized past. However, the exaltation of the Soviet matrix is felt more and more strongly and can often lead to serious foreign problems (which were avoidable and hence needless), when Russia takes responsibility for the dark deeds of Soviet times, which completely have no bearing and should have nothing to do with modern Russia.

"Thus, the understandable and legitimate pride in the fact that the Russian people played a unique historical role in the defeat of German Nazism is often accompanied by apologia and an attempt to put a modern 'state seal' on the criminal actions of Stalin's regime (including those perpetrated during the Second World War) that have and should have no connection to modern Russia: actions like [the mass executions of captured Polish officers in the forest of ] Katyn, mass deportations of 'guilty' peoples [such as the Chechens], and some aspects of Stalin's interpretation of Yalta and Potsdam agreements that became one of the key factors leading to the Cold War.

"It is obvious that this kind of modern Russian identity is closely tied to domestic political debates and, in particular, to quite pragmatic attempts to suck up to the aspirations of part of our more intellectually and psychologically inert public opinion. However, from the viewpoint of our country's long term interests, its prospects in the modern, rapidly changing, world, this matrix of the modern Russia image is destructive and counterproductive. One can clearly discern an element of masochism in it: it emphasizes those aspects of Russia's image that are the least appealing to the vast majority of those with whom Russia has actual contact beyond its borders. And this applies not only to Europe and North America.

"This variation of identity has greatest success abroad among those who grew up on bi-polar ideology and on the foreign policy practice of 'milking two cows' – the fat American-European one and the much 'slimmer' Soviet one. Such targeted and short-term flares of generously stimulated popularity are all the more dangerous because the Soviet 'supplementary nutrition' is transient and, as a rule, non-renewable. More fundamentally, this identity is fraught with a 'return to the past,' of course, if it is accompanied by a corresponding political agenda.

"After all, identification according to the matrix 'Russia is a direct and immediate continuation of the U.S.S.R.' pushes the political elite to adopt a strategy focused on the recovery (some day and in some way) of the geographical parameters compatible with Stalin's (post-war) U.S.S.R. Possible variations of such dreams range from the quite fairy-tale like replication of the Warsaw Treaty territory to the more modest, but no less mythical boundaries of 'Russia plus the former Soviet republics.'

"Political aspirations that stem from this matrix have manifested themselves from time to time throughout the entire existence of post-Soviet Russia. They were applied to practice in the most straightforward and active way at the end of the first – beginning of the second decade of this century. The current result of this policy is a serious imbalance between its major components. The first one, connected to the integration of the former Soviet territories, can be characterized, at best, as 'zero probability.' A detailed analysis of this part of the issue is a separate question. But the resulting model, in terms of political-diplomatic and economic considerations of joint security control with former union republics is, at best, very controversial and centrifugal rather than centripetal. Our elite may possibly have the desire but no resources. Our neighbors' leadership, while possessing a wide range of resources, clearly doesn't have the desire. And it does not look like this trend may be reversed in the tangible future.

"As for the second component – the foreign reaction to the Soviet self-image – on this front 'everything is totally in order,' as they say. Our modest (in comparison with the strategic intent) integrational-nostalgic actions and declarations produced quite a considerable reaction abroad. This reaction was negative on so many levels that a discussion broke out all around the world (including in our country) about the probability that the second stage of the long cold war, which appeared to be over in the 1980s-90s would resume.

"The paradox of the situation lies in the fact that, if the first Cold War was a rivalry between two real powers that had all the key parameters of strength (from military and economic to ideologically driven values), now the situation has radically changed.

"With the current variation of identity, a truly Kafkaesque situation emerges: virtual bi-polarity in the absence of bi-polar background. 1.5% of the world GDP, which Russia has, is perceived by the protagonists of the new fit of bi-polarity as sufficient foundation for an all-encompassing confrontation with an opponent who has over 40% GDP (this represents the cumulative GDP of the U.S. and EU).

"This kind of identity vividly reminds one of a fierce 'bi-polar conflict' of Ellochka the Cannibal with Miss Vanderbilt from Ilf and Petrov's immortal novel 'The Twelve Chairs.'[11] Such 'identity wishful thinking' is only possible as a day-dream. As for its real political accompaniment, one can speak only about carefully metered, short-term actions, designed mostly for domestic effect. Attempts at formulating serious identity on this level are absolutely groundless, since they are not supported by a real power balance on the global stage or by the prospects of evolution of this balance in the historically foreseeable future.

