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Lonely Power: Why Russia Has Failed to Become the West and the West is Weary of Russia

Lonely Power: Why Russia Has Failed to Become the West and the West is Weary of Russia

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Lonely Power: Why Russia Has Failed to Become the West and the West is Weary of Russia

Lunghezza:
598 pagine
7 ore
Pubblicato:
Aug 1, 2010
ISBN:
9780870032981
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

Adapted from the Russian edition, this book analyzes the dominant stereotypes and myths that formed during the Putin presidency and that continue to hamper our understanding of Russia's current situation.

Author Lilia Shevtsova explains the origins of such political clichés as

Russia is not mature enough for democracy;

Capitalism first, and democracy will follow;

The humiliation of Russia by the West is the key cause of their soured relationship;

Arms talks between Russia and the United States will help to reset the relationship.

Shevtsova argues that an anti-mythology campaign is needed to deepen the understanding of Russia both within the Russian Federation and in the West, as well as to help nations build better policies toward Russia.

Praise for Lilia Shevtsova's RussiaLost in Transition

"An excellent volume... highly recommended."Choice

Pubblicato:
Aug 1, 2010
ISBN:
9780870032981
Formato:
Libro

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Lonely Power - Lilia Shevtsova

© 2010 Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the Carnegie Endowment.

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

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Washington, D.C. 20036

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www.ceip.org

The Carnegie Endowment does not take institutional positions on public policy issues; the views represented here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Endowment, its staff, or its trustees.

To order, contact Carnegie’s distributor:

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Fax: 1-410-516-6998

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Shevtsova, Lilia Fedorovna.

Lonely power : why Russia has failed to become the West and the West is weary of Russia / Lilia Shevtsova.

p. cm.

Includes index.

ISBN 978-0-87003-246-2 (pbk.)—ISBN 978-0-87003-247-9 (cloth)—ISBN 978-0-87003-298-1 (e-Book) 1. Russia (Federation)—Foreign relations. 2. Russia (Federation)—Politics and government—1991–3. Russia (Federation)—Relations—Western countries. 4. Western countries—Relations—Russia (Federation) I. Title.

