Modern Diplomacy
What’s Next: The Long Year 2022

The year 2022 will be long because none of the actors in this crisis seems to have any intention of laying down arms and starting negotiations. Everyone believes that time is on their side and has some reason for this. Therefore, the long 2022 is the year of guns. Time for diplomacy will come later, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.

If you try to describe 2022 in three terms, they would be “unpredictability”, “opportunity” and “determination”. Perhaps it is these feelings that now guide the main participants in the biggest international crisis of our generation. They seem to rely on the words of Winston Churchill: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” One gets the impression that no one expected this crisis, but everyone met it with such enthusiasm that they are in no hurry to complete it.

The breakthrough of accumulated contradictions makes the Ukrainian crisis a very special one in the galaxy of regional crises which have taken place over the past 70 years. It clearly reveals not only the bottlenecks of the post-Cold War international system, but also the motives of its participants, who are looking for new opportunities in this crisis to increase their influence in the 21st century.

The axes of contradictions between the participants in this crisis are numerous. There is the Russia-USA axis, whose systemic conflict has become one of the main themes of international relations over the last 20 years. There is also the Russia-Ukraine axis, where a process of nation-building is taking place in each of the countries. At the same time, Ukraine at a certain moment made joining the West one of the key objectives of its strategy, and now, amid the wreckage, it is seeking to realise this goal at all costs. Russia’s relations with all its neighbours are also being strength-tested. With some, like Belarus, China and North Korea, relations are being strengthened, while with others, new foundations are being laid and the old ones are being tested.

Lines of rivalry are also emerging within the West, albeit not so obviously. The Western camp can roughly be divided into three main groups: the radical Eastern Europeans and Britain, the cautious Western Europeans, and opportunist Hungary and Turkey. Each group and each country sees its tasks in its own way. In a crisis, they compete with each other for the attention of the United States and for the best place in the 21st century.

All of them, with the possible exception of the opportunists, share a common logical fallacy present in countries with frequent electoral cycles: they put politics ahead of strategy, and are often driven by a sense of their own moral superiority, rather than the intention to achieve a reliable and long-term strategic result.

The international crisis of 2022 has also been a test for US relations with its long-term partners: the Arab countries, Turkey and India, which in the new international situation are looking for opportunities to sell their support to the United States at a very high price, or to wait for the necessary time to see which side will gain an advantage, to eventually join the winner.

Each of the countries participating in this crisis, which is becoming more and more international or even global, entered with its own vision of the international situation and its own strategy. The current crisis is a test of these strategies, and in cases where they are not successful enough, countries seem to be guided by another thought of Winston Churchill. On the margins of one of his speeches, he once wrote: “Weak argument: talk loudly.” Now there are significantly more of these loud voices, and less of a strategic vision.

The year 2022 will be long because none of the actors in this crisis seems to have any intention of laying down arms and starting negotiations. Everyone believes that time is on their side and has some reason for this. Therefore, the long 2022 is the year of guns. Time for diplomacy will come later. However, it will return, since every war ends with negotiations. So, Russia and Turkey hold a characteristic record from the Guinness Book of Records: the largest number of wars with each other.

Modern Diplomacy
On Whose Side Is Time in the Confrontation between Russia and the West?
Andrey Sushentsov
The new international economic reality that Russia found itself after February 24 has already been in existence for more than half a year. An analysis of what happened during this time leads to several thoughts.

For now, diplomacy should focus on the two immediate common goals of all opposing sides. The first is conflict management. The second is preventing escalation to nuclear war. The episode of a Ukrainian missile hitting Polish territory and killing several Polish citizens, and the subsequent strong reaction from the United States, which put the right emphasis on this incident, pointing out that Ukraine was the cause of it, demonstrated that Washington still intends to keep this confrontation with Russia under control and not to allow the countries of Eastern Europe or Ukraine itself to seize the initiative in this confrontation. Ukraine must be aware that it is only an instrument of the United States in the fight against Russia and, at the same time, the battlefield in this fight.

The growing shortage of Western negotiating partners is also lengthening the duration of the conflict. If we think of this crisis as a chess game, then the player from the Western side is firmly convinced that white pieces are better than black ones. This moralising or selfish self-righteousness rejects the realistic foundations of any peace process, as these are effective and sustainable only if they have long-term goals and rely on empathy and the ability to put oneself in the opponent’s shoes. The world, in its final configuration, is stable only when it is based on balances and justice. In chess, it is not the loudness of the voice that is more important, but the theoretical preparation of the player, his experience playing with different opponents, emotional stability and stress resistance.

As Soviet military leader and military theorist Georgiy Isserson once wrote: “No head of government, no matter how brilliant he may be, can do anything at the beginning of the war if before the war he did not have, and by the beginning of the war he does not have, an initiative and intelligence, guided by the far-sighted forecasting and advanced military theory of the general staff.” In fact, the current crisis is a competition between the strategic communities of each side. It vividly demonstrates which of the countries has such a kind of “general headquarters” and which countries do not; that is why they are de facto forced to delegate the adoption of key decisions to other participants in the crisis. The long year 2022 will go down in the history of international relations as a milestone crisis of the 21st century: trends are being laid that will be relevant throughout the rest of the century.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.