Those who are afraid of today’s Russia need to see a psychologist
“Russia needs to adapt to the current reality and not think about when the sanctions will be lifted,” said Alexey Gromyko, Director of the Institute of Europe and Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), during his interview with Sergo Kukhianidze, Editor-in-Chief of Capital Ideas.
Alexey Gromyko, the 49-year-old Director of the Institute of Europe, gives off an impression of a calm, confident person. He has good genes. His grandfather, Andrei Gromyko, was Minister of Foreign Affairs during the USSR. The first thing you notice when you enter Alexey Gromyko’s office is the huge number of books, magazines, and brochures. They’re everywhere: not just on the bookshelves, but on the tables as well. But Mr. Gromyko is obviously no theorist, but a practical man who clearly knows what’s going on outside of his office walls.
Mr. Gromyko, what is the reason behind the downturn in our relations with the West?
So much has been said about this that I don’t want to talk about obvious things, and making something up doesn’t make sense. The downturn in relations between Russia and the West can be traced back to the 1990s. The West, considering itself the victor of the Cold War, started to push our country out of the space where a geopolitical vacuum appeared after the fall of the Soviet Union. Western capital, the Western military machine, and Western media all poured into this space. It’s all so banal, that this was essentially obvious 25 years ago.
So if everything was clear back then, why didn’t Moscow do anything?
Russia was weak back then, the country was really on the brink of collapse. There were attempts to restore our position, but they were not systemic. There were no resources or political will.
Has the conflict between Russia and the West gotten out of hand?
If it had gotten out of hand, we wouldn’t be talking here right now. We would be in the middle of WWIII. Still, in some respects the conflict between Russia and the West has resurfaced. For example, the information & propaganda sphere and partially in the economic sector, but luckily not in terms of military. Unlike politicians, military officials are in contact with each other and are doing a lot to keep the situation under control.
Do you get the feeling that Russia is feared right now? Maybe even more so than during the Cold War?
I don’t have this feeling. In spite of its power and size, Russia can’t compare to the potential and resources of the Soviet Union. Those who are afraid of today’s Russia need to see a psychologist. Listen, Russia’s military budget is ten times smaller than that of the US and 14 times smaller than NATO’s military budget. Unlike the US, Russia only has a few military bases abroad. And with the exception of Syria, all of these are in neighboring countries. If anything, people should be afraid of the US, which plans to increase its military expenses next year to an incredible sum of over 700 billion dollars. NATO is also a source of tension, including the plans to create the so-called “military Schengen.” This will enable the alliance to create an infrastructure with the goal of rapidly transferring troops from west to east, which is necessary to conduct large-scale, protracted military conflicts.
By the way, Western experts obviously know about Russia’s military budget and about the fact that our army isn’t equipped to be transported far away and conduct large-scale wars. The Russian army is fairly modern and mobile, so it can accomplish important tasks, but next to the Russian border or in very specific regions, like in Syria. So why the fear? It’s unclear. This is pure demagoguery, which Western political elites turn a profit on. This is about the Baltic states, Poland, Great Britain and the United States.
So Russia only plays a big role on the international arena because it still has nuclear weapons?
Absolutely not. Russia plays a big role because Russia has a lot of land and is rich in natural resources – it’s one of the largest energy powers in the world. Without Russia, modern international space projects would be hard to imagine. Russia, as we all just saw during the FIFA World Cup, is still a sports power. Plus, there are a lot of other things: a strong science sector, smart diplomacy, experienced special services. So Russia has a lot of competitive advantages, which put it in the top ten leading countries even though it accounts for just 3% of the world GDP.
If you apply the “friend-foe” framework to today’s world, who is our friend and who is our foe?
Russia doesn’t have any enemies. There’s not even a hint of this in our documents and doctornies. Yes, there are competitors and opponents. But it doesn’t do much good to use this kind of framework because countries aren’t people. People can be friends or enemies, but relations between countries are different. Germany and France were enemies for centuries, and now they’re probably the closest to each other so far as countries go.
There are, however, countries that are problematic for Russia. There aren’t that many of them. Out of the 193 countries that are members of the UN, there are about 10 of them. These include Baltic states, Romania, Poland, the UK, the US, and those that imitate the behavior of the US and the UK. Canada and Australia fall into this category. The core of these problematic countries that are anti-Russia is the US and the UK. And 80% of London’s foreign policy depends on Washington. In other words, if you ignore the core, there’s not a real problem at all. So things are not as bad as they seem.
So to improve relations with the West, we have to improve relations with the US, right?
The thing is that the West is about 40 countries, the majority of which don’t want to ruin their relations with Russia and would like to improve them. So the issue is not in our relations with the West, but specifically with the problematic countries I spoke about earlier.
In any case, when we talk about the sanctions against Russia, we’re referring to “Western sanctions.” How long do you think they will last for?
I’ll say right away that sanctions are kind of an ambiguous thing. For example, does NordStream 2 fall under the European sanctions? No. Trade turnover between Russia and the EU is currently 200 billion euros, and our trade turnover with the US is 23 billion dollars. So it’s important to remember that even if the sanctions are in effect for a long time, that doesn’t mean our hands are completely tied. Not to mention that countries like China, India, Turkey, Indonesia, Vietnam, Latin America, Africa, and other rapidly developing countries in the world have not introduced sanctions against Russia.
