Why Eurasian post-imperialists challenge the world order

Mira Milosevich, Robin Niblett and Tom Burns

On 21 March 2024 at 7 p.m., the Rafael del Pino Foundation organised the dialogue "Why the Eurasian Post-empires are challenging the world order" with the participation of Mira Milosevich, Robin Niblett y Tom Burns. On the occasion of the publication of the book "El imperio zombi. Russia and the World Order", published by Galaxia Gutenberg.

On the occasion of the publication of Mira Milosevich's The Zombie Empire, Russia and the World Order, edited by Galaxia Gutenberg, in which Ms.
Milosevich analyses the tsarist and communist imperial legacy, the causes and characteristics of Russian militarism, anti-westernism and exceptionalism, and the role of
Russia since the Napoleonic Wars in the world order.

Mira Milosevich-Juaristi is a senior researcher for Russia, Eurasia and the Balkans at the Elcano Royal Institute, associate professor of The Foreign Policy of Russia at School of Global and Public Affairs from IE University. She has collaborated on several collective books and is the author of three books, two of them on the Yugoslav wars.The Sad and the Heroes. The Stories of Serbian Nationalists (200) y The Wheat of War. Nationalism and Violence in Kosovo (2001), published by Espasa Calpe. His most recent book is A Brief History of the Russian Revolution (2017, Galaxia Gutenberg, 7 editions). He has advised the European Parliament, the Spanish Parliament, the UK Parliament, NATO, STRATCOM and the US State Department on security issues related to disinformation as an instrument of Russia's hybrid warfare in the West. He is on the board of the Transatlantic Relations Initiative (IE University). He is a member of two working groups of the European Leadership Network, Contact Group on Western-Russian relations and the Russia-NATO Action Group. In 2020, it was Visiting Fellow  of the programme on Europe, Russia and Eurasia of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. thanks to the financial support of Argyros Family Foundation. Mira Milosevich holds a PhD in European Studies from the Complutense University of Madrid and a degree in Sociology and Political Science from the University of Belgrade. Diploma of the Workshop in Global Leadership from the Harvard Kennedy School (2019) and CSIS executive courses diploma Understanding Russian Military Today (2020) y Understanding Washington (2020). His working languages are Spanish, English, Russian and Serbian.

Robin Niblett is Distinguished Fellow and former Director of Chatham House (The Royal Institute of International Affairs) in January 2007. Prior to joining Chatham House, from 2001 to 2006, Dr. Niblett was Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). During his last two years at CSIS, he also served as director of CSIS's Europe Programme and its Renewed Transatlantic Partnership Initiative. Dr. Niblett's commentary and analysis has appeared in the Financial Times, the Washington Post, the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian and Reuters. He is the author of Britain, the EU and the Sovereignty Myth (Chatham House 2016), Britain, Europe and the World: Rethinking the UK's Circles of Influence (Chatham House 2016), Britain, Europe and the World: Rethinking the UK's Circles of Influence (Chatham House, 2015) and Playing to its Strengths: Rethinking the UK's Role in a Changing World (Chatham House, 2010). He is also editor and contributor to America and a Changed World: A Question of Leadership (Chatham House/Wiley-Blackwell, 2010); contributor to Influencing Tomorrow: Future Challenges for British Foreign Policy: Future Challenges for British Foreign Policy (Guardian Books, 2013) by Douglas Alexander MP and Dr Ian Kearns; author and contributor to several CSIS reports on transatlantic relations; and contributor and co-editor with William Wallace of Rethinking European Order (Palgrave, 2001). Dr. Niblett is a frequent speaker at conferences on Europe and transatlantic relations. He has testified on several occasions before the Defence Select Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, as well as the European Affairs Committees of the US Senate and House of Representatives. He is an external advisor to Fidelity European Values Investment Trust. He serves as special advisor to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee (since 2015). He was chair of the 2014 NATO Summit Expert Group. He was chair of the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Europe (2012-13) and chair of the British Academy's Steering Committee of the Languages for Security Project (2013). In 2012 he received the Bene Merito medal from the Polish government. He was made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in 2015. He holds a BA in Modern Languages and an MA and PhD from New College, Oxford.

