RFE/RL: Russia faces '100 years of solitude' or more, Putin aide says
A veteran adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin says that Russia has abandoned its centuries-long hopes of integrating with the West and is bracing for a new era of geopolitical isolation.
In an article for Russia In Global Affairs magazine released on April 9 and titled The Solitude Of A Half-Blood, Kremlin aide Vladislav Surkov wrote that "Russia's epic journey toward the West" is over, marking an end to its "repeated fruitless attempts to become a part of Western civilization" over four centuries, RFE/RL reported.
Relations between Moscow and the West are at lows not seen since the Cold War, severely strained by issues including Russia's takeover of Ukraine's Crimea region, its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, its role in Syria's seven-year conflict, and the poisoning of a Russian ex-spy in Britain last month.
Surkov, 53, a longtime Putin aide who served as his top domestic-policy strategist for many years and currently works as the presidential adviser on Ukraine, wrote that the 2014 split with the West over Ukraine marked the beginning of a new era in which Russia faces "100 years (200? 300?) of geopolitical solitude."
Russia's seizure of the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine severely strained Moscow's ties with the West and led to U.S. and European Union sanctions that, together with a slump in global oil prices, sent the Russian economy into a two-year recession.
The Minsk accords, Western-backed cease-fire-and-peace deals signed in September 2014 and February 2015, have not ended the conflict in Ukraine's east, where fighting between government forces and separatists has killed more than 10,300 people.
With Russia's hopes of rapprochement growing dimmer as conflicts have flared with the West, the country is increasingly looking inward as well as eastward, rather than toward the West, Surkov said.
He cited the saying in Russia that the country has "only two allies: the army and the navy."
"Solitude doesn't mean complete isolation," Surkov wrote, but he said Russia's openness would be limited in the future.
"Russia without doubt will engage in trade, attract investments, exchange know-how, and fight wars...compete and cooperate, cause fear, hatred, curiosity, sympathy, and admiration," Surkov wrote. "But without false goals and self-denial."
The journey that Surkov said Russia had traveled to some degree mirrors the evolution of Putin's own outward attitude toward the West.
Putin engaged with the West after his first election in 2000, but later grew increasingly critical of the United States, the EU, and NATO. He now frequently accuses them of shunning Moscow's offers of cooperation, fostering hostility, and trying to sideline and weaken Russia.
Surkov's article was published three days after the United States imposed new sanctions on more than two dozen tycoons, security officials, and politicians thought to have close ties to Putin, in an attempt to punish Moscow for what the U.S. Treasury chief called "malign activity around the globe."
It also followed rare criticism of Putin from U.S. President Donald Trump over Russia's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Surkov recalled what he said were futile attempts at Westernization by past Russian rulers, writing that Russia once attempted to imitate the United States and "edge into the West."
He attributed Russia's fascination with joining the West to "excessive enthusiasm" by Russia's elite. But he said that fervor was now all but gone.
Surkov, who was first deputy Kremlin chief of staff from 1999 to 2011, was the architect of "managed democracy" – his term for a policy under which Putin tightened control over Russian politics and society in his first two terms, in 2000-08.
He has many interests outside or alongside politics and has written novels, essays, and song lyrics.
In the article, he describes Russia as a kind of "mixed breed" culture that incorporates elements of both the East and the West, like "someone born of a mixed marriage."
"He is everyone's relative, but nobody's family. Treated by foreigners like one of their own, an outcast among his own people. He understands everyone and is understood by no one. A half-blood, a half-breed, a strange one," he wrote.
He said it was up to the Russian people whether Russia now becomes "a loner in a backwater" or "an alpha nation that has surged into a big lead" over other nations.
"It's going to be tough," he said, but Russia faces a long journey "through the thorns to the stars."
"It'll be interesting," Surkov wrote. "And there will be stars."