Kholmogorov is always fascinating. You can find his work on RI here. (Highly recommended)
When in Moscow a few weeks ago, I met the Russian conservative thinker Egor Kholmogorov.
Unfortunately, my interview of him was cut short after only about 5 minutes, but I was able to record an impromptu talk he gave at the conference we were both attending. So, below are the transcripts of both the short interview and Egor’s speech. In both of these, he explains his philosophy of ‘offensive isolationism.’
Paul Robinson (PR): I am writing a book on Russian conservatism and want to ask you to comment on several things that you have previously said. For instance, you say that Russia is an island and you speak of the necessity of Russian isolationism, but at the same time you talk of the strategy of ‘offensive isolationism.’ Can you comment on this apparent contradiction?
Egor Kholmogorov (EK): The point is that strategically, in terms of culture, as a civilization, as a state, Russia is interested in isolation. That is, as much as possible it shouldn’t intervene very much in world affairs. It shouldn’t be continually supporting the global balance by means of interventions in far away lands, especially as these are taking more and more absurd forms.
An example is the geopolitically-founded intervention in Syria. Now Russian Muslims are demanding that Russia should punish the regime of Myanmar. But Myanmar is completely irrelevant to the majority of Russian citizens. But there’s a problem connected with the fact that what we now call Russia came into being in 1991 in rather an absurd manner.
Russia as a subject of international law was decidedly smaller than Russia as a historical fact, as a historical territory, as a territory inhabited by Russians. Consequently, in our current objective circumstances, isolationism is impossible as we are under continual threat. American tanks are in Estonia, 100 kilometers from St Petersburg. NATO military bases might appear in Ukraine. Thus Russia is currently obliged to attack or counter-attack in some way, because it is objectively threatened.
PR: What do mean by the word ‘attack’?
EK: Spread our influence.
PR: Using soft power?
EK: Not necessarily. In some matters, I’m known as a fierce interventionist. When Ukraine is being discussed, I’ve always supported the firmest resolution of this problem, for the use of the Russian armed forces against the regime which has taken power in Kiev. Because it’s objectively criminal. It’s a country, a state, which can’t exist in its current form. Ukraine will either be an aggressor, which drags the West into war with Russia, or something will happen to it, like it will fall apart into two or more pieces.
Overall, this is indeed soft power, it’s about building a system of diplomatic coalitions, it’s about building a system of cultural influence, what’s called ‘the Russian world.’ For large parts of Asia and Europe, Russia culture is the means by which those areas are included in world culture. Take Moldova, for example. Moldova hasn’t joined the highest level of world culture via Shakespeare or Goethe, but via Pushkin, who lived for a long time in Kishinev, and so on.
If we talk about raising the quality of culture, the quality of life of the whole area known as the post-Soviet countries, a phrase I don’t like as I find the whole theme of the Soviet Union problematic, then their movement upwards, their development, are in one way or another connected with Russia, with Russian influence. Any attempt to orient them towards the West, or let’s say towards Saudi Arabia, will end in degradation, in catastrophe.
PR: But you were against the intervention in Syria.
EK: I wouldn’t say against. I was simply sceptical about it. So far nothing terrible has come of it. When I was asked if it would become a new Afganistan, I immediately replied that no, it wouldn’t, it’s a different geography, a different country. It’s just that in circumstances where Russia has a large number of urgent problems, in circumstances where it has the burdensome and still unresolved Ukrainian crisis on its borders, flying off to far off lands is senseless.
PR: What do you think of the idea that Russia is a distinct civilization? Are you are Russian nationalist who thinks ‘Russia for the Russians’ or are you a Eurasianist?
EK: I am definitely not a Eurasianist. I am a nationalist.
Egor Kholmogorov speech:
Given that I’ve been a political journalist for quite a long time, it seems to me that I can say a couple of words which won’t be at all trivial. Some time ago, about two years, I wrote an article in the journal Notebooks on Conservatism about Robert Kaplan’s book The Revenge of Geography. Robert Kaplan formulated a quite aggressive thesis that the difference between liberal political idealists and conservative political realists in American foreign policy debates is the difference between cannibals.
One cannibal asserts that we should take only the most beautiful and tasty young girls. And the other says that, no, we all share the same principles, we should eat everybody always. The first position is that of the typical realist. The second is that of the typical liberal: let’s eat everybody because we have principles, ideas.
