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

#12 - JRL 7234
June 20, 2003
Symposium: The Future of U.S.-Russian Relations
By Jamie Glazov

The American liberation of Iraq illustrated a bitter lesson for American foreign policy: despite the fall of Soviet communism in 1991, the U.S. still cannot regard Russia as an ally. To be sure, Russia gave support to Iraq before and during the Iraqi war. There have even been reports that Saddam was taken to Syria in the convoy of the Russian embassy staff. This has not proven, but due to the circumstances, it remains tragically believable.

What does this mean for American-Russian relations? Should the U.S. regard Russia as an enemy? As a competitor? What policy should America implement toward its former Cold War foe? Should the U.S. "punish" Russia for its disloyalty? To discuss these questions with us today, Frontpage Symposium has the pleasure of being joined by Richard Pipes, a Professor Emeritus at Harvard, who is one of the world's leading authorities on Soviet history. He is the author of 18 books, the most recent being Communism: A History (Randolm House, 2001); Vladimir Bukovsky, a former Soviet dissident who spent twelve years in Soviet prisons, labor camps and psychiatric hospitals for his fight for freedom, and whose works include To Build a Castle and Judgement in Moscow; Yuri Yarim-Agaev, another former Soviet dissident who, despite ongoing KGB harassment and detention, actively participated in anti-Soviet campaigns, such as the public efforts to defend Anatoli Sharansky, Yuri Orlov, Andrei Sakharov and other dissidents; and Jacob Heilbrunn, editoral writer and staff member of the Los Angeles Times, in Washington, DC.

Interlocutor: Welcome gentlemen to Frontpage Symposium. It has become pretty clear that Putin's Russia is no friend of the United States. Russias despicable behaviour vis--vis Saddam before and during the Iraqi war demonstrated that fact.

There are those who would argue that the Soviet system still holds power in Russia. In other words, despite 1991, the communists still control Russia and they hold no good intentions toward America or the West. And this is confirmed, arguably, by Russian mischief in Iraq. And God knows what the Russians are up to in North Korea.

So lets begin with this question: is America's alliance with Russia a serious blunder for American foreign policy? Is it time for the U.S. to see Russia as an enemy?

Pipes: There is some truth in your observations Jamie, but it is not the whole truth. I don't believe that "the Soviet system still holds power in Russia." The system has been dismantled but the Soviet mindset remains. In particular, the majority of Russians believe that their country has the right to be a "great power" and as such respected and fear. Since it is not, there is a great deal of envy and resentment simmering, as shown by opinion polls that indicated during the recent Iraqi campaign that 58 percent of Russians wish for an American defeat and only 3 percent want the USA to win. At the same time, the country's rulers realize that they need to be friendly to the US for economic and political reasons. Hence the vacillations and contradictions.

Heilbrunn: Sorry, Jamie, I don't buy it. Vladimir Putin is no friend of the U.S. But that hardly makes him an "enemy," either. What conceivable incentive would Putin have had to spirit away Saddam to a dacha outside Moscow? If anything, Putin is scrambling to improve relations with the U.S. after opposing Gulf War II. The impoverished Russian state does not have the resources to mount a serious challenge to the U.S. on the order of the late USSR. It is unable, for example, to subdue Chechnya--witness the suicide bombing that just took place.

With George W. Bush wary of any further military action before the 2004 election, his best hope is to nudge the Russians to push Iran to disclose its nuclear activities. As far as North Korea is concerned, I'd ascribe far more influence to China than to Russia. If Russia had the ability to challenge the U.S. seriously, it would. But to designate ramshackle Russia an "enemy" would be to give it too much credit.

Yarim-Agaev: The Soviet communist system collapsed irreversibly in 1991. Yet, since democratic infrastructure has not been created in its place, old Soviet political structures and loyalists filled the void and returned to power. Those people by their nature and skills are doomed to carry out inimical policy toward the US. As long as old Soviet political structures control Russian politics, Russia would remain our enemy. And the longer we support them, the longer they would hold their control. It is totally in our hands to break this vicious circle, since we do not need anything from the current Russian government, neither its world influence, because it does not have it anyway, nor its votes, because it has them only by our generosity.