"On the whole, one has to acknowledge that there are major problems with determining Russia's place in modern and future world. There are important objective reasons for that. It is hard to bid farewell to the past. It is even harder to bid farewell to the past that, among other things, clearly contained features of grandeur; it is not at all cheerful, as [Karl] Marx wrote.[12] In my opinion, it is better to say that if there is any laughter here, it's laughter through tears. Many in our country haven't been able to wipe tears off their faces, trying to determine Russia's place in the world based on the results of the 20th and the preceding centuries. But tears are a hindrance when you are trying to look around and especially ahead. This is not the 20th century, and definitely not the 17th, when somebody could drive somebody somewhere out of the Kremlin. We live in the 21st century and, which is even more momentous, we are opening a page that should delineate the place of Russia in the world of the third millennium. And the elaboration of our political and national-cultural identity in the post-Einstein space and time is full blown on the agenda."

The Direction Of The Search

"Of course, the author makes no pretense of being able to put the discussion of this problem to a close in the next few lines. One would like simply to list or, if one may say so, present some of its aspects and especially those that need to be discussed with the aim of identifying opportunities for reaching consensus, even if a partial one, about this issue. Only then can one amalgamate the obtained responses into something that approximates a conclusive (but by no means final) result.

"First of all, we should systematize our ideas about the role of space and time in the self-image of Russian identity. For several centuries, the constant expansion of the territory of the Russian state was one of the key parameters of our national self-affirmation. The tallying of newly incorporated territories was practically the main criterion for success or failure of a particular reign. Acquiring new lands, an outlet to seas (irrespective of which – the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Pacific Ocean seas) were acknowledged by all the Russian autocrats as a primary objective. Issues related to the development of new territories were almost always secondary in importance to the issues of their acquisition and possession.

"Development itself was considered a peripheral aspect of possession, when the aim was to create a springboard for subsequent new expansion. In this way, fortress cities and forward outposts were created, whose very names speak about their true purpose: Vladivostok, Vladikavkaz, Grozny, Dalny, Novorossiysk. The issue or serious development and planning was usually put off for later. And this “later” never came because of new missions aimed at expansion and applying all efforts to keep the acquired lands.

"The problem of overexpansion made itself felt quite acutely as early as the  mid-19th century. It was then that one became aware of a clear imbalance between the need for reform – with the aim of modernizing key regions of Russia – and the necessity for organizing elementary communications with the newly acquired 'American' Russia. The sale of Alaska (at the initiative of Saint-Petersburg, which overcame the doubts of Washington) was one of the very few instances, when Russia preferred to gain time (the development and modernization of what it already had) over the instinct of territorial expansion.[13]

"This conflict persisted throughout the 20th century. Its shadow is clearly seen in the secret protocols of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. But it manifested itself especially clearly at the time when the Yalta-Potsdam world order was formed at the end of the Second World War.

"The ardent desire to acquire as many territories as possible at any cost, and then the no less keen desire to keep these territories forever at any cost resulted in postponing crucial decisions on the more and more severe structural problems of the country's internal development, lagging behind the accelerating changes of the scientific and technological revolution, and disastrous overexertion. As a result, the inevitable historical changes (post-war world constructs, as the European experience has clearly shown, do not remain in place more than 40-60 years) went according to the worst possible scenario for the U.S.S.R., and the new Russia became both large and diminished simultaneously.

"This ambivalent complex of vastness and 'feeling plundered' has become a potent nutritional medium for introducing vibrant and passionate, collective and personal emotions into the discussion of modern Russian identity. Again, space and time are fused together, and again the former wants to consume the latter. Of course, many understand that with every decade the greatness of the country is measured less and less by the number of time zones its territory encompasses, but there are intellectual and psychological inertial stereotypes from the previous centuries lying between this understanding and the formulation of a national development strategy.

"The shaping of modern-day self-awareness, the current identity of Russian citizens of the 21st century is impossible without solving the problem of, as Lenin would say, 'the pivotal link.' In my opinion, this pivotal link boils down to defining the primary objective: extensive or intensive development. What is crucial for the survival and progress of the country: the multi-level and multi-directional modernization or the restoration of traditional (which exactly?) boundaries of our boundless country?

