Nowadays, no one can be surprised that exports are a critical factor in the economic growth of any state and, accordingly, in increasing the well-being of its population. Of course, this makes sense if we talk about the classic export of goods, services or capital. But it turns out that exports can chase other goals if the main product is chaos, and the exporter is a state with the largest territory in the world and owns a vast nuclear arsenal and a whole range of imperial complexes and ambitions.
During his recent speech at an expanded Board session of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Vladimir Putin boasted that he managed to stoke ‘some tension’ in the West. Moreover, he believes that this state of sustained tension and uncertainty about the Kremlin’s intentions must continue, thus guaranteeing Russia’s security. Accordingly, Russia’s president assigned the relevant task to his diplomats.
An article titled “Where Has the Chaos Gone? Unpacking Stability,” written by former Putin’s adviser and political theorist Vladislav Surkov and published a few days after the Russian president’s speech sheds light on how tension is provoked and sustained.
There is no point repeating the entire content of this work, but it is advisable to dwell on the parts, which rest with the logic of the current Russian government’s relations with the outside world.
The author indulges in the background to Kremlin’s behaviour nowadays by starting off with Putin’s main strategic grievance from his day one in power (also known as Vladimir Putin’s tragedy) – the collapse of the Soviet Union. Surkov ignores the totalitarian nature of the Soviet political system, the degradation of the political elite, an epitome of inefficiency and stagnation of the plan-based economy etc., focusing on the fact that “right under the nose of the Central Committee and the State Planning Committee a sort of unplanned, un-Soviet, incomprehensible and unexpectedly dashing society had silently matured, ready as soon as possible to senselessly and mercilessly destroy” the Soviet Union.
“We know how it ended”, Surkov further laments, asserting that a similar fate could have befallen Yeltsin’s Russia of the 90s. It “could have perished in the struggle against the extreme desires of its citizens”, and only thanks to the current Kremlin ruler, such fate was spared.
“At the beginning of the century, the Russian power system halted the avalanche of social chaos and pulled the traumatized country out of the obstructions of perestroika. We have had twenty years of stability, which Stolypin lacked. And there will be more. The power vertical, the order and bonds are guaranteed”, the author assures.
Such confidence in the “stability” of Putin’s regime echoes a revelation: power transition in Russia is unlikely in the foreseeable future. Furthermore, Putin and his elite will continue to ascertain the “power acts of the state” and fight back the “extreme desires” of the people, triggered by the drop in living standards and the violation of basic human rights.
The Kremlin is well aware that one of the “side effects” of the long-term “stability”, referred to above, is heightened social tension within a practically insulated Russian society. Today, it can be observed with a naked eye, and it is only bound to exascerbate in the future. The Kremlin also realizes that it is impossible to eliminate this tension by “loosening the screws” and masquerading democracy as this might result in disintegration processes, a mortal threat to Russia. Surkov highlights his concern: “The fact that in theory, entropy (this is the term the author uses for social unrest or tension) tends to grow in exclusive, closed systems, seems to suggest a simple solution to the problem – to open the system, “to let off steam”, and chaos will recede. But such oversimplifications are deceiving. It is precarious to set up liberal experiments on the domestic political scene. The depressurization of the system – this “social reactor” that works well today is fraught with uncontrolled emissions of civil irritation that can lead to irreversible destabilization – think of examples from the 80s and 90s”.
In other words, in Surkov’s reasoning, Kremlin, taught by its bitter experience, knows very well that if “steam” inside the country is let off, flirting with liberalism, the same irreversible processes that preceded the collapse of the Soviet system will kick off. And this is the last thing Putin and his entourage want to happen. Therefore, those who dream of a democratic and liberal Russia will face great disappointment. Putin’s Russia will never be like this. At least within its current borders (that is, not less than the existing ones). After all, to preserve these borders – and Surkov says this bluntly – liberal experiments within Russia should be pre-empted.
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Yet, social entropy within Russia is on the rise, and this remains a challenge. According to Surkov, internal entropy is “very toxic”, and there is only one solution to the problem. Such entropy “has to be taken out somewhere far away, exported for disposal to foreign territories”. There is no need to ponder the territory on his mind that Russia should export Russia’s domestic entropy. The annexation of Crimea, the occupation of part of the Ukrainian territories, the massing of Russian troops near Ukraine’s borders, and the whipping up of anti-Ukrainian sentiment in Russian society speak for themselves.
Using the example of the Crimean adventure, the author directly refers to the positive fallout of such actions to preserve the incumbent regime in the country: “The Crimean consensus is a vivid example of the consolidation of society at the expense of creating chaos in the neighbouring country”.
Those who think that the export of Russian entropy will end in Ukraine are very much delusional. Just like the Bolsheviks tried to light the fuse of a world revolution at the beginning of the last century, their current successors in the Kremlin are trying to sow the seeds of chaos not only on their borders (in the former Soviet republics), but also far beyond.