Until we break this circle, however, Russia would remain our enemy. Surely, if the definition of enemy is the one which imposes a deadly threat on us, then the only country, which still may possibly qualify, is China. However we usually define enemy by its hostile attitude and intentions, rather then by its strength. An enemy can be strong or weak. Putins Russia is a weak and hidden enemy, but an enemy nevertheless.

Interestingly, despite the friendly disposition of our politicians to Russia, this fact is present in their minds, perhaps even subconsciously. Otherwise one cannot explain the policy of appeasement toward that country. You do not appease your friends. When your friend hurts you, you either overlook his action, as a minor accident, or get really angry and say: Stop. Do you realize what you are doing? You are hurting me. And that is exactly how we reacted to Germany and Frances behavior during the Iraq War. Not so with respect to Russia, whose behavior was much more outrageous. We started to appease it instead. Appeasement is a bad policy even toward a strong enemy, but doubly inappropriate for a weak one.

Yet, that is how it stands now: American policy toward Russia is containment and appeasement; the Russian policy toward America is blackmail and extortion. Russia usually gets our money and political favors in response to either its hostile action toward us or a threat of such would it be selling arms to our enemies, nuclear or bacteriological proliferation or vetoing Security Council decision supporting our policy. I do not want to speculate on some unconfirmed rumors about Hussein being taken into Russia, but this kind of act would well fit into that pattern. Putin would not have anything to lose but much to gain. He would eventually sell back Hussein to us, get money and reconfirm himself as an important player and a person with whom we can do business.

With such Russian-American relations there is no contradiction between getting money from America and being its enemy. So, there is hardly any need to find explanation in Putins behavior, as being driven by his populous hostile to America, and he hardly is. First, the mindset of Putin and his clique is even more Soviet than of the majority of Russian people. Second, the part of the Soviet mindset mindset is to follow directions of the rulers, rather than to tell them what to do. If Russian people are told tomorrow that America is good, the results of polls can change overnight. Having said that, it is important to mention that the false Soviet pride is a serious obstacle to both good Russian-America relations and to democratization of Russia. There is no excuse for feeding into it, which, unfortunately, is part of our appeasement policy toward Russia. Letting Russia remain a permanent member of the UN Security Council, bringing it into G7, keeping Soviet space programs alive, all of this plays into hands of that aberration and delays normalization of our relations.

Bukovsky: "Enemy" is too strong a word for Putin's petty-minded jealousy and Russian bureaucracys schizophrenia. Indeed, they lack the strength for a direct challenge. But this is exactly the reason why they will always try to sabotage the U.S. behind its back. Why would they bother to secretly move nuclear material and Saddam out of Iraq? Well, I can think of two reasons. First, nuclear material was most likely supplied by them (directly or indirectly), while Saddam knew too much about it (as well as about many other things) and could not be trusted to keep his mouth shut. Second, the same reason they felt compelled to beat the Americans to the airfield in Kosovo: this is their way of saying "up yours!" Just imagine Putin's pleasure when he has asked Tony Blair with a sardonic smile: "So, where are the weapons of mass destruction?"

Pipes: I agree in general with Vladimir Bukovsky. Russia's foreign policy is driven more by the psychology of envy and resentment than by a cold calculation of national interest. But they no longer have an ideology that requires them to be hostile to the United States in principle: they no longer regard US-Russian relations as a zero-sum game. Hence the vacillations and contradictions.

Heilbrunn: OK, let me beat a slight tactical retreat. No question: Russia is probably best labelled a competitor, one that will try to sabotage American foreign policy whenever and wherever possible. To some extent, it seems like pathetic nostalgia -- I'm told that at the recent Geneva human rights meeting, Russian representatives spent much of their time palling around with the most retrograde countries present. The Bush administration is trying to gild the lily on Russia, but maybe that's the best that can be accomplished. It's not even clear that Putin is in full command -- or is this a new version of Uncle Joe being at the mercy of the real hardliners in the Politburo?

Still, I'm rather skeptical that Russia grabbed nuclear material supplied to Saddam. The sad fact is that Russia can't even keep tabs on the tons and tons of lethal stuff within its own borders. When would they have pulled off a complicated operation in Iraq? I'm scared stiff that terrorists or countries like Iran will get what they need from some disgruntled, or simply impoverished, Russian scientist. What's more, given the reports about unsecured materials in Iraq, it might be a good thing had the Russians actually been able to maintain control over what they originally supplied to Iraq. But I doubt it. If Putin gets to indulge in a little Schadenfreude when he meets Blair, it won't be because of his own cleverness.

