Valdai: The Trumpet Call

The Valdai forum is more than 10 years old. It’s a specific formation, a kind of intellectual plankton consisting of a variety of experts, philosophers, academics, politicians and journalists from all over the world.

Writer Alexander Prokhanov on Putin’s principle for the Russian version of global governance.

The annual Valdai forum was held outside Sochi this year, in the Krasnaya Polyana mountains among the glittering snow-capped peaks, in an upscale Alpine-style hotel, whose decor and services demonstrate efficiency and respectability of the highest order.

The Valdai forum is more than 10 years old. It’s a specific formation, a kind of intellectual plankton consisting of a variety of experts, philosophers, academics, politicians and journalists from all over the world. This plankton communicates, creates complex associations during forum discussions and forms transitory teams and rapidly changing communities.

They shared their ideas and forecasts during the three days of the Valdai forum, thus generating a peculiar field of knowledge and ideas. Just like with a chemical solution, you can take samples of this field and learn what the modern world thinks about international and Russian politics. This forum can also be used to make serious statements, which instantly spread across the political and intelligence community, appearing in confidential reports and articles in major international newspapers.

This time, the forum focused on global governance. “The world order: New rules or no rules?” was the name of the meeting. It sparked numerous comments, discussions and debates, including disputes and antagonistic perspectives within the complex system of compromises that must be reached in order to be able to develop a collective view of the modern world.

The forum attracts top Russian officials in charge of political, economic and diplomatic processes unfolding in today’s Russia. Listening to these officials, one can learn about concepts and formulas that become elusive amid the flood of commentary that occasionally distort the real meaning of Russian politics. Each of the speakers was clearly aware of modern trends and sophisticated political and economic configurations. Some of their more sensational comments are unlikely to be heard during a regular news conference or read in a newspaper.

Speaking about the economic sanctions on Russia, one official said that the goal of these sanctions is to make the Russian people worse off, cause mass social unrest and riots, pit the people against Putin and deprive him of popular support, which went through the roof after Crimea. Instead, Putin's numbers have gone up in response to the sanctions, which were perceived by Russian society as offensive.

Discussing foreign policy, another Russian leader said that the world is changing so rapidly that its form and the fleeting pictures of reality elude understanding. Attempts to influence events in this rapidly changing world are often miscalculations or, at best, approximations.

The object of the influence is either slipping away, or the influence results in unintended consequences. This leads to chaos across the world. The United States, with its ambition to govern the world, instead disrupts the modern historical process to the point where it could result in catastrophe.

Another high-ranking Russian official believes that the current conflict between Russia and the Western world is not strategic but temporary, for Russia does not stand in opposition to Europe, but rather is a part of it. Presented with a tentative list of the core features of Russian culture drawn up at the forum, the official insisted on excluding “Russia is not Europe.” Despite the current difficulties, Russia’s European path was reaffirmed.

Another influential Russian official expressed a provocative point of view. I asked him whether an economic mobilization project was possible in Russia in light of the deteriorating economic situation, tightening sanctions, tanking ruble and negative economic growth. Usually, anyone who mentions mobilization projects is accused of Stalinism. This member of the Russian Government said that if we fail to encourage small and medium-sized businesses to accelerate innovation-based growth and let the stagnation continue, a mobilizing project is quite possible, and the government is openly debating it.

The remarks by President Putin were the highlight of the forum. He spoke in his usual dynamic manner, interspersing tough statements with artistic flourishes. He employed fun analogies and devices, funny and sometimes risqué jokes and examples from ancient history and philosophy. In general, his remarks were directed against US hegemony – the powerful force which, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the bipolar world, announced its ambition to direct history.

It has sought to control humanity and everything that happens in the world. However, this control was exercised in the interests of this hegemon without taking into account the interests of small and weak nations. The whole world was an object to be shaped (often crudely) on the hegemon’s lathe.

In today's world, the Americans are the source of countless disasters created by their use of force in different parts of the planet. The Americans are culpable of destabilizing vast areas throughout the Islamic world. They are also to blame for destabilizing the situation in Europe: first in Yugoslavia, and now in Ukraine.

Having shattered stable Arab regimes, the Americans were instrumental in creating the radical, efficient and ruthless Islamic State in the Arab world that is rapidly gaining strength and threatening humanity. By providing support to the coup in Ukraine, the Americans opened the door to destabilization and civil war there.

US influence on its allies in Europe has rattled the complex architecture of European stability that builds upon the interests of Russia and Europe, and it is beginning to fall apart. The American unipolar world has been a disaster for humanity. This unipolar, often blind and ineffective force will have to be replaced by new rules that will incorporate the interests of all humankind with all its complex polyphony of countries and cultures.

In his 2013 Valdai speech, President Putin opposed the West’s ethical nihilism, broken Christian traditions and infernal manifestations in culture, ethics and human relations. He contrasted this sodomite world with a world of conservative ideas about people, nature, the meaning of life and the meaning of civilization on Earth.

This time, there was no such contrast. However, his sharp criticism of the United States was a response to recent remarks by President Obama who said that Russia was among the biggest threats to international peace and stability.

Demonization of Russia is at the foundation of US policy toward Russia. Putin's speech was a counter-strike at America that didn’t use cruise missiles or ground forces. It was delivered not through political initiatives or retaliatory economic sanctions, but with ethical and psychological weapons. Putin’s counter-strike clearly resonated at the Valdai forum.

The evolution of President Putin’s speeches from the Munich conference to the last two Valdai forums suggests that he views the principle guiding the history of humanity as the desire for and steady movement toward justice. This principle of justice will govern the life of the Russian people and extend to all humankind.

It will be a kind of justice that engenders new rules and allow all civilizations and cultures to blossom in all their complexity – a justice which today is being trampled upon by one country that is so full of itself that it believes it knows everything and can continue unchecked.

This expectation of a new ideological formula and the hint of an ideological principle turned Putin's speech into the prelude of another speech that he will give soon. When such an ideological principle is proclaimed as the essence of Russian life, it will inevitably works its way into the social, economic and political fabric of our country. And when this principle is expressed in real terms, it can then be offered to all humankind as a Russian version of global governance based on justice, harmony and good.

Article was originally published in Russian on

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