On February 24, the era of Russia’s search for its place in the Western-centric world ended. In this world, all political initiatives came only from the West. The Western countries also determined the basic rules of this world and allowed, at their discretion, other participants to share in the benefits of the established order. Over the past three decades, Russia has sought to find its place in this world, in a way that was in accordance with its interests. At first cautiously and even timidly, and then more persistently, Russia signalled that ignoring its interests would lead to a worldwide crisis.
In response to this, the West began to consider Russia the main problem facing European security. The main issue was the measure of Russia’s guilt for what is happening in Eastern Europe – Moldova, Belarus, the Donbass and Crimea. By the end of 2020, it was considered commonplace to carry out military provocations on the borders of Russia, testing the political will of the Russian leadership on an almost daily basis. The dangerous proximity of military ships, the manoeuvring of military fleets near Russia’s borders, provocations in the Donbass and Crimea, constant political pressure, sanctions, cyber-attacks, as well as the constant threat of escalation of the conflict have become an integral feature of the so-called political “dialogue” with Russia.
Through all these decades, the Russian line has been based on diplomacy. The Russian response was complex, methodical, and appealed to the common sense of the leading elites in the West. In a series of public appearances in major foreign forums and through a list of initiatives to create a new security regime in Europe – like the European Security Treaty – Russia has called for a solid and indivisible European security architecture to be built through compromise and diplomacy. When it finally realised that these attempts were unsuccessful, Russia adopted the logic of the West, according to which European security only had one problem. Russia now thinks the same way: the main problem of the European security system lies in the military activism of the US and NATO.
After a while, emotions about the current acute phase of the crisis will subside, and negotiations will inevitably resume. But in any event, it will be another world. In this world, Russia will move the security frontier away from its borders, deeper towards the West. Ukraine will receive a new government and will be demilitarised, for sure. It’s most likely that Ukraine will become the third member of the union between Russia and Belarus. If the American threat to create a support system for the Ukrainian underground with the deployment of camps on the territory of the states of Eastern Europe begins to materialise, Russia will have in mind a symmetrical response: heavy pressure on the countries of Eastern Europe. Over time, this hybrid confrontation must end, as it ended before between Russia and Turkey, who used similar tools of influence against each other. In the new world, Russia will not tolerate violations of the rights of people with a Russian identity, wherever they live: it will defend them harshly and persistently. The exchange of cyber-strikes will become commonplace in a world where a direct military conflict between Russia and the West is impossible. It will become a relatively routine place for demonstrating military intentions and potential. In case of the deployment of offensive weapons in NATO countries on Russian borders, for example, on the territory of the Baltic states or Poland, Russia will create counter-threats in unexpected places in Europe and the Western Hemisphere.
The key process of this new world will be so-called managed confrontation between Russia and the West, preventing spontaneous escalation toward the war. Russia’s goal remains unchanged – to create a fairer security system in Europe that better takes into account Russian interests. This system should be based on the rules of prudent behaviour and a refusal to create mutual military threats. The interdependence between Russia and the countries of the West will weaken, but it will not break completely. Deliveries of Russian energy resources in exchange for Western technologies will be in demand. It is not possible to completely exclude Russia from the global financial system either. However, the imposed US and EU sanctions will accelerate the withdrawal from the dollar in international settlements.
Although on the front pages of the world media we see the perception of the current crisis precisely through the eyes of the West, the important actors in the current situation are the states of the East: China has chosen a cautious line in relation to what is happening, and is sending signals that it is one of the parties which are interested in creating a polycentric world order. The position of other influential elite groups also shows that there is no solidarity between them with the countries of the West to what is happening. Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Brazil and Pakistan demonstrate that their national interests are different from those of the West in relation to the European security.
The business-like, routine character of the largest military crisis in Europe since the NATO attack on Belgrade shows that international relations are returning to their historical norm. It has several centres of initiative that compete with each other for global influence. There are more dangers in this world, but even more caution.