True enough, just as the Syrians got wiped out in the Bekka Vally in Lebanon in 1983 by American technology, Iraq took it on the nose once again. Getting in bed with Russia is no recipe for military victory. Maybe we should set up an exchange program between the Third World and Moscow to encourage our foes to cozy up to the Russian military?

Is it really a surprise that Soviet apparatchiks climbed back into the bureaucracy? Did they ever leave in the first place? My recollection is that the same thing happened when the Bolsheviks seized power. The question for me, which no one has, perhaps can, answer is: to what degree are these members of the old nomenklatura died in the wool U.S.-haters and to what extent are they acting on what they see as Russia's national interest?

My own guess is that their belief in communism is nil, but they, like the Chinese, see U.S. power as in itself a threat to Russian aspirations. That doesn't, ultimately, make them all that different from the French who, by the way, were sedulous suppliers of nasty goods to Saddam as well. Russia probably gets more of a pass because expectations aren't as high for it as they are for our quondam western European buddies.

Bukovsky: Mr. Heilbrunn throws so many arguments, (and so many mistakes with them), that I don't know where to start. I am overwhelmed. Perhaps, the old clich about disgruntled Russian nuclear scientists selling the secrets to a rogue regime (or a terrorist organization) is a good beginning. Now, Mr. Heilbrunn, scientists in Russia are no more disgruntled than any other group. But they have a better way out of poverty than most. The best and the brightest among them are already in the US universities (as well as in Canada, Germany, Japan etc). Besides, nuclear scientists in Russia were never allowed to have any contacts with foreigners. Finding a reliable contact with potential buyers is a huge problem for them.

Finally, there is no such thing as nuclear secrets. If you give me enough of weapon grade plutonium, I will make you a nuclear device in my bathroom. The buyers, therefore, are not looking for "secrets", they are looking for material (or for reactors which produce such material). Neither is in the hands of a scientist, they are government property being guarded by the government. Indeed, so far we have not heard of a single case of a scientist selling them. It is the government, Mr. Heilbrunn, who does. The government and its numerous institutions like GRU, Army, FSB but never a scientist. Of course, Radek is right and if we were talking about Russian sale of their obsolete junk to the Third Wotld countries, no one would have been alarmed. But nuclear and biological material? Would you encourage that, too?

Now, if Russia did remove nuclear material from Iraq, it was not because the Russian authorities needed it, and certainly not because they did not want it to be lying around unguarded, but because they did not want it to be found by your authorities. First, because it is quite easy to identify where it came from in the first place; second, because it would give US administration a perfect justification for their military action in Iraq.

Of course, we don't know for sure whether they did it or not. But they've had plenty of opportunities: there were numerous visits by Russian generals, politicians and intelligence officials prior to the outbreak of war. Some were secret, others were open. Some, as we know, removed the most sensitive documents from the archives, others might have removed nuclear or bacteriological material. Logistically, it is not as difficult as one might think.

Finally, I wouldn't even dream of comparing the use of Tsarist "specialists" by the Bolsheviks (who were actually drafted back into service, and always supervised by commissars, being constantly under suspicion as potential "enemies of the people"), which the arrogant return to power of the Soviet nomenklatura. Can you imagine a Tsarist officer of "okhranka" (secret police) being in charge of the Soviet state, and proudly boasting of his past service?

I am afraid, Western complacency has no excuse whatsoever. Why is it deemed necessary to always suck up to Russia, whether it is strong and dangerous (like in the Soviet time), or weak and irrelevant as it is now? It must be some sort of a mental disease among the Western foreign policy establishment. Can anyone explain to me why is Russia invited to the G7 meetings? G7 is supposed to be consisting of the most economically developed countries. What is Russia doing there, with the GDP smaller than the profit of General Electrics? But, no, we must massage their ego, mustn't we?

Heilbrunn: I must be the first person to overwhelm the formidable Vladimir Bukovsky. I'm surprised to learn that Russian scientists are no more immiserated than ones in other countries. This flies in the face of what one reads in the major papers by reporters who've visited Russian scientists. It's also why the Clinton, and now Bush, administration have been funding the Nunn-Lugar program, among other things, to help scientists "transition," as the modish and ungainly term has it, to non-lethal work. The success of that program has been somewhat iffy. I rather think he's the one guilty of a little complacency in this regard. Admitted: my comparison on the Tsarist/Bolshevik front my have been a bit of a stretch. But the point, I think, stands: -continuity exists in almost all revolutions. How revolutionary they were is a perennial question, one that isn't settled in the case of the Glorious Revolution or the French revolution. Why should Russia be any different?