Tom Burns MarañónLondon, 1948. Born into a Spanish-English family, he was a student of Professor Raymond Carr at Oxford University, where he studied modern history, and was sent to Madrid as a correspondent for Reuters in 1974. Subsequently, he was a delegate in Spain for Newsweek magazine and the daily newspaper The Washington Postand for a long period he was the correspondent of the Financial Times. He is the author of a trilogy on political change in Spain through oral history. Conversations on the King (1995), Conversations on socialism (1996) y Conversations on the right (1997), considered an inescapable reference in the historiography of the Transition. His works include The necessary monarchy (2007), Hispanomanía (republished by Galaxia Gutenberg in 2014), De la fruta madura a la manzana podrida (From the ripe fruit to the rotten apple) (Galaxia Gutenberg, 2015) and Between sound and fury (2018). He participates in numerous forums for political and financial analysis and is a trustee of several foundations, including the José Ortega y Gasset-Gregorio Marañón Foundation. In 2001 he was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II for his contribution to cultural relations between the United Kingdom and Spain, and in 2014 he received the XXV journalism award of the Spanish Institutional Foundation (FIES) from King Felipe VI.


On 21 March 2024, the Rafael del Pino Foundation organised the dialogue 'Why the Eurasian post-empires challenge the world order' with the participation of Mira Milosevich, Senior Research Fellow for Russia, Eurasia and the Balkans at the Elcano Royal Institute and Associate Professor of The Foreign Policy of Russia at IE University's School of Global and Public Affairs, and Robin Niblett, Distinguished Fellow and former Director of Chatham House, on the occasion of the publication of Mira Milosevich's book 'The Zombie Empire. Russia and the World Order" published by Galaxia Gutenberg.

Look Milosevic: Russia is not an empire, it is a post-empire. It is not a tsarist or communist empire and Putin's regime is aware that it cannot maintain an empire like the previous ones. It is a zombie empire because it wants to come back to life. It can be analysed with the concept of re-imperialisation, coined by Henry Kissinger. The idea is that while Westerners are euphoric about Fukuyama's end of history, there are two people who say that this is not true. One is Kissinger who, in his book "Diplomacy", says that Russia is likely to enter a period of re-imperialisation because its historical pattern is expansionism. The other is Giovanni Sartori, who says that democracy has gained legitimacy as a political system, but this does not mean that there will not be other political systems that want to impose themselves. Sartori and Kissinger talk about the fact that there is no end to history, that this is not the case.

Russia is a zombie empire because in 1921, and since 1993, especially with Vladimir Putin's rise to power, Russia has been trying to re-imperialise itself. When Lenin says "death to Russian chauvinism" and overthrows the government of the tsars, no matter how much he spoke of self-determination, the right of peoples to choose their future, etc., we see that the Bolsheviks are against the tsarist empire, but not the empire as such. In fact, they build a communist empire. During the First World War, four empires disintegrate. The Tsarist empire is one of them, but it is the only one that recovers. The Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian and Prussian empires disappear. The Russian one comes back to life in communist form and now Putin does what all the others before him have done, in whatever way he can, given his very limited resources. Russia fails as a nation state, it cannot have an empire like those of old, but it tries to maintain imperial spheres of influence.

Russia does not want a war with NATO because it would lose it. What encourages it to invade Ukraine is that it is not a NATO member. At the moment, Moldova, with the so-called frozen conflict in Transnistria, is in a much more complicated situation than the Baltic countries. The Baltic countries are NATO members. With the entry of Sweden and Finland, which are two countries with an extraordinary army, NATO closes a geographical gap. Poland and the Baltic countries are prepared to defend themselves and I think Russia is aware that it would lose this war.

There may be a Kaliningrad crisis. Its status was negotiated for more than two years. Russia has deployed nuclear weapons there. It is another hot spot, but in any case, one of the reasons why Russia is a revisionist power is a very bad digestion of its status. The Soviet Union was a key player in European stability, along with the United States. At the end of the Cold War, the Warsaw Pact countries gain independence, but Russia loses an empire. That is not easy, because they are not English, Russians do not know how to lose an empire.

