A Dictatorship of Incompetence
№2 2006 April/June
Konstantin Kosachev

Konstantin Kosachev is Head of the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo). He is also the Russian President’s Special Envoy for Relations with CIS Member-States and a Member of the Editorial Board of Russia in Global Affairs.


It would seem that the end of the global bipolar division has
made the world a safer place. Yet, while we have succeeded in
eliminating the prospect of an all-out nuclear war (thanks to the
common sense of the Cold War opponents), we are now faced with a
far less predictable situation: in the past, there was the prospect
of one world war threatening nations and states; today, however,
local terrorist attacks have become a threat to innocent people in
every part of the world. It is enough to reflect on those people
who were working in the World Trade Center in New York on September
11, or riding commuter trains in Madrid or in London when tragedy
struck. The Russian people watched in horror as a musical at a
Moscow theater turned into a tragedy on October 2002, as did the
Day of Knowledge on September 1, 2004 at a Beslan school.

These “minor” but very cruel wars are terrible in that they do
not require a casus belli – such as a serious international
incident, an escalation of tensions of international relations or a
long-standing confrontation. They can hit anyone anywhere, like a
lightning bolt out of the blue.

The reality and palpability of the threat prompts the leaders of
the world to find effective means of countering it. The present
course of events dictates that Russia and its leading Western
partners cast aside all of the issues that divide them. There is
simply no other solution but to find common approaches, e.g., on
the nonproliferation problem. The nuclear programs of North Korea
and Iran, for example, are no longer a field for political
gamesmanship between the world’s leading powers, as was often the
case in the past.

Unfortunately, there are those who fail to realize that the
proliferation problem directly concerns everyone without exception.
There are also those willing to gamble on these increasingly
dangerous conflicts: pit the West against the Middle East, for
example, and see what happens. As for Russia, nothing good can
result from such a showdown: it is naïve and irresponsible to
believe that should those countries seeking nuclear weapons finally
get them, these weapons will never be aimed against Russia.


Today, the West places special priority on modernizing the
Trans-Atlantic partnership between Europe and the United States;
much of the present emphasis of the relationship is in countering
new threats. This intercontinental partnership looks Trans-Atlantic
if the vector continues to move to the west of Europe – the favored
direction throughout the past century. Yet in the new century, with
the growing trend for diversifying partnerships, just one vector of
movement is clearly insufficient. Therefore, if the obvious
geopolitical reality is accepted – that Russia is a European state,
at any rate, no less European than Turkey, an EU candidate member –
it will eventually come to light that political Europe is not
separated from the United States by the vast Atlantic, but by the
narrow passage of the Bering Strait. This is an altogether
different geopolitical reality.

To develop such a non-standard vector of rapprochement, the West
has until recently lacked the geographic “trifle” known as Russia.
Yet, today Russia ranks among the world’s democratic and
responsible states; it presently holds the rotating presidency of
the G8, and is ready to make a decisive contribution to regional
and global security. Moreover, now that the factor of a common
enemy is gone, Russia could kick-start the floundering
Trans-Atlantic integration.

It is true that certain circles want the West to consolidate in
the face of a common enemy, with Russia conveniently fitting the
bill. This is only natural: after all, the numerous structures,
foundations, and institutions that were created to conduct
informational warfare against the Soviet Union are still alive and
well. Even if these groups and individuals are presented with a
different set of tasks, their intellectual inertia and
inflexibility will serve as an impediment to any attempt to revise
the existing approaches. Furthermore, the lingering idea of the
‘Eastern front’ has been enthusiastically embraced by those who
hope – once they are on the “winning side” due to their membership
in Euro-Atlantic structures – to settle personal scores with
Moscow. Yet, as a matter of fact, Russia is the missing link in the
‘Northern Ring,’ and not only in a purely geographic sense. Its
integration into the ‘Greater West’ could make the latter not only
more consolidated and better protected, but also self-sufficient in
terms of natural resources.