Bukovsky: I did say the scientists in Russia are no more disgruntled than any other strata of Russian population. I did not say anything about their Western counterparts. Mr. Heilbrunn, I hope you realize that we are talking about nomenklatura (and KGB in particular) seizing absolute power in the country. Please agree that it is much more than just a "continuity".

Heilbrunn: Mr. Bukovsky, my apologies if I misread you on issue of Russian scientists. On the issue of continuity -- I'd be curious what word you would apply to it? I can understand why you think the nomenklatura is regaining power, but do you really believe that industrial and criminal bosses present no obstacles? Or do you think they're becoming one and the same? The argument of the optimists about Russia is that this is just a phase the country is going through with different groups jockeying for power.

Bukovsky: Mr. Heilbrunn, of course they are becoming one and the same. According to recently released figures, about 30% of top Russian beaurocrats at any level are former KGB officers. A few months ago, I read on one of the Russian sites about a great social event: a well-known mafia kingpin Mikhas threw a wedding party for his daughter. A list of the wedding guests reads like who's who in Russia (including two FSB generals). One can hardly be optimistic about a country where Prime-Minister (Mikhail Kasyanov) is popularly known as "Misha-2%" because he takes 2% from every transaction he endorses, and where the President is known to be involved with organized crime (see Newsweek, August 2001). Am I supposed to believe this is just growing pains? It took the US about 60 years to subdue Cosa Nostra which was just a kindergarten as compared to current Russian situation.

Interlocutor: Excuse me for interrupting Vladimir. You are hitting on a crucial point of course. There is a joke: an individual asks a Russian: "Who is more powerful today, the Russian mafia or the KGB?" And the Russian asks: "What's the difference?"

But let me go to Yuri for a minute and switch back to the theme that you and Jacob raised earlier about Russian scientists. Yuri, would you like to contribute your thoughts on that issue?

Yarim-Agaev: Yes, thank you.

I guess I would like to begin by saying that Russian scientists are in better position than most other Russians because they can much easier switch to other available jobs, such as of computer programmer or investment banker, as many physicist do here, in the US. The Lugar-Nunn program well illustrates major deficiencies of American policy toward Russia. The idea of this program is to subsidize the Soviet bio-weapon industry thus keeping its scientist from working for terrorists and rogue states, while this industry would turn into something peaceful.

No American program toward Russia can be value neutral, and this one clearly sends a wrong message. I feel it personally since still in 1970S in the Soviet Union I publicly refused to take part in any classified research. With such an open protest I risked more than my scientific carrier, but I felt it was important to define a moral position on this issue. Many scientists were sympathetic to my stand. Not daring to challenge the system openly, they avoided participating in any military research. Cooperation with military machines became an important dividing issue in Russia's scientific community. Now America rewards the side which helped to arm its enemy. It is wrong not only from the moral standpoint, but strategically as well, because most pro-democratic and pro- American Russian scientists were just on the other side. Thus, America empowers its enemies and abandons it friends, which is very characteristic for its Russia's policy in general.

Even if the practical considerations justifying Lugar-Nunn program were correct, they would have not outweighed those negative moral and strategic effects. Yet the main practical result of the program is also negative it keeps alive the most hostile and dangerous Soviet institutions, which otherwise would have gone bankrupt. And our politicians do not have control over those institutions. They do not have even free access to them. How then can they be sure that most of their money gets to individual scientists, rather than sticks to the hands of the top bureaucracy? How do they know whether those institutions stopped developing new bioweapons? And what would happen if they learn that those weapons are still produced and sold to our enemies? Would they stop the program? Hardly. Because it is necessary to subsidize the Soviet bio-weapon industry to keep its scientist from working for terrorists and rogue states. This is a trap, because our subsidy is nothing but a ransom to blackmailers. This is a palliative rather than a solution.