DK510.764.S545 2010

327.47—dc22   2010022943

Cover design by Zeena Feldman

Contents

Foreword

Letter to the Reader

1. Introduction

2. Collapse of the USSR: The West Caught Unawares

3. The West Regards Yeltsin Warily

4. Help or Wait?

5. Clinton Turns the West Around

6. Help Our Friend Boris at Any Cost

7. Europe Also Helps

8. Washington’s Dictate or Moscow’s?

9. Moments of Truth for Russia

10. Western Disillusionment in Russia and Republican Attacks on Democrats in the United States

11. The Donors Could Not Resist Temptation

12. The Results of the 1990s: Who Is to Blame?

13. The Arrival of Putin and His Western Project

14. Hopes That Once Again Did Not Come to Pass

15. With the West and Against the West

16. Altruism and Pragmatism

17. Where Western Money Goes

18. The Medvedev-Putin Tandem Being Tested by Foreign Policy

19. The War in the Caucasus and What It Says About Russia

20. The Kremlin Starts Rebuilding Bridges With the West

21. How to Force the West to Work for Russia

22. The Valdai Club, or the Kremlin and Western Commentators

23. And Now for the Major Victories

24. How Russia Was Humiliated

25. Is There Reason to Take Offense?

26. On the Center of Power, De-sovereignization, and Other Things

27. America the Model, and America the Excuse

28. Who Derailed Modernization?

29. How to Combine the Incompatible, and Who Are We?

30. The Trial of NATO and Kosovo

31. Does NATO Threaten Russia?

32. What Other Nastiness Does the West Have in Store for Russia?

33. Why Moscow Needed the Balkans

34. Ukraine as a Milestone

35. Where Is the Way Out?

36. Let’s Make a Deal!

37. Let’s Count Warheads

38. What Separates Russia and the West?

39. What It Would Be Better Not to Do

40. Western Protectors

41. How Serious Westerners Perceive Russia

42. On Interests and Values, and the Extent to Which the Realists Make a Convincing Case

43. How Old Europe Abandoned Its Mission

44. Why Russian Human Rights Advocates Are Dissatisfied

45. A Reconsideration Has Begun

46. How New Europe Is Trying to Revive the European Mission

47. European Society Is Starting to Say What It Thinks

48. Kissinger vs. Brzezinski

49. How Useful Is the League of Democracies and How Probable

50. Is a Global Authoritarian Revanche? The Obama Factor and the Idea of the Reset Button

51. What Do We Mean by the Right Direction for U.S. Policy Toward Russia?

52. How We Were Taught a Lesson

53. Obama in Moscow and the Aftermath

54. The Russian Understanding of Reset

55. Why the West Doesn’t Want to Annoy the Kremlin

56. So, What Should and Should Not Be Done?

57. Uncertainty as a Way to Survive

58. The Goal of Power Is to Retain Power

59. Can Russia Be Renewed by Leaving Everything As It Is?

60. Can Russia Get Out of the Dead End by Itself?

Index

About the Author

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

FOREWORD

Russia has made a tradition of puzzling the world with its ups and downs, its sudden course changes, and its shifting masks, thus forcing the West to constantly ask itself: Is a new policy a change of tactics or a change of paradigm?

Tough Russian policies toward its neighbors earlier this decade, culminating in the 2008 war with Georgia, have given way to a seemingly new approach in the wake of the global financial crisis and the Obama administration’s reset. Today, the ruling tandem presents a far more cooperative face to the world. Yet the question remains: Does this new face represent a genuine change in direction?

In Lonely Power, Lilia Shevtsova examines the relationship between Russia and the West, the domestic roots of Russian foreign policy, and the myths that both Russia and the West maintain about each other. She provides a comprehensive assessment of the interaction between foreign policy and domestic developments in Russia and how, as she sees it, the Russian elite is using foreign policy as a tool to reproduce the traditional Russian state.

In the midst of optimistic views about Russia’s modernization and its rapprochement with the West, Shevtsova invites the reader to ask some probing questions: Can Medvedev’s modernization be serious and sustainable when the nature of the regime has not been altered? Can rapprochement be real when the system continues to rely upon anti-Western sentiment to consolidate itself? Are political and expert communities in the West rushing to endorse an imitation democracy?

Shevtsova makes it abundantly clear that transforming Russia is a project that belongs to Russians themselves. Like any country, Russia cannot be modernized from outside. But, she believes that Russia can’t succeed with its transformation when the West chooses either to stand back as a neutral observer or to actively support the status quo. Delaying change under the guise of modernization from above, she writes, only makes transformation harder. And it may compromise Western values in the process.

Shevtsova, long one of Russia’s most prominent and insightful political observers, sees Russia today as adrift in a sea of uncertainty. Parts of Russian society demonstrate that the country is ready to live in a new world. Many Russians believe that autocracy and hostility toward the world are not Russia’s destiny. Yet powerful forces of history and contemporary politics push in the opposite direction. These tensions could be resolved, Shevtsova believes, sooner than many imagine. The West, by seeking to understand Russia’s dilemmas, can make the process of resolving these dilemmas less painful.

Jessica T. Mathews

President, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

LETTER TO THE READER

What you are about to read are polemical essays prompted by a growing number of questions about Russia—questions not only about its behavior in the international arena and its relations with the West, but also about the attitudes and perceptions Russia and the West hold about one another (including, not least, stereotypes). Much ink has been spilled on these topics in Russia and the West, but usually it has been spilled by writers concerned primarily with issues of the balance of power, security, and geopolitics.

However, the logic and toolkit arising out of the study of international relations do not explain much about the issues I’ve mentioned. Indeed applying foreign policy categories to them can sometimes be disorienting. Foreign policy logic does not answer the question: Why does Russia so often act contrary to common sense and undermine its own positions? Consider one example of such behavior. From 2004–2008, the Russian ruling team seemed to be doing everything in its power to exacerbate the crisis in relations with the West, choosing political confrontation with the United States and deciding to snub Europe. By the end of the Putin presidency there was probably more distrust between Russia and Western nations than there had been in the final stages of the existence of the Soviet Union. What did Moscow earn by this muscle-flexing? Respect in the Western capitals? The trust of its neighbors? A solution to the ongoing problems of transformation? No, no, and no. Trying to explain Russia’s behavior by studying its foreign policy will not tell us why Russia seems continually to shoot itself in the foot.