Yet, instead of receiving support for its integration into the
international community, Russia is constantly coming up against
artificial obstacles. Russia’s ongoing effort to join the World
Trade Organization is one fine example. Does Russia’s admission to
the WTO benefit only Russia? In reality, Russia’s WTO membership
would enable producers from other countries to enter a huge,
promising and still unsaturated market that is experiencing a
consumption boom. Nonetheless, more and more demands are being
placed on Russia that have nothing to do with WTO rules.

It has been argued that Russia’s economy is so weak that it is
unworthy of becoming a member of the world’s leading powers. Yet as
soon as Russia, in an effort to strengthen its “negligible”
economy, raises its natural resource prices for one neighboring
state to a level that is used in trade with other states, it is
accused of “dictating from the position of strength” and
entertaining “neo-imperial ambitions.” Suddenly it surfaces that
Russia is too strong and should restrain its power so as to avoid
inadvertently smashing the “young democracies,” that is, those that
are to a very large degree living off its resources.

When leaders of particular countries endeavor to break free from
Russia’s influence, even if such a move may harm their nation as a
whole, no one has the right to prevent them from making such a
decision. Real democracy will put everything in its appropriate
place: people are, as a rule, smarter than their rulers, and scare
tactics will not work forever. It is far more disappointing,
however, that some of these “outside observers,” who have never
visited Ukraine, Georgia or Moldova, for example, view the
“democratic” achievements of these countries as examples for Russia
to emulate. They claim that Russia does not have a free press, for
example, yet they have never read a single Russian newspaper. They
talk about Russia’s instability and its appalling investment
climate, yet they have never invested a single euro in the Russian
economy. They attempt to teach Moscow how to behave in Chechnya,
yet they probably would have difficulty locating the republic on a
map. They claim that Russia’s nuclear weapons are poorly guarded
even though they are not experts in this field, and so on.


The present banality of thinking, and the proclivity for
stereotypes and dogma, are becoming serious impediments to
cooperation with the West, as well as for the ability to mount an
effective joint response to current challenges. Judgments based on
the “democratic versus undemocratic,” “freedom versus lack of
freedom,” “friend versus foe” stereotypes produce skewed decisions
that simply do not work in our present world. Unfortunately,
experience shows us that the more complex and delicate a problem is
the less flexibility is demonstrated by the world’s leading powers,
above all the United States. There has been a marked increase in
the use of ultimatums, threats, blockades, sanctions and other
methods involving the usage of massive intimidation. Thus, it often
happens that a particular state is driven into a corner and
confronted with the dilemma: either submit, or face another
Yugoslavia, Iraq, etc.

The loss of flexibility and the ability to make unconventional
decisions comes at a heavy cost to the international community. The
entire world was alarmed and outraged by the recent comments made
by the new Iranian president. The sentiments of the Iranian people,
however, are typical of the region as a whole, which was also
reflected by the recent Palestinian elections which saw the
militant organization, Hamas, rise to power. Unfortunately, the
situation will continue to worsen, especially if the irresponsible
practice of insulting the Muslims continues in the media.

The mood of the world’s Muslims has also been affected by the
war in Iraq, largely because the cause for going to war was
essentially plucked out of thin air. And although a ruthless
dictator was ousted, bloodshed is escalating. What are we going to
tell the Islamic world when the death toll from the operation to
overthrow the regime becomes comparable with the death toll from
the regime itself? That the cure proved to be worse than the
disease? That the cancer of dictatorship was treated with the
lethal (and highly contagious) virus of civil war and terror?

Many other regimes have drawn the same unequivocal conclusion
from the Iraq war: Baghdad was attacked simply because it did not
have nuclear weapons. This is one of the most dangerous
consequences of the campaign, which jeopardizes the entire
nonproliferation system. Nevertheless, even those who at first
opposed the military campaign in Iraq do not want the U.S. (and its
allies) mission to fail. Iraq, as one of the key countries in the
Middle East, vitally needs peace and national consensus.

As for Iran, the case calls for even greater flexibility and
diplomacy, not pressure and shock tactics. The most horrible
scenario would be if the United States allows itself to be drawn
into a situation where attacking Iran, complete with a large-scale,
drawn-out war, proves to be a more preferable option for the U.S.
administration than not attacking it, which could be construed as
weakness, thereby inspiring Iranian radicals.

