The events in Egypt have come to represent a colorful culmination of yet another fall-summer season in world politics, the keynotes of which are: on the one hand, the general inability to reconcile extremes and find a happy medium, and on the other, total conceptual turmoil.
The latter was most clearly manifested in the deposition of the democratically elected Egyptian President, Mohammed Morsi, which took place under the motto, "the general is the best friend of the liberal." The army command joined forces with the instigators of the first Tahrir Square protests, who had been sidelined by the Muslim Brotherhood. Legitimacy came into conflict with expediency, and the letter of democracy is at odds with its spirit. The outside forces are disoriented and it is no longer possible to make out who is favored by the “forces of progress” that the United States is so fond of supporting.
The main event of the season – or, to be more precise, an interminable process – is the civil war in Syria, to which no end or limit is in sight. The country is a tangle of antagonisms, with citizens clashing with the regime they call autocratic, faiths clashing with other faiths, and regional powers with other regional powers over geopolitical advantages.
The major powers seem to have an axe to grind, or possibly they are just out to minimize the damage or posture as a world leader. This knot of contradictions has accumulated so much negative energy that the conflict is nowhere near abatement. It seems that the Syrian public, however frightening this may sound, must “have its fill” of this war and catch sight of a point of no return portending a national disaster. Only then will talk of a peace process and new political model have meaning, and foreign mediation may become necessary. So far, the outside forces are behaving as if they were visitors to a vanity fair and are more anxious lest the “right” side that they are supporting should lose, than to propel the internecine strife toward an end.
Russia and the United States, who have presumptuously volunteered to establish peace in Syria, are behaving rather arrogantly, as if seeking to create the impression that the fate of Syria depends on their agreement (or, as the case may be, lack of agreement). After decades of repressive rule, which may well soon be remembered as a golden age, the Syrians are fighting for delimitation, not unification. The external factor is important, of course, but in reality the fate of the country is being decided on the domestic battlefronts, and neither Moscow nor Washington is able to bring the opponents to the negotiating table.
The European Union has once again demonstrated that it lacks unity on Syria, and no consensus is on the cards. It was simply agreed that supplying or not supplying arms to the rebels was everyone’s own business, thus sending a signal that a common position was out of reach. The united Europe showed, over the last few months, an aspiration toward consolidation, but again on the basis of disunity and divergence of interests. Germany demonstratively wiped the floor with Cyprus, pronouncing a verdict to the effect that the Cypriot economic model had no right to exist (as German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble put it). Five years ago, when Nicosia was joining the euro zone, the same model elicited no objections.
Berlin demonstrated to all underachievers – Italy, where one in every four voters favored a party led by a comedian in the general election; Spain, which was wallowing in debt; Greece, caught in a vice of austerity; and others – that the time for horseplay was over and a “tough struggle for Europe,” to quote Russian political scientist Sergei Karaganov, had begun. To be sure, someone will have to assume responsibility sooner or later. The EU is likely to become a totally different, stratified organization a few years from now, comprising various categories of countries with different rights and capacities. But it is unclear how this can be reconciled with the philosophy of solidarity and equality that lies behind the European idea of the latter half of the 20th century.
America is facing sequestration as a result of the administration and Congress failing to reach an amicable settlement. Barack Obama won the election, but he is not a unifying figure – quite the contrary. The United States is looking for new forms of world leadership, and to this end is attempting to sort out its priorities. Many interpret the president’s unwillingness to interfere in everything around him as weakness. Washington is automatically expected to be everywhere at the same time and play the decisive role. Obama, on the contrary, believes that his administration should address the backlog of existing problems before allowing new ones to pile up. Against this background of abstinence on other issues, the White House’s idea to create a US-EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership appears quite assertive. In effect, it is an attempt to revive, albeit on a new basis, a united political West of the Cold War era. Whether the plan works or not is an open question, but if it does, Russia will have a dilemma as to how to behave in relation to the new economic monster.
The Middle East is still feverish, with waves of popular excitement rolling over the face of the world and engulfing not only problem countries, but also those acknowledged as rising stars. India, Turkey and Brazil, each for their own reasons, have ended up in the grip of completely unforeseen protests. The presidential elections in Iran, by contrast, proved surprisingly calm: The national leadership managed to reduce the buildup of public pressure and facilitate the coming to power of a moderate and respected person. China, for its part, went through what was perhaps the tensest changing of the guard since the times of Deng Xiaoping. Everything went off smoothly, but there were serious apprehensions about a less than successful outcome.
Admittedly, Russia in this season has followed a rather direct path, avoiding its typical zigzags. Vladimir Putin has been consistently implementing the election program that he suggested in a series of articles early last year. Internationally, the Kremlin’s moves have reflected the program particularly closely. Putin described the outside world as an uncontrolled and unpredictable space, where the key players were acting irrationally and seemed bent on shattering the remnants of order. Since the membrane between the two worlds is thinner than ever before, the outside turbulence is threatening the inner stability that proved so hard to acquire. The country, therefore, must be defended and shielded from the hailstorm of external impulses, including the “unlawful soft power” mentioned by the president in his election campaign. All the developments of the last few months have corroborated this idea.
But the Russian public and the government – entirely in the spirit of the global divisive trend – have been moving apart rather than toward each other. There is a clear conflict between an artificially cultivated traditionalism (or its simulation) and its rejection by a progressive-minded minority. The authorities are leaning on the majority and tend to give the cold shoulder to the active stratum.
If we sum up the global atmosphere, the prevailing feeling is one of irritation resulting from the fact that nothing is working out as planned, that various sections of society cannot be reconciled, and everyone is dissatisfied with the result, though for different reasons. Those who just recently were posing as arbiters of world destinies are now demonstrating their impotence. America is feverishly adapting to the constantly shifting situation and is unable to evolve any strategy. Europe has been plunged into a crisis and its strenuous efforts to show off as a world force resemble a farce. China is lying low, fearful of being contaminated with general instability. And a wary Russia is biding its time, preferring to cling to a shaky status quo.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
Is Russia unpredictable? Perhaps, but one shouldn’t exaggerate – its randomness often follows a consistent pattern. But is the world at large predictable? The past two decades have seen all forecasts refuted more than once and have taught us only one thing – to be ready for any change. This column is on what the nations and governments are facing in the era of global uncertainty.
*Fyodor Lukyanov is Editor-in-Chief of the Russia in Global Affairs journal – the most authoritative source of expertise on Russian foreign policy and global developments. He is also a frequent commentator on international affairs and contributes to various media in the United States, Europe and China, including academic journals Social Research, Europe-Asia Studies, Columbia Journal of International Affairs. Mr. Lukyanov is a senior member of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy and a member of the Presidential Council on Human Rights and Civic Society Institutions. He holds a degree from Moscow State University.
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