Richard Sakwa – “We are present at the funeral of old school of diplomacy”

Will Russia return to dialogue with the West? Or is humanity sliding from a cold war to a “hot” one? What is the essence of the Ukrainian crisis? Will we arrive at a multipolar world? Can Russia be split by inter-ethnic differences?

Richard Sakwa is the leading British expert on Russia, Emeritus Professor at the University of Kent, and a member of the Valdai international discussion club.

Richard Sakwa was interviewed by Grigorii Sarkisov.

Originally published in Literary Gazette

Translated from the Russian by Geoffrey Roberts


Richard, you are the author of many books and articles about Russia, you often visit our country, give lectures, and interviews. Is this causing problems for you in Britain?

In Britain they’ve made it a “moral issue” – they say you can’t have anything to do with Russia because it is at war with Ukraine. But for some reason, no one called for a boycott of the United States and Great Britain during the Vietnam War, the invasion of Iraq, the bombing of Serbia, or the destruction of Libya. I am a supporter of diplomacy; dialogue is needed now more than ever. As a scientist, I must explain what is happening, and this requires constant dialogue with colleagues and politicians. It’s good there is the Valdai Club, a classic liberal discussion platform where everyone can express their opinion.

Why did the second Cold War happen if, with the disappearance of the USSR, there were no ideological contradictions left between East and West?

When George Orwell coined the term “Cold War” in a Tribune article in September 1945, few thought the concept would last long. But the first Cold War began almost immediately after World War II, and lasted until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Then there was a 25-year “cold peace” that gave way to a new Cold War. In 2014, the European security system created as a result of the old Cold War collapsed spectacularly. Europe has lived in uncertainty for nearly thirty years, stuck with Cold War institutions and practices that have failed to develop structures and ideas anchored in the new reality.

Is this what you call a crisis of purpose in Europe?

There is no goal here, because there is no dialectic of development, but there is an endless movement in a circle, causing dizziness among politicians. This is also visible at the everyday level. When I was young, even Labourites talked about specific goals: a bridge will be built here, a factory there, and a nuclear power plant there. There was always a vision of the future, there was some kind of plan. Now no one is saying where we are going. This has affected all European politics.

During the years of the “cold peace”, not a single fundamental problem of European security was resolved. It is Europe’s failure to create an inclusive and comprehensive peace regime covering the entire continent that has given rise to the current confrontation and discord. Europe has simply resumed its “civil wars”. An eloquent example is Ukraine. This conflict shows the deep “tensions” in the European order and the “failure” of the security system…The collapse of a “united and free” Europe is now obvious.

Have we jumped from one Cold War to another Cold War?

Yes, and this one is much more dangerous and deeper than the first one when everything was clear: communism versus capitalism, the struggle of ideas, etc. Then the “political West” appeared. A common economic and humanitarian space emerged in Europe, and that is good. But at the same time, the American military-industrial complex also strengthened, which inevitably led to the creeping militarisation of the state and society.

The West perceived the end of the Cold War in 1989 as a victory, while in the USSR under Gorbachev they talked about a return to universal human values and counted on equal relations with the West, recognising the market economy and human rights. In 1989 Gorbachev was confident the “spirit of April 1945” – when Soviet and American soldiers embraced on the Elbe – had returned. But in the West, they long ago forgot this spirit and behaved with the USSR, and then with Russia, not as partners, but as winners. In Washington they started talking seriously about the “end of history.”

After all, it was then that the United States received a decade of complete freedom of action and began to feel like “masters of the world” in the literal sense?

Yes, the disappearance of the USSR led to an imbalance, the emergence of a unipolar world in which the United States reigned supreme. But the unipolar world did not become safer and did not bring peace. America, which felt itself a hegemon, did what it wanted throughout the 90s, not paying attention to the UN and especially not remembering the “spirit of 1945.” Washington preferred to solve problems by military force.

Washington assumes systems (civilisations) cannot coexist peacefully, and that force decides everything. But Russia, China and many other countries believe the world needs a fundamentally new system of relations based on equality, and not on the forceful dictatorship of one superpower. West and East understand each other less and less.

It turns out that Kipling was right when he noted in 1889 the West and the East cannot come together – East is East and West is West?

Perhaps he was right, but today it is more and more obvious that this “civilisational discrepancy” is secondary. The main reason for instability is America’s attempts to maintain global hegemony, which gives rise to a series of wars and colour revolutions. I am not an idealist, but I am convinced that such contradictions can be resolved peacefully. The idea of a pan-European home from Lisbon to Vladivostok is wonderful, but this pan-Europeanism contradicts Atlanticism, based on US hegemony. This is a strategic mistake because there can be no peace without a balance of power. The political West has, to put it mildly, been radicalized….

-Russians in such cases say oborzel: loosely translated – became insolent. Or, more politely, stopped seeing the shores.