Traditional foreign policy categories are equally futile for answering other questions as well. Why did Russia provoke the gas wars with Ukraine, when that move only convinced Europe to get serious about seeking alternative sources of energy? What problems did the war with Georgia solve? Or Moscow’s recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia? How can Moscow simultaneously view NATO as a threat and seek partnership with its members? Why does the majority of the Russian elite continue to regard the West with suspicion?

While the study of foreign policy often fails to provide satisfactory answers to such questions, the study of the domestic sources of foreign policy offers much greater clarity. We must examine Russia’s foreign policy as a factor in the overall equation that describes the traditional Russian system’s efforts to reproduce itself, and thus come to some understanding of the internal constraints on relations between Russia and the West.

When the global financial crisis hit Russia, the Russian ruling elite began to seek new ways to survive. It returned to Peter the Great’s formula of re-energizing by using the West—a formula Stalin used effectively to pursue Soviet industrialization. To use the West in order to save an anti-Western system exemplifies the highest possible degree of pragmatism—and cynicism as well.

The Kremlin’s change in survival tactics necessitated a change in the way it behaved toward the outside world. The Russian ruling team came to understand that smiles are better than scowls for securing help, but could their smiles be trusted if they were only skin-deep—that is, if they had not changed the nature of the traditional Russian system?

One has to believe that positive change will happen, and if you believe, it has to happen! one European observer said to me. But if hope is the sole basis of the new Western optimism, then we are really in trouble. If Russian modernization with Western help fails, one can easily guess who will be blamed for subsequent failures as well.

I argue that we cannot expect stable cooperation, much less partnership, as long as Russia remains under a system of personalized rule, which consolidates itself through anti-Western sentiment, whether that sentiment is expressed openly (as it was in the past) or secretly (as it is today). The political regime in Moscow may change in the future (and it will change in 2012), but if the nature of power remains the same, then the new regime, smiling all the while, will continue to either reject Western norms or merely imitate them. No foreign policy reset based on economic and security cooperation can change Russia’s behavior unless Russia rewrites its genetic code: personalized power.

Will Russia be able to do this by itself? If it can’t, how might the West help? At the moment, the West is actually helping the Russian elite maintain the status quo. Bogged down by its own problems, the political West has no time or inclination to think about a challenge as daunting as Russia’s transformation. Its present dream is merely to find a modus vivendi with Russia. There are, however, people in Russia today who believe that their country needs to change its trajectory (and they are not a minority anymore), and while they know there is a limit to what the West can do, they expect at a minimum that the West should stop hindering transformation by propping up the traditional state.

Every day, the disparity between reality and the imitation scenery in Russia is growing. The rhetoric of modernization and leaders’ attempts to look self-assured can’t conceal the fundamental deterioration of the Russian system or the regime’s increasing inability to respond to pressing challenges. The more the ruling elite loses control over the present and the future, the more it tries to recreate the past in the form of a rosy picture reminiscent of the late Brezhnev era. This decay might continue indefinitely, or it might suddenly end in collapse. Imitation stability, fake modernization, artificial consensus, and a let’s pretend foreign policy make predicting Russia’s future impossible. But whatever the future is, from our vantage point in the present, it looks grim.

These are the same old fears and flights of fancy about Russia. The political class is pragmatic enough to keep things from unraveling, my Western reader may argue. I would answer that pragmatism can’t compensate for a lack of vision or a plan for the future. I have the impression that the political West is not prepared (and it wouldn’t be for the first time) for Russia’s tottering on the brink of turbulence. The unpredictability of Russia’s future, even its near future, is reason enough to have this conversation.

In this book, I summarize the discussion in Russia about the West, I expound on Russian expectations regarding the West, and I discuss Russian disillusionment with the West. While it has long been known that Russian nationalists, statists, and even pragmatists hold suspicions of the West, the fact that the majority of Russian liberals now holds a critical view of the West, its leaders, and its Russia experts is a rather new phenomenon. Our Western counterparts do not always pick up on this view, or perhaps they prefer not to notice, but the sense of disappointment is palpable.

I do not rule out the possibility that my Western colleagues will find my frankness—in tone, in formulation, and in exposition—too emotional, perhaps even unfair. This is grist for the mill of Russophobes, and it undermines mutual trust, an esteemed Western expert on Russia, who has spent years trying to create partnership between Russia and the West, said bitterly. Don’t talk about what separates us, he explained. Let’s seek what unites us. But this only served to convince me more than ever that it is time to talk about the growing chasm between Russian liberals and quite a few Western experts. Before we can ever bridge that gap, we must determine how wide it is—or in other words, exactly where and how the two sides do not correspond. In the following essays, I will spell out the issues on which the two sides have different positions.

I do not pretend to represent all Russian liberals—of course not. Moreover, I admit that Russian liberals do not yet have a unified understanding of what they don’t like about the West and what they would like to change. But I think that many of them will at least support the questions I ask of Western politicians and experts. And if we actually get answers to those questions, that may help us overcome our naïve hopes and come to a better understanding of the West’s intentions toward Russia and its transformation. I do not rule out the possibility that our hopes for the West and our disillusionment with the Western political and expert community are the result of incurable Russian idealism, as well as our own inability to influence Russian development. But before accepting that bitter truth, I would like to see what our Western colleagues have to say about the questions that Russian liberals are raising.

I quote a lot of people in this book, both Russian and Western, experts and politicians. I do this in order to show the content and direction of the current discussion in the Russian political community about Russia and its role in the world. I would also like to demonstrate how the Western view of, and policies toward, Russia are perceived by the pro-Western Russian audience. I argue with and contradict many people in this volume, including colleagues and even friends, but I am not arguing merely for the sake of argument. I believe that cordial but honest debate will bring understanding more quickly than polite agreement and feigned unity.

These essays are in no way meant to settle the issue. On the contrary, this book is an invitation to start the discussion.

This book would have never appeared in print without the support of a wonderful group of people. I am grateful to Jessica Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment, for her unwavering encouragement. I appreciate the support of Executive Vice President Paul Balaran and vice presidents Thomas Carothers and Peter Reid. My special thanks go to James Collins, director of the Russia and Eurasia program, for his insights.

I thank all my friends and colleagues, whose conversations or articles and books were exceptionally important to me in the course of writing this book. I express sincere gratitude to Leon Aron, Anders Åslund, Ronald Asmus, James Goldgeier, Rose Gottemoeller, Thomas Graham, Jr., Sam Greene, Arnold Horelick, Andrei Illarionov, Donald Jensen, Igor Klyamkin, Andrei Kortunov, David Kramer, Andrew Kuchins, Robert Legvold, Edward Lucas, Roderic Lyne, Michael Mandelbaum, Michael McFaul, Mark Medish, Sarah Mendelson, Marie Mendras, Arkady Moshes, Robert Nurick, Robert Otto, Nikolai Petrov, Steven Pifer, Andrei Piontkovsky, Peter Reddaway, Blair Ruble, Eugene Rumer, Stephen Sestanovich, James Sherr, Angela Stent, Strobe Talbott, Dmitri Trenin, Andrew Wood, and Yevgeny Yasin.

I appreciate the collegiality of those colleagues with whom I have disagreements, as well as their willingness to continue our debates.

I am grateful for the support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Open Society Institute, and the Starr Foundation for the Carnegie Moscow Center.

I thank Antonina W. Bouis, who also translated my Putin’s Russia, and who has once again rendered my words into English with subtlety and understanding.

I would also like to thank the great team who prepared this manuscript for publication.

My thanks go to Ilonka Osvald, senior publications manager at Carnegie, for her unwavering support, for making this book a priority, and for shepherding it through the production process. I am also grateful to Daniel Kennelly, my editor, who gave the manuscript an expert and invaluable polishing and prepared it for an English-speaking audience. I appreciate the help of David Donadio, who helped with the editorial process. Carlotta Ribar was a great proofreader. Thanks to Zeena Feldman for the cover design, as well as for her enthusiastic promotion of the book.

