Economic Statecraft
A Civilisational Approach to State Building

In the further formulation by Russia of its foreign and domestic policies in the context of the growing multipolarity of the world, it is advisable to take into account the number of other features of the functioning civilisational systems, and the civilisational approach itself is actively developed and applied as one of the promising integrated tools in the practice of state building, writes Evgeny Tipailov.

On March 31, 2023, the President of Russia signed Decree No. 229 “On the Approval of the Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation”. In the Concept, Russia was defined as “an original civilisation-state, a vast Eurasian and Euro-Pacific power that has rallied the Russian people and other peoples that make up the cultural and civilisational community of the Russian world.”

For the first time in the history of modern Russia, in an official doctrinal document, the idea of the Russian world and the civilisational theory of social development were used as the basis for foreign policy planning and state self-identification.

According to the historiosophical theories and concepts of Nikolai Danilevsky, Oswald Spengler, Pitirim Sorokin, Lev Gumilyov, Samuil Aizenshtadt, Arnold Toynbee, Hungtingon, Alexander Akhiezer, Boris Erasov, Yuri Yakovetz and a number of other researchers, “civilisation” (“cultural-historical type”, “culture”, etc.) in general is understood as a closed community social system characterized by a unique structure (i.e., specific elements and connections between them) and the characteristic cycles of their historical development.

In the context of such an understanding of “civilisation”, its substantive basis is, obviously, unique in nature, allowing one to freely distinguish one community from any other at the appropriate stages of the development of civilisation. Such a view of the civilisational approach predetermines the following prerequisites, which are important when extrapolating it to the practice of state building in Russia.

First, any civilisation can be considered a self-sufficient system when it can be identified as such independently of other coexisting communities. Even taking into account the fact that different civilisations can be similar and reproduce individual connections and/or elements of each other's systems, in aggregation, the structural features of one civilisation are unique and irreproducible within the framework of another, and attempts at such reproduction are often unable to lead to the expected result.

With a number of reservations, this can be exemplified by the ineffective attempts of Russia (which is the core of the Slavic-Orthodox civilisation, according to a number of typologies of civilisational systems) in the period after the collapse of the USSR to introduce numerous elements of the Western Protestant-Catholic civilisational model of social and state development into the development model of Russia.

With this in mind, the success of the application of the civilisational approach in Russia will largely depend on the content of our system and the ability to filter out inefficient borrowed elements (be it membership in certain international institutions, the “import” of the West’s culture and lifestyle, or excessive economic dependence on foreign currencies). On the basis of pragmatically formulated interests and an appropriate revision, some of these alien elements are subject to either uprooting or significant adjustment, while the other part, which has demonstrated its effectiveness, can be integrated and developed further.

This task becomes all the more urgent if we look at the Russian historical “jigsaw puzzle” in dynamics. Over the past century: 1) the Russian Empire ceased to exist (by the time of its collapse, it was closely connected with the Western community); 2) the project of the USSR ended tragically (originally based on the theory of socialism, which was Western in origin, although anti-bourgeois and counter-revolutionary in essence); 3) modern Russia turned to the cultural and civilisational idea of the Russian world (after thirty years of self-identification as relying on the Western-style development of democracy and liberalism).

Second, the features of the civilisational system are determined by the political-geographical factor, namely, the quantity and quality of the civilisations surrounding it. For example, if you look in retrospect and take land borders as a basis, then Western civilisation (including the United States) borders mainly with Orthodox and Latin American cultural-historical types. At the same time, for example, the Slavic-Orthodox civilisation (the Russian World) is in direct contact with the Western, Islamic, Buddhist and Chinese civilisational systems.

Such political and geographical specifics have largely objectified, for example, the importance of the “Eastern question” for the West, and for Russia it mediated the prioritization of the bidirectional “West-East” paradigm in foreign policy (in the broad sense of these terms, including, for example, the concept of the East as the Middle East, Central Asia and Far East). It can be assumed that it is precisely the under-reflection of the conditional “Eastern element”, in the Russian “historical jigsaw puzzle” that prevents it at certain stages of development from seeing the whole image of the civilisation of the Russian world.

Third, historical analysis and basic civilisational theories testify to the cyclical nature of the development of cultural-historical systems (internal aspect). At the same time, if we consider the nature of the interaction of civilisational systems in historical dynamics with each other (external aspect), then we should also talk about the presence of supercycles of world development.

Thus, the conditional super-cycle of the “Eastern tide” in the Eurasian space (the activity of the Arab Caliphate, the Chinggisid Empire) was replaced by the “Western tide” (from the Renaissance to the present). Now, apparently, a new super-cycle of the “eastern tide” has begun (with the gradual weakening of the Western civilisational system).

Slavic-Orthodox civilisation has found itself at the epicentre of the impact of these “civilisational waves”. Together with the political and geographical position of Russia and the expanding influence of China and India (which are the drivers of the growing strength of the “eastern wave”), this suggests that we will inevitably be in the centre of another historical whirlpool. In fact, apparently, Russia has already been in its active phase since March 2014, and all subsequent events related to this in the geopolitical sense are among the local manifestations of the counter-movement of the “eastern wave” in the Western direction.

Fourth, each civilisation, when interacting with the external environment (other systems), has a set of the most effective tools for such interaction. The set and content of tools depends on the context of historical development, the characteristics of the civilisational system (values and traditions, ideological narrative, cultural specifics, intellectual potential, etc.), as well as the nature and dynamics of relations with neighbouring civilisational communities.

If we talk about a conditional Slavic-Orthodox civilisation, then Russia historically uses a specific set of tools that are most effective for it: military-political means (diplomacy, army and navy); cultural and ideological tools (including art, philosophy and religion); and economic tools (mainly the resource base). At the same time, the foundation is the powerful human capital and intellectual potential of the Russian World (in the broad ethnic sense of the term).

Fifth, depending on the life cycle of a civilisational system, its development, ideological goal-setting, and susceptibility to external influences, all civilisations can interact with each other in the following main formats: antagonism (of varying degrees and nature), conditional neutrality, or pronounced cooperation. The intensity of the interaction of civilisations at the same time stimulates the inevitable diffusion and mutual influence of communities. With this in mind, and depending on the era (for example, the Middle Ages or the global modern world), the image of the authenticity of civilisations may change, but the nodal dominants, proven over the centuries, maintain the homeostasis of the corresponding systems. Therefore, at a moment in time, even in the conditions of the dominance of one or another civilisational model, this state of affairs does not lead to the notorious “end of history”.

The identification of the nature, dynamics and prospects of the interaction of civilisational systems with each other should be based on a historical analysis of the specifics of relations between communities. A retrospective assessment of long-term interaction cycles makes it possible to identify its fundamental patterns and form a long-term relationship strategy. An analysis of modern history makes it possible to adjust the long-term strategy of relations, taking into account the conjunctural features of the activity of civilisations in the external environment.

Thus, in the further formulation by Russia of its foreign and domestic policies in the context of the growing multipolarity of the world, it is advisable to take into account the number of other features of the functioning civilisational systems, and the civilisational approach itself is actively developed and applied as one of the promising integrated tools in the practice of state building.

Economic Statecraft
A State as Civilisation and Political Theory
Ivan Timofeev
For a long time, Russia preferred to rely on the principles of realism in foreign policy. However, the very fact that Russia has thrown an open challenge to the United States and its allies in the situation around Ukraine is a significant precedent. If the “Russian rebellion” is not suppressed, the blow to US prestige could be extremely painful. Such a blow would not necessarily bring down the US leadership. However, it can become a factor in its erosion, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Ivan Timofeev.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.