"It goes without saying that this dilemma should have our own, Russian solution. But it would be wrong, when discussing this issue, not to cast an eye on the not so distant surrounding areas and see how this critical challenge was solved by our historical important partners and opponents. And since geographically we are a Eurasian country, it makes sense to pay especially careful attention to the largest Asian and the largest European powers of the modern world – China and Germany.

"For both these countries, the 20th century was turbulent, often cruel and tragic. With all their distinctiveness, all their uniqueness, certain historical twists of their later development are tightly intertwined with the events that happened in our country slightly earlier or later. The Xinhai Revolution, which ended with the fall of monarchy and the establishment of republican government, and the disintegration of China. The lost war with Japan, was followed by the victory of the radical communist forces over the 'centrist' Kuomintang in the bloody civil war, and the not fully complete reunification of the country. [Then came] the ill-fated Maoist 'experiment' on the people during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. All these have [their], if not exact parallels, then very similar periods in the Russian-Soviet history as well.

"But we have nothing to juxtapose with the next important stage in China's development: the 30-year period that started with the truly historic December plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in 1978, which announced the beginning of structural reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping. Much has been said about these reforms, but in our context it is important to point out that they signaled a complete break with Maoist foreign policy, this extravagant blend of revolutionary adventurism while outwardly broadcasting Chinese 'great-power-ness.' This policy was absolutely impossible without a clear and unequivocal renunciation of 'teaching lessons' to anybody (U.S., Japan, South Korea, U.S.S.R., Vietnam), which had created a belt of tension and conflicts around China and depleted country already economically debilitated and bled by political gambles even more.

"In contrast, clear priority was given to building real, and not imitation, market economy, to land reform and, most importantly, to creating an atmosphere conducive to the rapid influx of foreign investments. As a result, in the span of one generation, China has radically changed its face and enhanced its real domestic capabilities to such an extent that now they are seriously discussing the question of how to increase their foreign policy activity and influence, in stages and in a controlled way, in the global regions most important for China.

"At the turn of the millennium, China managed to set rational, long term priorities, not least because Deng Xiaoping's generation succeeded (by the way, in a bitter fight with vehement opponents) in overcoming the Communist inertia of 'five years in three' and instantaneous solution of all the domestic and foreign problems simultaneously in one fell swoop because 'there are enemies everywhere' (who largely appeared due to their own dogmatic folly).

"It is important to note that, in explaining the need for his reforms, Deng and his team constantly emphasized that for the reform to be successful, one had to renounce such deep-rooted Chinese complexes as confidence in the inherent superiority of their culture, a propensity to teach rather than learn. This great politician emphatically urged his fellow countrymen to be more humble and tolerant of other opinions and respect the achievements of other nations in economy, culture and everything relating to quality of life.

"In other words, one of the components of China's successful structural reform was a serious adjustment of self-image. One of the greatest world civilizations managed to overcome its gravest crisis not in the least because it proved capable in its collective consciousness of renouncing (or, at least, pushing into the background, locking up in the subconscious, so to speak) those elements of national identity that were an obstacle to the energetic, but not reckless, race after the train, which sped faster and faster into the 21st century.

"Maybe, M. Weber was right in saying that adherents of the Protestant variant of Christian ethic found it easier to adapt to complex and contradictory realities of the emergence of market capitalist economy.[14] However, the Chinese generation of the second half of the 20th century has demonstrated that even a Confucian ethic, usually considered especially stable, invariable and static, can provide social and psychological impulses for a drastic transformation of their country and self-reformation, which can be most precisely described by the Italian word aggiornamento (adaptation to modern times without the loss of self). It would be nice if the Chinese experience of aggiornamento became not so much a source of envy toward the lucky neighbor but rather a lesson for our own search– A search that has become too dangerously drawn out, the truth be told.

"A different lesson can be learned from the recent historical experience of Germany. This great European power, after numerous humiliations, defeats, and dismemberment since the second half of the 19th century came under the ever increasing influence of the most dangerous virus of grandeur and mastery over Europe. Both in their imperial-monarchic guise and in the imperial-ochlocratic (Nazi) one, German ruling elites instilled into the national consciousness the 'original' Teutonic spirit, contempt for other nations, the feeling of being the chosen ones, who are entitled to set their own 'European order' with blood and iron. Bismarck's attempts after the victorious Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 to rein in the most firebrand nationalists and point out the danger inherent in the obsession with territorial aggrandizement and overexpansion were ignored.

