The world after the Ukraine war, a perspective from Russia

Posterity will judge harshly all those who don’t have understood the true nature of the conflict of the century, the Ukraine war. The bloodiest, most important trench of the great battle between the dying Unipolar moment and the rising Multipolar order.

Both Russia and Ukraine have their own motivations, as do the West and other powers, but we’re not here to discuss those. Indeed, reasons and origins of the Ukraine war have been widely analysed during the first six months of this conflict. We’re here to talk about the world order after Ukraine, a mission that has led us to Russian political scientist Ivan Timofeev.

A conversation with Ivan Timofeev

We’ve reached out to one of the most prominent Russian political scientists, Ivan Timofeev, so as to get to know the Russian perspective on the Ukraine war and to discuss a wide range of topics. Timofeev is an influential member of the Russian International Affairs Council and of the Valdai Discussion Club, where he respectively helds the position of Director of Programs and of Head of the Euro-Atlantic Security Program. He is the author of more than 80 academic publications and he teaches at the Academy of Military Sciences.

Professor Timofeev, many analysts thought a full-scale war in Ukraine was extremely unlikely as Russia, apparently, had more cons than pros. Despite that, it broke out anyway. What is more, Russia also managed to resist the so-called “total economic warfare” launched by the US, the EU and their allies. What we do know thus far is that the Ukraine war is a kind of “greater 9/11”: the watershed event of the 2020s. As a result, a lot of non-alligned countries appear to be realigning, with many of them taking Russia’s side, the BRICS are on an upwards path of expansion, the de-dollarisation process is experiencing a dramatic acceleration, and many other things are taking place. Our question is: whose side is the Rest on?

My answer is based on cautiousness. On one hand, I would consider the reaction of the outside world on the conflict in Ukraine as the evidence that Russia is not isolated. On the other hand, Russia is to a great and critical extent increasingly isolated by the West – visa bans, financial restrictions, cancel culture, eccetera.

Many countries are abstaining from voting [against Russia] in the UN General Assembly, many others have never joined sanctions. This, however, doesn’t mean that “the Rest” is alligning with Russia and is backing its positions. It merely means that several countries don’t want to compromise their core interests nor they want to be involved in the conflict. And some of them are pursuing this goal by inadvertently siding with the US, that is by carefully avoiding to be hit by American secondary sanctions. Even countries like China, if you look at Chinese businesses, are very careful in their dealings with Russia. With regard to China, ordinary businesses are coming as usual, but those operating in sanctions-hit fields are not coming or are studying carefully what to do.

In short: you are right that Russia is not isolated. However, this doesn’t mean that “the Rest” is siding with Russia on the Ukraine issue.

It’s once again the West versus the Rest (of the world), as it was during the Cold War. The impression is that the “Rest” were waiting for a “big event” so as to get rid of the West and give itself more cohesion. The behavior of the major powers of the Global South – Argentina, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, etc – seems to have shown us this. What is your opinion about it?

Well, again, I want to expose a conscientious reflection. The West is very consolidated – much more than the Rest. The West has its own security institutions, like NATO, it has a set of economic partnership organizations, like the G7, and many other bodies. If we look at the Rest, there is no such infrastructure. Let us only think about the BRICS. What is the BRICS group? It is a very informal entity, with a poor institutional basis, a kind of discussion club that is not getting to be something more in the forthcoming future. So, I wouldn’t overestimate the consolidation of the Rest.

Some countries belonging to the Rest are at odds with each other. For instance, China and India are both BRICS members, but they’ve strong disagreements in a lot of fields. You have rightly point out that Brazil and Argentina would be happy to cooperate with Russia as much as they can, but, at the same time, their relations with us keep being very tiny due to logistics and geographical distance. Morever, since both countries are heavily dependent on the US in terms of financial transactions, they’re not going to sacrifice their interests for the sake of a stronger cooperation with Russia.

In my view, the Rest is playing carefully. It is true that it is distancing itself from the Western narrative over Ukraine, and that, overall, it has little interest in overtly taking part in the conflict, but, again, this doesn’t mean that the events are encouraging or stimulating the Rest to be more consolidated.

Given the ensemble of events, which have the potential to pave the way for a post-American world order, one might say that the Kremlin’s gamble was right on the money. Every war is a bet and, at least in terms of global impact, it looks like Russia is winning. But, this is the toughest question, was it really impossible to keep negotiating?

