Putin‘s Russia in 2020. Lessons of the Present and Scenarios of the Future

There are a lot is talks and writings about Russia – about reasonable and unreasonable steps of its head, dangers and fate, about hanky-panky and inanity of Russia, about the promised happiness and a miserable daily routine.

There are a lot is talks and writings about Russia – about reasonable and unreasonable steps of its head, dangers and fate, about hanky-panky and inanity of Russia, about the promised happiness and a miserable daily routine.
When historians and politicians after several hundreds of years will try to ask themselves during what period independent Lithuania reached its geopolitical goals, the answer will sound something like that: when Russia was ruled by the President-dictator Vladimir Putin. We could even say that Putin’s ruling did not prevent Lithuania to be the one it wants, maybe he tried to disturb, but our country reached what it wanted. Lithuania is an independent state of the Western Europe and has not been so close to Europe and so far from Moscow in the last 400 years’ time. That is, so far from Putin. 
During interviews with politicians or people called electors usually I have a remark saying that ‘If Putin just wanted he could take Lithuania over in a few days and nobody would help you (us?)!’ My usual answer is that our foreign policy is for the reason Putin never wanted to do so. And even if he wants to, it would not be easy to attack Lithuania, because he will have to attack the whole NATO. This is too risky.   
Twentieth century did not seem too happy to most Russians. Although the country did reach the Elbe in Germany by its iron-fist rule, it underwent two world wars and finally the collapse of its own country. It was ruling several dozens of nations, which finally wanted to be ruled by themselves. After an unsuccessful military-political ‘trip’ to Afghanistan the USSR/Russia lost almost all international political battles, its military and political ‘hand’ got shorter by thousands of kilometres within less than two decades. The first two (Putin’s) decades of the 21 century should be considered unsuccessful to Russia. The economic miracle did not happen, modernization did not start, oil and gas did not bring so much money in order to make changes in other fields of life, the control of post-soviet expansion got weaker and its remains had to be grabbed by way of minor local wars.  
We can just have a look at the current map of Russia and compare it with a geographic ‘image’ of let’s say 1700. We are drawn to conclude that the Cold War several decades ago ended and Russia actually lost everything it had occupied during 300 years’ time. Today Russia looks like some kind of duchy of Moscow. Despite the desire of Russian leaders to make it a great state again, its significance in the global policy is still decreasing. When global and geopolitical issues are solved, its opinion is asked rarer and less fair is seen even though it ‘hatches’ little green men. All such ideas and forms of communication or non-communication of the Western world with Putin lead a simple formula – we want to communicate with Russia and help it to become a normal safe country; however we are afraid that we will help creating a dangerous geopolitical monster.      
Actually, has Russia ever been happy or just was fighting all the time for its identity, for its exceptional role and therefore, who has to be afraid of it and why does Russia always have ‘to help’ its neighbours? What kind of a country it should be for an ordinary Russian to be happy not just about annexation of  Crimea but about personal daily wellbeing and justice. 
Having put all official scenarios and ordered strategies aside we can notice that a rather pessimistic approach is prevailing in regards to the future of Russia. There exist plans for happy America, happy China and happy India. Another story is with Africa; however there are planners of happiness even there. There is no plan of happy Russia and its future is the province of the world or a territory of a minor political significance. In the wider sense the idea of current Russia is the ‘strategy of survival in the surroundings of the imagined enemies’. All plans developed in Russia are just attempts of an unhappy country that found itself in jeopardy to enhance itself by force and victories against the neighbours. George Friedman, who has written a quite convincing history of the 21 century, assigns the role to Russia as a raw materials province and almost marginal influence in international politics.     
Probably the only global scenario in which the role of Russia is mentioned in a positive way is so-called BRICS world, where Brazil, Russia, India, China and Africa should be dominating. Even there Russia is seen as potentially the weakest party. There are more and more doubts even about possibilities of the bright future of BRICS – there are too many internal problems in each country included in that list.
There is a systematic defect in the existence of Russia as a state. However, what? Maybe the way to Europe?
So far disputes between historians and political analysts continue whether Russia had to go to Europe or not. Up to the beginning of the 18 century Russia didn’t have any significant problems of identity and did not pose a threat to Europe. Maybe it was better to everyone then… After foundation of Saint Petersburg, having defeated Sweden, having occupied Livonia and finally having broken the buffer of the Lithuanian-Polish state Russia became the reality of European politics and part of the history of Europe. A problem where to assign Russia emerged: is Russia in Europe or not? Russia owns a lot of territories and also a lot of simply useless territories: one can just ‘own’ a lot of territories but not use it in a civilized way. Russia has been and still is encumbered by an unanswered question: what tradition of civilisation – Europe or Asia it belongs to and what is the actual and imagined influence of Russia in the world?         
