By Somar Wijayadasa*
The 19th Annual Meeting of the Valdai Discussion Forum, titled “Peace after Hegemony: Justice and Security for all” was held in Moscow from October 24-27.
The meeting was attended by 111 international policy experts, politicians, diplomats and economists from 41 countries, including from France, Germany, and the United States.
The conference took place against the backdrop of a proxy war in Ukraine with no end in sight thanks to NATO’s incessant expansion to Russia’s borders; Russia’s desperate requests to US, and EU to provide guarantees on its national security issues.
Those were blatantly ignored by them, and more importantly by the United Nations forgetting that its Charter calls for the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means and without endangering international peace and security and justice.
The UN, once again, proved its absolute incompetence in solving international disputes before the warring parties end up in death and destruction.
President Vladimir Putin’s speech at the Valdai Forum cantered on the above issues and on the risks associated with the degradation of world institutions, and with the substitution of international law by so–called rules or the ‘rules based order’.
Drawing attention to the ‘doctrinal crisis’ of the ‘American-style’ unipolar model, Putin called upon the West to start talking to rising alternative canters of power. He noted that the ‘new world order’ that replaces the current one should be based on law, be free, original and fair.
Saying that “in the modern world, sitting aside is hardly an option” and reminding the proverb “he who sows the wind will reap the whirlwind” Putin pointed out that “the ongoing global crisis affects everyone and all aspects of life”.
Citing the famous 1978 ‘Harvard Speech’ by the Soviet-era dissident writer and philosopher Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who said that the West was suffering from “a blindness of superiority” Putin said that Solzhenitsyn believed that liberal democracies considered their system to be superior and believed that all nations strived to become like them.
Putin said, “this blindness, which Solzhenitsyn spoke about—openly racist and neo-colonial in nature—has already acquired simply ugly forms, especially after the so-called unipolar world emerged”.
Speaking about ‘traditional values’’ Putin said, “Those are not some fixed set of postulates that everyone should adhere to. They differ from the so-called neoliberal values because they follow from the tradition of a particular society, its culture and historical experience”.
This is natural, he said, because “it is the traditional societies of the East, Latin America, Africa, and Eurasia that form the basis of world civilization”.
Putin underscored that Russia, being an independent, distinct civilization, has never considered itself and does not consider itself an enemy of the West. There are “at least two Wests,” Putin said: “one is traditional and culturally rich and another one aggressive and neo-colonial, whose dictates Moscow will never accept”.
But today, he said, “the absolute majority of the world community demands democracy in international affairs, and does not accept any form of authoritarian diktat of individual countries or groups of states”.
Saying that “the US and NATO are fighting nothing short of a proxy war against Russia in Ukraine” Joe Siracusa, US politics expert and professor of History and Diplomacy at Curtin University, Australia, said, “Putin’s speech was very moderate and balanced” and that “the speech was an opportunity to re-engage with Russia”.
Putin reminisced “Even at the height of the Cold war, at the peak of the confrontation of systems, ideologies and military rivalry, no one even thought of denying the very existence of culture, art, science of other peoples—their opponents. It never even occurred to anyone!”.
But nevertheless, Putin said, “Both Soviet and American leaders of that time had enough understanding that the humanitarian sphere should be treated delicately, studying and respecting the opponent, sometimes borrowing something from the opponent in order to preserve at least for the future the basis for sound, fruitful relations”.
In this respect, I wish to remind that during the Cold War, the US and the Soviet Union cooperated in many great projects including working together through numerous bilateral arms reduction treaties to reduce their stockpile of nearly 70,300 nuclear warheads to a total of 13,865—still ample to scorch our earth—when compared to the two American atomic bombs that scorched Hiroshima and Nagasaki killing 140,000 and 74,000 people, respectively.
The Americans and Soviets also partnered in many mutually beneficial scientific and educational projects such as Russia’s former Mir space station, swapped seats on NASA’s Space Shuttle and Russia’s Soyuz rocket, jointly worked on the Apollo-Soyuz test project, and are still working together to keep the International Space Station operational.
Those were the good old pragmatic days when we had sagacious politicians engaging in the concepts of ‘detente’ and ‘peaceful coexistence’ and those worked for peace and prosperity of all mankind.
Putin said, “I am convinced that true democracy in a multipolar world first of all presupposes the possibility of any people in any society, any civilization to choose their own path, their own socio-political system”.
He believes, “If the United States and the European Union countries have such a right, then Asian countries, Islamic states, the monarchies of the Persian Gulf, and states of other continents certainly have this right. Of course, our country, Russia, has it, and no one will ever be able to dictate to our people what kind of society and on what principles we should build”.
Referring to Putin’s comment “there is no unity in the so-called West and that it is a very complex conglomerate”, Professor Robert Singh, a specialist in contemporary US politics at Birkbeck, University of London, admitted “the West is divided and no one benefits from the current impasse, other than arms manufacturers”.
According to Prof. Singh, cooperation between Russia and Western states is urgently needed given the number of climate, health, economic, social and geopolitical challenges. Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden continues to see the situation “as a test of democratic virility” within the framework of a “democracy-autocracy” dichotomy. “Russia is simply too big and important to be ignored” argued Singh.
In 2000, when Putin was elected President in Russia’s first democratic transfer of power, the US President Bill Clinton proclaimed that Putin was “fully capable of building a prosperous, strong Russia, while preserving freedom and pluralism and the rule of law”.
Putin indeed injected law and order into the society, rebuilt its ruined economy with liberal economic reforms, and revamped Russia’s unrivalled military complex to its former glory. To date, no other Russian leader has emerged who is able to preserve the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russia.
I say this because despite the insatiable desire of the West to depose President Putin from power, I can vouch that Russians love Putin as a strong leader who zealously protects Russia from foreign intervention.
Putin emphasized that “a direct threat to the political, economic, ideological monopoly of the West is that alternative social models may arise in the world—models that are more effective, and attractive than those that exist today, and this is inevitable”.
According to Putin, “Humanity now has two paths it can pursue: either to continue accumulating the burden of problems that will inevitably crush us all, or to try to find solutions together that are capable of making our world more stable and safer”.
Saying that he believes in common sense and convinced that sooner or later both the new canters of power in the multipolar world and the West will have to start talking as equals about the common future for us, Putin urged the West “to talk to the rest of the world on equal terms and work together to solve pressing global issues”.
It is evident from the above that President Vladimir Putin offered the olive branch.
I hope President Joe Biden accepts it to bring peace to this world.
* Somar Wijayadasa, an international lawyer was a Faculty Member of the University of Sri Lanka (1967-1972), worked for IAEA and FAO (1973-1980), delegate of UNESCO to the UN General Assembly (1980-1995), and was the Representative of UNAIDS at the United Nations from 1995-2000