Viktor Kogan-Yasny: Two Years On

23 February 2024

by Viktor Kogan-Yasny


The Absence of a Post-Soviet Idea

What is happening now is an immense crisis of worldviews and a challenge. There was something similar at the end of the classical Soviet regime, when Sakharov proposed the idea of a balance between East and West based on respect for human rights, as understood in the categories of those times. It was an idea that was sufficiently general and at the same time sufficiently specific, ‘standardised,’ to be realistic. It was, significantly, taken up by Gorbachev who gave it a practical impulse.

What subsequently happened was simply that the USSR lost the Cold War (disintegration taking the form of an avalanche, the GKChP, the Belovezha Accords, the system of ruling Russia that developed after that), and the West took to gloating over this situation.

In the post-Soviet countries there was a complete lack of ‘their own ideas’, as all plans for transformation and global balance were built on a huge scale, in terms of ‘West – East’, the ‘USSR’, and were not applicable for use on the smaller scale of individual countries – Tajikistan, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia. The result was what we have now.

Now it is extremely difficult to generate any workable ideas, because any idea that is based on the least respect for human dignity and involves a significant scale of action, in today’s conditions will find few supporters and at the same time a mass of hysterical opposition – those who are ‘offended’ by the idea – and a total amorphousness that leads inevitably to failure. Such is the situation.


The Price of Victories Won in the Past

The world is devouring itself.

When it became clear that there could be no sustainable peace or trust directly between Russia and Ukraine – since the leading social and political groups in the societies of both countries are diametrically opposed – then ‘peace through intermediaries’ had to be arranged. This was to be the role of powerful centres of political influence that would take into account both the aspirations of political Ukraine and the concerns of political Russia, and step by step would help to find a balance, the alternative to which is the killing of people. This should have been done after 2014, in an active and responsible manner. The ‘developed civilizations’ should categorically not have been arrogant and taken the view that those with whom they disagree could be treated as political marginals with no future.

After what was made possible in 2022 by the will of some, and the careless omission of others, the application of thought and a sense of responsibility became far more important. Given any conscientious and impartial view at the situation, proposals to ‘simply fight’ and seek ‘victory on the battlefield’ as an ideology would have appeared senseless and irresponsible.  What kind of leader of a ‘major power’ are you if you see only one facet of what is happening? If you see only the present, when you have been given your position to see different things, even if you do not do it well, and to look towards the future?… Aggression remains aggression, requiring an accurate historical assessment above all by the side that carried it out, and crimes will always be crimes requiring investigation and justice, no matter how unrealistic such may seem.. . But what folly to juggle with these tragic concepts and fail to see, not consider, what will happen in six months time, in a year, in ten years? Life is always in motion, cannot be frozen; only death is without motion.

People pay the price for the triumphant celebration of victories won in the past, and society suffers incurable wounds. And the price of ‘celebrating future victories today’ is that those who now walk the earth will be killed for the sake of fanciful plans and the habits of triumphalism. The emergence of trust between belligerents and bringing those who benefit from war, including from war as such, to commit to peace will not happen simply because someone signed something. Peace is not a phrase or a solemn treaty. It is a process that requires commitment. It is a process that certainly requires at least as much work and courage as the simple bureaucratic decisions of waging war.

Officials take care of themselves, leaving to their descendants (those who will come after them) the insoluble problems of a serious shortfall in the population, a catastrophic degradation in civic culture, and the rupture of global civilization on the principle of ‘if I don’t want to notice you, then you don’t exist.’ A ceasefire, a strategic truce (there are many synonyms, and there is an unjustifiable allergy to each of the usual bureaucratic kind: some words being ‘forbidden’) is the only way to try to find an alternative to the global madness which has results that cannot even be predicted, except that there will be bloodshed and destruction. If those who are obliged to look for difficult solutions and difficult ways out of a crisis, and who have the authority to do so, categorically refuse to do so, then the responsibility for the people around them who are forced to take the path they lay down, for the future hopelessness and ‘unexpected results,’ lies with them.


On Military Diplomacy

Until diplomatic dialogue between the U.S. and Russia is restored, there can be no reasonable solution to ending the war in eastern Europe. Things will only remain as bad as they are. Maybe too many people are happy with that state of affairs, I don’t know. I’m not happy with a situation where loss of life is the norm for solving distant problems of dubious value. Russia is not ‘Dahomey with missiles’, its internal problems are not of the kind that from its total and ever-increasing isolation will weaken it in terms of its military capabilities. One need only look at a map to see that.  The ‘technical’ philosophy of ‘containing Russia’, based on the idea that weapons and sanctions did not help before, but this will all be improved, and then in a year or two ‘we will win, we will overcome them, and we’ll forget what their names even were, etc.’, smacks of exceptional provincialism, parochialism, lack of moral responsibility and professionalism . All sorts of leaders think that they can get away with this, but they are wrong. Yet it’s true, pitying them is the last thing to do. (Leaders are sentimentally pitied by that half of humanity which is ready to forget about all the others.)


On Fragmentation

What I do is to sometimes write about things that have to do with limiting bloodshed in the present and strategically eliminating it in the future. To write in dry language because it is ‘work.’ Political leaders, military chiefs, and war correspondents relate in dry language how many have been killed and how many more should be killed. They know of no other way to achieve their goals. Well, forgive me, but I’m the opposite.

And now here’s what it’s about. From two sides, from the Russian side and from the Ukrainian-Western side, the OSCE is actually being destroyed. Tactically, almost no one needs it now. There is a strong impulse to fragment Europe for many years to come, at the level of ideology. This is a formal strategic dogma, not just tactically, but fundamentally to build the security of the West without Russia and against Russia, and the security of Russia – without the West and against the West. To do all this according to the model formed under Stalin in the years 1949-53, but to do it now, in the twenty-first century: to create a kind of military-political ‘blood feud’ between Russia and the West.

