In February 2000 you wrote a report regarding economic integration between Russia and Ukraine. What are your views on a closer integration, especially economic, in all countries of the post-Soviet space and other economic blocks in Russia? And how is it viewed by the West?
I believe that the integration of the post-Soviet space with the West is viewed quite favorable by the West. For instance, Russia will come part of the WTO by June, 13th this year. The customs union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan is already abiding by deputy obligations so the International Community needn’t be concerned about Russia’s ability to fulfill its deputy obligations when it does formally join. There’re a number of benefits to the West as well from Russia’s accession: access to the Russian market, also the possibility to invest into some lucrative projects such as energy exploration in the Arctic and in the Far East, also some transnational projects such as pipelines. So there are a number of benefits to the West as well as to Russia from Russia’s deputy accession. But specifically, there are five different levels of integration that determine which organization, nation or trading block is actually being integrated with, for instance a level 5 – the maximum integration – is reachable within the Kiev Rus’ states: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus. And my idea there was to extend President Medvedev’s ten points’ modernization plan which he delivered at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland 2011. Basically to introduce religious tourism
What exactly is “religious tourism”? And why is it important?
The idea of “religious tourism” was discussed by Patriarch Kirill. He suggested for the development of religious tourism in Russia, essentially showing temples, icons, frescos and living Orthodox traditions to pilgrims visiting Russia. There are already some pilgrimages in Russia including the annual pilgrimage in Kirov that attracts more than 25 thousand people on a ninety km journey. And then there is an annual pilgrimage in Yekaterinburg in honor of holy martyrs. Also many thousands of believers make annual pilgrimages to the monasteries of Ukraine, the Kievo-Pecherskaya lavra and others. In Belarus traditional places for pilgrims are Jirovichi monastery, Svyato-Eliseevsky monastery. So my idea was to integrate this into an annual pilgrimage with the history of adoption of orthodoxy by Holy Rus, starting on in Ukraine and continuing in Russia and Belarus. One example would be to replace the walking pilgrimage with a tour bus. Starting the Kievo-Pecherskaya lavra and then travelling to the Troicko-Sergeeva lavra and to the Solovecky monastery. The pilgrimage could also contain one or two monasteries in Belarus. The idea that Patriarch Kirill had can help more fully integrate the Slavic Orthodox nations as well.
Back to innovation and new technologies, what do you think can be the position of Russia in the next – let’s say – twenty years?
I would say that I see Russia as being one of the leaders if not actually the leader. Remember there’s rich history of scientific research capability in Russia and really what’s going on now is trying to bridge the gap between that and lucrative innovative products sold on the world market. There’s quite a few measures being undertaken in Russia with Skolkovo. There is a joint-stock company Rusnano which aims at nanotechnology development. Skolkovo already attracted 65 million dollars of private investment fund. “Rusnano” has approved of financing 134 projects worth of 75.8 billion and all the public-private finance of innovations on Russia has reached 23 billion this year. The whole innovation development budget anticipate between 2011 and 2020 is about 500 billion dollars, so once these products are released and sold on the world market, very likely Russia could be a world leader in innovative technologies just as now we’re world leaders in scientific research.
What future for global economic blocks do you see in the next 50 years? I’m talking about the BRIC countries which have decided to trade on their own currencies. How do you see that affecting the West and the development of economic blocks worldwide?
For me the major economic trading block is going to be the Eurasian Union. Initially when the Soviet Union collapsed it was replaced by the Commonwealth of Independent States. Currently we have the Eurasian Economic Community and by 2015 a treaty will be signed establishing the Eurasian Union. So within that there will be economic space, free trade agreement, close cooperation on infrastructure, sports and the collective security treaty. So my vision is that the Eurasian Union will enter into the other trading blocks. They might establish a common economic space, free-trade agreement with the EU and similarly with other trading blocks. With respect to moving away from dollar as a reserve currency and moving into local currencies. We’ve seen that the trade between Russia and China was announced in recent weeks will now be done in local currencies. I think this is going to be quite a doomsday scenario for the US because the US is a largest debtor nation in the world having debt of 16 trillion dollars. Russia and China actually have no debt at all. They have reserves. And the reason the US is enable to get away with this costly spending and printing the money devaluing the currency was because the World War was using the dollar as a reserve currency, but once they moved away from that the US no longer had an option of inflating its currency to pay off its debt. So I think the situation is quite serious for the US, because Russia and China were less inclined to buy US treasury bonds so the US will have to adapt fiscal conservatism and prudency that you see in Russia and elsewhere.
Do you see that as a decline of the US as the world’s superpower?
Yes, I think that we’ve already seen that, not only because it’s a debtor nation, but also because it’s overextending militarily with close to 1000 military bases in more than 100 nations, borrowing money for military adventurism, I think we’ve largely seen that. There will certainly be consequences for the US in the future.
Ok, sounds grim.