One solves problems with blackmailers and terrorists differently. One makes absolutely clear that whoever assists our enemies with weapons of mass destruction will share the same responsibility as those who try to use it, and when caught would be punished accordingly. That would deter Russian scientists from working for terrorists. They would rather turn into computer programmers. They would also appreciate if America helps to create well-paid professional jobs in Russia, which would come only with the development of the market economy. So far our programs effectively impede this process since we empower in Russia the institutions which are most hostile to market reforms.

Interlocutor: Thank you Yuri. And also, let me ask you: is it ideology or national interest that moulds Russias policy today?

Yarim-Agaev: Does ideology or national interest determine Russia's policy? The answer is --neither. Nobody, including Russian communists, believes in communism -- and hardly anyone who truly cares about Russia would get to power at the top. Three other factors actually determine the behavior of top Russian politicians: personal profit, adherence to old Soviet institutions and the Soviet mindset. This is quite an odd and contradictory mix, which also contains a substantial dose of anti-Americanism.

We all agree that the communist ideology is dead, but its remnants are still entrenched in its old institutions of the KGB, the military-industrial complex, etc. The head is cut but the limbs continue to move according to old reflexes. Those old structures still remain the main milieu for the majority of Russian politicians and greatly dominate their behavior. Created and shaped by the most rigid ideology, those communist institutions have little ability to evolve. My personal encounters with them confirm that they are still as anti-democratic and anti-American as they were before.

Ironically, we help to prolong their existence. We believe that it is better for us if a scientist or a spy stays within those structures. This is our new model of containment: we subsidize the most anti-American structures to keep people from hurting us. Do I need to quote any fables to that effect? Should we get surprised when this policy backfires?

As to defining Russia's status with respect to the US, I agree that the term "enemy" is too strong. Yet a "competitor" is too benevolent and slightly exaggerating. Frankly, I do not see in what area can Russia compete with us. I think the proper term would be a spoiler", although it may hurt a feeling of "Russia's greatness".

Heilbrunn: In terms of these comments made by Mr. Yarim-Agaev, now we're getting somewhere. Of course the old national interest versus ideology question is fiendishly difficult to answer, partly perhaps because national interest can be a convenient smokescreen for ideological impulses. And, yes, competitor is giving Russia too much credit -- spoiler state is right-on.

Interlocutor: Thanks Jacob. I am happy Yuri touched on the theme of supposed Russian greatness. I think the Russians' delusions about it lie at the center of a lot of what we are talking about.

Let me expand for a moment. Please bear with me:

I am a Russian migr and I continue to be unceasingly baffled when I run into most Russians. Almost all of them hate Blacks, Jews and, to be truthful, almost anyone and everyone I can think of. Anyone that visits Russia can tell you that there is a great disapproval, to say the least, of foreigners. I find especially humorous how Russians I know go into a state of tragic and dreadful shock when they find out that some Russian migrs son or daughter doesnt speak Russian. They always say kakoy ooszhas (how tragically terrible).

What I cant figure out about all of this is, like what exactly is it that you are trying to hold on to? So some migr kids dont speak Russian. And? News flash: Western civilization has done quite well without the Russian language, and I think it would be safe to say that it will continue to do so. Another news flash: I know a lot of Russians in the West who dont even bother speaking Russian, and have lost most of it, and guess what? They live very successful and happy lives and dont suffer the miserable existence, including the non-stop chain-smoking and vodka-guzzling, that most Russian-speaking people do in the nation that has been built by Russian speakers.

You dont speak Russian with your brother? one horrified Russian once asked me. Ah, no, usually not, I answered. But I couldnt help wondering after:

buddy, you dont even have a job, you have no money in the bank, you have no girlfriend, you clearly arent happy, and, in terms of the clothes you wear, you look like a derelict on the street at worst and a loser with no fashion sense or color co-ordination at best. You have no concept of what the individual is, let alone what individual happiness is -- or the right to it. Maybe shift your concern about what language I speak with my brother to worrying about where speaking this language has gotten you -- and your country. Think it over.

Look, of course I love my language and the beautiful breadth and depth of spirit within my native culture. And of course I do not think that a good material life is all that matters. But my point and question is: what is this pathological and hilarious hatred of everyone and everything outside of being Russian when Russia is, aside from the beauty of the Russian soul and its literature, a complete and utter political, social and economic basketcase? Its Russia that fertilized the genocidal Soviet regime, not the West. Its Russia where Russian-speaking people had to stand in 4-hour lines just to buy bread throughout the 20th century, not America.

