Global Review had the pleasure to make an interview with Prof. Alexander Rahr about the US-Russian relations in the Trumpatlantic era and his new book “2054: Putin decoded” which will be published soon and gives the reader deep insights in Putin´s personality, his world view and his policy, but not his soul and which also gives an outlook on a new multipolar world order based on Realpolitik. Putin decoded is not just an analytical decoding of Putin as a person, but a political thriller which explains the fabric of the Russian society, its present and its future in the global multipolar arena of the 21st century.
Alexander Rahr is a honorary professor of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and Higher school of Economics. He studied at the Munich State University, worked 1980-1994 for the Research Institute of Radio Free Europe, the Federal Institute for East European and International Studies. He was a consultant of RAND Corporation, USA. From 1994-2012 he headed the Russian/Eurasian Center at the German Council on Foreign Relations. He then consulted Wintershall Holding and later Gazprom Brussels on European affairs. Since 2012 he is program director at the German-Russian Forum. He is member of the Petersburg Dialogue, Valdai Club, Yalta European Strategy network, author of several books about Russia.
Global Review: Mr. Rahr, you have just written a new book titled “Putin decoded“. There are various persons in the West who have already tried to “decode“ Putin. Some have decoded him as a “new tsar“, “a Sovjet-like autocrat“ others have pointed to his youth as a street thug in a Russian backyard block who has learned that only the strong man can survive in a Hobbesian world of wolves, others like Lindsay Graham have said: “I looked into his eyes and read only three letters: KGB!“. How do you decode Putin and what is the code to get a better understanding of Putin? What is new about your book in comparison to the other decodings of Putin and what do other “codes“ get right or wrong? Isn’t it wrong to speak of a ‘code’ as it prevents a more holistic point of view and simplifies the complexity of the person and his enviroment? Isn’t the code approach an approach which personalizes the understanding too much while ignoring the geopolitical and economic constellations which determine Putin as an autocrat
Prof. Rahr: I have written ten political books about Russia. This time I decided to explain Russia by using a different genres and a rather difficult perspective. My book „2054: Putin decoded“ is -believe it or not – a political thriller. Why did I chose such a style in explaining Russian-Western relations? Simply, because I needed more room for interpretation. I decided to break away from the traditional boundaries of so called political correctness. I wished to say more than what I have written before. Hopefully, I will not be too heavily critisized for it. I thought: few people nowadays read truly scientific books. The modern reader demands action and entertainment, also in difficult subjects. I did my best to make him happy.
So what is the new book about? My fiction is divided in three parts. First, I tell the story of modern Russia. How it escaped Communism, how it tried to enter the West, how it attempted to become a strong national state – and how it failed to do so and later turned away from the West.
Conflicts of today are well documented. Readers ask about the future. I responded. By the mid of this century Russia will be in an alliance with China.
The story of the West is no less dramatic: EU and NATO undergo severe turbulences. The multipolar world will not be a peacefull one. In my book, I propose a design of the new world. Not all readers will agree with my fiction. But they will accept my provocative tone.
Concerning Putin: The general description of him as a KGB man is old fashioned and too primitive. In reality, Putin represents the new conservative mindset, which takes shape in Russia, but also in elite circles in the broader sense. In a way, he is the leader of a modern conservatism which opposes the liberal value system of the West. I will disappoint those, who expect a new portrait of Putin. I am not looking into his soul. I describe him as the real architect of post-communist Russia and partly also in the world of the 21century. Undoubtedly, he is going to determine Russia‘s future for decades to come. Historians will examine in a couple of years, why he kept Russia away from becoming integrated with the West. Partly, Russia‘s departure from the West is the fault of the EU and NATO.
Let me explain part II of the book. Here I guide my estimated readers into the world of the 16 century – mankind‘s so far greatest revolution, the beginning of renaissance, the freeing of man, the upcoming of a new philosophy of human being. 450 years ago, Russia, which just escaped Mongolian rule, was also confronted with the ideas of Enlightment (Aufklärung) , but it searched for different ways to find its European identity. Also at these ancient times, Moscow rejected Western offers to become part of a Catholic world and remained Byzantine. It is so fascinating: We witness the same conflicts between Russia and Western Europe today. I hope, my readers will enjoy these parallels.
The third story told in my book is about intellectual circles, non-governmental organizations, hidden networks, which influence our world politics behind the scene. I myself was part of these circles. The search for the universal truth has always fascinated mankind. When I worked in the German Council of Foreign Relations (1994-2012) I helped to develop scenarios, patterns, ideas and ideals for political decision makers. I got fascinated by some of the ideas how to change the world and now share them with the public.
