Since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008, the term «responsible stakeholder» has become commonplace in international parlance. Being one is what is expected of the G20 members, who are otherwise united by very little. This euphemism aims to convince states to be ready to sacrifice elements of their national interests and sometimes ambitions to achieve some common goal for the benefit of all mankind. If you are a Saudi Arabia, please do not send the oil prices sky high. If you are China, please, do something about the rate of the yuan. If you are the United States, please, save the world but do not ask for gratitude. And what if you are Russia? As Moscow prepares to chair the G20 next year, the question about Russia’s role looms large.
Russia is a prominent and influential member of the nuclear club, holds a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and still wields some influence in the so-called post-Soviet space. However, in 2012 the Russian economy constitutes no more than 4,1% of the global economy. It has a rapidly ageing population, an underdeveloped, rotting infrastructure and its best university ranks 167th in global ratings. The Kremlin seems to be unable to articulate to the Russians (not to speak of the world) any forward-looking vision which would be inspiring and realistic at the same time.
Russia is a proverbial «status quo power». Its leadership is profoundly insecure and mostly concerned with perpetuating itself in power. As such, policy-making is an exercise in tactical survival rather than strategic planning and execution. Russia’s ruling class clings to the vestiges of the Soviet superpower status like the P5 seat or nukes or pipelines to Europe because every major shift in world economics or politics in the last 20-25 years has always brought along the weakening of its positions. The emergence of the «responsibility to protect» principle in international relations has severely limited the ability of the UN to sanction or prevent military action by states as well as the notion of sovereignty. The so-called «shale gas revolution» in global energy is poised to weaken Europe’s dependence on Russian gas and has already made the US market out of even potential reach for Gazprom. The global information revolution undermined the ability of states to set and control the domestic policy agenda.
The only so to say «good» news for official Moscow recently was the EU crisis. The crisis confirmed the Kremlin’s old conviction that the European «project» was unsustainable in the long run because willing surrender of sovereignty is a pipe dream while nationalism, including economic nationalism, still has a mighty pull. But even here, satisfaction is moderated by anxiety as Russia’s biggest trading partner teeters on the brink and there seems to be no chance that Moscow could stand aside if the European crisis deepens.
There was one bright transformative moment recently when Russia joined the WTO, thus confirming to itself and the world at large that its economy is forever inextricably linked with others in the age of globalization. However, it will take years before Russia feels comfortable in the organization and learns the ropes in the WTO’s never-ending give and take process. It will also take time (if not very long) for Russia’s domestic political realities to change and for new and bolder leaders to arrive on the scene, those who will not be mired in the obsolete zero sum thinking.
Do not expect Russia to be irresponsible, adventurous or reckless (although it might leverage its «nuisance capacity» to remind the world that its opinion still counts). But do not look to it for guidance and new ideas. It is too early. Hopefully, too early yet.
Author: Konstantin von Eggert MBE is Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Kommersant FM, Russia’s premiere 24/7 news radio. He previously worked for the BBC World Service and served as Vice-President of ExxonMobil Russia Inc.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily those of the World Economic Forum.
Image: People cross the road in Moscow’s business district. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov