May 31, 2006
West Chided for Being Stuck in 1990s Mindset
By Nabi Abdullaev
Western leaders who have yet to come to terms with a newly enriched, and newly empowered, Russia are largely to blame for the strain in relations with Moscow.
That was the consensus of most Russian officials, public figures and political analysts -- including many regarded as pro-Western -- at a one-day conference Tuesday at Moscow's Ararat Park Hyatt hotel.
"I am an avid supporter of developing relations with the West," Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, said at the beginning of the conference. "But the West should not be telling Russia that it is headed in the wrong direction."
Lilia Shevtsova, a political analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center, and Viktor Kuvaldin, a political analyst with the Gorbachev Foundation, said the foreign relations model adopted by the West in the 1990s needed to be revised.
"The model in which Russia imitates democracy and the West responds by imitating partnership has died out," Shevtsova said.
Moscow's expectations have dramatically changed, Shevtsova said.
Russians now expect the West not to meddle in their internal politics and in their relations with former Soviet republics, and they demand that the West acknowledge that Russia's oil and gas reserves are a legitimate foreign-policy tool, she explained. Shevtsova added that West's approach in these areas was diametrically opposed to Russia's.
Political leaders from Washington to Brussels have voiced concern about the Kremlin's abolition of the election of governors, increased oversight of the media and use of the energy sector to influence events in Ukraine and Georgia, among other issues.
The United States, in particular, is upset with Russia for opposing sanctions against Iran as it pursues its uranium-enrichment program.
William Burns, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, told conference participants that U.S.-Russia relations were not in great shape, but he stressed that it was in the interest of the whole world for the two countries to work together on nuclear energy and other sensitive issues.
And Marc Franco, head of the European Commission's Russia delegation, warned the Kremlin not to spark a new Cold War with the West.
Participants were split on whether Russian leaders' anti-Western rhetoric reflected public thinking or whether that rhetoric was a tool used by politicians to consolidate their power.
A poll released this month by the independent Levada Center showed Russians steadily losing confidence in the West: As of April, 8 percent of Russians favored closer ties with the United States, compared to 13 percent three years earlier.
Analogously, 24 percent favored stronger relations with Western Europe as of last month, while 32 percent felt that way in April 2003. The recent survey included 1,600 respondents and had a margin of error of less than 3 percent.
Shevtsova ruled out a confrontation between the West and Russia, given their interdependence. But she said that "misunderstanding and grumbling" were inevitable.
The latest "misunderstanding" came at last week's summit in Sochi between European Union leaders and President Vladimir Putin.
The parties failed to hammer out an agreement on opening access to their natural gas pipelines and other energy infrastructure. The summit was viewed as a dress rehearsal for the Group of Eight's July summit in St. Petersburg.
Russia's intellectual elite have also grown weary of the Western media's portrayal of the country as backward, said Ella Pamfilova, head of the Council for Fostering the Development of Civil Society.
They are also dismayed by the hypocrisy of U.S. leaders who castigate Russia for backsliding on democracy while praising some post-Soviet authoritarian regimes for being democratic, Pamfilova said.
She was apparently referring to recent remarks made by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Pamfilova also warned that the United States, in criticizing Russia, might help the country elect an anti-Western president in 2008.
Conference participants also took aim at the country's Byzantine bureaucracy and its hostility to nongovernmental organizations. Russia has been heavily criticized in the West for its recently adopted law regulating NGOs.
Steven Solnick, head of the Ford Foundation's Moscow office, complained that in Russia the government had the right to send a letter to the his foundation demanding that it not fund a given project.
"It's like the metro," Solnick said. "In New York, you put your pass through and the gates open, and you can go ahead. Here, in Moscow, you put your pass in and the gates open, but right as you're about to go through, they close."
Natasha Rotstein contributed to this story.