Reflections on Russia in the World
Seventh Munich Young Leaders Reunion
From 7th – 9th September, the Munich Young Leaders Alumni held their 7th Reunion in Moscow. As in the years before, the reunion was prepared and organized by a team of the alumni themselves. For two days, the young leaders – comprising of more than 50 Russian and international experts from governments, parliaments, think tanks, journalism and businesses – spoke with members of politics, administration, civil society and economy in Moscow.
How does Russia define its role on the world stage? How is Russia perceived by foreign actors? And which positions define the debate within Russia’s civil society at present? These were the key issues at the heart of the discussions.
A day before the municipal elections in Moscow and further Russian regions, the young leaders spoke about the role of civil society and the opposition in social change, about the current economic and financial reform efforts, about Russia’s relationship with ‘The West’ and about Russia’s disinformation and hacking campaigns. It became apparent, especially in the discussions with members of civil society as in the discussion with Russia’s former Minister of Finance, Alexei Kudrin, that – contrary to foreign perception – there is a highly controversial domestic policy debate. The opinions greatly differed on the question, which actors would chiefly lead the way in the following 15 years. While some participants saw the Orthodox Church in the leading role, others underlined the role of grassroot movements or the reawakening of a pro-European identity.
In the session on Russia’s disinformation campaign and information warfare between Russia and ‘the West’, the participants discussed what political message Moscow would like to send to the world. The discussion revolved around the origins and objectives of Russian propaganda and Russia’s perception of European and US-American media. In this regard the participants argued whether it was legitimate to speak of information warfare or rather, from a Russian angle, to speak of a specific take on information policy. Some speakers underlined the importance to Russia of explaining itself rather than foreign experts explaining Russia to the world. Russia’s claim to be recognized as a great power in international politics clearly came to the forefront in this session.
Regarding Russia’s growing confidence on the world stage, the young leaders discussed in the session on foreign policy, what role Russia liked to take on in the international political arena. Moscow currently attempted to shape the world order to its benefit and frame itself as an indispensable international interlocutor, as became apparent in both Syria and Ukraine. Even if the Cold War had now become an issue of the past, Russia still viewed ‘the West’ as the ‘adversarial bloc’. However, Russia claimed to be a reactive actor in foreign policy, who had neither the capacity nor the will to take on a similar role to the USA on the world stage. The future of the European-Russian relations did not seem very bright to the international participants, who had come together from countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, America and the Middle East. The newest proposal of the Russian government to send UN blue helmets to Donbass would be regarded with a certain skepticism. This distrust were due to the principal erosion of the basis of trust among Russia and Europe since the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Photos: Maria Andreeva/Yurii Sergeev