A very precise word! This political West “does not notice” the UN and absolutised human rights no longer protect human rights but are used as a tool to achieve geopolitical goals. Militarisation remains the “engine of the economy” and “liberalisation” – taken to the point of absurdity – has become its opposite, denying the state and thereby bringing anarchy closer. This is indicative of a “new conservatism” in the United States in which “America is above all.”

I remember someone once said that “Germany above all” … It turns out that the idea of Pax Americana is alive? However, Secretary of State Blinken recently admitted that America’s hegemony is ending.

Objectively, it is ending. But in Washington they are still confident of their right to messianism and world hegemony, and they do not abandon the logic of confrontation. This became completely clear after the 78-day bombing of Yugoslavia, the unprovoked war in Iraq and the destruction of Libya. It was after this that what I call Post-Western Russia began to emerge. But a “post-Westernising” Russia denies not Western civilization or culture, but those policies of the West that have become an obstacle to the creation of a pan-European home as the main condition for common security in both Europe and the world.

If you like, you can call me Britain’s last Gaullist, but I agree with General de Gaulle’s grandson, Philippe de Gaulle, who sees the solution not in strengthening and expanding NATO, but in creating a common economic and humanitarian space from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

There cannot be normal relations with America?

Normal relationships are equal relationships. But for this, Americans must move away from Atlanticism and stop looking at the world as their backyard, where they are free to do whatever comes into their head. For now, I doubt their desire to live in a world of equals. They are accustomed to the role of hegemon and will not give it up.

Is it possible today to perceive the EU and NATO as a single whole?

For me the EU was always a peace project, but, alas, it is now a war project. With the end of the Cold War, we expected the emergence of a common economic Eurasian space without borders, we expected good relations between Europe and Russia. In reality, the EU has become a political-economic appendage of NATO.

Or maybe the United States simply doesn’t need a united and strong Europe? Sorry, but, for example, an alliance between Berlin and Moscow has always been a “bad dream” for the Anglo-Saxons – which means that they still don’t want to lead matters to such an alliance?

The idea of Ostpolitik dominated the minds of the Germans for a long time; it was a policy beneficial to Germany, which involved close cooperation with Russia in all spheres – from economic to humanitarian. But, as you correctly noted, such an alliance did not suit Washington and London, which means that such an alliance could not be permitted, especially when the EU became part of the political West. The “European project” is no longer working, and, unfortunately, I do not yet see any path to compromise in Europe’s relations with Russia.

Have all diplomatic means been exhausted?

Today we are present at the funeral of old school of diplomacy – an institution that was based on immutable laws and rules that were observed even at the height of the Cold War. Now diplomatic dialogue has been reduced to almost zero. This is the result of the actions of the political West – of the unified system of Western political, financial and cultural institutions created and controlled by Washington and London. During the Cold War, these institutions were called upon to help the West fight the USSR. In 1989–1991, it seemed that they would die out as relics of the past. But the rudiments did not disappear, they became stronger. Now NATO is transforming from a regional association into a global one, and there is already talk of an Asia-Pacific “branch” of the alliance. NATO has become a tool for promoting American ideology, just like the IMF, WTO or the World Bank.

The Americanization of Europe is, in fact, the colonisation of the Old World? Who is behind this? The notorious deep state?

I don’t think there is a “conspiracy theory” at work here. I would talk about the global interests of the United States, which deliberately upset the balance of power after the destruction of the USSR, and the vassalisation of Europe is one of the consequences of such a policy. Yes, there are still islands of disobedience – Hungary with Orban, Slovakia with Fico, Serbia with Vucic, there is the Alternative for Germany or Marine Le Pen in France. But the rest are no longer resisting; the political West has swallowed up the political elite of Europe.

Can the political East balance the situation?

Right now, the process of crystallising a political East is underway. This is not a primitive anti-West, but a conscious counterbalance, an alternative to the political West to ensure a balance of power in Europe and the world. This is just emerging, and is the core is the Russian-Chinese alliance, which wants to return to the “spirit of 1945.” Moscow and Beijing want peace and cooperation rather than confrontation – a return to peace based not on the protectionist “rules” of Washington, but on International Law. BRICS and the SCO are examples of such cooperation. India, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and other rapidly developing states claim that they have a vested interest in avoiding the logic of the Cold War and Atlanticism. They see NATO creeping into the Asian region, but they know that where there is NATO, there will be war. The danger lies in the transformation of NATO from an aggressive regional system into an aggressive global system. The political East – Russia and China – does not want collective defensive, but collective security.

Does the West have a scenario for ending anti-Russian sanctions?

I will answer in the words of Lenin. When asked how long the New Economic Policy, introduced in 1922, would last, he replied: “NEP is serious, and for a long time, but not forever.”

Why is the influence of the United States weakening?

I think the problem is that the system created by the political West has become hermetic, closed in on itself. It does not take into account the interests of most of the world because it was created to meet the needs of specific Western countries. It cannot find a common language with systems external to the West – with Russia, China, and the countries of the Global South. This causes protests from countries that do not belong to the political West. Hence the confrontation with Russia, which refused to play by the “rules” imposed by Washington.