We can see this in the difference between the two approaches towards, say, Yugoslavia or Iraq. One says that it all depends on how far our drones fly and how confident we are that we can carry out air strikes. The other says that, no, we should at all costs bring democracy to this or that region.
At the start of this year, after President Trump’s inauguration, there was a period in which we hoped for dialogue with American realists. Henry Kissinger was usually named as a sort of guru of this approach. And at the peak of these raptures and hopes I decided to study his latest book World Order, in order to understand the principles we could observe among American realists. And these principles were indeed revealed.
The first is unconditional orientation towards interests and the correlation of these interests through a pluralistic, so-called Westphalian system, which allows a large number of small states to form coalitions among themselves against any hegemon. In reality, this isn’t a very historical conception, because if we recall the countries who signed the Treaty of Westphalia, we notice that they all disappeared from the scene in the next 250 years and were replaced by large national states with imperial elements.
The second thing that I noticed in Kissinger was that he clearly doesn’t understand how to integrate his imagining of Russia into this Westphalian system. Russia is too big, and it’s like a big elephant suddenly entered the sandbox in which little kids are playing and tells them ‘I’m going to play with you.’ And when the elephant begins to play in the sandbox, according to the same rules, we observe that on that side of the box where he’s playing, he immediately begins to win. And so the question arises of how to get the elephant out of the sandbox and in general how to cut him up into little pieces which can’t play any games at all or at any rate would cause such a sense of anxiety.
And when Kissinger speaks about Russia, he suddenly slips into the language of the Cold War, with his key thesis being that Russia is always afraid and so is always aggressively expanding in all directions. This is an absolutely irrational process, which can’t be stopped, and so it’s quite impossible to play a high-grade game with Russia according to the rules.
Kaplan talks about the same thing, but more subtly, which surprised me. It surprised me that a man like Kaplan, who is aggressively inclined towards the world outside the borders of the USA, understands Russia with some subtlety. In particular, he understands that any collapse of Russia is only a temporary phenomenon and that after the cycle of collapse there will be a cycle of reconstitution.
We have to understand and recognize that things look very different when viewed from Russia. In the past 400 years Russia has endured four large-scale European interventions: from Poland in the 17th century; from Sweden in the 18th, which we have to admit we started; that of France and the entire European coalition in the 19th century, and that of the German Reich in the 20th. Given this, it’s somewhat comic to say that Russia has an irrational fear of invasion. It would be much more sensible to tackle the reasons which keep inducing this or that intervention into the depths of Russia, and which generally don’t turn out well for the intervenors. Nevertheless, history is coming round full circle again.
When people say that it’s impossible to reach agreement with Russia on foreign policy, I think that they are completely wrong. What do we mean by Russia? A geopolitical subject? Political subjects have no reason, no intellect, only geographical borders. Correspondingly, they can’t talk about anything. But if we’re talking about governments, or the ideological units which make up the governments, then we can see that in the second half of the twentieth century Russian foreign policy ideology drifted towards a rejection of any form of interventionism, towards an acceptance of isolationism as Russian civilization’s basic foreign policy principle.
Here, it’s enough to mention names like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Vadim Tsymbursky. In the first case, a national ideologue, who in his Harvard speech sought to produce a global understanding of the Russian perspective. In the second case, a great geopolitical thinker who is sadly not well known in the West.
Reading Kaplan, I unfortunately observed that he doesn’t at all know the Russian geopolitical tradition and refers to completely unimportant figures when he interprets Russian views of geopolitics. If we look at the global interventionist conception of Eurasianism, as interpreted by Dugin, we see that it too is quite isolationist.
It’s based on the inevitable contradiction of the ideas of sea and land, and crudely speaking claims no more than half the world. If you compare it to the global American concept which in principle doesn’t recognize any borders, it’s quite moderate in its pretensions. I still find it unacceptable and quite absurd, but all the same it’s comparatively quite moderate.
It’s worth remembering the story about Solzhenitsyn, when he was invited to breakfast with President Reagan and he refused in a really sharp form, because they wanted to seat him among dissidents with decidedly anti-Russian views. The Russophobic Richard Pipes was meant to be at this meeting. And Solzhenitsyn wrote a really interesting letter to Reagan, which it’s worth reading, which is one page long.