Global Review: If you decode Trump, Merkel, Xi—what do you think their codes are in comparison to the Putin Code?
Prof. Rahr: The book „2054: Putin decoded“ represents a serious, unprecedented while utopist attempt, to describe our world order by the mid of the 21 century. I tried to do it as realistic as possible. Many readers seem to be irritated by the present news. Is America still our friend or a foe? My guess is that the US establishment, the deep state or whatever you call it, may oust him from power. However, such a move would seriously damage US democracy and produce more tensions in the elites in the superpower. The world will be seriously shaken in the aftermath.
How will Merkel be remembered by future generations: as a hero of the new humanistic mindset, which is so attractive for many liberals in Europe? Or will she be condemned by future Europeans for her wrong-doings in the refugee crisis? I suggest an interesting scenario.
The Chinese leader Xi will preside over China‘s final rise to superpower status. He is going to determine world history and deserves highest attention. Of course, he is mentioned in the book as well.
Global Review: Both Republicans and Democrats,but also the Western media and transatlanticpoliticians have fiercely criticised the Trump-Putin-Summit.They allege that Trump is destroying the West, the NATO, the EU, the WTO and the liberal postwar order; that he declares the EU as “foe“, that he doesn’t criticize Putin for his interference in the US elections; and that Putin has the same goals of destroying the liberal order and Trump is his instrument and willing puppet. Some speak of treason and that Putin had Trump in his hands as the KGB has “Steel Documents“ which would show Trump during his carerr as a business man in Moscow with prostiutes and that when Trump was bankrupt, he got a loan by an Russian oligarch with the Deutsche Bank involved. What do you think is true about these allegations? How dependent is Trump on Putin and do you think that these allegations could force Trump out of office?
Prof. Rahr: While I guess that all these allegations could cost Trump his job, they seem to be flat wrong – fake news. As I describe in the book, we witness nowadays one of the greatest political provocations ( from the anti-Trump elites) and artificially staged scandals in history. The intention of the US establishment is to keep Russia down, not to allow it to regain strength. The possible impeachement of Trump will not lead to the restauration of the old comfortable world order. No, it will trigger more chaos and more split in the multipolar world.
As I describe in the book, Western influence over globalization will vanish. The USA and the EU will continue to stick together, but they will be much weaker than today. An alternative world center will emerge: a new Eurasia, consisting of Russia, China, India, Iran, Turkey and others. The rules in the game will also be written there.
The third powerful force in the world arena will be Islamism. I tell my readers in the book the story I witnessed far back in 2000 in Washington, in a close-shop-meeting, when a former CIA chief seriously warned of an attack by Islamistic terrorists against the US. He said, terrorists would use a dirty bomb. Unfortunately, more of such ugly things will shaken the world.
One of the biggest issues for mid-century will be whether the Western world succeeds in accommodating Islam. The Islamic civilization will grow – and will also raise its voice in future world affairs: peacefully or unfriendly?
Global Review: Vice versa: Is Trump a reliable partner for Putin? Pn the one hand, there are his spontaneous twitters, his shifts of opinions from one extreme to the other,his introduction of a 2 per cent benchmark for NATO,now pushed up to 4 per cent, the delivery of weapons to Ukraine, the biggest armament programme for the US military, Russia as “revisionist power“ in the National Security Strategy (NSS), the gas competition between US-LNG and North Stream.On the other hand,there the Putin meeting, Trump’s declared will to prevent a new cold war, the statements that China and the EU are the main competitors, “foes“ of the USA—is there any strategic continuity or is it more a “trial-and-error“-approach? How does Putin perceive Trump and the USA?
Prof. Rahr: Trump follows the America-First policy. He rejects the former common ideology of the West, that liberal values unite us instead of country‘s interests. By doing so he is changing the world order. He ridicules the political weakness of the liberal elites in the EU. He regards the EU as economic rival of the US. He treats EU countries like satellites. EU leaders are stunned, irritated, but do not see any alternative to US leadership. They are afraid if losing the US security umbrella.
Trump has a positive strategic view on Russia. He is convinced that Russia is a full-fledged European state, culturally closer to the US than many other EU countries. He wants to win Moscow over as a possible partner in fighting the „bad guys“ in the world. He understands, that Russia is going to play an important role in the future multipolar world order and may become more important than the EU.
Yes, he is going to compete against Russia in many areas, including European natural gas business, but he sincerely looks for a positive agenda with Moscow in a future world of instabilities.