And finally, my thanks to my family—mother, husband, and son—for their patience and their understanding.

1

INTRODUCTION

There have been not one, but many, milestone years in the history of the new Russia. The first and perhaps most familiar, 1991, marked not only the birth of post-communist Russia, but also the stillbirth of its democracy. In 1993, the Boris Yeltsin constitution created the framework for a new personalized power. Yeltsin’s victory in the controlled elections of 1996 marked an embryonic form of what would later become Russia’s imitation democracy. In 2003, the destruction of YUKOS signified a turn to bureaucratic capitalism. In 2004, the orange revolution in Ukraine hastened Russia’s return to a statist matrix. And finally, the August 2008 Russo-Georgian war heralded a period of open political confrontation between Russia and the West. *

This final milestone marked the end of an important path in Russia’s development—a path that began with Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika and was supposed to end with Russia’s integration into the community of liberal democracies. But there had been too many diversions from this course over the last two decades. No diplomatic thaws, no détentes, and no resets between Russia and West will now be able to return it to the track of integration with the West—at least not until Russia rejects the principles on which its political system and state are being built.

All successful democratic transformations since World War II occurred because conditions within the respective societies had matured enough to make them possible. At the same time, none of these transformations took place without the influence of Western civilization. In some cases, the very existence of the West as a model was enough to inspire authoritarian and totalitarian societies to open themselves up to the world, but even those transformations had to be consolidated by means of diplomatic and economic links to developed democracies, as occurred in Latin America, South Korea, and Taiwan. In other cases, the West put direct pressure on dictatorships like those in Portugal, Greece, the Republic of South Africa, and in a number of Asian and Latin American countries. The most successful transformations have been the ones in which the West took an active role in the internal life of states transitioning from totalitarian and authoritarian systems, as occurred in conquered Germany and Japan, in Southern Europe, and in the former communist states of Central and Southeastern Europe and the Baltic states. Admission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU) became the ultimate guarantee of a state’s successful transformation. In these cases, the West—as a community of liberal democracies—became both an internal and an external factor of reform. It should be noted that such intimate engagement only worked when Western experts and politicians actually understood what was going on in the countries they were trying to help.

For Russia in the 1990s, the West was not just a mentor and a guide on the path of reform; it was a participant. Today, a broad spectrum of political and social forces in Russia, including human rights activists and liberals, view the West with skepticism, if not antipathy. Of course, the West itself no longer greets Russia warmly, but Western politicians and commentators are loath to acknowledge this uncomfortable truth, fearing it will only further cool relations with Moscow. But neither polite smiles nor clarion calls to reset the relationship can disguise it: Russia and the West are further apart today than they have been at any time since Gorbachev’s perestroika.

This uncomfortable truth raises several questions: What role did the West, as a liberal civilization, play in Russia’s transformation? How does Russia’s internal evolution influence its relations with the West? What do Russian and Western observers think about the relationship? What is the liberal interpretation of this recent history? And finally, what can we expect from Russia in the future? Let us explore how the civilizational factor—that is, the method of organizing power and society, norms and principles—affects relations between Russia and West, and how those relations ease or hinder Russian reforms.


*In this book I use the West to refer to a civilization, that is, a community of states that organize themselves on the basis of liberal-democratic principles. The relations between Russia and the West interest me primarily from the point of view of norms and principles and how Western liberal civilization can influence the Russian transformation.

2

COLLAPSE OF THE USSR: THE WEST CAUGHT UNAWARES

There is an astonishing historical irony embedded in the disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)—so astonishing, in fact, that it raises doubts about the global elite’s ability to predict and prepare for the future. For many decades, the West marshaled its finest minds to the task of devising strategies to contain and neutralize its Cold War opponent. However, it was the possibility no one had prepared for—a Soviet collapse—that preoccupied the West’s key leaders at the end of the Cold War.

