December 15, 2006 (the date of publication in Russian)


Vitaly Tretyakov, one of the leading figures of the Russian media community, editor-in-chief of Moskovskie Novosti newspaper and Political Class magazine, talks with RPMonitor's Vitaly Averyanov and Alexander Rudakov



Alexander Rudakov: The latest events in the United States – namely, the Congressional elections, the resignation of Defense Secretary Ronald Rumsfeld and later, of UN Ambassador John Bolton, have brought analysts to a conclusion that the US neoconservative policy line is in a stage of retreat. What is your view on this subject? How do you think these changes, as well as the underlying fact of failure of the US strategy in Iraq, will affect the relationship of the United States and Russia?

Vitaly Tretyakov: It seems probable that the US neoconservatism, as a particular political approach, has crashed. I am not a specialist in America, but the events in the US are interesting to me, primarily in the context of its relations with Russia. To my view, a program failure may happen both with neoconservatives and neoliberals; nevertheless, the foreign policy course of the United States remains the same. The dilemma, expressed in the title of one of the last books of Zbigniew Brzezinski The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership does not actually imply any contradiction.

When the US does not contend for the role of a global gendarme and a global hegemon, it contends for the role of a global leader. When it does not want to be a global leader, it again tries to gain supremacy on the world arena.

That is, in any case the US would be satisfied only with a central, dominating role. Particular forms of its expressions, particular clothes, the particular ruling party Republican or Democratic is a secondary question, significant exceptionally in the domestic policy agenda. In foreign policy, the United States each time decides what is strategically more profitable to dominate harshly or mildly, and who should respectively govern the state. This rule is confirmed with the US history of the last century and a half, and I don't think this impulse is gone.

Having defeated the Soviet Union in the Cold War, the United States has exposed its dominating role in physical evidence. No matter what today's Russian politicians would say, the defeat of the Soviet Union in the Cold War was quite real. I can't say I am happy about this, but I have to admit this fact. On the other hand, the winners don't have so many reasons for triumph as it may seem.



Vitaly Averyanov: Does the United States have a possibility to change its own positioning in the world?

V.T.: We know from the Soviet experience what it really means to be a hegemon, even in one hemisphere. We well know that this role implies disadvantages which can hardly be coped with benefits of supremacy. The major problem is that the field for a maneuver is extremely restricted. Once you have declared yourself the leader and follow this way more or less successfully, you have got no way back. You can't step off from this path. If you are in the fifth position on a race track, you have a possibility to move to the fourth position or to the seventh, and the tribunes may leave this unnoticed. But in case you are number one, any step back or down is equal to a failure, which suggests a moral trauma and other negative implications.

In other words, if somebody has mounted a peak, any step back means a lapse into the abyss. A step forward is the same. The most dangerous phenomenon in world policy is reckless leadership. Once you've outflanked all the others, you have no chance to step aside and self-isolate. We have learned this lesson. The Americans have now to learn the same.

The events in Iraq are just a proof that there is no way back. Many voices warned the US leadership: you should not invade Iraq, you will get stuck there. The response ran as follows: "Your arguments are somewhat reasonable, but still we'll overcome the obstacles and win". Only today, the failure in Iraq has become obvious for the Americans, while in the rest of the world, it was obvious three years ago. They are now discussing it, during the last three weeks, as if they had just made an epochal discovery. Are they really more stupid than other nations? No, that is the effect of hegemonic “blinders” which shield their rearview. They had been looking only ahead and seeing only bright future before them.

Is the US hegemony about to fall? This is already not a subject of debate. It will certainly fall. The question is with what speed and with which consequences for other world players the decline and collapse of the US influence is going to proceed. Can we learn this from professional Americanists? Most of them are biased, some with veneration of America, others, on the contrary, with antipathy and skepticism. As for me, I can't forecast the US behavior. They will either pick their duds and vamoose from Iraq within several months, or extend this process for many years.

A too rapid pullout may appear problematic also because of the risk of losing military technique which is in high demand among the Iraqi. Weaponry can't be pulled out in a short time, but in case of a rapid pullout, the Iraqi might easily block the evacuation of technique. In case the withdrawal is protracted, military pressure on the US contingent will increase. This probability is redoubled on the background of next year’s presidential elections.



A.R.: Many experts believe that today's global hegemon may be replaced by another namely, China. How soon do you think the Chinese will lay their claims?

V.T.: The major complication of US-Chinese relations is Taiwan. China would like to have it returned while the US is categorically against that. Let's imagine ourselves in the shoes of China's leadership. That is certainly not very easy, as Europeans think in short political terms, while the Chinese operate with millenniums.

Anyway, from the viewpoint of an average European thinker, the next year, especially the eve of the US elections, is the best time for China to occupy Taiwan. What will the Americans do? It will be impossible for them to start a war for Taiwan right before elections. If I were the leader of China, envisaging the objective of Taiwans return into the Chinese domain, I would hurry to accomplish it in the nearest time.