"The results of this strategy are widely known: two lost world wars and complete destruction and dismemberment of Germany. Only these devastating catastrophes could have a healing effect on the destructive and self-destructive German interpretation of self-identity. Post-war Germany, territorially limited to an unprecedentedly small size, managed to 'push into the subconscious' its complexes, lofty in form and suicidal in essence, and to make the choice in favor of well-thought-out domestic development and active participation in the unification of Europe on the basis of economic and social cooperation. This became possible because serious changes took place in the minds of most Germans of the post-war generation – changes in the direction of condemning the past and seeking German greatness in fundamentally new paths.

"These new paths have pretty quickly, if one looks at the clock of history, produced results that initially appear surprising. Now Germany is unified (albeit not in the traditional meaning of the word), economically stronger than ever before, and is solidifying its leading position in Europe, using methods that are highly untraditional for it, but have proven to be most effective for implementing its national interests. The Germans only needed half a century to achieve indisputably great results on this path.

"And again, one essential condition for this success was a deep rethinking of national identity – a rethinking not only at the level of the narrow, elite 'small engine,' but also in the depths of mass consciousness and subconscious.

"Of course, there is nothing new under the sun. Today's challenges of terrorism and migration cataclysms are placing new trials and challenges at the fore. In what way will these challenges impact Germany and Europe? That is an open, and most serious question. But it is important to emphasize – these are the challenges for the new, young generation. As for the generation of post-war Germans, they dealt with their challenges quite successfully and did not waste the chance that history gave them. This generation managed to shape their self-image and their image in the eyes of others in a way that enabled them to meet national challenges without provoking a sharp negative syndrome in Europe and other regions of the world, without re-awakening old anti-German fears and prejudices; on the contrary, they extinguished those fears by uniting the German and the European rather harmoniously in their consciousness. Without this, neither the reunification of Germany, no the EU progress (which is ruled de facto not by Brussels but by Berlin) would become a reality.

"Thus, here we have two examples of how, at the cost of great losses and bitter trials, two countries that are extremely important to us shaped up to progress with the times, discovered the internal resources to define the balance between space and time, between the national, the regional and the global. It was done not on the cabinet level, the narrow bureaucratic level, but on a truly broad, national level. Ultimately, [it took place] on the grass roots level. That is, the identity level. These lessons deserve to be thoroughly contemplated and compared with our culture-specific elements – the facts of the cultural environment where space and time are dangerously out of balance.

"Another serious problem in the search for Russian identity is the existence of balance between the past and the future in our worldview. In my opinion, there are fluctuations of demonization and idealization of the past and the future in our consciousness. For a while, we are all fascinated by 'the lore of long bygone ages.' We create an idealized mythological picture of our past – either the entire past, despite its extreme contradictoriness, or a specific piece of our past. Sometimes, it is the 'Russian spirit' of the pre-Christian times that is considered ideal. Sometimes our ideal is the Kievan prince Vladimir (but not Svyatoslav), sometimes it's one of the Ivans; sometimes it's Peter the Great, and sometimes Alexander (the Second or the Third). The same is true about the Soviet times. The Soviet Union and Stalin are good, there happiness reigned, because current times are bad, or vice versa.

"Of course, in a certain sense, the challenge of the absolute priority, established in the texts of such a peculiar author as [Russian writer Alexander] Prokhanov, deserves to be seriously discussed.[15] In fact, he is saying that without an overarching objective it is impossible to mobilize the nation to active existence, to collective endeavors, to the youthfulness of spirit. I think it is a cause for a serious discussion. From this point of view, only that which aspires to something, strives for something impossible, beyond all limits can be considered alive. 'Impossible is a word to be found only in the dictionary of fools,' as Napoleon said.

"The problem, however, is that many of our modern observers interpret 'beyond all limits' as meaning such hackneyed and time-worn ideas as incessant and unlimited territorial augmentations tinged with romanticized mythology of the distant past. Such is the romantic appeal of yesterday. And the problem does not even consist of the fact that a defeated Napoleon, in striving for the impossible, died alone on a distant ocean island. Or that ideologists like Prokhanov are hardly ecstatic about the practical implementation of their daydreams about the return of the past days of the great empire.

