The Russian Empire is gone and it is never coming back. This is one of the many assertions that Dmitri Trenin makes in his new book Post-Imperium. The book also discusses the steps Russia must take as a post-imperial nation to quickly modernize lest it becomes marginalized in the evolving global order.
On Thursday, November 17, 2011, the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy held a book rollout for the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center Dmitri Trenin’s new book Post-Imperium. The Carnegie-Tsinghua Center’s director Paul Haenle moderated the event.

The Meaning of Post-Imperium

  • Russia’s Decline: St. Basil’s Cathedral sits prominently in Red Square, a symbol of the birth of the Russian Empire. According to Dmitri Trenin, 1991 was the beginning of Russia’s decline. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Empire disappeared and there will be no attempt by Russia to recreate it.
  • Russian Reinvention: More recently, Russia has been trying to reinvent itself as a great power. This has included attempts to move toward the West both by Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin. It has also meant a shift in Russian foreign policy away from dominant power politics. Domestically, Russia is no longer monolithic, but rather a collection of individuals living in a private world away from the collective public consciousness that once prevailed. Also, according to Filip Noubel, endemic corruption has become a feature of the Russian political system, not just a temporary bug.
  • Russia’s Future: According to Trenin, the post-imperium Russian society needs to transform into a republic; there needs to be more cohesion. Internationally, Russia must redefine itself as a Euro-Pacific nation. It can do so by shifting focusing instead on its eastern coastline and to cities like Vladivostok. Vladivostok is Russia’s window to Asia and can be “Russia’s 21st century capital” – a move that Trenin was convinced that Peter the Great would make if he were alive today. He went on to say, “the more flags that come to visit Russia in Siberia, the higher the Russian flag will fly.” If Russia does shift its focus to the east, it can become a useful and important member of the international community.

Aspects of Russia’s Foreign Policy

  • Soft power: In order to be able to project soft power, a nation must first find its own values and culture attractive. Once this is achieved, then this culture will be attractive to others. Trenin believes that this is at the root of Russia’s lack of soft power. Russia is not producing cultural figures, such as Dostoyevsky and Pushkin, like it did in the 19th and 20th centuries. There is also a lack of an educational system that attracts foreign students.
  • The Future of U.S.-Russian Relations: According to Trenin, the United States has much to offer to Russia. However, at the moment, Russia is not attractive to the United States. It lacks appeal as a trade partner and is no longer a threat to U.S. security. This relationship will change when the United States begins to view Russia as an opportunity.
  • The Future of Sino-Russian Relations: Trenin gave credit to the Russians for allowing China to surpass it as a world power, while Paul Haenle questioned if Russia had the right approach on China. Professor Wang Qi expressed the presence of resentment of Chinese living and working in Russia; Trenin responded that this was due to a feeling of a lack of competitiveness. Li Xiaohong mentioned that China and Russia need to cooperate to ensure the safety of the world.
While the days of Russian dominance are over, there remains potential for Russia’s global leadership to develop. Although future global dominance is impossible, there remain several strategic routes for Russia to take in furthering its global influence. In Post-Imperium, Dmitri Trenin outlines many of these policy prescriptions.