08.05.2006
A Silent Cold War
№2 2006 April/June


 

News
stories coming out of the Commonwealth of Independent States these
days sound like reports from the frontline: Georgia, Ukraine,
Moldova and Kyrgyzstan are lost; Adzharia has fallen;
Transdniestria is under siege. Enemies have engaged in subversive
activities in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and are approaching the
gates of Belarus. Minsk is standing firm, but if it (God forbids)
falls, the road to Moscow will be wide open. What kind of war is
going on in the expanses of the CIS? Who are the combatants and
what are they fighting for?

 

This war
is a less menacing continuation of the Cold War that was waged by
the West and the Soviet Union for almost half a century, and now
entails a smaller space and a different alignment of forces.
Obviously, the struggle between Russia and the West for Ukraine and
Belarus is a direct extension of the struggle between the Soviet
Union and the West for Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The
support given by Europe and the United States to the presidents of
Ukraine and Georgia, Victor Yushchenko and Mikhail Saakashvili, is
the continuation of their support for Alexander Dubcek, a reformist
Communist leader of Czechoslovakia, and Lech Walesa, a Polish labor
and political leader. Russia’s support for Belarusian President
Alexander Lukashenko may be explained as the continuation of the
Soviet Union’s support for Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, now
described as Central Europe. Why didn’t that struggle end together
with the collapse of the Communist system and with the declaration
of Russia a democratic and market-economy state, which is supposed
to espouse the same values as the West?

 

PERPETUAL
ANTAGONISTS

 

A person’s
behavior toward other people is determined by what kind of man he
or she is. Similarly, the foreign policy of a state is determined
by what kind of state it is. The nature of a particular society is
manifested in its foreign policy. 

 

The Soviet
Union was “the world’s first state of victorious Communism,” and
its foreign policy was determined by this title. Of course, all
states seek to create a safe environment around themselves. For the
Soviet Union, the creation of such an environment predetermined the
victory of Communism in other countries as well. In pursuit of this
goal, therefore, Soviet policy can be described as highly cynical
(“the end justifies the means”) as well as idealistic – billions of
dollars were thrown down the drain in a bid to help countries like
Angola “embark on the path of non-capitalist development.” When it
came to the security and survival of the Communist state, the
“idealistic” and “egoistic” components of that policy were
inseparable.

 

The policy
of the U.S. and other Western countries was also dictated by their
own nature. They also sought to create a secure environment for
themselves in the world, which would guarantee their survival. For
the Western countries – most importantly the U.S., a country whose
sense of self-identity is inextricably linked with the system of
values proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and the
Constitution – the struggle for national interests is inseparable
from the struggle for the “ideals of democracy.”

 

Both sides
made compromises with reality, thus supporting nations that were
ideologically alien to them yet still “enemies of their enemies.”
At the same time, the fear of nuclear war forced both sides to be
cautious and speak of peaceful coexistence. In its last years, the
Soviet Union had lost many of its ideals, was in a state of decay
and did not quite understand what it was fighting for. It had
completely forgotten about the “victory of Communism all over the
world,” and attempted to protect itself against old age and death,
whose coming it felt somewhere in the depth of its consciousness,
with missiles. Nevertheless, the Soviet formula about the
“uncompromising struggle between the opposite social systems”
correctly reflected the reality. The conflict between the Soviet
and Western systems was really antagonistic, and peaceful
coexistence could only be a “continuation of the class struggle by
other means.” The struggle was irreconcilable and would end only if
one of the conflicting parties disappeared – exactly as what
happened in reality. Today, Russia’s foreign policy is necessarily
determined by the nature of post-Soviet Russian society.

 

Now it is
important to ask: What is the nature of post-Soviet
society?

 

DETERMINE
MEANS DESTROY

 

Russian
society has nominally broken with its Soviet past and adopted
democratic values. There is no serious and real ideological
alternative to democracy, and it is doubtful there ever will be.
However, this society is unable to live in accordance with
democratic values. It is recreating a system of “uncontested power”
that is increasingly similar to the Soviet one but void of any
ideological foundation. The post-Soviet Russian system is based on
a profound contradiction between the formal and informal social
arrangement – a contradiction which society has to hide from the
world and itself (seemingly democratic and contested elections, the
outcomes of which are generally known in advance; seemingly
independent courts that pass judgments that serve the interests of
the authorities, etc.).

 

As is the
case with the U.S., the Soviet Union or any other country,
post-Soviet Russia seeks to create a safe environment around
itself, but the highly contradictory nature of Russia’s social
arrangement predetermines contradictory requirements to maintain
security. If we describe the social system in this country as
“managed democracy,” then the dual components of this description
dictate a different policy.

 

This
camouflaged democratic system requires partnership with the West;
however, its authoritarian and “managed” content makes this
difficult. A safe environment for our system is an environment of
political systems of managed democracies of the same type, which we
actively support in the CIS and elsewhere, such as in Serbia, the
Middle East, and even Venezuela.

 

The past
policy of the Soviet Union might be described as quixotic – after
all, why spend so much money in the name of “proletarian
internationalism?” However, if an empire does not expand, it will
dissolve. The same can be said of Russia’s policy toward the
Lukashenko regime of Belarus: managed democracy in Russia will
cease to exist if Russia is surrounded on all sides by unmanaged
democracies. After all, it is again a matter of
survival.