So: why a belief in Russian greatness and a hatred of foreigners when there is actually, on many important levels, no Russian greatness at all -- and when the foreigners who are usually hated and disapproved of have created much healthier and more successful societies than the Russians have?

And surely this phenomenon is connected, in some complex yet simple ways, to the problem we face in Russia causing mischief in Iraq and elsewhere, no?

Heilbrunn: Jamie, your thunderous blast is correct, but few countries like to look in the mirror that closely. Easier to lapse into self-pity, neurosis, and conspiratorial thinking. Indeed, is it really all that surprising that Russia hangs on to the illusion of national greatness? Germany gave up on Weltmacht after the Second World War because it had literally been pulverized. Its leaders ended up in the gallows at Nuremberg. Hitler went down ranting in the Fuhrerbunker in his own public version of the Gotterdammerung. But Russian communism? Escaped largely unscathed. No Nuremberg-style trials. An addled communist party that stumbles on. Incompetent leadership until Putin emerged. All nations need some uniting myth. If the French haven't surrendered dreams of glory, why would Russia?

Bukovsky: Calm down, Yasha [interlocutors Russian name], calm down. Don't fly off the handle again. You have a strange habit of confusing your own hang-ups with geopolitical problems. What do you think an Italian would say upon learning that his American born cousin does not speak Italian? He would throw his hands up and cry: "Oh, mama mia!" Or something even stronger.

Marxism was not invented in Russia, and Russian people did not exactly elect comrades Lenin, Trotsky & Co. (unlike Germans who did elect Hitler). It was European disease, and Russians, indeed, have a tendency of catching European viruses. Trying to trace down our national misfortune to some babushka who advises you not to place your feet on a public bench in a park, or insists that you wear a fur hat in a frosty weather is silly. Here your government plays the babushka's role by forcing you to wear a seatbelt in a car (or a helmet on a motorbike), and unlike the Russian babushka, your government actually punishes you for disobeying.

In short, you are looking for answers in a wrong place. Nations are much more alike than you think. Yes, there are some specific characteristics typical of a given nation (now your intellectual gurus in America call them "stereotypes" and forbid us to use them). But they are irrelevant as far as our present discussion is concerned. We have got 73 years of communism not because of some genetic defect in our character, and neither did Chinese, Cubans, Estonians, Armenians, Ethiopians or Hanty-Manci. But what we observe today is definitely some deformities caused by those horrible 73 years. What do you expect, if three generations were born and brought up in the country where they were indoctrinated from cradle to the grave in believing that their political system and the way of life is the best in human history? And then, suddenly, it all collapses in front of them, leaving them destitute and virtually homeless. Of course, they have inferiority complex at best, or became schizophrenic at worst.

But it is even more complicated, more horrible. Thus, for the last 30-40 years of the Soviet Union's existence no one, virtually no one believed in the ruling ideology. The huge multi-national country was living in a constant falsehood, constant lies, but overwhelming majority has never admitted it to itself.

And this is the whole point: the West is doing them enormous disservice by massaging their ego, by playing these games with seriously sick people. They have to face reality, to tell themselves the truth (which they know very well in the depth of their hearts but never admit). Instead, they constantly create myths. Thus, many believe that the West wants them to be weak, or even deliberately undermines their greatness. Why? It is still better than to be irrelevant. And when people like Yuri and I tell them that the West is at worst indifferent, at best is actually sympathetic to their plight and wants to help - they become angry. Forget about national interests, these people are trying to persuade themselves that they are still a nation, while suspecting they are not.

Yarim-Agaev: Yasha, let me try to apply my rationalism to your impressionism. First, both Russian literature and Russian vodka are very important contributions to our civilization. Second, I am pretty sure that most migrs, whom you met, are Russian Jews. So, their social behavior is not determined by Russian ethnicity or religion, but by the political-economic environment in which they were brought up, which was more Soviet than Russian.

This is important, since the "Russian greatness" which we are talking about is actually the "Soviet greatness". Look at its manifestations: Stalin's and KGB anniversaries, celebration of Soviet achievements, attempts to maintain the Soviet position in the world. Russian leaders pump up these feelings because it helps them to legitimize their position: if the Soviet Union was so great, so were those who loyally served it. Also, many of those people are skillful in propaganda, but unable do anything constructive. So, they produce a great circus to make up for the lack of bread.