Global Review: Trump wants to make a “deal“ with Putin. Some experts say that Trump’s main goal is to enstrange Russia from China and the Iran so that he can concentrate on these two main foes of the USA. Putin wants to be recognized as leader of a world power and not as regional power. He also wants arms control and the lift of the sanctions. Do you agree with this assessment or what do you think are Putin’s and Trump’s main goals? Is there the real chance for a deal or how could he look like?
Prof. Rahr: In my mind, the relations between US and Russia are going to deteriorate further, despite Trump. The negative scenario is created by anti-Trump forces in Washington who reject the vision of a multipolar world. For this kind of decision-makers, Russia remains an enemy if the West, until it fully admits its capitulation in the Cold War.
US and Russia may, however, close ranks in 20-25 years, when both will face a dangerous common challenge or an enemy. By mid of the century, I expect the holy US-Russia Alliance to
materialize. But under which different circumstances? In my new book I suggest a logical scenario.
Global Review: Wouldn’t a rapproachement between Trump and Putin offer the opportunity for a New East Policy of the EU and Germany: Ukraine and Belorussia as neutral buffer states and as bridges between the EU and the Eurasian Union and a guarantee for the Russian Black Fleet base at Sewastopl. In return Russia could retreat form Ukraine and stop its proxy war. As a next step, arms control negotiations and the prevention of an new arms race. As a third step, lifting of the sanctions and an economic cooperation between Russia and the West from Lisbon to Vladivostok or even Shanghai?
Prof. Rahr: My view is that sooner or later the EU and the Eurasian Union would forge a strategic alliance, create a common economic space and propose a new model for Eurasian and European security. Ukraine‘s neutrality is a precondition to this historical reapproachement. In Ukraine, Russia is not conducting a „proxy war“ against Ukrainians but a hybrid war against further NATO expansion. Moscow will never tolerate Ukraine‘s membership in NATO. The key to peace in Europe is either the halt of any NATO expansion or the abolishment of NATO.
The EU seems to lack the necessary mechanisms to stop the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Therefore, Putin addressed Trump directly in Helsinki on Ukraine, proposing a referendum under UN supervision in the Donbas. But unfortunately we are far away from a breakthrough. The mighty US Congress presses for more and mire sanctions against Russia.
Global Review: How should Germany and the EU react to the Trump-Putin summit? There are at least three options:Wait for the end of Trump´s presidency and hope for a reset of the normal transatlantic relations under a new Democratic or Republican US president. Second option: A two-track approach- on the one hand. relying on NATO, on the other hand, building a parallel European defence structure—, maybe a revival of the Western European Union of the 50s under modern conditions and a nuclear deterrence around the Force de Frappe. Third option: An Eurasian security architecture between the EU and Russia as the Left Party and the AfD proposes. Isn’t it an Eurasian option for Europe realistic as the EU under trumpatlantic trade wars turns towards China and Japan (JEFTA). Could this be the core of an Eurasian alliance and a big free trade zone from Lisbon to Shanghai? Which option do you think is most realistic?
Prof. Rahr: The EU‘s reaction to the Helsinki summit was frustrating. The EU basically condemned the meeting, fearing that Trump and Putin could decide world affairs over the heads of EU leaders. The position of the EU is to wait, until Trump is impeached or loses the next US elections. EU leaders hope for a return to the old times of transatlantic harmony. Then the Western leaders again want to wait: for Putin‘s departure. I wish them good luck.
In my view, we European tend to ignore the real developments in the world. We got used to our liberal comfort. Meanwhile it is no secret any more that Asia is overtaking the EU: economically, politically and soon militarily. China will export its own values in the entire world which will compete with our liberal values. But the EU elites stick to their favorite idea – liberal value driven policy should be universal. My message in the book: We should return to Realpolitik.
Global Review: Is it Trump’s goal to cede Europe to Putin in order to dissuade him from an Asian/Chinese-Russian alliance against the USA? After the disaster of the G7 and the NATO summit, which symbolizes the disintegration of the traditional liberal West, the SCO held its summit in Shanghai with India and Pakistan attending as new members. The Chinese have called the ”new Shanghai spirit“ a ”new model for global governance in the 21st century“. Besides the SCO, Russia is also a member of BRICS. Is Russia shifting to the East and does Trump want to stop this?
Prof. Rahr: The ambitious US elites think they can contain all foes at once: Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and also discipline the EU. No, the world order is going to be more complicated and dangerous. The US will continue to posses the strongest army in the world, but economically it will stagnate. I see the major task of US foreign policy in preventing the worldwide proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Only Washington has the authority to achieve it. Russia and China must be convinced to act similarly. Israel‘s security is on stake.