This is extremely dangerous. It will do nothing but tighten the spirals of populism and authoritarianism. There will be no security; on the contrary, fragmentation will eventually begin to produce poorly predictable domino effects. The long-term strategic approach should be the exact opposite: strengthening the OSCE, forming, no matter how naive it may sound now, a philosophy of a common space of peace and security from Vancouver to Vladivostok, with the inclusion of Japan, China and Korea, countries that are now fully connected to Western Europe by systems of communication. The OSCE is the most important civilisational achievement of the last quarter of the last century. Respecting the OSCE and showing understanding for its significance have become signs that not all politics has yet dissolved into populist infantilism, that there is yet something adult and responsible that remains.


Kremlin Interview

The interview that Carlson did is very significant, and precisely in the form in which it was published. Western audiences and Western experts have not heard Putin directly addressing them, with competent simultaneous translation, in recent years. They judge by current events, for which he is primarily responsible, as they see it. But the author of the events is of little interest to them because they are sure of themselves. And yet there is something for them to think about, and to think a great deal.

It is this Putin that the whole world is really dealing with, not some other Putin, and this is not an empty space to be ignored. The current political West is hardly capable of comprehending Putin and what is behind him. The past quarter century has shown it is not capable. The swinging pendulum is not an instrument of meaning, it is an instrument of superficial activity, of false expectations and false conclusions. Scholz and Sunak described the interview as ‘ridiculous.’ It was anything but ridiculous. the real and existing Putin directly owns and manages the world’s greatest resource, no one else has anything like such a resource under their personal unqualified control. And people around look at it as if ‘it doesn’t exist because they don’t want to see it.’ Or as if it were the concentrated evil will of those people who have a Russian passport. It’s easier that way. And it’s so wrong. The problem is far too serious.


Political Instrumentalism

Instrumentalism – I take the term from the very respected philosopher Andrei Baumeister – emerged in the twentieth century among totalitarian groups that were yearning for power. Is everything bad? Yes? – Let’s fix this and then everything will be different, and better. Such an approach turned out to be the cause of grief for hundreds of millions of people. I shall not remind you how this came about. The visible result of such an approach is very similar, essentially the same: short- or medium-term tactical success followed by strategic defeat. Putin, who comes from the Soviet school of management, from the legacy of instrumental Bolshevism, is a complete instrumentalist in terms of his entire politics. Something is bad? Let’s solve it this way! That didn’t work out? I will instruct them to do it again. It failed again? We’ll figure out where the enemies are, why they interfered, taking the long historical perspective….

It would seem that nothing will work that way. Soon we shall be in the second quarter of this century and the whole world is like a glass house, in a bad enough state, of course, but still it would seem that the times of miserable hatred and sullen aggression have gone irrevocably, at least when every schoolchild has a good smartphone. Or so it would seem. But no! Years ago, it seemed that the world of movies and radio would allow us to forever move on from evil soulless decisions and choose the path of reason. But it turned out quite differently ..

I will not write again here about the past. But something needs to be said about what is happening now. The opponents of Putin and Xi Jingping in the world of free institutions are now very similar to them: instrumentalists, only otherwise ‘configured’. And the biggest, fatal misfortune is that their instrumentalism is built precisely on belief in the fundamental possibilities of democratic institutions, in their a priori power. They do not realize that these institutions themselves, deprived of fresh thought and a sense of personal responsibility, represent a strategic semantic dead end, perhaps one even greater than aggressive authoritarianism, because they are extremely difficult to fix, because they depend not on the one, but on the many.

A meeting was held, a decision was made. A year later it turned out that nothing had worked. They held the meeting again, again decided roughly the same thing, but changed the parameters – thinking this time things would work out differently. And again, and again. Meeting – financing – new meeting. And then – how come?! – we were honest, but it turned out to be a disaster.

And the thing is that on the other side is the enemy, with whom the battle has been going on for decades, with the battle as routine. A dead end from which there is no way out, one in which there is no future, only sprawling enmity and a massive psychological crisis of hostility and indifference.

Instrumentalism – authoritarian and popular

Authoritarian instrumentalism and ‘popular’ instrumentalism are organised differently. The former is a rigid, brutal ‘authoritarian corporatism’. All politics is managed exclusively by the group around one person, a group that makes up fifteen percent of the population and is the beneficiary of politics in every situation. The rest either submit to this group, or go through life with very limited opportunities, from prison to a squalid life of domestic hardship with no freedom and materially at or at best just above the subsistence level. In the second case, that of ‘popular’ instrumentalism, there is an independent public group of active supporters – ‘fans’. ‘Popular’ instrumentalism sharply, even hysterically tries to resist the authoritarian model in words and deeds, but in reality, due to the similarity of methodologies and hidden hypocrisy, it is ‘intrinsically’ incapable of such resistance, and, even when it does take up the right stick to join the fight, then – fatally – it takes hold of it at the wrong end…


Extra-historicity

During the twenty-five years of his rule, Putin’s extra-historicity and bureaucratic militarized eclecticism have dramatically affected the generation that grew up under him – first and foremost in Russia, but also significantly beyond its borders. Many people have begun to see even the recent past ‘in their own way’ to such an extent that it has become impossible to have a meaningful discussion with them. In fact, the substitution of substantive discussion by hysterics and hysteria is one of the ‘phenomenal achievements’ of the times, and one which vastly exceeds the limits and boundaries of Russia…. Fuelling fires with gasoline, treating the plague with drugs designed to deal with cholera  – these are the signs of our era.


Translated by Rights in Russia

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