In October 2002, the Foundation for Effective Politics site published an interview with Vyacheslav Irgunov, then the deputy chairman of the State Duma’s Committee on CIS Affairs. In the interview, he said: “The CIS is a peripheral phenomenon for Russian politicians; it’s like an ideological label that is scarcely considered a serious political factor.” To effect a sea change in the situation, Irgunov recommended that “necessary” people – politicians who are able to protect the state’s long-term interests – be involved in various branches of power.

The publishing house International Relations published the Russian translation of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s 2004 book The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership. On page 140, Brzezinski warns: “The possibility of a turn toward nationalist dictatorship is still not ruled out in Russia. Europe should keep close watch to make sure the nascent energy partnership with Russia does not give the Kremlin new leverage for political influence over its neighbours. [...] NATO and the EU should do all they can to include new post-Soviet independent countries, above all Ukraine, in the Euro-Atlantic community’s orbit.”

The Kremlin is a quick study. Already on 2 September 2005, after a meeting with the CIS foreign policy leaders, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov took to the pages of the newspaper Rossiyskie Vesti to announce changes in Russian-CIS relations. The aim of the changes was to establish “playing rules” in the post-Soviet space between Moscow, Washington and European structures.

Rule no. 1. Russia has had, and will always have, its own strategic and tactical interests in the post-Soviet space. This is just as clear as the fact that the US has its own interests in Mexico and Canada.

Rule no. 2. Like it or not, Russia intends to carry out a much clearer and also more aggressive and pragmatic policy. Russia is prepared to use all of the means at its disposal to fight for its strategic interests.

Rule no. 3. Russia will stop being charitable. If a regime is loyal to Moscow and cooperation results in mutual benefits not just for the economy but also political returns, then incentives can be discussed in the economy, migration policy and other fields. If not, there is no point in supporting a illusory friendship that actually allows such regimes to exploit Russia’s wealth and assets. 

As the newspaper stressed, “this mainly pertains to Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.”

Big ideas

Citing American researcher Robert Jervis, political scientist Igor Zevelyev, Ph.D. draws attention to one important conclusion: “To explain why a given key decision was made, we often have to understand the beliefs of the decision-makers, their worldview and conception of other subjects.” It is clear that the extraordinary decisions that were made in Moscow in February and March didn’t just stem from a desire to expand territory; rather, they came out of a particular worldview.

Since the 1990s, there have been two major streams in the intellectual discourse about Russia’s identity (the “Russian question”). First, the compatriots policy and the Russian world concept have developed and made strides. Secondly, the nationalist discourse on a “fragmented people,” which has been around for a while but did not have a significant effect on specific policy before the spring of 2014. The term “compatriots abroad” was adopted in official language in 1992, but the phrase “Russian world” appeared in social discourse only in 2007. The term “fragmentation” of the Russian people and its right to reunification was brought into the consciousness of the Russian elites by politicians such as Natalya Narochinskaya, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Gennady Zyuganov, Yuri Luzhkov and Sergei Baburin. The years from 1998-2001 witnessed attempts to implement this idea in the form of legislative initiatives, but they did not become law.

But no matter how important the concepts of compatriots, Russian world and “fragmented people” were in the domestic discourse on national identity, they were still too narrow for positioning Russia as a world superpower. Starting in 2008, when it became clear that Russia would not become an independent part of the Greater West, the fundamentals of Russian foreign policy began to evolve along the lines of civilizational affiliation. This in itself was nothing new. Already back in the 19th century, such Russian conservatives as Nikolai Danilevsky and Konstantin Leontiev referenced Russian exceptionalism. A century later, American conservative Samuel Huntington thought along the same lines. Aleksandr Dugin said long ago that Russia is not a state but a civilization. Thus a post-Soviet revanchist ideology became official, with Russia seen as the consolidator of the fragmented Russian world with its artificial boundaries.

Robert Jervis’s conclusion that we must learn the ideological coordinate system used by the Kremlin’s political decision-makers should become an axiom for analyzing the relations between Russia, the West and post-Soviet states. What might appear in one system to be a righting of historical justice and protection of the Russian world is annexation of a sovereign country in another view.


Russian economist Nikolai Kondratiev, who was shot in 1938, proposed the theory of long waves (or surges or supercycles) in 1926. Kondratiev waves are long (lasting 50–55 years) economic cycles, each one characterized by its own “technological revolution.” The birth of a new Kondratiev cycle is heralded by seminal discoveries and inventions, usually appearing at the end of a fading ccycle, not chaotically but practically at the same time in different places. Since the birth of capitalism, there have been five technological generations, one after the other.