The aforementioned explains why Russia is searching for options
that are not discriminatory against Iran, without bringing the
opponents closer to the dangerous point of no return. However, all
those who thrive on war are fueling the flames of conflict. They
are only waiting for an explosion in order to find a scapegoat and
distract the Islamic youth who are tired of social problems and

Those who are talking about the need to democratize particular
countries oftentimes bet not so much on democracy but on loyalty
(this is how the United States, for example, perceives Saudi
Arabia). The ongoing condemnation of disloyal undemocratic regimes,
together with the collusion of equally undemocratic but amenable
regimes, undermines trust in the idea of democratization as such.
Furthermore, it calls into question the sincerity of Euro-Atlantic
civilization and its readiness for frank dialog, as opposed to
simple intrigue surrounding oil and geopolitical issues.

Rational people realize that a repetition of the Iraq scenario
in Iran would divide the world along the South-North line. Such a
scenario would undermine global security not only in the realm of
energy supplies, but also in strategic security, ultimately leading
to a global catastrophe. The existing Euro-Atlantic structures, now
engrossed in its eastward advance and driven by the inertia of
their Cold War-era inferiority complexes, are simply unprepared for
such a scenario.

Russia supports close cooperation and wide-ranging exchanges
with Europe since such a move can help finally put an end to the
dictatorship of incompetence in our relations. We are being urged
to borrow the centuries-old European and U.S. experiences in
building our democratic institutions. But why does Russia (which is
seen wanting in democracy) have to persuade its Western partners to
simplify visa and travel regulations for its nationals, and stop
construction of new Iron Curtains outside their consular offices in
Moscow? In the past, the Soviet Union was criticized for denying
its citizens an opportunity to study the achievements made by the
world’s foremost democracies. Thus, the United States passed the
notorious Jackson-Vanik amendment that denied Normal Trade
Relations to non-market economies that restricted emigration
rights, specifically the rights of Soviet Jews who wanted to
emigrate. However, although more than 100,000 Jews have returned to
Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the amendment is
still in effect as a monument to eternal ‘double standards’ (or
rather to the immutability of old standards).

If the West would give up its attitude toward Russia, which is
based on the “presumption of guilt” principle, this would enable
the former to concentrate on truly pressing, relevant problems,
such as the blackmail being waged by politically unstable transit
states, as well as Europe’s growing dependency on political
opportunists. For example, when one party siphons off – actually
steals – natural gas from a second party, it would be logical, in
accordance with the law and moral principles, to crack down on the
thief, not on the aggrieved party, even if the thief may appear to
be more popular.

Russia is constantly being pressured to reaffirm its loyalty,
while few take the time to consider the effect that the West’s
actions – for example, NATO enlargement and the integration of
former Warsaw Pact or FSU countries (contrary to the gentleman’s
agreement between them and the last Soviet government) into
Euro-Atlantic structures – may have on the Russians. Russians are
being urged to respect the rights of ethnic minorities, while at
the same time ‘Baltic apartheid’ – the outrageous practice of
invoking “non-citizenship” and denying basic rights and freedoms on
purely ethnic grounds – is being winked at. Even the adaptation of
the CFE Treaty – a simple step that can expedite the creation of a
new European security system – is being delayed under all sorts of

Russia is not a meek applicant standing outside the EU’s closed
doors, but a dynamic Eurasian power that is rapidly gaining weight
and stature in the world. Furthermore, it is developing without the
help of its foreign partners (Western Europe in its time found it
necessary to develop through the Marshall Plan), but more and more
often in the face of pressure and artificial impediments. The habit
of relying only on its own resources is certainly useful for every
nation, but it weakens both the need for partners and trust in
unchallenged authority. If Europe loses Russia to time-serving
intrigue and political expediency, it will lose more than just an
important partner and a source of raw materials. It will lose a
chance to modernize and make a breakthrough into a new dimension of
the civilization that it produced.