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#26 - JRL 2006-159 - JRL Home
Date: Sun, 16 Jul 2006 1
From: Andrei Tsygankov <andrei@sfsu.edu>
Subject: Review of Trenin's recent book [Integration and Identity: Russia as the 'New West']

Andrei P. Tsygankov
Program Chair, International Studies Association 2006-07 Associate Professor, International Relations / Political Science San Francisco State University

Dmitri Trenin, Integratsiya i identichnost: Rossiya kak 'novyi Zapad' (Integration and Identity: Russia as the 'New West') (Moscow: Carnegie Moscow Center, 2006). 401 pp.

The book argues that Russia can and should integrate with the West that has emerged as the most promising model of economic and political development in the world. An influential voice of Russia’s Westernizers, Trenin maintains that, in order to succeed, Russia must now concentrate on internal transformation, rather than put the emphasis on gaining membership in leading Western institutions, as the early 1990s Westernizers did. Such transformation must include further economic liberalization and dismantlement of what Trenin describes as “authoritarian” regime of the old “Tsarist” kind (pp. 105, 147). In addition, Russia’s new liberal Westernizers will do well to learn lessons of their defeat by great power advocates in the 1990s and to incorporate the factor of patriotism in the strategy of liberal transformation. This can be accomplished by redefining great power in the context of international transformation and post-imperial nation-building (pp. 365-366). The book continues some of the themes discussed by the author earlier in his The End of Eurasia: Russia on the Border Between Geopolitics and Globalization (Moscow: Carnegie Moscow Center, 2001), in which he encouraged Russia to abandon its attempts to remain the center of gravity in the former Soviet region and to make a decisive choice in favor of Europe and globalization.

How can the book be situated in the contemporary Russian discourse? Clearly, it seeks to strengthen national position of liberal Westernizers and Europeanists. There are currently three competing schools of viewing Russia’s relations with Europe and the West. Conservatives, such as Natalya Narochnitskaya, argue that Russia is European by virtue of its Christian identity. The currently dominant supporters of great power identity point to the historical role played by Russia in preserving international order in Europe. They claim that Russia must continue to play its essentially European role of a stabilizer in the volatile post-Soviet region and that no reform can be successful without such stabilization. Finally, there are those advocating Russia’s Europeanness of the ground of developing common values and institutions, such as democracy, human rights, private property, and rule of law. The latter thinking was typical of the West-oriented policies of Boris Yeltsin, and it is to this thinking that Trenin seeks to contribute in his new book.

There are at least two problems with Trenin’s argument. First, while granting Russia a right to pursue a distinct path of integration, the author continues to assume that the country needs to “become” a part of Europe and the “new” West. Russia, he says, has been historically European, yet it often “fell out of” Europe (pp. 63, 167) as a result of failed reform efforts. If this is the case, then what Russia really needs is to “return” to Europe, rather than preserve its identity and distinctiveness. A more productive way of synthesizing identity and integration might have been to assume that Russia has always been in Europe/West. By historical accounts, Russia has certainly been a West longer than some other nations, including the United States. Therefore the challenge for Russia is not to be included in, but develop a deeper awareness of itself as a legitimate member of Europe and of its special ties with the world. Put differently, Russia has to intellectually absorb the world/West, rather than let itself be absorbed by it.

Second, Trenin’s account is thin on geopolitics and international relations­surprisingly so given that foreign policy issues lie at heart of his analysis. There is little of discussion of terrorism and instability and how the still poorly consolidated statehood makes it difficult to pursue a coherent strategy of reform and international integration. While mentioning in passing that many in the West do not wish to see Russia economically strong (p. 129), Trenin provides no insights into how the West seeks to determine the shape of reforms, definition of sovereignty and national interests in Russia. At least since the end of 2004, the Kremlin has pursued an assertive foreign policy partly in response to the West’s strategy of regime changes in the former Soviet region, pressures on Russia to adopt West-friendly energy policies and to continue subsidizing some Western-oriented regimes, such as Ukraine and Georgia. Not giving due to geopolitical aspects of Russia’s “internal” transformation remains typical of the Westernist thinking and is out of touch with reality. Trenin’s citations record too reveals the authors over commitment to this pattern of thinking. Rather than trying to take issues with his nationalist and great power opponents or consider seriously the tradition of Russia’s great power liberals, such as Sergei Witte or Pyort Stuve, he almost exclusively relies on Western or Russia’s authors of liberal orientation.

Despite these shortcomings, the book is interesting and important. Although Trenin’s attempt to position Russia in the “new West” is ultimately unsuccessful ­ and he admits so by asserting more recently that Russia has “left the Western orbit” (See his article in Foreign Affairs, July/August 2006) ­ it poses the right question and presents the right challenge to those seeking to understand Russia’s role in the world.