Can Muscovy Be Considered a ‘State-Civilization’?
Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 20 Issue: 62
On March 31, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved the new Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation (Kremlin.ru, March 31). The previous version had been adopted seven years ago; but even then, in 2016, its wording was significantly more diplomatic than the current document. Moscow’s full-scale war against Ukraine has radically set Russia in opposition to the current system of international law, and the new concept clearly expresses this spirit of confrontation.
Yet, at the same time, the new concept formally refers to international legal norms and values as “peaceful, open and predictable.” The British Foreign Office reacted to this statement ironically, recalling that it was almost April Fools’ Day (Twitter.com/FCDOGovUK, March 31).
Russia’s new concept refers to “more than a thousand years of experience of independent statehood” (Kremlin.ru, March 31). Although, rewinding mentally to the 11th century, golden-domed cathedrals were already being built in Kyiv at this time, while bears were still roaming the forested areas where Moscow would later arise. This historical jealousy is considered by many observers to be the real cause of the current war in Ukraine. The Kremlin cannot admit that it had nothing to do with ancient Russian independent statehood, and therefore, it is trying to appropriate it.
Within the foreign policy concept itself, Russia is characterized as “an original state-civilization, a vast Eurasian and Euro-Pacific power, which has rallied the Russian people and other peoples that make up the cultural and civilizational community of the Russian world” (Kremlin.ru, March 31). This great-power claim is reminiscent of lines from the Soviet anthem. However, even during the Soviet era, with its official internationalism, it was impossible to imagine the slogan of the “Russian world” (Russkiy mir). Such an approach was practically not used during the years of the Russian Empire either. That empire, with some exceptions, still considered itself a part of the European world.
The current doctrine of the “Russian world,” which opposes the developed, free world, actually refers to medieval Muscovy. When a petition began to circulate in Ukraine to return Russia’s name to Muscovy (Unian, March 11), the Kremlin was extremely indignant; yet, paradoxically, the current Russian authorities themselves turned the country, which is formally called a “federation,” into a remake of unitary and centralized Muscovy. All the resources of this “vast Eurasian power” are, in fact, controlled by Moscow officials and oligarchs.
This total hypercentralism in Moscow is a fundamental contradiction with the proclamation of Russia as a “civilization.” Ultimately, civilizations differ from ordinary countries in that they are diverse and multipolar in their structure. For example, the English-speaking or Spanish-speaking civilizations that emerged after the collapse of the British and Spanish empires are completely global, and the former metropolises no longer play a decisive role in them. Today’s Kremlin actors like to talk about “global multipolarity,” but in this they reduce their massive country to only a single Moscow “pole” (see EDM, November 10, 2022).
Even in the pre-revolutionary Russian Empire, many cities and regions retained their cultural and economic specifics. Finland, for example, had its own constitution and monetary system. And even the Soviet era, with all its totalitarianism, retained signs of civilizational diversity. Each union republic had its own academy of sciences, and local languages were used in education and media. In this context, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not a “heritage of the USSR,” as some believe, since during Soviet times it was impossible to imagine the attack of one union republic on another. This was the failure of a much older era of great-power arbitrariness in Muscovy, when Tsar Ivan the Terrible captured Kazan, went to war against Livonia and staged a punitive campaign against free Novgorod to include all these territories in the Moscow-centric “Russian world.”
In the new Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation, neighboring countries are considered legitimate zones of influence for the Kremlin. For example, Moscow intends to “eliminate hotbeds of tension” in these countries. Today, in the Baltic states, many public initiatives and organizations oppose the Kremlin’s aggressive policy. According to the concept, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are declared “hostile,” and Moscow directly threatens to “create conditions for the cessation of such activities.” It is still difficult to say what specific measures this will take on, but the intentions are quite clear: the Kremlin still considers itself entitled to interfere in the politics of independent countries. On this, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently said that Kazakhstan’s overly close cooperation with the West could pose a threat to Russia (RBC, April 11).
According to its long tradition, the Kremlin inverts logic. Thus, it turns out that it was not Russia that unleashed a war against Ukraine, as Moscow only “defended its vital interests in the Ukrainian direction.” Instead, it was the West that started the war against Russia. In the new foreign policy concept, Russia takes on the global mission of “removing the vestiges of US dominance.” If the previous version of the concept (2016) spoke of the need for “constructive cooperation with the United States,” now the entire Russian foreign policy apparatus is based on principled anti-Americanism. In fact, its foundation is a purely negative identity, on which no real civilization can be based (see EDM, February 22).
Other contradictions—between Moscow’s imperial ambitions in foreign policy and its rigid internal political unitarism—will obviously grow. The current Kremlin simply does not have any tools left to create an attractive image of the country, which should be an indispensable attribute of any convincing foreign policy doctrine. Today, nearly everyone can see that the national republics in Russia are suppressed, that the regions do not have any real federative self-government and that their inhabitants, on a wide scale, are turned into cannon fodder for the imperial war (see EDM, October 6, 2022).
Whether such a country can be called a “civilization” is a rhetorical question. And this applies not only to the national republics in Russia. The Kremlin likes to accuse other countries of “Russophobia,” but actually pursues a Russophobic policy itself, as most of the ethnic Russian regions have also been deprived of their own identity and opportunities for free development and are relegated to the level of powerless colonies for Moscow corporations. Ultimately, this contradiction may play a revolutionary role in Russia’s history, after the military defeat of its forces in Ukraine.