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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Increasing Supply on the World Values Market

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The Russian diplomatic corps recently published a review of the country's foreign policy. This curious document represents a code of political directives to provide guidance for those working on the international stage in Russia. A tour through this document provides interesting insights into both the country's current political course and the attitudes of the foreign policy establishment.

European diplomats are usually more interested than their Russian counterparts in debating what the foundation of relations between two countries should be. Moscow's position is generally that relations should be built on the basis of the two sides' interests, while their counterparts in European capitals are more likely to insist that policy should be designed on the basis of values. This is clear from the foreign policy report, as the term "interests" appears nearly 100 times, while the word "values" shows up on a mere four occasions.

The phrase "common values" appears only once, in connection with Russia's relations with the European Community -- a subject impossible to address without paying at least some lip service to values. In other places where the term appears, the context seems to suggest that values are a point of divergence between Russia and the West. The report is critical of attempts to introduce "a single system of values" into the United Nations' activities, talks about the need to preserve the "civilized values of different cultures," and concludes that the "values, orientation and models of development" are becoming "points of competition."

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in recent comments, set out this position more pointedly: "For the first time in years, a character of competition has appeared in the market of ideas to govern the world order at its current stage of development." Lavrov's use of market terminology is a good indication of the greater orientation on the part of the country's political leaders toward ideas of competition rather than philosophical discussions of Russia's "unique values."

The Kremlin increasingly responds to complaints from Western diplomats that Russian policy does not adhere to any set of fixed values with either justifications or open irritation. The strengthening of the country's economic position has been accompanied by a growing indifference to this theme: "Let them bad-mouth us," they seem to say. "We know that the real motive for raising humanitarian issues is to weaken our position."

This sense of economic well-being seems to have generated a new level of self-satisfaction. Surveying the problems developed countries are encountering in their attempts to build the modern world, Russia now has confidence in its right to offer its own alternative to the reigning values paradigm. The first step has been to reject what others refer to as "universal" values.

Discussions about value orientations are often quite abstract and can easily do more to confuse than clarify the situation. The simple use of the word "values" in relation to practical politics can mean a dead end for any dialogue.

When Russian officials talk about values, the conversion immediately turns to global themes like culture, religion and history. From this point of view it is difficult to find common values, as just about every nation has a certain image of itself as the unique owner and defender of a certain set of traditions. As the number of civilizations has continued to multiply, this has led to the fragmentation of these values and, in extreme cases, generated dogmatic instances of national exclusion.

What the European Union labels "values," to which it expects its partners to adhere, are essentially a set of applied principles determining the organization of society and politics. It would be impossible for the EU to try to operate on the basis of the most common Russian understanding of values. There is just no way to get Estonians and Greeks, Swedes and Italians, or the Portuguese and Finns to line up under one cultural-historical and religious banner. The problem is even more serious for the United States, which rose to prominence partly by rejecting a host of traditions and principles fundamental to Old World conceptions. The United States wouldn't be able to gain membership in the EU even if it wanted to, as it is not in line with a broad range of EU criteria.

So what the EU means when it refers to European values is an extremely pragmatic set of rules uniting more than two dozen very diverse peoples. You might even say that these rules are the only thing uniting them. These have been adopted in Europe not because they correspond to the specific traditions of the different member "civilizations," but because they have proven to be the most effective method of maintaining the order, balance and continuity of authority across the European spectrum. It is a purely rational choice, without any sentiment involved whatsoever.

Democracy, in this light, is nothing more than a mechanism for organizing the political process. The idea of a society based on laws suggests the existence of a functioning justice system and the necessary relationships between it and other public institutions. Freedom of speech is a framework of conditions for facilitating -- albeit imperfectly -- the transfer of information and for providing at least some oversight of the authorities. There are similar explanations behind all of the values the EU regularly expounds.

Which of Russia's value orientations runs counter to the above-listed mechanisms? Have systems based on strong authority ever proven to be a blessing for our "civilization?"

What the Russian side ends up doing is suggesting alternative orientations. The lack of well-developed civil society -- which makes it difficult to apply European principles -- is explained away as a result of the incompatibility of Russian mentality with "Western recipes."

Europe has to some degree fallen victim to the same kind of narcissism. In a departure from its usual rationalism, the Old World has tried to transform its practical principles of self-organization into a dogmatic system that it is now attempting to impose on its neighbors, regardless of whether those countries are ready to assimilate this system or not. When you add the United States to the picture, with its attempt to spread its model by military force -- and with shoddy results -- then the devaluation of Western ideas is easy to see.

Sooner or later, Russia's foreign policy community will come to the conclusion that these notorious "values" represent an opportunity to pursue our "interests," though not because hypocritical rhetoric provides the country with cover for cynical motives. This will happen for the simple reason that it is the easiest approach to take.

None of this will bring an end to discussion of Russia as a unique civilization, of course, but it will be a sign that the country's leaders have passed out of the initial stages of capitalism and stopped looking at everything as somehow market related.

Fyodor Lukyanov is editor of Russia in Global Affairs.