Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson
#31 - JRL 2007-188 - JRL Home
Date: Mon, 3 Sep 2007
From: GORDON HAHN <gordon-hahn@sbcglobal.net>
Subject: Gordon Hahn's Response to Andrei Tsygankov's/ JRL #187 [re: Russia & the West, NATO]

A brief response to my good friend Andrei Tsygankov's important and measured response to my MT piece. First, the title, which increases the alarmist and pessimistic tone of the piece, was not of my choosing. I accepted it, but did not conceive it. To 'loose X' has a loose set of connotations that can be perceived as one wishes.

The point of my piece was to argue that NATO expansion without Russia was the genesis of Russia's turn away from the West and democracy and those of us who opposed it were right and those who supported it were wrong. Andrei points out plausibly that Russia is returning to its traditional even, one might say, natural great power status. However, there is no reason that a great power Russia could not have been, cannot be significantly more closely aligned with the West and the U.S. than with what RFERL has been obsessively referring to in its Russia reporting as the 'club of dictatorships'. SCO's militarization shows that in this crucial sphere and, I believe, in the strategic thinking of most of the Russian elite, Russia's interests are better served in the East than with the West and that a strategic partnership with China and others in the East, in accordance with the Eurasian paradigm, is important precisely because it counters Western, especially American power. If Russia were closer to the West than to China ideologically as well as in its perceptions of international politics and the West, it would be initiating military exercises with NATO and perhaps even seeking NATO membership, not seeking to militarize SCO and conisidering its use as a counterweight to NATO. To be sure (and this was the point of my article), close alliance with the West, Western values, and democracy seems to many in Russia (and here) to be excluded now because of post-Cold War policies vis-a-vis Russia and globally: American policies and the Bush administration's continued insistence on 'going it alone' and preserving America's pre-eminent position in a hyper-unipolar world, rather than using America's superpower status to play sherriff and organize posses whether in broad alliances of states and by using proxies rather than unlateral military intervention. One way out for Russia and the West is perhaps in future cooperation between NATO and SCO.

Another sign of Russia's alienation from the West is Russia's gradual re-authoritarianization, perhaps planned to be temporary, perhaps not. I do not want to overstate (overdramatize) it, as many in our field do (or at least as the weight of themes published suggests), that Russia is a dictatorship. It is a soft authoritarian regime now, but this was perhaps inevitable after the Yeltsin chaos. Moreover, much of the authoritarianism under Putin emerges in the distant regions' rather than as a matter of federal policy and in the some of the regime's practices rather than in its institututional and legal framework. A cessation of the use of administrative resources and law enforcement organs for political purposes, which is most often in violation of Russian law, would allow the system to function more or less democratically. Therefore, a quick re-democratization is very possible if the leadership desires it. In sum, Putin has not gone all that far in the direction of de-democratization, but far enough to create a real gap between Moscow's practice and that in Western democracies. A complicating factor polarizing Russia and the West on this score, is the inordinate amount of often frenzied attention that Western governments and media devote to Russian deviations from democracy as compared to the attention devoted to much worse and more frequent violatons of human, civil, and political rights by other authoritarian states and real dictatorships - first of all China.

Andrei writes correctly: "(T)he Kremlin has abstained from actions that would genuinely upset the existing international balance, such as developing an exclusive alliance with anti-Western states, recognizing separatist territories in the former Soviet region, or sponsoring a military intervention there." However, Russia is probably still too weak to engage in any of these policies in lieu of a strong set of military-political allies, but SCO may be the beginning of an attempt at developing just such an exclusive alliance with anti-Western states. Furthermore, the implication here, by use of the word "abstained," seems to be that Moscow would like to engage in these policies. This indeed shows that Moscow is now psychologically and ideologically distant from the West and closer to China. Economically things are moving in the same direction, though Russia's economic integration with the West (excluding the U.S.) is far greater that with the East.

Being part of the West and/or NATO would not have required Russia to submit "passively" to U.S. or Western strategic interests. Russia could have reshaped some Western perceptions through which those interests are defined, and many of its interests would have become part of the mix of interests the alliance would serve. To be sure, there would have to be compromises as in any alliance.

Instead of this now lost prospect, the desire to protect themselves from the vulnerability of resisting real and potential Western real and potential demands for democratization, for the granting independence to separatist regions like Kosova, Chechnya, Tibet among others, and for limiting relations with certain roguestates like Iran and Venezuela is driving SCO members int each others' arms. True, Russia and China have divergent interests regarding oil and gas prices and the desire to challenge the international status quo. However, regarding oil and gas prices Russia and the West also have divergent interests, and on challenging the status quo Russia is hoping to use SCO as leverage against NATO, the West, and the U.S. Is Moscow using any relationship with the West to gain leverage on Beijing?

I would prefer having Russia and the West making compromises and working closely together to having Russia, China, perhaps Iran, and a collection of weaker states doing so, especially in a region of vital interest for the war against jihadism. In that war, Russia and NATO countries are the top 'far enemies' and will need to be working together much more closely. It is vital to remember that the West and, to a lesser extent (for now), Russia face a grave confrontation with a good portion of the Muslim world this century. Moreover, Taiwan and China's ultimate direction could create confrontation with China. Therefore, Moscow may be faced with stark choices sometime this century, and I, for one, would rather see a democratic and western-oriented Russia rather than one ensconced in a perhaps an authoritarian Asian or Eurasian community and military alliance when the time comes to make that choice. In such a world, Russia and even the West will not be able to stand alone.

Gordon M. Hahn, Senior Researcher and Adunct Professor at the Monterey Institute for International Studies and Senior Researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies, Akribis Group.