The question is whether we’re witnessing a revolution or not. Definitely, we’re going through a transition of the international order, with the Ukraine events accelerating this process. The fact is that it is not the Ukraine conflict that stimulated, or provoked, this “revolution”. The revolution was already on the march and it is now keeping to march, although slowly.

Ukraine is just one of the factors that contributed to catalyze the arrival of a new world order. But it is not the only one. There are many others, like, for instance, the resistance of Iran to Western sanctions, the evolving US-China relations, the Taiwan issue, eccetera. Explained otherwise, this revolution is not resulting from the conflict, which is only one of an ensemble of factors.

As for the negotiations, well, in my view it was possible to keep negotiating. However, both sides weren’t ready to sacrifice their core interests for the sake of some compromise. There were some clear red lines. The US and the EU were not going to give up on the NATO’s open door policy, they were not going to state the Ukraine would have never joined in the Alliance, they were not going to recognize the Russian rule over Crimea, not to mention the recognition of Donetsk and Lugansk.

There were other rooms for dialogue, from arms control to climate change, but all these things weren’t crucial for Russia security. The crucial point was – and is – about NATO infrastructure and its development.

Let’s change subject for a while. What is your view about the killing of Darya Dugina? And why her? 

There are several legal statements on this, which have been made by the authorities who investigated on the case. There’s clear ground to suspect some Ukrainian citizens to be directly responsible for this assassination. We know their names. We know their faces. We also have a version of their activities in Russia.

On why her, well, she was clearly a symbol. This act has definitely been a symbolic gesture against Russia, its society and its thinkers, especially the conservative ones. This is why, for instance, people from very different backgrounds paid homage to the Dugin family.

In the West, it’s a common assumption that Aleksandr Dugin is an influential thinker. Among his nicknames, “Putin’s brain”, “Putin’s Rasputin”. Did the terrorist attack on his daughter have to do with his reputation? And is Dugin this gray eminence as described in the Western press?

Well, I wouldn’t say that Dugin is a popular thinker in Russia. Because he’s not. He’s quite marginal. He’s mistakenly considered to be a kind of Putin’s strategist or ideologist, while he’s not. He’s marginal and he’s not in the mainstream at all.

However, the assassination of his daughter… she could have any idea and she had the constitutional right to have her own ideas and to promote them. Her brutal killing stirred indignation and provoked outrage for many here in Russia, and this could mark a change.

Henry Kissinger has recently warned the Biden administration, and to a greater extent the American ruling class as a whole, that what he perceives as a combination of lack of long-term vision and loss of strategic thinking is laying the foundations of a direct military confrontation between the US and the Russo-Chinese bloc. Do you agree with his view?

I agree with his point. He’s right in the sense that the risk of the unintended consequence of direct confrontations among the major powers is increasing worldwide. It’s not only about the risk of a NATO-Russia confrontation in the light of the excessive NATO support to Ukraine. I’m also thinking about the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad. As for China, well, risks of a China-US clash over Taiwan are growing.

It is true that Russia and China are more and more emboldened to cooperate with each other, but the question is: will they ever be military allies or will their alliance die first? I don’t think of all of this as a “Russia-and-China against the West”, as their partnership is still in progress.

Last question. Kissinger is one of the greatest strategists that’s ever lived. His teachings will be studied by generations to come. His legacy will be forever. However, we wonder if this time he’s wrong. What if the US strategy, however chaotic it seems, is still based on Zbigniew Brzezinski’s idea of using Ukraine to expel Russia to Asia? In the expectation of making it drown in the continent’s problem – terrorism, ethnic clashes, border disputes, regional rivalries, etc – and of making the axis with the People’s Republic of China implode due to forced cohabitation. This might be the hidden logic behind the seemingly counterproductive and anti-strategic “double containment” policy.

I remember this old idea, the concepts exposed in the Grand Chessboard… Well, logically speaking the US should have attracted Russia to its camp. In fact, the US could well predict that Russia would turn to China in the case of increasing pressures coming from the Euro-Atlantic area. However, the US is not doing this.

For what I understand, the US dominant thinking sees Russia neither a major problem nor as a major stakeholder. The US still regards Russia as a dangerous opponent, but one whose potential is not considered big enough to make a game-changing alliance in the competition with China in the Asia-Pacific.

I think the US is making a mistake and it is losing more than it could gain. Indeed, it could have tried to solve several international issues and to fix some systems of alliances by accommodating Russia. But now, the chances are completely lost. Russia is clearly and increasingly partnering with China. We don’t know what will be the fate of this relation, but we do know that there is no single chance right now to change the direction of it, even in light of what happened in Ukraine.