V.A.: So, you foresee that the Chinese will do this?

V.T.: No. I realize that my thinking is European. Meanwhile, the Chinese have got logic of their own. They may undertake this during the next election race in the US.

Both from a subjective and objective viewpoint, the present time is quite favorable. If they try to do this, that will be a powerful blow against America. In addition to the Iraqi problem, the US would encounter the Taiwanese problem. One more significant aspect is the Chinese investments in the US economy. They own a lot of US securities. A friend of mine, an Americanist, believes that in case China calls for payment for all those papers, the US finances will immediately collapse. The implications for the rest of the world are a separate issue. In any case, it has to be understood that the Chinese have got this weapon in their hands, too. Maybe they will never use it as many nuclear powers have never used nuclear weapons.

It is hard to predict the behavior of the US establishment. But it is even more complicated to foresee the particular behavior of the Chinese establishment.



A.R.: How long do you think the geopolitical status quo will remain unchanged? What role may Russia gain in the new world balance?

V.T.: Until recently, even those articles and books of Russian and foreign specialists who criticize the US establishment, were written in the tideway of US forecasts. Our Americanists were the last to clearly admit that the US strategy in Iraq was a failure. They did admit his before the Americans, but later than Russian specialists in other regions. They kept on insisting that the US hegemony is guaranteed until the middle of the XXI century. I wonder what they will say now.

To my mind, the shift of global architecture will take place much earlier. The crucial year may be 2017, plus or minus two-three years. This change is going to start very soon, and result in a metamorphose of the whole global system. Today, the world is drifting from national to civilizational differentiation, associated rather with confessional than ethnical borders. In this process, Russia is acting as one of the three sub-subjects of the European Christian civilization.

Is Russia likely to acquire the leading role in this trend? That is yet a question. Still, it is undoubted that we may stay one of the three centers of the European civilization. We should be active as participants of construction of the new reality, suggesting a gradual shift from a national to civilizational structure of world relations. In particular, civilizations, rather than nation states, are likely to be represented in the UIN Security Council. This transition is to be prepared already today.

A.R.: Do you associate the expected time of change with the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevist revolution? In forecasts, denary systems are frequently used...

V.T.: The well-known Chizhevsky cycles, which well correlate with events of Russian history, comprise from twelve to fifteen years. The demographic wave, which extends for twenty-five years, is more applicable here. Within this period, a new generation ascends to active life and political power. The life of each generation encompasses two classical cycles.

Across the globe, major nations quite seriously operate with cycles, with regard for particular historical dates. Actually, national elections are also a kind of a repeating holiday having a practical political aspect. Within a century, the first fifteen years regularly mark the onset of a new political age in Russia.

Today, the beginning of the new century is frequently associated with the date of September 11, 2001. But what actually happened on that day? Nothing essentially new. Still, since the US victory in the Cold War, not only norms of democracy but the history itself is being rewritten from the US political calendar. Meanwhile, Russia has got its own significant landmarks since the onset of the new millennium. The Chinese political calendar is built on its own laws. I won't be surprised that this calendar will culminate not in 2017 but in some different year which may become more important for global affairs than the landmarks of both American and Russian calendars.

A.R.: That is quite possible. In 2011, China will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Singhai Revolution, when the Qing dynasty collapsed, giving birth to the era of Sun Yat-sen, from which today's political leaders of China start their political genealogy.

V.A.: It is noteworthy that our talk concentrates on the subject of hegemonism and imperialism, also with regard of the mentioned political calendars. Do the notions of hegemony and empire retain the classical sense in your view, in the situation of today, or they are qualitatively different?

V.T.: What is qualitatively changing in the world? Generally, nothing but particular technologies. The human being remains the dame; his psyche and his morality are the same. What was considered immoral centuries ago, is believed to be immoral also today. Even an escape from morality takes place cyclically in every civilization. The empires of the ancient times, of the Middle Ages, of the New Time are essentially the same, with the exception for particular technologies. Every system, containing more than three elements, is built on the principle, necessary for survival the principle of hierarchy. This principle restricts democratic and polemical tendencies. As soon as we find ourselves in a situation of live and death, somebody should be there to stand up and cease the discussion either by sacrificing himself, throwing his body on the firing slit, or by selecting a person who would sacrifice himself for the sake of the system. Otherwise, both sides of the discussion will perish along with the system.

The network-based principle, the democratic principle, has also existed for ages. With emergence of new technological capabilities, it achieved long-range influence. In ancient times, a network could not spread to other parts of the world. Nowadays, network systems have acquired huge proportions, and many of their features which had been ignored, rose to the surface. The multiplication of nation states in Europe in the framework of the Westphalian system has not guaranteed sovereignty to each of them. Measuring the proportion of "sovereign" and "non-sovereign" countries today, you conclude that this ratio looks today even more "terrific" than in the XVIII century.