The West
has to support the establishment of systems similar to its own,
thereby expanding the zone of its security. Russia, of course,
opposes these moves; therefore, the internal struggle in the CIS
countries is turning into a Russia-West confrontation. Any
opposition immediately looks to the West. At the same time,
presidents do not want to jeopardize their relations with the West,
because the West gives their regimes some aspect of legitimacy. But
when there arises a threat of these leaders losing power,
presidents like Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, or Leonid Kuchma of
Ukraine, never forget that they have an influential friend that
will never betray them in a difficult time – Russia.

 

The
Russia-West struggle in the CIS is a struggle between two
irreconcilable systems, as was the struggle between the worlds of
Capitalism and Communism. Unlike Communism, however, managed
democracy has no ideological foundation. This system is based on a
contradiction between the reality and the proclaimed principles.
Thus, Russia must conduct this struggle covertly, without declaring
its objectives or even admitting them to itself. The Soviet Union
had a rich language of rhetoric to describe its policy, such as the
“victory of Communism all over the world,” “international
solidarity,” “peaceful coexistence of the two systems,” “peaceful
competition between the two systems,” etc. Russia, by comparison,
does not have, nor can have, such a language. Slogans like “Long
live the victory of managed democracy all over the world!” are
simply impossible. We cannot admit even to ourselves, or others,
that our real goal is to prevent fair and unrigged elections, for
example, in the CIS countries. But if there is no language, there
cannot be well-articulated thoughts and strategies
either.

 

Some of
the reasons for our foreign-policy setbacks, and weakness in
general, stem from the contradictory nature of our policy and the
impossibility of adequately formulating it in principle (this
requires defining our socio-political system, yet this is
impossible since the nature of the system remains camouflaged).
There is the need, stemming from the nature of our system, to
pursue two contradictory goals at once: admittance into Western
society, and opposition to the West whenever possible. Yet there
are still deeper reasons for our failures.

 

THE FATAL
PERSISTENCE OF LOSERS

 

President
Vladimir Putin once stated that the Soviet Union collapsed because
it “proved unviable.” He is absolutely right.

Western
democratic and market-economy systems, characterized by a constant
struggle between political forces, can adapt to various kinds of
challenges presented by a fast-changing world; they stand up to the
challenges of this world.

 

The
Communist system was viable at a certain stage of its development
and for certain countries, for example, those with a relatively low
level of development and cultural type, which prevents the
establishment of democracy and the market economy. But this system,
based on dogma, was organized in a way that soon made it rigid,
closed and unable to adapt to a changing reality. The rapid
expansion of Communism stopped at the boundary of the more
developed world; its stagnation and decay was not far behind. This
process was somewhat delayed by the rigid socio-political system,
yet the system grew increasingly squeezed for the irreversible
development of Communist societies.

 

Managed
democracies are actually a soft variant of the Soviet system. They
are not constrained by dogma, but they also lack free struggle
between political forces. Furthermore, their political systems do
not have a rotation of power, which would enable their respective
societies to better adapt to new challenges. The lack of an
ideological basis, and the inherent contradiction between form and
content, make these regimes even more fragile and unstable than
Communist systems.

 

Managed
democracies are natural regimes in societies that have outgrown
Communist systems, yet are unprepared to live in democratic
conditions. These are transitional entities based on compromise on
the way to real democracies. The development of society corrodes
such a system in the same way – only faster – than it corroded the
Communist societies. This is the main cause of Russia’s present
foreign-policy setbacks.

 

In the
1990s, immediately after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia
experienced a series of achievements: in Azerbaijan and Georgia,
the romantic nationalist and pro-Western regimes fell and these
countries eventually became part of the CIS. In Ukraine, the
pragmatist Leonid Kuchma replaced the architect of Ukrainian
independence, Leonid Kravchuk, while in Belarus, Lukashenko took
over the helm of government. It seemed that Russia was once again
beginning to “gather lands together,” creating in its periphery a
convenient environment, something of a kind of small-scale variant
of the Communist bloc. Those achievements, however, did not result
from a smart or far-sighted Russian policy, but rather from natural
failures to switch to democracy made by countries that were not
ready for it. Those were countries gravitating toward Russia and
having regimes established by uncontested presidents.
During
that period, time was on Russia’s side.

 

But the next decade was a period of
setbacks. And again, those setbacks did not stem from mistakes but
from natural processes, from the degradation of managed
democracies. These regimes were plunging into corruption, losing
contact with society, resorting to overt reprisals and
assassinations of opponents, and generally losing the legitimacy to
govern. The regimes continued to degrade while the normal societies
were developing. Today, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan are much
more ready for democracy than they were in the early 1990s. The
wave of ‘colored revolutions’ has stopped, having covered the more
developed societies and cleared the weaker regimes of managed
democracy. The fall of the remaining regimes of this type, however,
is only a matter of time.

 

It seems that Russia is doomed to
failure because it seeks to check inevitable and irreversible
processes; this behavior seems to stem from its
nature.

The Cold War, which continues in
disguised form, will stop only when Russia moves from managed
democracy to democracy proper. If the structure of our society
changes, then the entire system of our national interests will
change as well. Russia’s lingering problems will disappear by
themselves, just as the victory of democracy in Europe removed many
seemingly eternal problems. Of course, new problems will arise but
we will be better prepared to handle them.  But before Russia can proclaim any sort of a
victory, new battles and new defeats are in store for us.