"The problem is that, as the poet [Andrey Voznesensky] said, 'And on its circuits the wind returns. But the circuits turn as well.'[16] The world has become different. It is not returning into yesterday, it is moving towards tomorrow. And nobody knows what this tomorrow will be. But in the context of national interests, if one does not guide the collective consciousness of the country, in a timely fashion, towards not lagging behind others in search of tomorrow, an almost 100% certainty exists that one will get nowhere. As somebody said: 'I don't know where America will arrive, but I do know that it will be the first to get there.'

"I personally would not like this forecast to be true. I would prefer it if we could motivate ourselves and our country to, at the very least, come into tomorrow all together. Especially since this 'tomorrow' is not only an alluring prospect, but also a very problematic and even a scary one. In this 'tomorrow' everything is unclear: not only the frameworks of the traditional global order, but also basic prospects of life on our planet. The result of mankind's further evolution itself in our current (traditional) self-perception is also unclear. And these are not problems for the indefinite future. These are the problems of the present, which is emerging before our eyes.

"This is the background against which our sense of self runs idly, often focused on the passionate debate over the eternal question of where the ideal (ideally equitable) border between the state of Athens and the state of Thebes should pass. And what the grim and laconic inhabitants of Sparta think about that.

"All the above-mentioned ancient 'most current and burning' issues soon turned out to be a meaningless and turned-over page of antique, semi-mythical history. It was not this absurd row that remained in the macro-history of mankind, but the words of one Athenian who kept pestering his fellow countrymen, as well as timeless humanity, with a plea: 'Know thyself.' The plea still remains just a plea.

"Incorporating the search for the new Russia's place in mankind's future existence into our worldview naturally involves reflections on our large territory. But most of all, it involves our intellectual human potential. To what extent will our Russian contribution form a significant part of the European cultural contribution to mankind's common potential? Where can we find harmony between the Russian, the European, and the global in the context of the second half of our century (to say nothing of longer time periods)? How can we combine the country's vast territories, its ethnic and regional peculiarities, its available population, with optimal governance and with guarantees for its integrity and unity?

"Can universal human rights stably coexist with the unity of a multi-national country and at the same time with its openness, non-isolation from Europe (which we are part of, at least historically, and that most of our citizens consider themselves a part of)? Answering these questions is extremely important for the shaping of our collective identity, oriented not towards the myths of yesterday, but towards the realities of tomorrow. Another serious problem impeding Russian self-identification is the issue of the ratio between its ethnic and civil components. Still, this problem is characteristic of many large multi-national, multi-ethnic and multi-racial states, starting with the Roman Empire and up to the modern United States of America.

"In new Russia, this problem is exacerbated by the fact that our country, being the successor of a large continental colonial empire on the one hand, and of the Soviet ideological empire on the other, has, incorporated into its ethnic diversity, an additional territorial-geographical aspect combined with elements of statehood (sometimes ethnic and national factors become an integral part of the structural constituents of a federal state). There are essential peculiarities in the identity as a Russian citizen of a resident of indigenous Russian regions, an inhabitant of such Caucasian entities of the Russian Federation as Ingushetia and Chechnya (where the population is practically mono-ethnic), or Dagestan, Tatarstan or Bashkortostan (where the population is multi-ethnic and there are specific problems connected to intraregional national-ethnic relations). All this is complicated even further by the addition into this conceptual-emotional cocktail of the religious factor, when common religious or confessional affiliation generates centripetal impulses, and national-ethnic differences, in contrast, – centrifugal ones.

"One may observe situations, when, for instance, strong emphasis on the pan-Slavic variation of identity stimulates pan-Turkic or other motives in other categories of Russian citizens. Very severe problems for the shaping of Russian civil, state identity are created by the concept of 'eternal historical holy Rus,' propounded by a number of distinguished ROC (Russian Orthodox Church) representatives. On the one hand, this concept aspires to the spiritual unification of all the 'tribes and peoples' that have or had historical ties with any Russian-Orthodox national entities that ever existed. On the other, questions arise as to how and to what extent these spiritual-religious ties mix well with the need to shape and strengthen collective identity on the basis of belonging to the modern secular, democratic Russian state and its civil society. To what extent and in what proportions are these two spheres of concepts and values compatible, and to what extent are they mutually antagonistic? And, what is most important, to what extent is one of them oriented towards the past, and the other is based on less sweet-sounding but more practical current and future realities?

