The West vs. the Rest?

MOSCOW. (Ian Pryde for RIA Novosti) – President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is in Moscow this week on an official visit. He first met President Putin in 2005, and since then relations between the two countries have blossomed on the back of closer commercial ties based on energy and military equipment.

Chavez had barely arrived before he gave a typically anti-American speech and said how all of Venezuela had cheered when Putin gave his anti-NATO lecture in Munich earlier this year.

The Chavez line is that the rich countries, especially the former colonial powers, got rich by exploiting the rest of the world – his Moscow visit comes after several major global energy companies left Venezuela earlier in the week after refusing to be nationalized.

Of course, politicians from the third world and left-leaning Western intellectuals never mention the highly inconvenient fact that some of the richest countries in Europe, like Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Germany, had few, if any colonies.

Nor can countries such as Russia claim they are poor due to their (non-existent) colonial past.

It is an easy cop out to blame the West for the problems in the third world – but all too often, there is a refusal in less developed countries to tackle domestic problems which hinder progress and economic development.

Last Friday, for instance, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, who is responsible for Russia’s push to develop high-tech and nanotechnology, complained that Russia is not only not catching up with the west but is actually falling behind.

One of the major problems, he said, was “bottlenecks” in the system – and this is undoubtedly a legacy of the Soviet system and mentality – a problem which can also been seen in the business world as well.

So Russia – with a per capita GDP of around $5,000 – is in danger of even falling further behind the advanced West, where per capita GDP is usually at least $30,000 and often a lot higher.

Russia, like so many other countries outside the advanced West and Japan, is unable to put in place the right institutions which are conducive to making wealth.

And yet President Putin constantly asserts that Russia must play an equal role with the United States on the global stage.

But on what basis if not on the economy and institutions? The legacy of the Second World War and Russia’s seat on the UN Security Council as the successor state to the Soviet Union? Its ample supply of nuclear and conventional weapons? Russia’s past record as a cultural “superpower?”

These are hardly enough to fulfill the membership requirements to join the Western club.

Shift in power worries the West…

Western countries such as the United States and Germany, along with the IMF, are becoming increasingly concerned by the growing financial and economic clout of countries like China and Russia.

The investment bank Morgan Stanley has estimated the total assets of Chinese, Russian and Middle Eastern state-controlled funds at $2,500 billion (1,858 billion euros), while this week Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said that in terms of its stock market capitalization, Russia was now ranked 15th in the world.

And yet these countries can boast large economies more by virtue of huge mineral resources in the case of Russia and the Middle East and masses of cheap labor in the case of China and India.

… the rest of the world still lags behind

Big in the aggregate, some of them are behaving more and more like great powers – and indeed, they are.

And yet they still awfully poor compared to the rich West, and cannot boast a first-world developed and diversified economy and democratic and other institutions which come even close to Western standards.

Corruption by traffic police and bribe-taking among university lecturers in America and Western Europe is rare, for example; and yet these are a fact of daily Russian life, and endemic in the rest of the former Soviet Union as well.

But although corruption greatly diminishes Russia both at home and internationally, precious little attention is being paid to stamp it out.

Indeed, many Russians argue that it is so deeply embedded in Russia’s centuries-old culture that it will never disappear.

In other words, the old Western-Slavophile division seems alive and well in Russia.

Putin and many other Russians claim they are part of the civilized world and aspire to be accepted as equals by the West and especially the United States, and yet they are quick to criticize not only individual policies, such as the U.S.-U.K. invasion and occupation of Iraq, but also many of the very institutions upon which the West is built.

What goes around comes around

Russia’s aggressive rhetoric is now beginning to show diminishing returns – if indeed there were any returns in the first place, other than to those Russians who felt humiliated by the loss of status and influence after the demise of the Soviet Union.

As the Financial Times reported this week, even Western Europeans who don’t like the ruling Kaczynski twins in Poland are now beginning to give credence to their claims of an aggressive Russia.

Even worse, the West is already considering imposing sanctions on exporting high-tech to Russia – a move which will make it even harder for the country to ever catch up.

A few weeks ago, The Economist rightly pointed out that in foreign policy Russia was fixated with the United States.

Russia will always have problems with national security given its immensely long borders running from Norway and Finland to Korea and China via Central Asia.

But in terms of its economic progress – and the benefits it would acquire from greater understanding of how to use soft power – it would be far better advised to tackle its domestic problems to reduce corruption and graft, and put in place the infrastructure needed for people to make money.

Ian Pryde is CEO of Eurasia Strategy & Communications, Moscow.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

Originally written for Ian Pryde’s weekly column for the Opinion & Analysis section of RIA-Novosti’s English-language website.

Now available at https://sputniknews.com/amp/analysis/2007062968069316/, the site of the Sputnik news agency, the successor to Russian state-owned RIA Novosti’s international branch, which became defunct in 2013.

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