The same is true about the states which have emerged from the Soviet imperial system. Actually, the costs of their sovereignty appeared to be as high as necessary for being overtaken by a new master.



V.A.: What do you think expects Russia today? Will the nation preserve its sovereignty? What civilizational choice should it make?

V.T.: The role of Russia is predetermined with its old history, with its internal development, with the specific phenomenon of our country. We have no choice either. We can revive certainly, beyond the present contour of the Russian Federation, reaching our real political, psychological and civilizational borders; increasing our potential to a natural and normal level which may not necessarily coincide with the level of the Russian Empire or the USSR but is to be comparable. Another option is a continued disintegration and collapse.

A.R.: Should the recent Duma vote on Abkhazia be viewed as the first move in the direction of increase of Russia's geopolitical potential?

V.T.: Though this step was very cautious, it is much bolder than what the State Duma would say on relevant issues several years ago.

A.R.: Was that surprising for you?

V.T.: Yes, to a certain extent. I am not quite satisfied with this declaration. At the same time, I've got used to cautiousness of the Duma on such issues, as well as of particular persons who head the relevant committee particularly, Andrey Kokoshin. It is good that these people have risen at least to this level.

Generally, I have a feeling of an increased power of Russia. This feeling is increasing on the background of the problems of the United States which has to withdraw from Iraq; exactly in this context, I believe that while the Americans have not yet pulled out, Russia has got the best opportunity to support the natural thrust for reunification of the historical Russian territories. On the other hand, long-term consequences of the Iraqi crisis will be unfavorable for Russia: the wasp nest was raked up but it remains unclear who will shepherd the wasps back.

Still, the new instability has not arrived, while the old instability is gone. Today, there is a possibility to behave more resolutely, without fears that the US undertakes some kind of a reckless action like what they did in Yugoslavia. However, the resolution you have mentioned does not suggest any final political decision. Therefore, it is too early yet to make forecasts.

A.R.: What foreign policy task does Russia have to fulfill within this time span? For what do we still have time?

V.T.: I believe we should more concentrate on our domestic problems.

The first of them is the demographic problem. Without addressing it, all the plans and speculations about our future are in the best case meaningless, an in the worst case stupid. In case you can't give birth to a new generation, what is the reason to discuss what is going to happen in 50 years and which role Russia will play at that time? In this aspect, there are many sad hypotheses about Russia.

The second crucial problem which we have already started discussing is reassessment of our history. Returning to one of your questions, we have to determine the meaning of year 1917 as a sacred historical date. It is necessary to realize what those 74 years are a deviation from a normal course of world history, or a peculiar variant of development within world history. Respectively, we have to define our attitude to the October Revolution: was it anyway an execration or an appropriation?

The October Revolution is an event of a too large scale to push it back and to avoid assessing it at all because of its being to complicated and disputable. To my mind, we should clarify our own understanding of the scale and quality of this event. Is it great or subtle? Was it a universal shame or an attempt though unsuccessful to implement a large-scale all-human Utopia?

By year 2017, we have to make this clear, and either commemorate this event with repentance what we are evidently expected to do, or proudly and solemnly, though under both red and tricolor banners. In case our society spends November 7, 2017 as an ordinary working day, pretending that this global jubilee does not exist, this society will bury itself historically, thus escaping from any responsibility. What civilizational leadership can be discussed unless we are unable to independently assess a national date of that significance? It is clear that in case we stay dumb, all the assessments will be made by others, and we'll have to acknowledge our intellectual pygmy.



V.A.: Five years before 2017, we'll also have year 2012, the 200th anniversary of the Borodino battle, and Russia's victory over Napoleon. In case we a bit extend the scale, this time span should be regarded as a most crucial experience in Russia's search of identity in the framework of the European identity. The two dates 1812 and 1917 are, in some way, the borders of the debate between the Slavophiles and Westernists, the "blood-and-soil" and "progressist" trends. How do you view your own approach in the framework of this century-long debate, including the argument of correct definition of landmarks of national history?

V.T.: Napoleon's invasion in Russia, as many think, was the culmination of the first global war what is called World War I was actually the second global conflict. At the same time, the traditional attitude towards Napoleon the author of the famous Code, an adherent of the ideas of Enlightenment is not the same as towards Hitler. Why? One of the explanations is historical distance as we don't experience today such impact of the 1812 war on our families as that of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945.