"It is obvious that for the long term consolidation of Russian positions in the world, it is necessary to create a solid basis of domestic support for this consolidation. It must include significant structural transformations in the economy, in the social and cultural sphere, in the academic and educational sector. But all this can get frozen in vacuum if one does not succeed in considerably strengthening the system of individual and micro-collective motivations, taking it to a higher and broader level – up to the motivation level of 'citizen of Russia.' This may or may not happen for a very simple reason: this kind of civil identity cannot be ordered or organized, at least not from above.

"Many still ask the question: did the concept of 'the Soviet people' exist in the 20th century? I would answer it carefully: both yes and no. No, because the enormous state – the U.S.S.R. – collapsed very quickly, and the population of most of its now independent parts adopted new separate identity models. Yes, because almost everywhere (even in the Baltic States) some invisible cultural-psychological threads (not necessarily of the positive and beneficial quality) have remained, which tie us together and create a palpable mutually cohesive psychological tension. To the surprise of some and resentment of others, this feeling has not disappeared over the past quarter of a century.

"A question arises: are strong horizontal identity structures taking shape on the new level – the level of modern Russian statehood? My answer to this question is cautiously optimistic. In tense moments of global political cataclysms at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, the Russian ruling elite managed to draw the country together and consolidate the public opinion around its solutions for quite controversial issues. With all its zigzags and sometimes perversions, Russian patriotism (specifically, the patriotism of the present day state) has turned out to be a viable factor. I mean patriotism itself, not its marginal, extreme excesses.

"At the same time, it is too early to draw final conclusions concerning the formation of a Russian national consensus. Firstly, the trials this phenomenon has managed to overcome, with all their severity (wars in the Caucasus, the conflict with Ukraine, economic crises), were not perceived by the public as the crises of 'the first echelon.' Secondly, after a certain bewilderment of 1990s, the present-day political elite managed to use, quite skillfully, both the traditional and the new resources of intensive influence on mass psychology for its own opportunistic interests. Therefore, it is very difficult to say whether the elements of national and state identity are indeed coming together, or whether what we see is the process of situational reaction of the 'great silent majority.' The second variant is different from the first by its short-term character and inconstancy depending on the changes in socio-economic or political climate.

"Thus, the search for national identity as one of the most important anchors and staples of the Russian foreign policy continues. It is fated to be complex and time-consuming. It is held back by the natural egotism of a considerable part of our new national elite (typical of the elites all over the world, but intensified by juvenile ardor and arrogant ignorance of our recent 'new Russians' and their nimble hitchhikers from the ranks of old bureaucracy). It is held back by blind alleys and stubborn preoccupation with the past of our seekers of 'new' meanings. Like a crayfish, they are walking backwards into the pseudo-bright past, thinking more or less sincerely that they are heading into the future. It is held back by stereotypes inherited from the Soviet mentality of super-suspiciousness of everything that is 'not one of ours' and a simultaneous subconscious feeling that we are constantly lagging behind all that is 'not our kind' on the most fundamental level. The dangerous cultivation of antipathy to 'the other' stands in the way of our constructive self-determination, our peaceful and self-confident adaptation in the modern world.

"We must all agree on one thing: we must adapt the unique gift our country inherited from previous generations – its expanse – to the imperatives of the fast running time. This agreement should lie in the basis of national mentality that determines the major directions of Russian foreign policy. And it is this process which is a challenge for Russia – not less (and maybe even more) difficult than those that our predecessors had to cope with. For Europe, Eurasia, the world on the whole, this direction of Russia's national identity is not confrontational. It is not and should not be a challenge to our external environment. It is a challenge for us. And patriotism today boils down to the idea that we must respond decently to this challenge."



[1] Senator Vladimir Lukin is the Deputy Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Federation Council of Russia, President of the Russian Paralympic Committee, Professor of the National Research University – Higher School of Economics. He is also former Chairman of the Committee on International Relations and Deputy Chairman of the State Duma, Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the United States of America, Commissioner on Human Rights for the Russian Federation.

