Russian President Vladimir Putin often used the annual Munich Security Conference as a stage to deliver Moscow’s national security policy to other countries. He scolded the US and NATO for their Russia policy at the 2007 conference, which marked an end to the ameliorated US-Russia ties, resulted from their anti-terrorism coop- eration. The bilateral relationship was at its lowest ebb since the Cold War. Since then, the conference has evolved into a battlefield for Russia and the US.
The main themes of this year’s Munich Security Conference, held from February 17 to 19, was the Syrian crisis, Iran’s nuclear deal and the US foreign policy. Aside from the above agenda, new US Vice President Mike Pence was supposed to be the main speaker at the event and talked about Washington’s security and foreign policy. However, he was overshadowed by Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who called for a “post-West” world order.
Lavrov harshly criticized NATO and what Pence said about the future of the organization. Since US President Donald Trump described NATO as “obsolete” after his election victory, European representatives have expressed concerns before and during the meeting. But, Pence promised that the US strongly “supports NATO” while criticizing Moscow’s intervention in Syria and Ukraine. Pence also claimed that Russia has become a security threat to the Baltic states and Poland, urging the US to hold Russia accountable for the Crimea crisis.
The US-Russia war of words at the conference ignited as Lavrov naturally dismissed Pence’s stance on Russia.
Short, but clear and sharp, Lavrov’s speech asserted that NATO is “a Cold War institution,” and a world order governed by those elite countries cannot last forever. Under what Lavrov called the “post-West” world order, influences of those countries should be waning.
That was not the first time the building of a new world order was proposed.
After the Cold War, views of the Russian elites on the relationship between their country and the world order have changed. After WWII, the Soviet Union had rejected the US-centered world order until Mikhail Gorbachev introduced the integration theory to the country’s reform. Nevertheless, the Soviet Union failed to implement it before its collapse.
Revolutionists, as well as liberal politicians from the Soviet times like Boris Yeltsin, Yegor Timurovich Gaidar and Yevgeny Yasin continued encouraging the Russian people to believe that integrating into the Western countries-led world order guarantees Russia’s revival.
Before the 2008 economic crisis, Russia followed the integration theory even its international status was oc- casionally challenged by the Western countries.
The economic crisis, originated in the West, shook the foundation of neo-liberalism and caused Russia to back away from the integration theory. Since then, some non-Western initiatives like BRICS and the Eurasia Economic Union were established.
In addition, the deteriorating US- Russia relations in the wake of the Ukraine crisis have altered the understanding of Russian elites toward the world order. Those liberals who stood staunchly in support of the integration theory have also come to realize that Russia cannot completely accept the current order which is unreasonable and hard to maintain. The US-Russia relations under the Trump administration, provided it might be relaxed, would miss the déjà vu in the bilateral rapport during the Yeltsin administration.
The new world order has become a wellknown doctrine nowadays. Though it has garnered a lot of discussions among Russian intellectuals, Russia’spower is still not strong enough to set the rules for global politics, nor has it formed any ideas that could replace the current order.
Lavrov’s views on the new world order don't necessarily mean Russia is going to change the exiting order. But, it is widely agreed that the current order has its problems and Russia is not the only one concerned. Hence, critics of Russia should be wary since Russian leaders have been demonized and conspiracy theories about Russia have also been applied to their speeches in recent years.
By: Cui Heng
Source: Global Times
(The author is a Ph.D candidate at the Center for Russian Studies, East China Normal University. )