Russia has to adapt to the current reality and not think about when the sanctions will be lifted. We have to diversify our economy, to modernize it. Everything that needed to be said on this subject was already said in the first part of President Vladimir Putin’s speech to the Federal Assembly in March of this year. Even if half of what he said comes to fruition, our country’s economy will look completely different in six years. However, whether or not these plans are carried out depends on the relationship between the President and the executive branch of the government.
Ok, let’s leave the sanctions alone. What role do the differences in the way we think play in the relations between Russia and the West? Many people think that Russians and Westerners are so different that they’ll never understand each other…
I think that these kinds of claims don’t have much substance behind them. There are a lot more differences between countries within the EU itself. For example, take Finland and Spain or Greece and Denmark. Russia just hosted the FIFA World Cup, which was attended by millions of fans from all over the world, including Europeans from many countries. I haven’t heard any of them complaining about cultural differences. Moreover, people from just about any continent in the world felt fine in Russia.
So I’m sorry to say, but when people start talking about cultural differences, these are baseless conversations. Do you really think that China and Japan are closer to Western civilization than we are? Of course we’re closer. But these two Asian countries, for different reasons, are now in the top leading countries in the world. India is also very successful right now. Its economy is growing at 7% a year, and nothing is keeping Western countries from investing 10 times more resources in India than in Russia. Yes, cultural differences do play a role, but not when it comes to specific countries being successful economically or politically.
And what kinds of cultural differences can we even talk about when Russia is a European country? If Europe were foreign to Russia, then everybody would be travelling to Haiti or the Cook Islands. (laughs). Russians go to Europe as if they’re travelling at home and feel European there, just like they do here. Of course, Russia has its nuances as well. But, after travelling in Europe for many years, I’ve come to the conclusion that talking about religious and cultural differences that supposedly get in the way of Russia getting closer to the rest of Europe are made up. It’s as if every European country doesn’t have individual differences. Go to Sicily, Sardinia, the south of Spain, the Balkans, Scotland… Travel from Finland to Portugal, and then to Bulgaria – anybody will see there are huge differences. The north and south of France are entirely different, for example.
You’re definitely not a pessimist. Could you tell us what Moscow’s relations with Washington and Brussels will look like in the future?
The way they’ll develop depends on what happened in those places internally. If the liberal establishment once again gains ground in Washington, Trump will be overthrown or replaced by a neo-liberal democratic proxy in two years. In this case, we shouldn’t expect anything good to happen. The thing is that Trump, unlike the neo-liberals, understands that the US has to stop trying to teach the rest of the world. Of course he’s primarily concerned with his country’s interests, but he just tries to do what’s good for the US with no ideological undertones.
When it comes to relations with Brussels, the sooner the US and the EU start working on their own problems, the sooner the EU starts to gain geopolitical independence, the sooner relations between Moscow and Brussels will go back to normal. Then, nothing will get in the way of coming back to the idea of strategic cooperation – of a partnership between Russia and the EU.
But Moscow can’t just sit and wait. What can Russia do to improve relations with the West?
Russia needs to modernize its economy, to make public administration effective in order to become a quickly developing, much more appealing country. Russia doesn’t need to do anything else. Nobody is going through China’s values and philosophy, but everybody respects them. Why? because everybody sees that China has been confidently moving forward for the past 30 years.
The same thing applies to us. If our country is developing economically, nobody will look at our political system and values. If Russia grows at least 4-5% a year for the next 20 years, the whole world will call Russia great again. The French, Germans, and British will come to us singing the same song they do in China right now. See, in terms of ideology and politics, China is a lot more foreign to the West than Russia right now. But the Chinese economy and its development model are so appealing and so respected that even countries that were only recently major opponents of China have forgotten about the bad blood and put their issues aside. So Russia doesn’t need to try to get Washington, Brussels, and London to like it, but needs to focus on transforming its economy.
At the end of our discussion, let me ask you another question. You’re the grandson of a legendary Minister of Foreign Affairs from the USSR. Under his leadership, the country’s foreign policy was strong and clever. It seems like there’s not much of either in Russia’s foreign policy today…
I don’t agree with this. Our diplomats definitely deserve praise, and we can be proud of them. If we can be just as effective economically as we are diplomatically, Russia will definitely be in the top 5 most respected and powerful countries of the 21st century. Our diplomacy is highly intelligent, professional, and flexible. This isn’t something I’ve simply overheard somewhere. I know this because the Institute of Europe constantly interacts with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with our diplomats both in Russia and abroad. There are no major differences between our current foreign policy and the one we had after the war in USSR. But of course, Russia has more foreign policy vectors now than it used to back then.
And a bit of irony directed at Western politicians. Isn’t the way our foreign policy is being treated in the West proof of how effective it is? After all, people are saying that Russia is always interfering with things, is practically dictating what happens in the world… In other words, our country’s foreign policy is one sphere in which Russia is going above and beyond expectations.