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#23 - JRL 9286 - JRL Home
Date: Wed, 02 Nov 2005
From: "Mikhail Troitskiy" Mikhail.Troitskiy@wilsoncenter.org
Subject: Re: Michael McFaul's "Russia and the West: A Dangerous Drift"

Mikhail Troitskiy
Visiting Fulbright Scholar
The Kennan Institute
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004
Office: (202) 691-4086
Fax: (202) 691-4247
Cell: (202) 725-6416
Mikhail.Troitskiy@wilsoncenter.org

Michael McFaul's article on Russia (Current History, October 2005) provides a good overview of the evolution of approaches to mutual relation in both Russia and the West over the last 15 years. Yet I would suggest that before criticizing the current Russian leadership for setbacks in relations with the West, the author should be fair enough to outline his vision of an ideal state of this relationship. The deficiencies of the current state of affairs can only be analyzed against a clear background of the desired end-state.

As far as I could understand, the key notion the author uses to characterize this ideal end-state is Russia�s �integration� with (into?) the West. However, he does not give a clue as to how this integration could look like and what the conditions for achieving it are. Proceeding from his argument, I try below to make these points explicit and then to comment on them.

One can argue (and Professor McFaul seems to share this view) that a sine qua non for a successful engagement of Russia with the West in general and the United States in particular is a developed state of Russian democracy and completion of market reform. Unless Russia builds well-functioning democratic institutions and creates a sound market economy, there can be no constructive engagement. It will not become possible until Russia begins to fully adhere to the Western standards of human rights observance and enforcement.

This argument, however, seems to be tantamount to saying that no integration of Russia with (into) the West will be possible in the decades to come. It is clear that Russia will not be able to live up to the Western standards of democracy and market economy in the near future. Given that, a pessimist will reject any opportunities for Russia�s engagement with the West. Yet an optimist would note some progress made to date and identify the trends that may boost Russia�s positive dynamic on this path.

The political culture of Russian citizens has been showing signs of gradual maturing. It can also be argued that the quality of leadership in Russia has improved from Yeltsin to Putin. Russian political institutions have been stable and the Constitution remained unchanged and unchallenged for the last 12 years. Despite the overblown bureaucracy and certain authoritarian inclinations on the part of the Kremlin, their ability to logically explain key decisions and actions to the public seems to be superior to that of their predecessors. It is the lack of citizens� feedback on these actions and decisions that currently allows for irresponsible and sometimes highly egoistic behavior of some Russian politicians and bureaucrats. A sound market economy and a responsive political system require a strong middle class which is well aware of its economic interests and formulates them in the form of political demands. Such class is still missing in Russia. However, one can expect it to emerge in the foreseeable future on the wave of �consumer culture� that is now on the rise in Russia thanks to the massive influx of oil cash into the Russian economy (see, for example, the recent Carnegie briefing by Dmitry Trenin http://carnegieendowment.org/files/pb42.trenin.FINAL.pdf ). In any case, any realistic Western observer will not wait for opportunities for a constructive engagement with Russia until the triumph of Russia�s market and democratic reforms.

The United States may also regard the end of the brutal war in Chechnya as a necessary condition for Russia�s engagement with the West. However, when Russia is criticized for the prosecution of the anti-secessionist campaign in Chechnya, it should be remembered that the war was caused not only by the blundered and corrupt policies of the Yeltsin�s entourage, but to a much larger extent by the ethnic tensions that were simmering in the Soviet Union and could not but surface in the post-Communist Russia. Some kind of inflammation in the Northern Caucasus was inevitable after the demise of the Soviet system. Stopping the hostilities in mid-2000s will take much time there is no promise for a lack of both internal and external material support for the separatist cause while any quasi-independent status for Chechnya is unacceptable to the Russian leadership. But such scenario is also dangerous from the point of view of Western interests in the Caucasus even in their utmost anti-Russian interpretation.

Much is being said about the lack of Russia�s engagement with Western-led institutions. One might wonder, however, what the institutions are in which Russian participation could be stepped up under certain conditions. Russia is currently a member of the UN Security Council and G8. It has elaborate mechanisms of engagement with NATO (NATORussia Council) and the EU (the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement framework). Russia also participates in the Paris Club of creditor nations. It stays out of OECD, but this fact is rarely cited as an evidence of the lack of Russia�s engagement with the West. In the meantime, the West may be appreciating Russia�s non-participation in OPEC?