In this, he says:
Mister president your closest advisors like Pipes are systematically discrediting me saying that I’m a Russian nationalist and am preaching aggression. But if my ideas triumph, the first thing Russia will do is reject this crazy imperialist policy in the far reaches of the world. What would I put in its place?
I came here thinking that America would help free Russia from communism, and what do I see? I see American generals discussing plans for a nuclear strike on the Russian parts of Russia, in this way hoping to weaken the Soviet Union.
I had thought that you wanted to free us from a regime which carries out genocide, but you’re thinking about how best to carry out this genocide.
So, Solzhenitsyn always thought from a purely ethnic Russian point of view and this was the sense of his geopolitical thought and his disillusionment about the possibility of a dialogue with the West, which you can see in his texts, and which is very characteristic. If you’re interested in a path which leads Russian thought away from love of the West and towards alienation from it, towards what might be called a defensive point of view, then simply read Solzhenitsyn.
Today, we have to recognize the simple fact that when people talk of the revival of Russian interventionism, and say that Russia wishes to interfere in the affairs of the whole world, that Russians are once again trying to seize something, this is in reality a reaction to the fact that when Russia in 1991 ridded itself of communism, Russia was if not destroyed in a geopolitical sense then at the very least converted in part into one of these victims of the cannibals.
Large parts of it were roasted on a slow fire in order then to be eaten. And now Russian thought, which is wholly isolationist in orientation, finds itself feeling that if it makes any compromise it will be immediately attacked, and then again, and then again. A year ago, Gingrich said that Estonia is a suburb of Petersburg. Today we see tanks there. Recently we said don’t insult Russia, Ukraine is very close to it. Now we see an American naval base in Odessa.
It’s not a question of global politics. It’s that when the nation sees that it’s not master in its own house, of its borders as it understands them, then its natural aspiration is some sort of counter-attack. And we have to recognize that this urge to counter-attack isn’t a product of the reigning ideology in Russia. It’s a reaction to the feeling that that’s far enough, one step further and we’ll be eaten, destroyed. I think that we need to look for some sort of ideological and geopolitical compromise.
We are facing the problem that the West chose a very arbitrary starting point from which to orient its policy – the year 1991 – and it wants to preserve that world order at any price. And anything Russia does is interpreted as an assault on this holy world order, as a manifestation of aggression, as a game contrary to the rules. And that’s why they close their eyes when the discussion turns to Kosovo or Iraq. But in these circumstances it’s impossible to carry out any sort of dialogue with Russia, and so a mood of irritation is growing in Russia and the present isolationist trend is being replaced by an external policy based on spite. Spite towards those forces which aren’t letting us live. And it is being replaced by ideas that we must destroy the American empire with all our power and not allow the grass to ever grow again. So I’m sad that we have this situation in which Russia is being attacked.
Returning to Kissinger, in one of his previous books, Does American Need a Foreign Policy?, he says that the sole condition for dialogue with Russia is that it recognizes its current boundaries.
In other words, crudely speaking, the realistic condition is in fact an entirely unrealistic one, and the idealistic condition is the idea ‘Let’s eat you now in full.’ It seems to me that if we don’t dismantle this attitude towards Russia, then dialogue will be impossible.
Lewis Hamilton wins chaotic Saudi GP to draw level with Max Verstappen
After chaos, needle, misunderstanding and some absolutely uncompromising racing, it took a cool head to prevail and Lewis Hamilton duly delivered, his win at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix ensuring there is now nothing in it going into the Formula One season finale.
Beating title rival Max Verstappen into second, the pair are now level on points after a race of complexity and confusion fitting perhaps in a season that has been impossible to predict. The two protagonists endured an ill-tempered race and both left with differing views, Hamilton accusing his rival of being dangerous and Verstappen aggrieved. What it made clear is that neither will leave anything on the table next week in Abu Dhabi.
The investigations and debriefs will go on long into the night after this staccato affair interrupted by red flags, safety cars and the two leaders clashing repeatedly on track but ultimately and crucially for his title hopes it was an exhausted Hamilton who came out on top.