[2], April 18, 2017.

[3] Vladimir. Lukin. 'Post-Soviet Russia’s Foreign Policy: Looking for an Identity,' Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn No. 1, 2017.

[6] A reference to poet Bulat Okudzhava's song 'Sentimental March', which concluded with the following lines: "But if suddenly, sometime, I can't manage to protect myself – No matter what new battle may shake the earthly globe, I will nonetheless fall in that war, in that distant civil war, and commissars in dusty helmets will bend silently over me." The line commissars in dusty helmets refers to Red Army commanders.

[7] A reference to the marching song "White Army, Black Baron." Composed in 1920, the song was meant as a combat anthem for the Red Army. The first verse of the song states: "The White Army [Anti-Communist forces that fought the Bolsheviks] and the Black Baron [Baron Pyotr Nikolayevich Wrangel or Vrangel, an officer in the Imperial Russian Army, who became the commanding general of the anti-Bolshevik White Army in Southern Russia during the Russian Civil War] //Are preparing to restore to us the Tsar's throne//"

But from the taiga to the British seas//The Red Army is the strongest of all!"

[9] This is a reference to Francis Fukuyama’s book "The End of History And The Last Man," published in 1992 by Free Press. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6789, The Fourth Political Theory - Pro-Kremlin Russian Philosopher Dugin: The Alternative To Liberalism Is 'Returning To The Middle Ages,' February 16, 2017.

[10] "Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality," is the slogan created in 1832 by Count Sergey S. Uvarov, minister of education 1833–49, that came to represent the official ideology of the imperial government of Nicholas I (reigned 1825–55) and remained the guiding principle behind government policy during later periods of imperial rule. Source:

[11] "The Twelve Chairs," translated from the Russian by John Richardson (Northwestern University Press, 1997). The following are excerpts from Chapter 22 "Ellochka the Cannibal":

"A dangerous enemy was ruining the household more and more every year. Four years earlier Ellochka had noticed she had a rival across the ocean.  [... ] She [Fimka Sobak] brought with her the icy breath of January and a French fashion magazine. Ellochka got no further than the first page. A glossy photograph showed the daughter of the American billionaire, Vanderbilt, in an evening dress. It showed furs and plumes, silks and pearls, an unusually simple cut and a stunning hair-do. That settled everything. 'Oho!' said Ellochka to herself. That meant 'she or me'.

"The next morning found Ellochka at the hairdresser's, where she relinquished her beautiful black plait and had her hair dyed red. Then she was able to climb another step up the ladder leading her to the glittering paradise frequented by billionaires' daughters, who were no match for housewife Shukin. A dog skin made to look like muskrat was bought with a loan and added the finishing touch to the evening dress.

"Mister Shukin, who had long cherished the dream of buying a new drawing-board, became rather depressed. The dog-trimmed dress was the first well-aimed blow at Miss Vanderbilt. The snooty American girl was then dealt three more in succession. Ellochka bought a chinchilla tippet (Russian rabbit caught in Tula Province) from Fimka Sobak, a private furrier, acquired a hat made of dove-grey Argentine felt, and converted her husband's new jacket into a stylish tunic.

"The billionaire's daughter was shaken, but the affectionate Daddy Vanderbilt evidently came to the rescue.  The latest number of the magazine contained a portrait of the cursed rival in four different styles: (1) in black-brown fox; (2) with a diamond star on her forehead; (3) in a flying suit (high boots, a very thin green coat and gauntlets, the tops of which were encrusted with medium-size emeralds); and (4) in a ball gown (cascades of jewellery and a little silk).

"Ellochka mustered her forces. Daddy Shukin obtained a loan from the mutual-assistance fund, but they would only give him thirty roubles. This desperate new effort radically undermined the household economy, but the battle had to be waged on all fronts. Not long before some snapshots of the Miss in her new castle in Florida had been received. Ellochka, too, had to acquire new furniture. She bought two upholstered chairs at an auction. (Successful buy! Wouldn't have missed it for the world.) Without asking her husband, Ellochka took the money from the dinner fund. There were ten days and four roubles left to the fifteenth."

[12] Marx, K. Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right (1848).

[14]The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber.

[15] See Friend or Foe, Alexander Prokhanov, 2007.

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