Global Review: Since the time of Peter the Great Russia perceived itself as an European power.However there are new voices in Russia for an Eurasian policy (not only Dugin) .Sergei Karaganov in his artcile „Ideology of Eastward Turn“ in Russia in Global Affairs proposes an Asian pivot for Russia . However he thinks that the Russian elites are still eurocentric and the Eastern regions politically and economically marginalized.
Karaganov also wrote an programmatic article in Russia in Global Affairs April 2018 about a sinorussian alliance and joint strategy against the USA before the conference of the Valdai Club in Shanghai:
“Russia and China need to think about creating a joint strategy to strengthen peace. There is no need to wait for someone’s attack – the threat of war in the air,”
How influential is the Valdai Club and Karaganov in Russia and do you think this will influence Putin´s foreign policy towards an Russian Asian pivot strategy?
Prof. Rahr: Karaganov has become Russia‘s chief ideologist for the pivot to Asia. The Valdai Club has become something like an equivalent or Russian model of the Western Trilateral Commission. It is an international organization, packed with international scholars and decision-makers who think about a design for our future. The Valdai Club meets every October for one week in Sochi. Russian President Putin meets the participants on the very last day. He is being informed about the results if the various discussions, comments on the findings and he traditionally delivers his political address to the high-level audience. This year, Putin will hopefully give his personal view on the future world order after his rather successful meeting with Trump in Helsinki. I expect him also to share his vision on the upcoming G20 meeting in Argentina. The G7 is almost dead; but the G20 matters.
Global Review: What do you think will be the future when one day Putin isn´t in power anymore. Will he reign untill his death, will he choose a reliable successor, will the opposition seize power? What would a Russia under Navalny or Khodorkovsky look like? Does the Russian opposition have strategic visions for Russia?
Prof. Rahr: In 2024, Russia will elect another president. Putin will remain powerful behind the scenes. He might become the president of a future Eurasian Union. Do the opposition forces rely on alternative programs to guide Russia into the future? Khodorkovsky questions Russia‘s presidential system. But, in my mind, a proposed parliamentarian system for present Russia would not establish more democracy. Neither elite nor ordinary people are mentally ready for it. The post-soviet states will need at least another generation to adopt a true parliamentarian system. Navalny will not change Putin‘s policy. He will change the upper echelons of the government, nothing more. The problem of Russia is that there are not so many options for future success. Yes, corruption must be tackled. Yes, the rule of law must be further implemented. Yes, middle-range business activities must be improved. But, to be honest, all these factors depend foremost on the mentality of society. Russia will, as long as it remains a developing country, needs state monopolies and state control over segments of its economy until it reaches the economic level of leading industrial countries.
Who will succeed Putin? My guess is that the successor will be chosen from the ranks of the present Gouverneurs‘ corps. He will be in his late 40s, will have a managerial background and experience in foreign affairs. The man – or woman – is today working in the second echelon of power.
Global Review: What is the state of the Russian economy? Has Putin a real programme for modernization and diversification or does he still rely on gas, oil ,other natural resources and weapons? Is there a modernization strategy and are there positive developments? How dependent is Russia on importing technology and know how from the West and Asia? Trump started to impose sanctions on China’s Made in China 2025 high-tech programme, intellectual property theft and counter economic espionage to prevent a Chinese technological superiority which could boost its economic and military strength . Can Russia keep pace with digitalization, industry 4.0, artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, nano technology, quantum technology and quantum computing? While the USA and China are leading in these technologies, Europe and much more Russia are far behind technological developments. Has Russia to import these technologies, has it its own programme to develop them or has Russia to “leapfrog” as the Russian dissident Chodorkovsky proposes (as he was not just an oil oligarch, but started his career as a computer entrepreneur)?
Prof. Rahr: Russia will, like always in history, remain a mineral ressource export country. The driving force for Russian economic growth is, however, not export. Interior consumption and service industry are the driving forces for success. Technological imports are needed, but not as critical as 10-15 years ago. In my book I describe the changes in the globalization processes. We will witness the emergence of new regional economic centers. The regionalization if the global economy is a fact. The different markets will associate themselves through special arrangements. Russia and China will build the Eurasian market, which, in 25-30 years will generate more wealth than the EU.
The peaceful and happy time after the glorious victory of liberal ideas after the fall of Communism has ended. Now it is high time to reassert the future. The liberal Western system is not serving as a model for the entire world. Alternative forms of rule and economic development are on the rise. The West faces increasing competition, foremost ideologically. Elites in the West will need to adopt to new realities, otherwise they will lose influence.