Humor and dignity as Russia's new weapon, by Timofey Bordachev, Programme Director of the Valdai Club, for VZGLYAD. 02.23.2024.
Russia does not suffer from low self-esteem and is ready to contrast the unique foreign policy style of the United States with something that world politics has not yet known - calm self-confidence and emphasized correctness in relation to any interlocutor.
The fact that almost any statement by state leaders and diplomats now immediately becomes the property of the media and public attention has a bad effect on the quality of international politics. Firstly, because it often forces politicians in the West to think about the form rather than the content of their statements. Secondly, because it creates a false impression among observers of complete transparency of the process and thereby leads to inflated expectations.
But there are times when publicity makes it possible to return elements of living human participation to an area of activity that at one time seemed like a boring task for professionals. In earlier times, when foreign policy was handled by monarchs, this was an important part of communication between peoples. However, at that time the exchange of caustic pleasantries remained hidden from the general public and came to us only in later memories. Now, vibrant individual style is returning, sung by democratically elected leaders. It is all the more pleasant when it manifests itself not in the form of offensive attacks, but with elegance and dignity inherent in Russia’s position in world affairs.
This was precisely the response of the Russian President to a journalist’s question about recent offensive statements addressed to him by the head of the American state. Let us note that the Russian Embassy in the United States, in turn, sent an official protest and characterized Biden’s words as a manifestation of “powerlessness and lack of common sense.” But this is a matter for diplomats, who do not have the right to ignore any manifestations of disrespect for our country.
President Putin, in turn, limited himself to reminding how difficult the internal situation in the United States is. And with his characteristic humor, he noted that Biden’s words confirmed the correctness of the fact that “Joe” is the most understandable and predictable American leader for Russia. And in general, according to the head of the Russian state, Biden’s abuse of him is an acknowledgment of the correctness of such an assessment, an outburst adequate to the position of the American leader, and even an expression of gratitude.
It must be said that American statesmen are not particularly used to being shy in expressing their emotions. This appears to be part of the existing political culture there, which was formed at a considerable geographical distance from the main centers of civilization in Europe and Asia. A society that is isolated and lives with the feeling of a “besieged fortress” does not have the opportunity to come into contact with other cultures on a regular basis. It concentrates on its experiences, which are often not interesting and incomprehensible to others, and cultivates behavioral characteristics that look quite extravagant against the general background.
However, when such an isolated nation has a significant population and almost the most serious military and economic capabilities in the world, such eccentricities are forgiven. Everyone else gets used to making exceptions, and the Americans themselves have developed a feeling that they really are allowed everything. Their political rhetoric is isolated from the rest of the world and provides it with absolutely nothing useful. Moreover, for quite a long time the only ones who spoke the same language with the Americans were states that were revolutionary in their spirit, but were much inferior to them in military strength.
Iranian leaders after the 1979 revolution called the United States “the great Satan,” and the North Korean media regularly gives the harshest assessments to Americans. However, their use of the same rhetoric, as the United States constantly does, was often perceived by others as a sign of weakness rather than strength. And in principle, in order to put someone in their place, it is not at all necessary to use the same expressions. We know this from school.
Now we see that Russia, in the person of its president, is quite capable of doing without counter-battle. But it is brilliant to demonstrate that one of the most important laws of international politics says: the capabilities of one state end where another can oppose them with something.
Now Russia is contrasting the unique foreign policy style of the United States with something that world politics has not yet known - calm self-confidence and emphasized correctness in relation to any interlocutor. When combined, these two stylistic features are an exceptionally rare phenomenon and stand out from everything else we encounter in public displays of global diplomacy. For example, it is completely unusual for Chinese behavior: in the event of such attacks from the Americans, Chinese leaders prefer to remain mysteriously silent, and only representatives of the Chinese Foreign Ministry take the floor. This is a special Chinese diplomatic style, reflecting the culture and internal structure of our close friends and allies.
Everyone else is generally timid and pretends that they have not heard offensive remarks addressed to them. This is especially true for US allies. Thus, there is a well-known example when, after the protest in Paris over the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice publicly said that “France missed the opportunity to remain silent.” The French, who are supposed to never mince words, preferred to pretend that they had not heard. In reality, they were simply afraid to enter into a discussion, knowing that they would lose. And they will receive a dozen more insults, to which they will definitely not be able to respond. The fact that the United States is capable of such insults was demonstrated to Europeans in the spring of 2014 by the example of statements made by one of the American representatives in Ukraine. In other words, the United States has long been accustomed to not mincing words with its allies, but they take it for granted.
Unlike China, where the leader is a celestial being, or Europe, which has quietly come to terms with American behavior, Russia is a modern, open country, but not one that suffers from low self-esteem. Our contribution to international politics is to make it democratic and open to open but respectful debate. This behavior is a kind of new sincerity and can serve as an example for the leaders of the countries of the World Majority. It is the opposite of the “sincerity” that we have seen over the past two years in statements by European leaders that support, for example, for the 2015 Minsk agreements was only a way on their part to give the Kiev regime a break to prepare for new aggression. Russia offers international diplomacy a new way of communication.
Our style meets the requirements of the time, when every word of statesmen becomes known and discussed. But at the same time, he maintains conservatism, which is important for such a sensitive area, in the use of words and definitions that are usually given to interlocutors. As the international order enters its most significant overhaul in centuries, the outlines of how we will do business in the future are taking shape. And in this sense, the new style of communication that Russia is demonstrating could become a significant contribution to what global diplomacy will become in the next decades.