Ironically, America helps now to prop up the same Soviet greatness, which it fought for fifty years. Our politicians are seriously mistaken if they think that they have to do it to show their respect to Russian national pride. This is the Soviet pride, not the Russian pride. Maybe the support of those reactionary views pleases old Soviet bureaucrats and the mob, but it really insults and turns away the thinking part of Russian population.

Actually, such American policy undermines the position of pro-democratic forces in Russia who must understand that it is in their county's best interest to humbly withdraw from the international scene and to take care of its domestic affairs.

Interlocutor: Well thank you gentlemen, I am very grateful to you for your very profound answers to my previous question. We are running out of time. Why dont we end this symposium on a two-fold question: (a) what do you think is the future of Russia? (b) if the U.S. were shrewd and wise, what policy would it pursue toward Russia?

Heilbrunn: The future of Russia is bleak unless it can team-up with the European Union. If the EU takes off as an economic power, a big if, Russia could benefit. It needs to use Kaliningrad as part of its opening to the West; at the moment, the place is a toxic dump.

But overall, it's hard to be very optimistic about Russia. David Satter has a sober piece in the National Interest about what he calls the low, dishonest decadence of Russia. I'm not so sure the Bush administration is all that maladroit and foolish in dealing with Russia. It's hard to see how the U.S. would benefit from open confrontation with Russia. What would it accomplish? A Russian pull-out from Chechnya? Hardly. Nor is Russia all that much of a threat to the U.S. The cold war is over.

Russia has never been less viable as a state, no matter how many former members of the nomenklatura pine for the past. Since Trotsky seems to be coming back into vogue these days, with Stephen Schwartz even penning encomiums to the man Churchill rightly called a mass murdering "skin of malice" washed up on our shores, let me close by quoting one of the old man's saner observations: "In politics as in the military arts, to understand a problem clearly is to facilitate its solution. To get intoxicated by phrases is to help the adversary." So let's not get intoxicated with rage about Russia, but soberly assess what this clap-trap, immiserated, pathetic country can, and cannot, accomplish as it seeks to nettle the U.S.

Pipes: (a) I think Russia will come to resemble a typical Latin American country: in form, democratic and capitalist, in content semi-despotic and semi-capitalist. (b) We should be friendly but not overly so and not reward Russia more than she deserves.

Bukovsky: In my view, the Russian crisis is far from over. I expect a protracted period of further fragmentation with all the consequences it entails. We still cannot be sure whether it will ultimately survive or not, but in any case, it will take another 30-50 years.

The main concern for the West is to contain the contamination Russia spreads while rotting: corruption, organized crime, weapons of mass destruction, etc. There are also some humanitarian concerns which the West will be forced to address, like in former Yugoslavia. Otherwise, Russia is of no interest to the West, and will not be for the best part of this century.

Pipes: Unfortunately, Russia cannot be ignored by the West or the rest of the world because of the central geopolitical territory she occupies, bordering on Europe, the Middle East and the Far East. What happens inside Russia concerns billions of people.

Heilbrunn: I would like to be able to say that the gloomy predictions of Pipes and Bukovsky are off-base. But I think Pipes' scenario is the best that we can hope for. None of us have, if I'm remembering correctly, mentioned the moral decay and environmental destruction of Russia. But I would wager that the carnage left behind by communism will prove an almost insuperable obstacle to the regeneration of the Russian state.

Yarim-Agaev: I do believe that Russia will eventually become a democratic country. If democracy can prevail in Iraq, why it cannot in Russia? There was a chance for Russia to turn democratic in the beginning of 1990th, which hasn't realized, partially because of wrong American policy. Since then the old Soviet forces reasserted their power, and managed to turn the democratization back. Yet they cannot stop this process, and that is why in a long run I am quite optimistic. To me the main question is not whether Russia will eventually get to democracy, but how fast and how easy.

The answer to this question also depends on American policy. The best way to facilitate Russia's democratization is to stop supporting reactionary forces there and to render our support to true democrats. The sooner they will come to power the better American-Russian relations will be.

Interlocutor: Gentlemen, we are out of time. It was a real pleasure and privilege to speak with all of you. Dr. Pipes, Mr. Heilbrunn, Mr. Bukovsky, and Mr. Yarim-Agaev, thank you kindly for joining Frontpage Symposium. Well see you soon.

Top   Next