Military intervention in Syria, sabotages of military facilities of NATO member states, poisoning of enemies, interference in the American and EU elections, gas crisis in Europe, constant provocations by Russian military aircraft and ships, “adventures” of Russian PMCs in the Middle East and Africa, weaponizing the refugee problem – this is an incomplete list of examples of Putin’s “tension generation” and Surkov’s “export of entropy”.
It would be only natural and logical to ask oneself: why is Russia behaving this way? And the author kindly provides us with an answer, in which, however, there is little reason for optimism. “The export of chaos is nothing new. Divide and Conquer is an ancient recipe. Division is synonymous with chaotization. Unite your own people + divide others = you will rule over both. The lessening of international tension through external expansion… All empires do this”. That is, the actual goal of current Russia’s relations with the outside world – to export chaos to “rule over both”. The justification is simple – if empires have done it over centuries, Russia, as one, is perfectly entitled to be a copycat.
Other questions also arise: can Russia behave differently? Does it want to change its modus operandi? – The answer is equally straightforward: no. And Surkov wastes no time sharing his perverse logic: “For centuries, the Russian state with its stern and sedentary political interior has preserved itself solely thanks to the tireless tending beyond its bounds. It has long forgotten and most likely has never known how to survive in other ways.
For Russia, the permanent expansion is not just one of the ideas, but the real essence of our historical being”.
In other words, Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 were the next stages of “Russia’s tireless tending beyond its bounds”. These were the next, but hardly the last – given that Russia “has never known, how to survive in other ways”.
Another confirmation of this is the article’s final lines. The author expresses his confidence that “Russia will have its share in the new global collection of lands” and explains that “Russia will expand not because it is good or bad, but because it is physics”.
Surkov’s explanations of the logic of its state’s behavior should enlighten all those who still do not understand what Putin’s Russia is after and still hope that it can be a predictable and constructive partner, that somehow they can make it listen to reason or come to an agreement with it.
The West is the only barrier to Russia’s plan to live up to the “real essence of its historical being”. The Kremlin detest each moment when despite all its efforts to export chaos and stir trouble, it records new lows in economic and social development, thus increasing the distance with the civilized world. Embittered by the West’s successes and its counterplay preventing its imperial ambitions, the Kremlin, on the one hand, rattles the chaos generation threat, and on the other – calls on the West to accept its vision of the world order and the claims to its piece of the tasty “world pie”. “To what extent must geopolitical divisions escalate for the superpowers to agree to a new order of coexistence? – asks Surkov,- If there is no agreement, the turbulent flows generated by superpowers will lead to collisions, generating devastating geopolitical storms”.
“To avoid such collision”, continues Kremlin’s purported top political theorist,”you need to turn each energy stream into a separate channel”. In other words, the Kremlin poses a direct question to the West: ‘How much chaos should we export to you so that you finally accept our Tsar as equal to you and agree with our imperial ambitions?”
So here is the endgame in Surkov’s reading of Russia negative power and Putin’s blackmail – if our terms are not met, we will generate “geopolitical storms” and “see their energy flow” in “selected channel”, beneficial to us.
To sum up all of the above mentioned.
Surkov’s article (like Putin’s earlier speech to Russian diplomats) reflect the collective view of the current Russian power elite on the current world order and Russia’s place in it. Both representations should be treated as a political demarche of Putin’s regime, full of wishes, pretences, threats and deep resentments. Mostly, against the leaders of the West, presenting them with an ultimatum – accept our terms and respect Russia as a global power or face the consequences – continuous wars and chaos. Surkov’s article might come as both a revelation and a sobering pill to acquiescent Western politicians – Russia should not be treated only as a global gas station but as an equal partner – a global nuclear power. Mr Putin has most probably given up on ambitions to rate Russia’s economy on par with Western economies, not compete in new technologies, science, education, model of government. Nor that the Kremlin takes to heart raising Russians’ living standards on par with Western ones. Surkov’s article puts the record straight – military power and aggressive foreign policy, blackmail and ultimatums, deemed as the negative power of Russia, form the centrepiece of Putin’s plans to rock and shock the world in the coming months.
To keep the peace at home and himself in power, failing to deliver prosperity, Putin will have no choice but to export chaos abroad and continue fomenting “certain tension”, i.e., destabilize Europe.
As Russian sociologist Igor Eidman writes, “in recent years the creation and export of tension (i.e. fear) and chaos has been the main job of the Russian authorities. It is the main industry and the main export product of Putin’s Russia. Fear and chaos around the world are his biggest investment in hybrid warfare. Thus, Russia is no longer a global gas station, but a source of global chaos”.
Worth mentioning that the export of chaos is not an invention of Putin’s Russia, but the legacy of the ‘evil empire’ Ronald Reagan used to call the Soviet Union back in 1983.
Surkov’s article may indicate that the Kremlin considers the current situation favourable to threaten and openly make claims to the West. A “certain tension” around Ukraine is building up, and Moscow believes it is time to reap the fruits of Russia’s export of chaos – which will escalate. In Surkov’s mindset, Vladimir Putin should rest at ease as the task of rocking the world more than 114 years after the “Great October Revolution” is still being pursued by the new comrades with “all their proletarian hatred”.
Igor Fedyk, New Geopolitics Research Network
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