Robin Niblett: Sadly, we will be fascinated by Russia for many years to come. We should also add that it is an anachronistic empire, from another era. That makes it a zombie empire. Every government must find ways to represent its citizens in the best possible way, to give them the best possible future. With Vladimir Putin, we have a very old idea of what a nation, a state, is. We have a small group that decides what is in the interest of a country, it's a self-decision, and then finds ways to turn its citizens into zombies so that they agree. This is what Putin has done. Russian citizens have gone from a situation of indifference, of not wanting to know, to being almost rabid because this war is going on and they want revenge on the Ukrainians. Putin is pushing it. That Russia's national interest is the borders is an interest of another era, but an era that still matters. Brzezinski famously said that power hates a vacuum. In this sense, at one point or another, Ukraine would have to belong to Russia, to its new empire, or its citizens would have to choose their future. When they see Poland's future within the EU and NATO, if you are Ukrainian you want that future. Vladimir Putin is forcing us backwards into a world that has no proactive future. China looks like a more modern autocracy, thinking about how to link up with the global economy, while Russia is still trying to protect resources. Russia will do well, but it will not be able to be an empire because it has lost its soft power, and lost it completely.

Look Milosevic: There are similarities between Putin and Trump in relation to WOKE, to making their countries great again by eliminating all those people. But Putin's attitude, the Russians' attitude, has historical roots in the idea of Russia as a third Rome. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the centre of the Orthodox Church moves to Moscow. Ivan III marries Sophia Palaeologa, niece of the last basileus of the Byzantine empire. Russia proclaims itself to be the third Rome and this is the root of Russian messianism, which sees Russia as a country and a people to be saved. From then on, the Russians are continually saving someone. Since Catherine the Great the official policy has been that Russia has the right to protect Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman and Catholic empires. Then Russia saves Europe from Napoleon. Then it saved it from Hitler. Now it is saving compatriots in Georgia, in Ukraine from the so-called Nazi regime of Zelensky. Russian messianism is rooted in this idea of the third Rome and saving the West. Russians describe Europe as decadent, hypocritical and so on. There, they see themselves as the freshest and most authentic, who will save Europe from decadence. All this is a historical background, which is not necessarily known to all Russians. Putin's speech represents a new dimension of confrontation between the adversaries. The difference from the Cold War is this dimension of struggle against the WOKE culture. The Russian Constitution guarantees that there will be no gay marriage. It is yet another instrument based on the false religiosity of the Russian Orthodox Church and the idea of European decadence. This disguised as religious values has a lot of resonance among evangelists in the United States and among candidates like Donald Trump.

Robin Niblett: The idea of upholding the values of the orthodox church is anachronistic, but at the same time it is modern. The first nations were founded around a belief, usually religious, in order to give a shared perspective to a population that might otherwise be divided. This has been done for hundreds of years. The separation of church and nation is very modern. The idea that an anachronistic leader would try to revive this idea and bring it to power is not surprising. In Delhi, everyone talks about how Modi, before the election, went into the ancient Ram temple, which was built on top of the ancient Muslim temple, which was built on top of another ancient Hindu temple. He spent eleven days fasting and sanctified the temple in front of all the televisions. This is also done in so-called democracies. It is modern and anachronistic. But there is a difference between Trump's situation and that of Putin. Trump does what he does and believes in what he believes in within a democratic environment. Yes, it is a democracy under siege, but it exists. There are people who have an anti-immigrant, religious point of view, who think that a marriage union should be of one kind or another and say that they have the right to be voted in if the majority of the people have these internal, social beliefs. So why not have the freedom to lead a country? That is democracy. But in other countries, like Hungary, that combines into autocracy. When the nation is thought of in terms of the few and not the minority, then the minority is the enemy, those who don't believe what you believe are not part of the nation and therefore should not have power. This is what Trump believes. If he wins, after four years he will be out. The danger is the combination of orthodoxy, of religion with power, because it is a way of reinforcing a completely autocratic structure in which there is no transparency. Everything is to control the people. Autocrats are mostly men, it's a very masculine way of leading.

Mira Milosevic: The war in Ukraine is in a third phase in the sense that, when it started, it was first a shock. The world was shocked because, in the 21st century, one country was going against the territorial integrity of a neighbour, even if that country was Russia. Then we all went into euphoria when Ukraine started to regain some territory in Kharkiv and, above all, in Kherson. There was a certain will to fight and win. Now we are in a moment of reality. We are in a war of attrition, in the balance of weakness. The West is waiting for economic sanctions to bring about a collapse of the Russian economy, or at least to weaken it significantly. One would be ignorant or naïve to expect, as Westerners do, that China would support sanctions against Russia. In this sense, we are also at a moment of realism. The West is waiting for Russia to collapse economically, or for there to be a palace coup, although there is no evidence of this, while Russia is waiting for the West to tire of supporting Ukraine and thus run out of defence.

