By Arthur Evans
Today, Vladimir Putin is regarded by many, even by his opponents, to be one of the grandmasters in global politics. Most recently, he reaffirmed his status as a historic figure as he paid final tribute to Jacques Chirac, a person whom some in Europe call France’s last true president and who had been at the country’s helm for 12 years. For what it’s worth, it was the first time that the Russian President attended a former leader’s funeral abroad—visiting foreign states on such sad occasions normally falls to the lot of other officials.
If you think of it, the harshest accusations against Putin all come from ‘third-rate’ politicians who only benefit from finding their own names alongside Putin’s—even in a most scandalous news story. Serious leaders, however, treat him in a completely different way. The term ‘respect’ would suit best to describe their attitude. But what is the reason behind it? Clearly, it is not only about viewing Russia as a huge Eurasian monster—Boris Yeltsin, for all his glory of being victorious over the Communist Party, never earned as much respect.
As it becomes increasingly clear, the Russian leader’s strength is his flexible, project-oriented thinking coupled with long-term planning and choosing right and most important priorities for his efforts.
In foreign relations, Putin’s firm commitment to the principle which can be defined, using a well-known analogy, as ‘making Russia great again’ has unexpectedly become a new global trend. Russia’s strong resistance to the Western sanctions and a new eastern vector in its foreign policy bring more and more voices on both sides of the Atlantic to say, ‘Well, if you can’t defeat them try to negotiate with them.’ This understanding has allowed Putin to gradually improve dialogue with the United States and establish ever closer ties with China.
In the field of security, strategic stability and armaments, nothing that the ‘optimists’ among the top brass were hoping for came true. Not only has Russia maintained its military capabilities, it began to share them with other countries across the world—from Syria and Venezuela to Turkey, Algeria and probably Saudi Arabia, which is most likely to consider Vladimir’s Putin proposal on the purchase of S-400 air defence systems after the air attack—masterminded either by Iran, Yemen or someone else—against the main source of income for the ruling dynasty and the Kingdom at large. Most significantly, a large part of weapons which are currently produced and exported by Russia and which present a serious challenge to US and European analogues (including unmanned systems, hypersonic missiles and sea-based systems) have been designed and enhanced, as Putin himself put it, on his own instruction, as a response to the US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty back in 2001.
By the way, Russia’s military capabilities might be indicative of yet another important fact: they are the product of contemporary education, scientific schools and production chains, whose scope and length are not easy to grasp. The same is true about civilian industries, such as the space program involving the construction of the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Siberia and the atomic energy sector, which launched, in August 2019, the world’s first floating nuclear power station built by Rosatom to operate across the Northern Sea Route.
These achievements rely on the real economy, which—though far from being perfect—remains connected with the global market. In 2018, Ernst & Young, the world’s leading audit company, ranked Russia as 9th among the top 20 European countries that are most attractive for foreign investors. Despite the current tensions in its relations with Russia, the United States has, for the first time since 2013, reclaimed its leading position among states investing in Russia. In 2018, the number of US investment projects in Russia increased by nearly 74 per cent as compared to 2017, amounting to 33. This increase may be explained, to an extent, by artificial political causes: some European companies have virtually given up the market, reducing their activity in Russia. Whatever the case, the annual international economic forum held in June 2019 in St. Petersburg saw the signing of 750 agreements for a total of about EUR 50 billion.
In his summer interview with The Financial Times, Putin already outlined his new tasks for the future: ‘The most important task we need to achieve is to change the structure of the economy and secure a substantial growth of labour productivity through modern technologies, Artificial Intelligence, robotics and so on.’ This is part of the strategic plan for the period up to the mid-21st century, which is apparently backed up by the leaders of the Russian smart business community, such as Sberbank and Yandex.
It seems that we see a few pieces of a big puzzle, which also comprises new national projects (totaling 13) for the period up to 2024 developed in three key areas: human capital, comfortable living environment and economic growth. This program probably aims to harmonize Russia’s development and accumulate strength and resources in order to try and make a new breakthrough, catching up with the world’s leading economies. Yet, this can only be achieved through a thorough upgrade of the ‘Russia Project’ performed in real-time mode by the visionary politician and process engineer Putin.
Meanwhile, the Europeans, standing on the brink of tomorrow, should find it helpful to examine this ‘Higgs boson’ in their political laboratories and explore pragmatic ways to use the acquired knowledge for building a Greater Europe that is bound to come to terms with the forward-looking Russia.
NOTE: This article first appeared at Fort Russ.