Moscow at night.
Photo: Côme Carpentier de Gourdon
A recent visit to Moscow, the first in several years, gave me an obviously incomplete but still revealing, overview of where the nation finds itself today, writes Côme Carpentier de Gourdon, a convener of the Editorial board of the “World Affairs Journal”, an associate of the International Institute for Social and Economic Studies (IISES), Vienna, Austria. The bustling, glittering, and sprawling megalopolis, with its gold-domed churches, towering glass skyscrapers, monumental palaces, and spacious avenues does not show a real picture of the country (no capital city does) but it gives a sense of the resilience, purposefulness, material wealth and intellectual acumen of this immense nation, gifted with almost all natural resources found on earth and with a strategic location that makes her the most direct land bridge between the Far East and Europe, in the heartland of Eurasia.
In many areas, Russia has made impressive technological progress in the last two decades. She is now much more self-sufficient than she was until 2014, the year when the Ukrainian crisis began with the US-sponsored coup that brought to power a NATO-backed regime. The Russian Federation has boosted its productivity in many areas, particularly in the critical energy sector but also in agriculture, high technology and defence. She has modernized her transportation infrastructure while shifting much of her trade to the East and South. The digitalization of the economy and of daily life, at least in the principal cities, has gone ahead at full speed and little cash is now used in Moscow where most expenses are payable by smartphone. The artistic and cultural life of the ‘Third Rome’, as some Russians still like to call it, is unsurpassed in Europe. Theaters, concert halls, and museums are full and usually offer first-rate performances and exhibitions. Restaurants and cafes are crowded and the quality of foods and refreshments is quite satisfactory, as is the courteous and friendly service. Remembering the rather sullen demeanors prevalent in the USSR makes one appreciate even more the smiling faces and gracious welcome that are now the norm.
Russians are reputed for their stoicism in times of trial. An aged Professor told me that, while Hitler’s armies were at the gates, the Russian Government opened a factory of sparkling wine in the city, as if to highlight the spirit of resistance to the invaders.
One feature of life in Moscow is the apparent security that its inhabitants enjoy. Women go to jog or walk their dogs alone late at night in the sprawling parks, more like urban forests, where running streams meander among the conifers and natural springs feed ponds where beavers build their villages. Muscovites swim the Moskva River near the city centre, even in sub-zero temperatures. The restoration of law-and-order situation after the somber post-communist period, and the cleanliness should be the envy of American and even Western European cities increasingly defaced by vandalism, drug-addled vagrancy and crime.
A common impression abroad, constantly promoted by western-influenced media, is that Russia has become a vassal of China as a result of sanctions imposed by the US and its allies. Indeed, the relations with Beijing are cordial and the cooperation extensive but there are clear dividing lines between the two countries.
As long as Russia maintains her formidable strategic arsenal and nurtures her famed scientific establishment, she can preserve political and economic autonomy whereas the PRC faces threats on her Eastern flank from the American Indo-Pacific alliance and, therefore, in dire need of secure western borders.
In the South, the twin, often coordinated prongs of Turco-Islamic and NATO/US/EU expansionism are edging forward but Russia has not lost all her historic assets in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Most of those young countries speak Russian and the former northern hegemon hosts many of their citizens for whom she remains the primary destination for study and work. So far, Russia has been the main guarantor of stability for some of them.
All in all, the Russian long-term assessment of the international situation is proving to be lucid. Ukraine has worn out its welcome in the Western bloc and after calling for Regime Change in Russia, Washington now openly wishes for Regime Change in Kyiv because of the obvious corruption and incompetence of the Zelensky regime mined by worsening divisions and rivalries. European countries are quietly pressing for a peace agreement and wish to restore economic relations with the Russian Federation. Israel’s discreet but substantial support of Ukraine and Tel Aviv’s past attempts to overthrow Assad’s rule in Syria have hurt the Jewish State which now has to deal with a resentful Kremlin, broadly aligned with Tehran, Damascus, and even with Riyadh. The US on the other hand is facing an existential economic and socio-political crisis that will make it increasingly impotent outside the North American continent. Russia’s drive for greater economic relations with East, South, and West Asia (particularly with India, Iran, Turkey and the Gulf, but also with ASEAN nations and North Korea) is quietly bearing fruit while the European Union withers and drifts to the periphery of the global arena. Ukraine, increasingly isolated as a result of her de facto military defeat and ruin, and of the widening West Asian conflict, will have to sue for peace.
If one reads some of the statements made by the Russian leadership on the one hand and major Western statesmen on the other, from early 2022, it cannot be denied that the Kremlin’s anticipations have turned to be prescient while the NATO camp’s forecasts were based on wishful thinking.
Whatever people believe or wish to believe in other countries, most Russians are convinced that defeating Ukraine was critical to their own national sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Kyiv regime, under Poroshenko and Zelensky was, and is still a pawn in the hands of American Neo-Cons who promoted and revanchist Neo-Nazi, anti-Russian movements in order to weaken and subvert Putin’s government, guilty of rejecting Anglo-Saxon supremacy and of creating vital economic bonds with the major EU member-states to the detriment of Anglo-American interests.
What Russia wants is clear from the time when Putin made his famous speech at the Munich security conference in 2007. The USA and its allies did not listen to him then but will probably have to come to the negotiating table sooner or later if they don’t want to bear any longer the ominous consequences that have befallen them. The war in Ukraine is only one battle in the wider confrontation between a declining global hegemon and those who no longer have to yield to him, stresses Côme Carpentier de Gourdon.
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