Hamilton had gone into the race trailing Verstappen by eight points, they are now level. The lead has changed hands five times during this enthralling season, which has ebbed and flowed between them but of course Hamilton has experience in tense showdowns, pipped to his first title in the last race of 2007 and then sealing it in a nail-biting showdown in Brazil a year later.
Verstappen is in his first title fight but has shown no indication of being intimidated, instead eagerly grasping his chance to finally compete and he still has it all to play for despite his clear disappointment at the result at the Jeddah circuit.
Hamilton admitted how hard the race been. “I’ve been racing a long time and that was incredibly tough,” he said. “I tried to be as sensible and tough as I could be and with all my experience just keeping the car on the track and staying clean. It was difficult. We had all sorts of things thrown at us.”
Hamilton’s race engineer Peter Bonnington credited his man with how he had handled it, noting: “It was the cool head that won out”. It was a necessary skill beyond that of wrestling with this tricky, high speed circuit, given the incidents that defined the race as it swung between the two rivals.
Hamilton held his lead from pole but an early red flag due to a crash left Verstappen out front when Red Bull had opted not to pit under a safety car. Thus far at least it was fairly straightforward.
When racing resumed from a standing start Hamilton, off like a bullet, had the lead into turn one but Verstappen went wide and cut the corner of two to emerge in front. Esteban Ocon took advantage to sneak into second only for the race to be stopped again immediately after several cars crashed in the midfield.
With the race stopped, the FIA race director, Michael Masi, offered Red Bull the chance for Verstappen to be dropped to third behind Hamilton because of the incident, rather than involving the stewards. In unprecedented scenes of negotiations with Masi, Red Bull accepted the offer, conceding Verstappen had to give up the place, with the order now Ocon, Hamilton.
Verstappen launched brilliantly at the restart, dove up the inside to take the lead, while Hamilton swiftly passed Ocon a lap later to move to second.
The front two immediately pulled away with Hamilton sticking to Verstappen’s tail, ferociously quick as they matched one another’s times. Repeated periods of the virtual safety car ensued to deal with debris littering the track and when racing began again on lap 37, Hamilton attempted to pass and was marginally ahead through turn one as both went off but Verstappen held the lead, lighting the touchpaper for the flashpoint.
Verstappen was told by his team to give the place back to Hamilton but when Verstappen slowed apparently looking to do so, Hamilton hit the rear of the Red Bull, damaging his front wing. Mercedes said they were unaware Verstappen was going to slow and the team had not informed Hamilton, who did not know what Verstappen was doing. Hamilton was furious, accusing Verstappen of brake-testing him. Both drivers are under investigation by the stewards for the incident and penalties may yet be applied.
Verstappen then did let Hamilton through but immediately shot back up to retake the lead but in doing so went off the track. He was then given a five-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage and a lap later Verstappen once more let his rival through, concerned he had not done so sufficiently on the previous lap. After all the chaos, Hamilton finally led and Verstappen’s tyres were wearing, unable to catch the leader who went on to secure a remarkable victory.
It was all too much for Verstappen who left the podium ceremony immediately the anthems concluded. “This sport is more about penalties than racing and for me this is not Formula One,” he said “A lot of things happened, which I don’t fully agree with.”
Both teams had diverging viewpoints on the incidents but both must now look forward. After 21 highly competitive races, the last a febrile, unpredictable drama, the season will be decided in a one-off shootout where both drivers have without doubt earned their place but just when the respect between them appears at its lowest ebb. – Guardian
Covid testing rules for all arrivals into State come into force
New Covid testing rules for travellers arriving into the State have come into force today.
At the start of the week the Government announced that all incoming travellers except those travelling from Northern Ireland will have to present a negative test result in order to enter the country irrespective of the vaccination status.
The move came in response to concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
The test requirements were due to be introduced from midnight on Thursday. However the system was postponed at the last minute to midnight on Sunday in order to allow airlines prepare for checks.
For those with proof of vaccination they can show a negative professionally administered antigen test carried out no more than 48 hours before arrrival or a PCR test taken within 72 hours before arrival. Those who are unvaccinated must show a negative PCR test result.
Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary had described the move as “nonsense” and “gobbledygook”.
Meanwhile more than 150 passengers have departed Morocco for Ireland on a repatriation flight organised by the Government.
