Because of his aggression against Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has ensured that “there will never be a new Yalta, a division of the world among victorious allies,” Aleksandr Rubtsov says. “In the ‘best’ case, there will be a temporary collusion,” but “a blackmail victim will always wait for the opportunity to violate it – and he’ll find it.”
In a commentary in yesterday’s “Novaya gazeta,” the Moscow philosopher draws that and other conclusions by suggesting that Joseph Nye’s ideas about “soft force” mean that the use of hard force is now viewed by most countries but not Russia as “an atavism” and “a dead end” leading to nowhere.
Such atavisms can be frightening, Rubtsov says, “but the ability to frighten is no longer conceived as a measure of power, greatness and glory.” Instead, it is viewed as exactly the reverse, as an indication of underlying weakness. And that reversal is part of a more general shift in the post-modern world to review and revise many of the assumptions of the modern.
In the post-modern world, Rubtsov continues, the use of force to project power and any particular ideology is viewed with distaste, a reaction in large part to the collapse of “the great totalitarian megaprojects – Soviet and German.”
“The Soviet model,” he writes, “lasted longer on the wave of the Victory and even was able to combine its conquests with the effects of ‘soft power’ domestically and abroad.” But thinking that permanent mobilization would allow it to withstand the values on offer in the West of everyday well-being is a profound mistake, one that Russia’s current leaders have made.
Dynamism and growth now, the Moscow philosopher continues, comes not from the mobilizing power of the state but rather “from very private persons with initiative, imagination and brains.” And that in turn means that state-centric mobilization is being reversed everywhere and even intensifying.
One source of this shift is the changed relationship between East and West. “Everyone for example knows how the Western model influenced the new East, but often they underestimate that of the old East on the post-modern West. It is quite strong and includes a preference for soft influence … as well as preferences for the internal over the external, the spirit over technology, and contemplation over action.”
The West has taken that over because “the most powerful critic of the West is Western.” Indeed, Rubtsov says, the rejection of the notion that every country must follow the path of Westernization is “a Western discovery.” But if East and West are learning from each other, Russia is insisting on standing apart and above with its messianism and fundamentalism.
As a result, what is emerging in Russia now is “not a new Eurasia but the old Horde – by its internal arrangements, its ability to hold territory, and its revived tactics of raids” on others and efforts to revive some kind of Moscow-centered empire even though it has little to offer its neighbors and does much to alienate them and others, Rubtsov says.
Almost all it has left to “offer” is the use of force so that “the head of the country will feel himself equal in the world of the most unequal,” leading to the emergence of “a vicious circle” in which the use of hard force causes Russia to lose still more opportunities for use of soft force and thus leads it to use hard force once again.
The logical end of this trend, he says, is “not so far away. Already no one likes [Russia],” and there are ever more doubts even about the “loyalty” of its supposed allies. Consequently, whatever compromises Moscow can extract from the West from its operation in Ukraine, “there will never be a new Yalta” because the West sees Russia with new, post-modern eyes.
Nor will there emerge some Russian-drawn “new world order,” Rubtsov continues. The most that Moscow can achieve will be “co-existence under conditions of the destruction of the old order – and that only for a time.” Russia has not contributed to stability: it is creating precedents for others to use violence – and some will.
As a result, for the world as a whole, there are no positive or even “non-catastrophic” results of what Moscow has done. And for Russia too, Rubtsov says, the prognosis is increasingly grim. The Kremlin has been able to use a kind of soft power in its “hybrid approach to neo-totalitarianism.” But that will not last long.
For the moment, “the unity of the nation is being achieved without mass repressions if one understands those as ‘physical’ ones.” Rather, it has been created by “’soft power,’” by the use of the media to promote “mass enthusiasm” without having to employ terror. But the regime has created the instrumentalities of the latter – and it may tragically use them in the future.