Today the world is on the threshold of the sixth technological generation. In the world’s advanced countries, above all in US and Japan, the outlines of this generation are only now emerging. The basis of this technological generation is bio- and nanotechnology, genetic science, membrane and quantum technology, photonics, micromechanics, nuclear energy. The sixth technological generation began emerging in 2010-2020 and will reach maturity in the 2040s. A new scientific and technical revolution will take place in 2020-2025, with discoveries that will prove to be breakthroughs and synthesize the above fields.

For example, currently 60% of production capacity can be attributed to the fifth generation, 20% to the fourth and even at this early stage, 5% to the sixth. In Russia, the share of the fifth technological generation is about 10% and this is the case only in the defence contacting and air and space industry. Over 50% can be ascribed to the fourth generation; and nearly a third to the third generation.

Furthermore, in recent years the world is seeing an accelerating re-industrialization race, where the goal is to utilize as much of the potential of the value added creation chain as possible. In this chain, tens of companies from tens of countries work together to manufacture a final product (in fields such as electronics, communications, aviation and automotive industry, many areas of machine building, transportation vehicles etc) all of them cooperating in technological and production-related cooperation. The classical scheme is that the intellectual property resides in the US, the intermediate links are located somewhere in Asia, and the final assembly and testing takes place in China. Russia is one of the outsiders in the global value added chains.

Does the Kremlin then not know anything about supercycle theory or value-added chains? Was really no one able to foresee the consequences of economic sanctions that cut Russia off from modern production technologies and investments? Of course they were. But who? Above all, one such person is Sergei Glazyev, who is President Vladimir Putin’s adviser on matters of regional economic integration. This is the same Sergei Glazyev, who played an important role in the Crimea events and the beginning of Russian spring. His inner circle includes the Orthodox magnate Konstantin Malofeev (who has become close to Putin) and his close friends and colleagues (Igor Strelkov and Alexander Borodai). To paraphrase Aleksandr Dugin, in this circle, “Putin thinks like a ruler and the Russian hero Strelkov acts in the name of Putin.”

Heads of states participating in the Fourth Caspian summit in Astrakhan – President of Iran Hassan Rouhani, President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of Russia Vladimir Putin, President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow and President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, from left – taking a walk along the Volga River embankment. RIA Novosti. Photo: Scanpix

The cunning of the hourglass

In an hourglass, the present flows into the past, leaving less for the future. If one lives by the hourglass, time has an exact measure – down to the final grain of sand. An academic from the Russian Academy of Sciences, Sergei Glazyev wears a mechanical watch and when its hands stop moving, the watch must be rewound. Glazyev is certain that Russia still has an opportunity to transition to a policy of pre-emptive development based on stimulating the growth of a new technological generation. But for this to happen, he says, it will be essential to become free from the traumatic birth pains of Russian capitalism.

First of all, the elites will have to “selfpurge”– the elites who currently consist of oligarch representatives (offshore aristocrats) and Western agents must become a subject of national development. Second, the revenue streams flowing into the state budget from higher oil prices must be directed into research and development and innovation, in order to support the development of the products of the new technological generation, as well as into investments in the necessary infrastructure. Instead of growing currency reserves in the form of obligations to the US Federal Reserve, surplus currency income should be spent on importing cutting-edge technology. Third, Russia will need its own lebensraum which it lost with the Soviet collapse. Eurasian integration should be treated as an axis of internal development. But the scale of the Eurasian project should be comparable to the Soviet-era Council for Mutual Economic Assistance. Right now, there are free trade initiatives with India, Turkey, Vietnam and other countries. In this sense, the Eurasian economic links being forged should be seen as just the first step toward an historical Eurasia Major.

In this manner, Glazyev believes, “economic sanctions will start to stem the tide of capital flight and stimulate modernization and development of the Russian economy.” It should be noted, however, that Russia does not have much historical time left to realize this model, as it is capped by the changing of the technological generation, which lasts 2-3 years. After advanced countries have restructured their economy based on the new generation, the world economy will reach a new phase of prolonged economic growth and Russia must, as always, settle for the role of a straggler struggling to keep up.

There’s no doubt that Vladimir Putin’s state-civilization – like, say, the Crimea Reunification Medal – will soon become an anachronistic artefact of Russian history. Hourglasses don’t have springs.

Vladimir Jushkin is the Director of the Baltic Centre for Russian Studies