December 22, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 9102

Russian Intellectual Lukyanov: Covid Has Had A Bigger Impact Than A World War

December 22, 2020
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 9102

Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief, Russia in Global Affairs magazine and chairman of the Presidium of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy wrote an article for Kommersant titled "History's Hunger" in which he argues that the pandemic had smashed the concept that globalization was irreversible. In a sense Covid providing the tipping point after pent up dissatisfaction with the current system. Despite this dissatisfaction nobody (with the dubious exception of ISIS) was willing to challenge it. Even China and Russia only sought to improve their position within the existing system. Now nations will no longer be able to go with the globalist flow and will be forced to make their own decisions.

Lukyanov's analysis follows below:[1]

Fyodor Lukyanov (Source:

"In April, when the scale of the force majeure that befell the global socio-economic structure became clear. the world began to sum up the results of 2020. Then, despite the shock and panic, predictions and assumptions were somehow made quite jauntily. Of course, with constant reservations that we are entering a period of extreme uncertainty, but nevertheless ...

"By December, things got much more confusing. The pandemic is raging, but political transformations have stalled, and the international agenda as a whole has not changed. In the economy, everyone is expecting a catastrophic recession, but outwardly the situation is not yet fatal. Expectations that the picture will be radically transformed are combined with the hope that, if you endure it, the restoration of the previous norm will begin. Life has not collapsed, but is clearly heading along a different trajectory.

"Here is the Paradox: the world began to move when it froze. In a literal sense - by closing in lockdowns of varying tightness, which surged in waves until the end of the year and flowed into the next. The pandemic was not the cause of the surge. Imbalances in the global system have been piling up for a long time, changes have accumulated in a quantity sufficing for the transition to quality. What was needed was a catalyst was needed, and the strange virus became it.

"The fact that the emergence of a new infection did not become a watershed or a turning point, but merely highlighted and accelerated trends that had been aggravated for some time, has been frequently said. But there is another and actually more important aspect. The pandemic has effectively annulled the phenomenon of no alternative, and most importantly, the irreversibility of universal development, to which everyone has long been accustomed. And not even on an intellectual, but on a psychological level. And not only for those who welcomed globalization, but also [globalization's] opponents, who pointed to its multiplying deficiencies and costs. Cursing the wrong direction in which everything was going, the latter did not really believe that it could be changed. At best, it could be slightly adjusted.

"Talk about the crisis of globalization has been going on for a long time, at least since the world financial crisis of 2008-2009. The rise of new countries and forces was all one could talk about. The deepening conflict in the international environment and the growing symptoms of the single palette's fragmentation were likewise no secret. The rapid spread of the black swan' metaphor reflected the anticipation of events that would plunge into the chaos of uncontrollable change. As it turned out this year, even global paralyzing pandemics predicted in analytical reports and articles, simply ignored the warnings, while formally noting them.

"As often happens, the prophecies of oracles or the reasoning of thinkers were located in one dimension, and everyday routine and political practice - in another. In the first, they feared the inevitability of stormy gusts, in the second, they presumptuously presumed that the storm would blow over, as had frequently happened before, and nothing could fundamentally change, for what existed, although not entirely fair, was reasonable. At least more reasonable than anything else, using the analogy with democracy attributed to Winston Churchill, as the worst form of government, except for the rest.

"Globalization, despite countless claims to it, was perceived as something irreversible. Universal openness (more precisely, the impossibility of being closed) and total eternal mobility appeared to be something integral. It was self-evident that the costs of changing the status quo would certainly exceed any benefits from this very change. In the 21st century, there was no revisionism on the planet, since there were no players who would seek to reverse the order of things that was unacceptable to them. More precisely, the "Islamic State", for example, appeared in the role of an agent of revolutionary revisionism, but it was also 'stamped out ' by the whole world as a disgusting pariah. There were no radical revolutionaries among the major powers, although the West tried to pin this label on Russia and China. The fight on the world stage was not for a revolution in international affairs, but for finding a more comfortable place for themselves in the existing system (Moscow and Beijing fought precisely for this).

"The pandemic has pulled the rug out from under the outlined structure. It emerged that by a twist of sudden circumstances that seem insurmountable, globalization can, in fact, be shut down.

"It is also feasible to close all borders and stop most movements, [plunge] the world economy into instant stupor, and even abolish values ​​and principles declared axiomatic. And what was customarily condemned (protectionism, selfishness, the desire to evade interdependence) is a rational way of behaving.

"Who benefits from it? Who arranged all this? It is human nature to ask such questions about what is unclear. And [it is also human] to be disappointed by the lack of convincing answers (more precisely, conspiracy theories provide them, but they are too orderly and obvious to be believed in). It cannot be denied, however, that by 2020 all kinds of international affairs have become utterly confused. There was a desire in the air to do something to blow up the vicious circle, to break out of it. It is no coincidence that many commentators have been talking for several years about the emerging pre-war situation. The logic of history being that objectively overdue circumstances inevitably generate an event that provokes responses to challenges.

"The pandemic has pushed life off the rails more dramatically than world wars have done before. Hopes that it will play the role of such a war and nullify contradictions, reset them, to use a word popular in the past year [with reference to Putin's terms in office], are unjustified. The palette and intensity of conflicts only grows wider and hotter. But there is one fundamental circumstance. For the first time in a long time, the further course of events depends on the decisions that will be taken by specific governments, even individuals. Until now, they have rather drifted with the flow, reassuring themselves with the same absence of alternative and irreversibility.

"The closing happened abruptly. And, in fact, no one had any other method - one could not defend against the spread of the infection except by self-isolation (it is noteworthy that everyone actually followed the path paved by China, which was the first to face the virus, each to the best of his ability, but precisely while glancing back at Beijing).

"Should we reopen, when, how and to what extent? This is where the options begin. Firstly, decisions will not be synchronized: each capital will wait for the optimal moment, guided by its own considerations, not only epidemiological, but also political and economic. Second, solutions may vary from country to country. After all, an unexpected stop allows you to think about the travel route of travel route previously perceived as the sole correct or possible one.

"The erosion of the universalism of norms and rules hardly began in 2020 but much earlier, however the pandemic has put paid to the idea that it is advisable for everyone to act with one key, because it fits any lock. The infection reminded us that in the event of an acute crisis affecting the people's life, health, and physical safety, each state is responsible for itself and its citizens (and before them, because they rush to it), but it cannot confidently rely on international institutions. interstate cooperation or civil society, but only on its own capabilities. How to maximize them is a know-how, that if it is not entirely unique in each case, then it is firmly tied to specific circumstances.

"The moment of decision, the appearance of choice, is a qualitative shift. And the conclusion of more than thirty years of an era of apparent predestination. The one that, in the wake of the peaceful 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe, was dramatically and presumptuously called the "end of history." What happens next will be determined by the characters to this drama. And they have no one to shift responsibility to.

"This December, people are most eagerly awaiting the New Year holidays, they just want the fatal calendar number to change. The recapitulation articles, which are always written at the end of the year, now resemble summing up the results of what has actually just begun, it is not known when and how it will end, but everyone yearns to see a safe ending. But 2021 is clearly unready to live up to the expectations placed on it. It will be unable to become the antipode of 2020. As the remarkable historian of American politics Walter Russell Mead said even before all the tumultuous events of the past year, 'history is back, and it is hungry.' I don't want to wish it bon appetit.


[1], December 21, 2020.

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