Voice of America
22 June 2007
Russian Officials Urge West to Help Transform Country from Empire to Nation
By Peter Fedynsky
In 1957, the United States and Soviet Union began a series of exhibits to showcase the life and achievements of the two countries. Russia is marking the 50th anniversary of the exchanges in place of the USSR, which ceased to exist in 1991. A Moscow symposium on Thursday examined the impact of the exhibits and discussed how continued foreign engagement with Russia can help that country abandon imperial ambitions, which characterized the country's past. VOA correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports from the Russian capital.
In his keynote address to the symposium at Moscow's Carnegie Center think tank, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia, as opposed to the Soviet Union, is not creating physical or political walls at home or abroad.
He said Russia's moves toward a free market, the country's growing economy, and the abundance of energy resources deserve the world's respect. He said Russia and the West can cooperate as equal partners to help former Soviet republics who now belong to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Lavrov says conditions exist for respectful cooperation between Russia and the West to help CIS countries establish statehood.
Moscow City Council member Dimitri Kataev, who once visited the United States on an exchange program, told the symposium how he was struck by America's diverse ethnic mix. Kataev noted that some American schools celebrate the independence of Mexico, which prompted the following rhetorical question about Russia's neighbor to the south.
Kataev asked if anyone could conceive of Russian schools celebrating the independence of Ukraine. His question elicited laughter in the audience, indicating that Russians are not completely reconciled to the loss of Ukraine.
The chairman of the foreign affairs committee in Russia's Federation Council, Senator Mikhail Margelov, said his country is engaged in the difficult task of introducing a non-imperial consciousness into Russia's political culture. Margelov said the task has been faced by other countries that have lost empires. He said Russia needs help in becoming a nation, rather than empire.
Margelov says the West can help Russia think of ways to help its citizens broaden the window on Europe and America, so that the openings turn into showcases with an exchange that works both ways.
Margelov and Foreign Minister Lavrov urged the West to ease visa regulations for Russians who want to travel to the United States and the European Union. He said a world more open to Russians will weaken the influence of the country's isolationists.