During the Soviet Union’s dying years, George H. W. Bush, François Mitterrand, Helmut Kohl, and John Major were all feverishly searching for a way to keep it alive. All of the Western powers, and especially the Americans, feared that Mikhail Gorbachev was losing control of a nuclear super-power. Secretary of State James Baker publicly called on the United States to do whatever was needed to strengthen the center, namely Gorbachev. President Bush shocked an audience of pro-independence Ukrainians in August 1991 by telling them that freedom is not the same as independence, and that Americans would not support those who sought independence in order to trade tyranny for local despotism. Brent Scowcroft later explained Washington’s position during the late 1980s and early 1990s:

We tried to act in a way that did not provoke in Eastern Europe another cycle of uprising and repression. We wanted to move liberalization forward, but at a pace that would be under the Soviets’ reaction point. Of course, we did not know exactly what that pace was. But we tried to avoid causing either a crackdown by the Soviet Union or an internal disruption within the Soviet Union in which the hardliners would kick Gorbachev out because he wasn’t tough enough.¹

In Europe, the Soviet demise caused confusion, even panic. Leaders who had for many years feared Soviet imperialism now found that they couldn’t decide whether they could live without it. Should they support independence for the former Soviet satellites? Or should they help Moscow rein in the chaos of its crumbling empire?

These concerns were understandable, especially when seen in the context of unguarded nuclear stockpiles. But there was another reason the thought of a Soviet disintegration made Western leaders so nervous: The West had grown accustomed to a world order that relied on the idea of mutual containment for its stability. For some influential corporative interests—economic, military, and ideological—the struggle against international communism and the Soviet Union gave meaning to their existence. The disappearance of that struggle meant there was no longer a civilizational alternative by which the West could set itself apart. As Robert Cooper put it, Today’s America is partly the creation of the Soviet Union. . . . The USSR presented a challenge that went to the core of America’s Enlightenment identity. The existence of the USSR had hastened the process of European unification and given Europe’s leaders a foil against which they could set their own course. The Soviet Union, which had cemented the West and forced it to perfect itself, was disappearing. After it was gone, the West was unlikely to find another such organizing principle. It wasn’t clear what kind of Russia would appear in the place of the former Evil Empire. A new world was in the making, and the West wasn’t ready for it.

Bewildered, Western leaders continued to bet on Mikhail Gorbachev up until the very end, reluctant to negotiate with Boris Yeltsin. Neither Yeltsin nor the new Russia he represented were trusted in Western capitals. The West found Yeltsin and his people, who were busy pushing Gorbachev out of the Kremlin, suspicious.

Nevertheless, Western leaders were not prepared to support Gorbachev when he began to lose ground. Only Germany rendered aid to the USSR in the form of payments for the evacuation of Soviet troops from the former East Germany and Moscow’s acquiescence to German reunification. With that exception, the countries of the West had no intention of offering Gorbachev help. When the USSR began to come apart at the seams, they sought only to fill the niche left by the disappearance of the Soviet Union. It looked as if the West’s leaders liked having a weaker, less aggressive USSR. They clearly did not lend any credence to the prospect of its transformation and did not plan to offer Gorbachev any serious help to restore the Soviet state, even in a new form.

At the same time, the West no doubt understood that the USSR could not stand on one leg with the other dangling over a cliff for very long. It just couldn’t figure out what to do and preferred not to think about it. I remember those years, when the iconic Russian question—What is to be done?—became a Western preoccupation, too. Western elites had no answer to it. Gorbachev, meanwhile, was desperately pinging the West with requests for loans. Western leaders heard him and demanded in return, Give us a plan. Tell us how you intend to use the money. And then they did nothing.

Grigory Yavlinsky, one of the future leaders of the Russian democratic movement and a close confidant to Gorbachev at the time, came to the United States in 1990 to propose the idea of a Grand Bargain—a plan that would invite the West to take a major role in cooperating with Soviet reforms. Yavlinsky’s proposal met with polite evasions and deferrals. Money can’t compensate for the lack of strong foundations for a new system, the skeptics in the Bush administration told him. And we’re not going to help you revive what is rotting away. The skeptics were right, but the West was caught in a Catch-22: It feared a Soviet collapse, but it also couldn’t bring itself to do what it took to preserve or reform the Soviet Union. Gorbachev’s dream of renewing the state or creating a new kind of community of states was slipping away. Of course, no one knows what would have happened if Gorbachev had received the Western support he needed to implement radical reforms. No one knows whether Gorbachev would have embarked on these reforms if he had gotten the support he desired. But since that support was never very likely to materialize, we can only engage in idle speculation about what could have happened.