Every conflict has three levels: political, strategic and tactical. On the political level, Russia and Ukraine have not changed their goals. Russia wants to turn Ukraine into a failed state and alienate it from the West, from NATO. Ukraine wants to preserve its territorial integrity, to become a member of the EU and NATO one day. Neither side has achieved these political goals. Strategies have been changing and, at the moment, Russia is winning the war on the tactical level because every day it is conquering more and more territories while Ukraine has no capacity to regain them. We are at this point, but it is important that Russia's political objectives have not been achieved. Most likely there will be a long war, the most likely end of which would be a two-Korean-style partition of Ukraine, in which a part of Ukraine could develop. Ukraine would sacrifice part of its territory for peace and the rest of the territory could become a democratic country.

A Russian victory would be a very bad sign for China and for what is happening in the Indo-Pacific area around Taiwan. It would be a message to other revisionist powers, such as China and Iran, that they can get away with it. That is why it is important to contain Russia. The problem is that, at the moment, Russia is winning the war and has no interest in negotiating.

Robin Niblett: We have entered the most realistic and critical phase of this conflict and that is that we have realised, as Europeans, that Ukraine is our responsibility. If Trump wins, or if Biden wins, American support is slackening. Their obsession is China, they are much further away, they have a lot of debt. Sending them arms is fine, because they are American and the money is moving in a circle in the US, but giving bigger support... The diplomatic time is getting harder and harder. The US is involved in three wars: a cold one with China and the hotter ones in the Middle East and in Ukraine. We have realised as Europeans that the future of Ukraine is our responsibility, but we don't know what we are going to do. But the most important thing is for Europeans to help Ukraine survive 2024. This is a moment of great vulnerability for Kiev. They will be able to do so because there are limits to how much Russian forces can take. What they want to take, at the very least, are the four oblast which, theoretically, have already been annexed. Two of these areas are occupied, there is violence, there is resistance, Russian forces have no control. Donesk and Luganks are already colonised, already more or less lost. If we Europeans can help rediscover a new balance of forces in 2024, in 2025 we will end up with a negotiation. It won't be for peace, it will be a ceasefire, but at least we stop fighting. It will be a model like Germany in the last cold war. Ukraine does not agree to be divided, but it agrees not to fight to get these parts back and it gains the support to join the European Union and possibly NATO. The latter will be more difficult, but they already have bilateral agreements with countries and already have weapons. This will be a solution, if it can be called that. Sanctions are self-punishment. It is telling us that we are not going to depend on a country that is an enemy and a danger to us. Sanctions are a way of separating us. There will be a new cold war in Europe. There will be a new iron curtain, but further east.

The global south, the countries that combine for this phrase, are not on Russia's side. They consider that this has nothing to do with them. The fact that they do not support Ukraine does not mean that they support Russia. It means that they don't care about this battle, that the international liberal order has been for us, but for many countries in the global south we were hypocrites. If in the Cold War an autocratic country was useful to us, it was our ally. We too have been a bit exceptionalist in our handling of our list of an international order. The global south tells us that we have no right to tell them that they have to be with us in the war in Ukraine. But to be on the Russian side, no. India is a very good example. It has bought the 90% of its weapons from Russia, but now it has downgraded to the 60%. It wants to buy from the United States because it is now more useful to have the United States on its side than Russia. Brazil used to say it was going to invite Putin and that China was going to be its great friend. But right now, Chinese imports are out of control and are undermining the Brazilian economy. These countries are triangulating between the US and its peaceful, Atlantic allies on one side and China and Russia on the other. India is the best example. India being with China or Russia. It looks at the G-20 and says it can have its voice there. We democratic and liberal countries must accompany the global south to be partners in progress and help them economically, at least with Africa. The global south does not want to depend on Russia for anything and will buy agricultural products from anywhere.

The peace that can be seen in 2025, if it is acceptable to the Kremlin and to Ukraine, I believe will be a peace negotiated by the global south. Zelenski knows that. That's why he has spent so much time talking to India, to Indonesia, he has created this group of eighty countries that met recently in Davos. The global south is going to be very interesting for the future.

The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for the comments, opinions or statements made by the people who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their sole responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio González, are the result of the debates held at the meeting held for this purpose at the Foundation and are the responsibility of the authors.

The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for any comments, opinions or statements made by third parties. In this respect, the FRP is not obliged to monitor the views expressed by such third parties who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their own responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio J. González, are the result of the discussions that took place during the conference organised for this purpose at the Foundation and are the sole responsibility of its authors.