Let us ask ourselves: in what institutions Russia could be eligible for participation if it turned overnight into a completely democratic state with a developed market economy? Does the fulfillment of this condition immediately make Russia an �irresistible� candidate for membership in NATO and the EU? From my point of view, living up to all democratic standards does not bring Russia significantly closer to membership in these two major Western-led institutions given their current form and objectives. The author himself acknowledges this.

NATO�s current policies towards Russian neighbors and the Russian response suggest that whatever system of governance exists in Russia, the United States and European countries, their interests in these geographic areas will be anyway on colliding courses. NATO representatives are unambiguously indicating that any measure by such states as Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan or Kazakhstan to distance themselves from Russia would receive a warm welcome in Brussels (one only needs to see, for example, recent interviews by NATO Special Representative for the South Caucasus and Central Asia to Armenian media). Although one can point out areas in which NATORussia cooperation has been successfully developing over the last several years, the scope of engagement between Russia and NATO mostly involves �technical� issues (such as planning for joint rescue operations or conducting limited defense exercises) while the major strategic guidelines of NATO and Russian-led security institutions remain visibly opposed to each other.

Of course, Russia�s accession to the today�s European Union is unthinkable even as a goal. Hence, the ongoing discussion on whether Russia should move towards adopting European legislative norms and seek a rapprochement with acquis communautaires which only promise Moscow �imposed legislation without representation�.

One may further argue that some in the United States understand Russian integration with the West simply as Russia�s acquiescence and support to American policies on the most contentious issues in current RussiaWest relations. For the time being, this agenda includes Iran and the �democracy vs. stability� dilemma in the post-Soviet space. But the list of these issues will evolve over time, and once an opposing perspective is voiced by Russia, it can always be rejected as an example of �insufficient integration� of Russia with the West. Whether Russia�s advance on the way toward democracy can make such judgments less wide-spread and influential in the West remains unclear to me.

The immediate aftermath of the 9/11 events seems to have proved this hypothesis. Irrespectively of Russia�s domestic policies at that time, Moscow was commonly called an ally of the US in the war on terror. Russia�s membership in NATO became a subject of serious consideration for several weeks in the winter 2001-2002. However, once disagreement about further targets in the war on terror started to emerge later in 2002, all talk about Russia as a US ally was aborted in Washington and Kremlin�s domestic conduct again became an explanation for Russia�s lack of progress in becoming part of the West.

It is questionable, at the same time, whether a progressing democratization in Russia can significantly alter Russia�s foreign policy course. For example, if the Russian oil and gas pipeline system were privatized and ended up in the hands of transnational private oil companies, all �special� pricing policies and transit arrangements for Russia�s western neighbors would be immediately cancelled. As a result, some of these neighbors could find it difficult to sustain the momentum of political reform that resonated with many hearts and minds in the European Union and the United States.

Beyond formal institutional arrangements, Russia�s engagement with the West will hardly be possible without a large participation of the Western capital in the Russian economy. Although there has been a surge in foreign investment into Russia in 2005, most of the money either comes into highly profitable industries (such as oil and gas) or is brought by the bravest of business leaders with an experience of operating in opaque business environments (such as IKEA). As US officials like to reiterate, investment climate in each country is in the hands of its own government. This is certainly true. However, some �irrational� factors seem to be at play when companies make decisions about the targets of their overseas investment. Purely rational calculations, as multiple studies have suggested, fail to fully account for the current distribution of US and European investment across the globe. If the US government seeks to ensure Russia�s engagement with the West, it may at least consider more active policies to inform US entrepreneurs about business opportunities in Russia. This may be especially important in the light of China�s interest in acquiring stakes in a number of key infrastructural projects in Russia ranging from extraction and transportation of oil and gas to building �China-towns� along the lines of communication connecting Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Even if Michael McFaul does not fully explain what his ideal of Russia�s engagement with the West could look like, his policy recommendations seem quite up to the point and deserve close attention on the part of US policy makers. He rightly notes that the US should step up exchange and public information programs in Russia. Getting to know the US and its people can be very effective in reducing the level of anti-Americanism among ordinary Russian citizens. Yet several months that a Russian scholar or professional spends in the United States can help him/her understand the ossified sources of prejudice against Russia in America and learn how these sources can be addressed in a constructive non-confrontational manner. Selection boards administering exchange programs with Russia could pay more attention to the outward-looking young Russians who link their future with their country and seek to contribute in modest ways to the Russian reforms. These are the people who feel their stakes are in Russia, but do not want to uncritically brush aside any advice or alternative experience. The rising number of professionals with foreign degrees working in Russia may also boost the competitiveness of the Russian economy and increase its openness to foreign investment something the incumbent government may be afraid of simply out of fear of competition with better educated and knowledgeable Western managers.