July 12, 2022 Special Dispatch No. 10076

Russian International Affairs Expert Kortunov: Official Assumptions Of Multipolarity Are Wrong, Russia Will Have To Tread Carefully In An International Order Characterized By 'Asymmetric Bipolarity'

July 12, 2022
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 10076

For years, pro-Kremlin international relations theorists have argued that the world has become multipolar to the dismay of the US that has lost its hegemony.[1] Russia counted on European self-assertiveness against Washington. Andrey Kortunov, the Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) argues that these assumptions are wrong as illustrated by the recent adhesion of Finland and Sweden to NATO. Europe and Japan instead of becoming independent power centers are displaying increasing cohesion. NATO and the EU are increasingly indistinguishable. This process was triggered not only by the invasion of Ukraine but by growing global crises and this triggers the herd instinct as likeminded nations band together for safety. Nor have we reverted to the bipolarism that characterized the Cold War. Russia cannot hope to rally the non-West in a confrontation, as many of the nonaligned will prefer to steer clear of a conflict. Therefore, we have entered an era of "asymmetric bipolarity", where Russia is in an inferior position. While this situation lasts, Russia should avoid building a counter alliance but should constitute on ad hoc situational alliances which can attract the largest number of actors.  With strategic patience, Russia can grow these temporary alliances into something more durable.

Kortunov's analysis follows below:[2]

Andrey Kortunov (Source:

"The spread in expert evaluation of the consequences of Finland’s and Sweden’s accession to NATO is quite broad, from calming assurances that momentarily there are no particularly dangerous trends for Moscow emanating from Europe’s north, to apocalyptic forecasts that an emboldened Finland will start laying claims to Russian Vyborg or even the entire territory of Karelia and part of Murmansk Oblast, while a new generation of 'Russophobe' Sweden’s submarines will take full control of the Baltic Sea zone as far as Ust-Luga [settlement] and the Neva Delta.

"Some experts believe that Sweden and especially Finland will have a restraining effect on NATO’ policy towards Russia and will be able to counterbalance the much more radical stances of the countries situated on the southern shore of the Baltic Sea; others believe that the influence of Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius and Warsaw will inevitably lead to a reinforcement of the ‘hawks’ in Helsinki and Stockholm.

"However, leaving aside arbitrary assumptions, one has to admit that so far no one actually knows exactly how the geostrategic situation on NATO’s northern flank will change, and what specific new challenges will our country will face in this regard.

"In any case, changes are coming and they won’t be limited to the Baltic Sea, the Russian-Finnish border and the Arctic region.

"Already now it can be confidently argued that the changed status of the two formerly non-aligned European states is a graphic display of the emerging trend towards the consolidation of the notional ‘collective West’ that had receded in recent years. Russia’s special military operation [hereafter - SVO] in Ukraine, has undoubtedly become the most important catalyst for this consolidation, provoking an unprecedented range of economic and other sanctions, an historically unprecedented volume of military and economic aid to Kyiv, meticulously planned and well-coordinated pressure on Moscow at international organizations, etc. Russia’s actions have also prompted Helsinki and Stockholm to reconsider the [non-aligned] status of their countries both in European and global politics.

"However, Finland’s and Sweden’s accession to NATO is not the first manifestation of Western consolidation. Even prior to that a new trilateral politico-military alliance, AUKUS, was established; there were also attempts to institutionalize the quadrilateral Indo-Pacific "QUAD dialogue". Attempts to overcome acute US-EU disagreements over trade issues and a desire to breathe new life into the G7 (that had relative success) were recorded too.

"Against this background, the inclusion of Helsinki and Stockholm in the NATO alliance appears looks timely and quite logical, because in terms of their membership's composition NATO and the EU increasingly overlap each other, the possibilities for operational coordination between the two organizations are increasing, while the EU’s plans to reach meaningful 'strategic autonomy' from the US have again been deferred to an undefined future.

"It appears that this consolidation trend is rooted in the collective West's growing uncertainty about its future and the Western elites' banal fear of common challenges and threats. The list of these challenges and threats could go on almost ad infinitum, it includes: the unstoppable growth of China’s economic power and international influence; Russia’s policy, an increase in regional crises with no obvious solutions; the prospects for the proliferation of nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction, the persistent potential of international terrorism; the growth of volatility in the global economy and finances; virtually inevitable global climate changes; the threat of a new large-scale migration crisis; a probable resurgence of right-wing populism, as well as left-wing populism in the Western countries themselves; the possibility of a new Transatlantic split, etc.

"Fear of the unforeseen and of a still not fully understood present, of an uncertain and increasingly ominous future, paralyzes the mind, and activates archaic instincts and reflexes, forcing the Western world's countries to seek salvation in unification. This newfound cohesion gives rise to a sense of security, safety, strength, and even historical righteousness. When dangerous predators appear on the horizon, birds gather in large flocks, fish form big schools, antelope gather in herds of thousands.

"As far as one can tell, the hasty decisions by Finland and Sweden to join NATO were motivated by these deep and, let’s face it, not entirely unfounded fears and concerns. If the world in general and the West in particular are facing difficult times, politically close regimes are better off sticking together rather than trying to save themselves alone.

"The ongoing consolidation of Western unity, as far as can be judged, is a long-term process that will inevitably stretch out over at least several years and will significantly affect the emerging international system. The image of a consolidated West ill coincides with the idea of a multipolar (polycentric) world, given that in a mature multipolar world the US, the EU, Japan and other leading Western countries, as well as their associations should act as independent, or at least autonomous power centers in dynamic equilibrium with each other.

"But the West's consolidation won’t necessarily lead to a revival of the classic bipolarity, along the line 'West-Non-West,' since many leading countries of the global South (India, Brazil, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, etc.) aren’t at all ready to position themselves as part of a non-West confronting the West. The possible rallying of the 'non-Western' countries around China or Russia, obviously, won’t happen in the near future. Besides the consolidated West retains a variety of capabilities for effectively counteracting this process.

"In all likelihood, over several years Russia will have to construct its foreign policy in an international environment that can be provisionally described as 'asymmetric bipolarity.' In these circumstances, the consolidated West will be confronted in different forms and with varying degrees of consistency by only part of the non-Western world, while the rest of the non-Western world will try to sit out this impending confrontation to the extent possible.

"In this regard, it’s very important for Russia to avoid the temptation to build its [foreign] policy following the principle, 'he who is not with us, is against us.' Considering the current world balance of power, attempts to establish broad strategic anti-Western alliances may not prove very effective, or could even be counterproductive. It would appear more promising [for Russia] to focus on establishing of situational coalitions around specific tasks that are of interest to the widest possible range of potential parties. It’s only after a long period of time that some ad hoc coalitions can grow into sustainable alliances. In other words, strategic patience should become an integral feature of Russian foreign policy."


[2], July 7, 2022.

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