The 156 passengers on the flight from Marrakech to Dublin included Irish citizens as well as citizens of several other EU countries and the UK.
The journey was organised after flights to and from Morocco were suspended earlier this week until at least December 13th, amid fears over the spread of the new Omicron Covid-19 variant.
The repatriation flight on Saturday was operated on behalf of the Government by Ryanair.
Responding to news of the flight’s departure, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney hailed the efforts of the Irish Embassy in Rabat in the operation, tweeting: “Well done and thank you!”.
On Saturday the number of Covid patients in hospital has fallen to 487, the lowest level in almost four weeks, the latest official figures show. The number of Covid patients in hospital fell by 41 between Friday and Saturday. There were 5,622 further cases of Covid-19 reported on Saturday.
Tweeting about the latest hospital figures on Saturday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the “plan is working – 3rd doses, masks, test & isolate, physical distancing. Thank you for what you are doing. Please don’t lose heart. Let’s all have a safe Christmas.”
The figures come as the Government on Friday announced its most wide-ranging introduction of new restrictions this year after “stark” warnings from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) to take immediate action in the face of the threat from the Omicron variant.
From Tuesday until at least January 9th, indoor hospitality will be limited to parties of up to six adults per table, while nightclubs will be closed and indoor events limited to half a venue’s capacity. Advice has been issued that households should not host more than three other households in their home, while the use of the vaccine pass is to be extended to gyms and hotel bars and restaurants.
Trinity College immunologist Prof Luke O’Neill said the main reason for the new restrictions was the new Omicron variant, and he thought they were needed as the “next three to four weeks are going to be tough”. Speaking to Brendan O’Connor on RTÉ radio, he said it was “strange” that restrictions were being introduced when things are stabilising, with the lowest hospital numbers since November 6th.
Prof O’Neill said he was “hopeful” at news that the Omicron variant may have a piece of the common cold virus in it which could make it more like the common cold.
Divock Origi delivers late delight as Liverpool see off Wolves
Wolves 0 Liverpool 1
Divock Origi’s last-gasp strike sent Liverpool top of the Premier League with a dramatic 1-0 win at Wolves.
The substitute fired in from close range in stoppage time just as it looked like the Reds would fail to score for the first time in eight months.
He spared Diogo Jota’s blushes after the forward hit Conor Coady on the line following Jose Sa’s second-half mistake.
Chelsea’s 3-2 defeat at West Ham gave the Reds a path to the summit and they went top thanks to Origi’s late show. Resilient Wolves were left with nothing despite another battling display and sit eighth.
Liverpool had blown away the majority of their rivals this season, having scored four in each of their last three Premier League games before arriving at Molineux.
They had, simply, been too good but found Wolves at their resolute best until the death.
Only Chelsea and Manchester City have conceded fewer goals than Bruno Lage’s side prior to the game and there was strong resistance to Liverpool’s threat.
The visitors failed to find any early rhythm, thanks largely to the hosts’ determination. Aside from Leander Dendoncker slicing a clearance from Jota’s header the Reds made few first-half inroads.
Three straight clean sheets had given Wolves’ defence renewed confidence and they continued to keep it tight as Liverpool slowly began to turn the screw.
Trent Alexander-Arnold volleyed over after 28 minutes and then turned provider for Jota, who headed his far post cross wide.
Liverpool had control but only managed to open their hosts up once and, even then, Romain Saiss’s presence ensured Mohamed Salah just failed to make contact with Andrew Robertson’s low centre.
Yet, they were still searching for a goal. Having scored in every Premier League game since a 1-0 defeat to Fulham in March more was expected after the break.
Salah’s knockdown caused some penalty box pinball which saw Thiago Alcantara twice denied but Jürgen Klopp’s men lacked the fluidity and precision to break Wolves down.
They needed a mistake from Sa to create their best opening on the hour and even then Jota missed it.
The goalkeeper raced out to the left after Jordan Henderson’s searching pass for Jota but collided with Saiss to give the forward a clear run to goal.
He advanced but from just six yards belted the ball at the covering Coady on the line.
Alexander-Arnold drove over as Liverpool’s frustrations grew and Sa denied Sadio Mane late on.
But Origi had the final say deep into added time when he collected Salah’s pass, turned and fired in from four yards.
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