In July 1991, when the economic situation in the USSR was critical, Gorbachev attended the Group of Seven (G7) meeting in London. It was the first time a Soviet leader had been invited to the annual summit of global grandees. As his press secretary Andrei Grachev later recalled, Gorbachev’s fellow elite treated him like a supplicant, politely but indifferently. He did not touch the hearts of the pragmatic members of the G7.² When I asked Gorbachev about the Seven Plus One summit, he replied bitterly,

I did not ask for grants. There was no talk of the Marshall Plan. We talked about loans with very specific conditions. Some of the Western leaders were ready to give us this urgent aid. Mitterrand spoke hotly and emotionally in our support. But then Bush took the floor and announced that perestroika was not a credit-worthy undertaking and there was no need to talk on that topic further.³

That pronouncement effectively ended Gorbachev’s mission in London. The elder Bush had hammered the last nail in the political coffin of the father of Soviet liberalization, and the other leaders of the West buried him. The club of Western democracies no longer believed in perestroika. They had decided to wait and see what would unfold.

Of course, fear of global chaos would eventually force Western leaders to loosen their countries’ purse strings, albeit slowly and reluctantly. Under pressure from Germany and France, the G7 issued the Soviet Union a loan of $11 billion, but the funds didn’t begin to arrive in Moscow until late 1991 and early 1992, when Yeltsin and his team, not Gorbachev, were the ones to enjoy them.

Many in the West regretted the departure of Gorbachev and the USSR, and they regarded the new faces filling Kremlin offices with distrust. Unexpectedly deprived of a foe, the West was not prepared to be a friend to the new Russia. Zbigniew Brzezinski analyzed the mood of the Western political and intellectual community during the USSR’s collapse:

When it began, there was no model, no guiding concept, with which to approach the task. Economic theory at least claimed some understanding of the allegedly inevitable transformation of capitalism into socialism. But there was no theoretical body of knowledge pertaining to transformation of the statist systems into pluralistic democracies based on the free market. In addition to being daunting intellectually, the issue was and remains taxing politically, because the West, surprised by the rapid disintegration of communism, was not prepared for participation in the complex task of transforming the former Soviet–type systems.

Eliot Cohen broadly echoed this analysis: At the end of the Cold War, the US unexpectedly found itself in a situation where it had enormous power and influence, but unlike 1947–1948, it had no idea how to use them.

Only when it became obvious that the collapse of the USSR was inevitable did Western leaders suddenly awaken to the need to avert its most catastrophic potential consequence—namely, an unsecured Soviet nuclear arsenal. But beyond this task, the West simply didn’t know what to do with Russia. Russians today who blame the West for the Soviet disintegration of the late 1980s and early 1990s are widely off the mark. The Western elite feared the collapse of the USSR more than the Soviets themselves did; the Soviet elite, after all, were the ones who elected to dismantle their own state. We must therefore put aside conspiracy theories and analyze Western intellectual and political attitudes toward Gorbachev’s perestroika and the Soviet collapse calmly and dispassionately.

It’s a much simpler matter to understand how the Russian elite failed to foresee the likely consequences of Gorbachev’s reforms; independent and strategic thinking skills had languished after decades of Soviet rule. But why were Western intellectuals and politicians so unprepared for the avalanche of events preceding and following the collapse of the USSR? Why were Western experts and political leaders unable to begin a discussion either about Russia’s place in a new world order or about how the West could support Russian reforms? Answering these questions calls not for a rush to judgment but for responsible consideration from Western experts themselves.


Notes

1. Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, America and the World: Conversations on the Future of American Foreign Policy (New York: Basic Books, 2008), p. 158.

2. Andrei Grachev, Gorbachev [Gorbachev] (Moscow: Vagrius, 2001), p. 360.

3. All direct quotations without corresponding footnotes are from personal conversations with the author between 2008 and 2010 or from personal diaries.

4. Nikolas Gvozdev, ed., Russia in the National Interest (New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers, 2004), p. 31.