You also spoke about the role of the Western military-industrial complex. How much does it influence US policy?

The military-industrial complex today dominates both in the States and throughout the Western world. This is also reflected in the formation of public opinion. The military-industrial complex has united both decision-making centre and the media; this complex needs the image of an enemy – otherwise why arm? Note that the veiled demonisation of Russia continued even after the disappearance of the USSR. And when friction between Moscow and Washington began, it turned out to be very easy to return to the coordinates of the Cold War, where Russia is an existential enemy. Nothing was left of diplomacy, the image of a “fierce Russia” was fixed in the minds of the masses, and then it was easier to declare that they won’t talk to the enemy, they will fight with the enemy. And Ukraine was chosen as the battlefield for this war.

Why did Washington choose Ukraine as a battering ram against Russia, and not, for example, Kazakhstan?

It’s good that you remembered Kazakhstan. This country is self-confident, interested in multipolarity, and the Kazakhs have chosen a smart, multi-vector policy, focusing on cooperation with Russia, China, as well as the West. In Ukraine, they preferred “one master.” It had seemed that Ukraine – which emerged from the USSR as a powerful industrial state – could become a “bridge” between East and West and derive enormous benefits from both the Soviet legacy and its geographical location. Instead, Kiev pointedly turned its back on Russia and scurried to the EU. In 2014, the Ukrainian nationalists who came to power started a war in Donbass. Recently I had the opportunity to communicate with representatives of the DPR, and they said: in 2014 we did not talk about secession from Ukraine, we only asked that they leave the Russian language alone, but they sent an army against us, they started killing us, and this forever turned Donbass away from Ukraine. But the Ukrainians themselves voted twice for peace, choosing Poroshenko and then Zelensky, who promised the peaceful development of the country. But instead of giving Ukrainians the constitutional basis for such a peace, they began to build a “political nation”, ban the Russian language and portray Ukraine as anti-Russia. What happened is what I call the Galicisation of Ukraine.

We need a path to peace, and it lies through the system of European collective security, which includes Russia. But today that system is in ruins.

Don’t you have any comforting forecasts for the foreseeable future?

I’m rather pessimistic! The political West is militarising, not only economically, but also culturally and in terms of mass consciousness. These are steps towards a “hot war.” We are at a turning point when someone’s victory will mean the crushing defeat of others, and then peaceful resolution of conflict becomes less and less realistic.

Can anything change after the November elections in the USA?

Don’t think so. Escalation of the conflict and Europe’s involvement in it is beneficial to the United States, especially since almost all European NATO members have agreed to increase military budgets. Alas, NATO has become an ideological project; and because of this super-ideologisation, the alliance has lost its flexibility and pragmatism, which means it has lost the ability to use a wide range of peaceful opportunities to ensure European security.

Is the idea of dividing Russia into 41 regions still popular in the West today?

Such reasoning can be heard more often from those Russian liberals who have fled to the West. These people consider the fragmentation of Russia inevitable, if there is a new government in Russia or it suffers military defeat in Ukraine. But only a madman can seriously think about such “fragmentation”. Serious politicians do not even consider this scenario, if only because Russia is a nuclear power.

But there are hopes of inciting interethnic conflicts within Russia?

These are groundless hopes. Once I had the opportunity to visit Nizhny Novgorod at the festival of Tatar culture. In a huge hall, where there were Tatars, Russians, and people of other nationalities, the concert went on for four hours, Tatar songs were played, Tatar dances were performed, and then everyone stood up and sang the Russian anthem together. For me, it was a symbol of Russia – a huge multinational, multi-religious country, a common home, where all peoples feel safe, where the state helps develop the national culture of large and small nations. This does not mean that there are no problems, but there are also achievements. The West doesn’t see this and thinks that Russia can be divided along ethnic lines. This is a strategic mistake!

There are such expressions- as “Russian dream”, “American dream”. Does Britisher Richard Sakwa have an “English dream”? How do you see the world in twenty years?

The main thing is that there is peace. I want humanity to arrive at what I would call conservative socialism, or natural socialism, with equality of opportunity and a market economy. In such a society, the law, time-tested traditions, local cultures and languages, must all be respected. Diversity within a single framework. It should be a high-tech, environmentally friendly world of reason and of moderation in all things, with strong states and strong self-government. But to achieve this, it is necessary to break with the psychology of Cold War and confrontation, to get rid of the habit of measuring military strength when it is possible to come to agreements that respect each other’s interests.

I would like to see a world where there is a global order of peace, not war. That is my English dream.

Now, my favourite question: what book would you take with you to a desert island?

I definitely couldn’t get by with just one book. I would definitely take the Bible, a volume of Shakespeare and the complete collection of Dickens. I hope that by the time I finish reading all this, a ship will appear on the horizon that will rescue me!

Due to the Israeli war crimes in Gaza we have increased our coverage from five to six days a week. We do not have the funds to do this, but felt that it was the only right thing to do. So if you have not already donated for this year, please do so now. To donate please go HERE.


Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.