Geopolitical uncertainty of Russia gives a rise to abundance of theories of development of Russia. Panslavism vision says that Russia, as the biggest Slavic country that represents the biggest Slavic nation, has to carry on the mission of ‘defence and protection’ of Slavic nations. The essential way to implement the mission is to grant ‘correct’ ethnographic walls to the nations of the Central and Eastern Europe. According to another – Eurasian theory, nations of the former Russian empire make a certain civilization that is different from both the Western and Central Europe. This civilization is a mixture of Europe and Asia: ‘There would no Russia without a yoke of Mongolian Tatars’. Authorities of neo-Eurasianism decided that an invisible climatic ‘wall’ separates Eurasia from Europe, the atmosphere of which goes approximately by the wall of 1771 of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Duchy of Moscow. This is the reason why Lithuania will never be Russia and Russia would never feel comfortable in Lithuania. So no wonder that the longest war in the history of Lithuania was going on somewhere around that line.  
The current Euro-Asianism of Russia that is so acceptable to the ruling group is directed towards Atlantism, e.g. Euro-Atlantic Community of the USA and Western Europe. Russia that is eager to regain its previous positions has in all ways tried to resist the influence of the USA, pursue its weaker position in the world and in Europe, first of all. In the foreign policy of Russia an attitude dominates that is based on the principles of identifying the environment surrounding Russia and its occupation. Since Russia perceives itself as a great state, too, it forms its global thinking, global strategy where a unique political mission falls on Russia. 
However, a prevailing continental attitude makes influence on geopolitical steps of Russia. Tsar Alexander I, who defeated the army of the Napoleon Bonaparte in 1812, refused the Hawaiian Islands as a proposal to make them as a protectorate of Russia. In this way Russia as if refused a unique opportunity what actually a state that is thinking about a favourable geopolitical perspective should pursue theoretically. Alexander II made a step in 1867 that could hardly be understood and sold Alaska that occupies 1.5 million km        and Aleut Islands that are located closely and that are extremely strategically important for 7.2 million USD to the United States and probably not even predicted that this region wopuld later become one of the regions of “Gold Rush’. However, even without the natural resources ‘holding’ of Alaska would have secured total control of the Northern part of the Pacific Ocean.
The present Putin’s Russia pursues not its own politics but the politics of the non-existing USSR towards neighbours and still has expectations that internationalism described in books and everlasting zones of Soviet influence does not exist anymore. However, demography and biology act not to the favour of Russia – most inhabitants of the Central Asia were born or became adults not during the USSR period and Russia is not political nostalgia to them any longer. Most Slavic ‘sisters’ of Russia got convinced due to the freedom of information that there are better alternatives than the Moscow authorities.   
After the end of the Cold War the West started thinking that Russia can become a liberal country. Now they don’t think this way anymore. Another hypothesis says that Russia is a timeless Soviet Union, only significantly weaker now. Revival of Russia is regeneration of the empire. A third popular hypothesis brings up the idea of Moscow as the Third Rome. Actually it is the Eurasian defender of the Eastern Christianity that emphasizes not its compliance with the global statehood standards, on the contrary – the identity of the state. Probably it was most similar to that in the last decades of the tsar ruling. According to Zbigniew Brzezinski Russia is enjoying the fact that it has no political alternative. Strong Europe-type Ukraine would become that alternative. Therefore Putin doesn’t need this strong and independent Ukraine. 
The fourth module that I have mentioned in my texts and speeches several times is the Duchy of Moscow. This is the real origin of Russia. Wasn’t it really a mistake of Peter I that he tried to make Russia a real European country? It hasn’t become like that up to now. Russia sells raw materials like 1000 years ago and buys technical equipment and products made from the same raw materials. The same as during all that happy time of the Duchy of Moscow.
Putin doesn’t want to be the Duke of Moscow only, however probably he understands that the world and its politicians either are afraid or hate Putin. They are afraid of his decisions that do not correspond to the current order in the world. Some people love Vladimir Putin and see a certain political type; however it is probably the generation of the past but not the future. Putin’s Soviet hymn with the imperial two-headed eagle and Slavic three colour flag is a mixture of Soviet and even older Russia symbols and ideologies. This is a heraldic hooliganism, which, by the way, had been used in history, but that didn’t last long. The country has no fascinating messianic idea. Ideology of Russia is very inflexible. Imperialism today is an expensive ‘pleasure’; however Russia doesn’t imagine itself without one. It is the hostage of its own imperialistic origin and it is very hard to the country to change its attitudes no matter how harmful they are. This is like an addiction – addiction to imperial reasoning that is turning into geopolitical kleptomania. Russia still tends to better hide its sores rather than treat them. Actually Russia has two options: an authoritarian regime with aggressive foreign policy or turmoil after which Russia could simply disappear. Thus, further Putin’s future is rather a way to the past.
What do Lithuanians have to do here? Namely they encumbered the process of Europeanisation of Russia. Soviet historiography that turned Crusaders to real enemies of Lithuania, ‘forgot’ that the longest war in the history of Lithuania was not the war with Crusaders but with the neighbours from the East. Here lies a geopolitical mission.   
Egidijus Vareikis

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