5. Francis Fukuyama, America at the Crossroads. Democracy, Power and the Neoconservative Legacy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), p. 162.

3

THE WEST REGARDS YELTSIN WARILY

From the first days of its existence, the new Russia expected to be embraced and helped by the West. Elite and public attitudes were marked by quite a bit of naïveté, provincialism, and feelings of inadequacy. In 1991–1992, one of the most popular topics for discussion in political and intellectual circles in Russia was the idea of a Marshall Plan. ¹ Very few proponents of this plan saw the inherent contradiction between their desire for Russia to be recognized as the inheritor of the Soviet Union’s great-power status and permanent Security Council seat, on the one hand, and its status as a supplicant for Western aid, on the other. Russia’s leaders, desperately trying to avert the pending economic collapse, gave no thought to political nuance or the need to adjust to Russia’s new international role. Indeed, they were in unanimous agreement that the West should reimburse Russia for the collapse of the Soviet Union. The entire political spectrum from left to right agreed that by giving up its empire and its antagonistic position,

Russia has saved the West a lot of money. Why, then, shouldn’t the West spend some of that money on supporting Russia? they asked.

The Marshall Plan idea did not resonate in Washington. Even if it had, there is no guarantee that such aid would have helped Russian reforms. A similar plan for Latin America passed under the Kennedy administration in 1961 (Alliance for Progress) failed to stimulate progress among America’s southern neighbors. Another key factor working against the success of a Marshall Plan for Russia was motivation: In the 1940s, the United States had a vital national interest in reviving the economies of Europe and the vanquished nations of Germany and Japan. In the 1990s, no such vital national interests were engaged. Russians overlooked another important aspect, too: A state receiving massive aid on the scale of the Marshall Plan would have to accept limitations to its own sovereignty; Russia was not prepared to accept Western domination.

The West remained divided. Some politicians continued to support a balance of power strategy. They believed that a country’s external behavior did not depend on the nature of its political regime. Thus there was no need to spend money to support Russian reforms. Other politicians believed the opposite: that the internal character of a regime mattered, and that it would be easier to deal with a democratic country with a market economy.

However, even those who wanted to help did not know what to do. In 1991 and early 1992, a defining moment for post-communist Russia, the West was only prepared to assist in two ways: helping Russia to maintain control of its nuclear stockpile and easing the pain of the disintegration of the USSR with humanitarian aid. The West’s main task, as its leaders saw it, was to guarantee the stability of the emerging new world order. Very few people—at least, very few at leadership level—put any serious thought into how to integrate Russia into that order. Russia quickly moved to take up the Soviet Union’s place on the Security Council, but no one knew what form that succession would take. Nor was anyone in Russia ready to think about these questions.

Today, as I think back to what seems not so long ago, I feel bitterness and hurt. So many opportunities were lost—primarily by Russian intellectuals and politicians. How easy it would have been for them to look to their neighbors in Poland or Hungary who had already undertaken dramatic reforms. But the new Russian elite, concerned only with itself, did not show any interest in the world around it, especially its neighbors. At a unique moment in history, when the Russian people trusted the new ruling team and hungered for change, the Kremlin’s new denizens could not rally around a consensus about the principles of state-building or Russia’s new role in the world. In 1991–1992, quite a few of Yeltsin’s comrades sensed that moving into Europe was the right direction, but what that meant in practice they did not know. Meanwhile, democrats and liberals whose own intuitions carried them in the opposite direction increased in numbers, and they called for a new, Eurasian mission for Russia within the former Soviet space.

In 1992, the foreign policy quarterly National Interest reprinted an article by one of Yeltsin’s closest allies, Sergei Stankevich, that stunned Western observers. Stankevich’s essay merely said publicly what many people in the democratic camp in Russia already thought privately. Stankevich wrote that the Atlantic jacket was too tight for Russia’s broad shoulders and that Russia needed to seek a new balance of Western and Eastern orientations. He was merely humming an old, familiar song in a new key, but the very fact that people close to Yeltsin were dredging up old tunes was a troubling sign. Evidently, the Kremlin was contemplating forming a new Russian

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