In global history, more advanced peoples frequently start their civilizational mission with fire and sword. Priests and writers come later, bringing new knowledge and disseminating new morality. While year 1812 is interpreted by some authors as a civilizational move from the side of France, which recognized its global mission in the epoch of revolution, year 1917 is a comparable civilizational move from Russia, directed in the opposite side. It is important that this mission was implemented predominantly with peaceful means by propaganda of socialist ideals and the Communist International. Many historians regard the October Revolution as the factor which forced the Western oligarchs to improve the capitalist system, turning its face to hired workers. As this impulse emerged from Russia, spreading more ideologically than militarily, how should this civilizational mission be assessed? In the global context, its meaning should be recognized as exceptionally positive. Another fact is the inconsistency of the Bolsheviks with their high mission inside the country, where lot of citizens were deprived and exterminated. That is one of the most tragic problems of Russian history.

We have to recognize and correctly interpret the fact that throughout the whole of the XX century, a cold civil war continued in Russia. Actually, the nation, as well as the Russian ethnos, was split into two. In this context, it would be most important and most easy to finalize this cold civil war, which produced hot conflicts quite recently, in 1991 and 1993, by means of a symbolic act. We should install a monument to the Civil War and its victims, where a Red Commissar and a White General would stand side by side, with a dedication: "To Those Who Fought and Those Who Died in the Civil War From The Russian People". Why does not this idea for me, so very obvious come into the heads of our politicians and specialists? Why do the Whites and Reds of today still continue to condemn their opponents of that time? Why does not Vladimir Putin, who combined Alexander Alexandrov's USSR anthem with the tricolor and the double eagle, does not demand by decree that such monuments be erected in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities of Russia? Probably this division survives even in the brains of those who are qualified to overcome and glue up historical splits. This psychological barrier has to be surmounted by year 2017.



A.R.: As far as we are acquainted with your approach towards the problems of modern civilizations, you don't share Samuel Huntington's view that the West European civilization is alien to the Russian civilization, considering both as a part of the common Christian civilizations with centers in America, Western Europe, and Russia. What practical prospects does this concept have? Can this approach help us at least in Ukraine or, for instance, in Serbia, which is again becoming a subject of global tensions?

V.T.: The crucial questions are to be addressed, certainly, not to Serbia and Ukraine but to Western Europe itself. I associate my hopes primarily with the fact that in the nearest years, around 30% of West European voters will be comprised of Moslems. Today, historical anti-Russian phobias, as well as Western swagger, still prevent understanding of most obvious truth about Russia.

Europe's life was so full of internal conflicts that its civilizational affinity to Russia was not recognized as a fact. But nowadays, when it is quite clear that the major menaces for Western Europe are coming from other directions, mediocre egocentrism alone should not obstruct this reality. Textbook stereotypes, penetrating into papers, the lifestyle and conscience of the Europeans, may be overcome only with tragic events, with a situation of choice between life and death.

The XX-century noontide of hedonism has played a bad trick with the Europeans. It appears impossible to establish a community of prosperity in one country when misery is reigning around. So, either you defend yourself from the external pressure, mobilizing all of your resources, including Russia (which is European from any standpoint, especially ethnical), or your walls will be crushed. It is even more important given the fact that West Europeans, to a large extent, have lost military skills.

Attempts to buy off the Third World by means of humanitarian assistance, undertaken in 1970s-1980s, have failed. Such methods can delay but not avoid global instability. The forces of the world's periphery would not be satisfied with any humanitarian aid; instead, they will eventually demand that the postindustrial society share all the benefits with them.

You'll not find many Europeans who would agree voluntarily to give up comfort for instance, by moving from a mansion to a simple flat. Even if a European can guess that he may be hung in this mansion in a matter of five years, he can't force himself to move to a more modest place with his family and all. This kind of human psychology is typical. Final understanding arrives only when the unwanted guests are banging the door.

A.R.: So, the feeling of historical commonality with Russians may emerge in an European only at the last moment, when his doors are wrested open…

V.T.: In this regard, the example with Turkey is most typical. Under pressure from America or not, the prospects of Turkey's entry in the EU is being discussed. At the same time, Russians are not viewed as Europeans.

In the framework of the civilization of his own, each lives according to its rules. But in case anyone decides to change his residence for another civilization, he should consider it laws. The times of colonizers are over: one can't already build an island of European order in India or Persia. However, this recognition of another civilization's right for it identity, one achieves a possibility to live at home on his own laws.

V.A.: Could the West Europeans still subconsciously rely upon the existence of the United States, which used to serve as a powerful ally who was always there to guarantee security of smaller partners? Could the crisis of the United States serve as one more reason for Western Europe for rapprochement with Russia?

V.T.: Certainly, Europeans think about that but still believe in a convenient escape. They also believe themselves to be culturally superior. They had Leonardo, they had impressionists and for that reason, an escape from an unpleasant situation, and eventually, a success in the game, is ostensibly always available. Today, however, this won't work. I hope they realize this before it becomes too late.

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