Russia and the West: Is Confrontation Inevitable?
No. 1 2008 January/March

The last two
issues of Russia in Global Affairs have featured a rather agonized
debate about the tensions in relations between Russia and (for want
of a better term) “the West”, with notable contributions by Foreign
Minister Lavrov, Sergei Karaganov and Alexei Arbatov. I would like
to enter a view from a corner of the European Union.

It is instructive
to compare today’s situation with that of six or seven years ago.
As the new millennium opened, there was a much more optimistic mood
in the world. Writing in the year 2000, David Gergen, a former
adviser to Presidents Clinton, Reagan and Nixon, began his book
Eyewitness to Power with the words: “It is just possible that we
are living at the dawn of a new golden age.” He discerned
political, economic, scientific and cultural forces which “could
lift future generations to the distant, sunny upland envisioned by
Woodrow Wilson, where people celebrate ‘with a great shout of joy
and triumph.’” One would have to be a fantasist to write in such
terms today, in the wake of 9/11, the debacle in Iraq and wider
turmoil from the Near East through Iran and Pakistan to
Afghanistan, or of the fast-rising concerns about climate

Russia was one of
the reasons for Western optimism. Russia rebounded rapidly from the
1998 crash. In his first three years in office, President Putin
established strong relations with all the major Western leaders and
did much to restore Russia’s international reputation. An important
part of his message was that Russia was keen to develop its
international business links and to attract foreign investment:
Russia wanted to become a significant actor in the global economy,
and a member of the WTO. The greater stability within Russia was
welcomed; and there was applause for the skilful macroeconomic
policy and the significant steps being taken to reform and
restructure the economy. The main irritant in our relations was the
way in which the war in Chechnya was prosecuted (although there was
and is no sympathy in the West for Chechen terrorism).

Chechnya apart, a
new level of trust and cooperation was established between Russia
and the West. Russia’s prompt and supportive reaction to the
terrorist attacks in the U.S.A. on 11 September 2001 reinforced
this trust.

The mood in late
2007 could scarcely be more different. Russia and the United States
are at odds over missile defense (which President Putin compared in
Lisbon to the Cuban missile crisis – the most threatening moment of
the Cold War); and also over the CFE Treaty and the agreement on
intermediate nuclear forces. There are serious disagreements over
Kosovo and Iran. The German Chancellor has used the word
“unacceptable” to describe Russia’s handling of Belarus. The French
President has accused Russia of playing its trump cards in energy
“with a certain brutality.” Russia has unprecedentedly blocked OSCE
monitoring of the Duma elections. Meanwhile President Putin has
complained that the United States has “overstepped its national
borders in every way” and is acting in a way which “inevitably
encourages a number of countries to acquire weapons of mass
destruction.” Foreign Minister Lavrov (in his article in your last
edition) described “a situation that can hardly be perceived as
other than re-establishment of a sanitary cordon west of the
Russian borders…Various attempts are being made to contain Russia.”
On 10 October General Patrushev of the FSB went a step further,
claiming that “politicians thinking in the categories of the Cold
War …in a number of Western nations” were “hatching plans aimed at
dismembering Russia.”

the trust that existed up to 2003 has evaporated. Is the present
fractiousness a stage in the development of our relations – or a
fundamental parting of the ways? Is it in the interests of Russia
and of Western Europe that we should be so deeply divided? What are
the prospects for re-establishing more constructive


In his article
“A New
Epoch of Confrontation”
(Russia in Global Affairs, No. 4/2007),
Sergei Karaganov argued with his customary lucidity that the West
and Russia were now in a new confrontation which differed from, and
risked becoming even more dangerous than, the Cold War. The West,
he says, has given up hope of turning Russia into an allied state
and is thinking of “neo-containment.” In the preceding edition,
commenting on reactions to President Putin’s Munich speech in
February, Alexei Arbatov asked: “Is a New Cold War

Some politicians
and commentators in both East and West have been only too happy to
resurrect the specter of the Cold War. It makes an easy newspaper
headline. (One British journalist not known for his love of Russia
has brought out a book entitled “The New Cold War and How to Win
It.”) I agree with Karaganov and Arbatov that analogies with the
Cold War do not stand up to any serious scrutiny and should be
dismissed. The cardinal features of the Cold War were ideological
conflict; the perception of a direct military threat from the
Soviet Union to the West and vice versa; proxy conflicts, in which
the USSR and the West took opposing sides in regional wars and
disputes in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America; the
subjugation of the states of Central and Eastern Europe to the
Warsaw Pact and CMEA; and the isolation of the Soviet system from
the capitalist world (with low levels of trade, different economic
systems, and narrowly controlled exchange of information and human
contact). Not one of these features exists today.

From my Western
European perspective, I would attribute the malaise principally to
five elements.

First, irrational though it may be, the
legacy of the past ineluctably colors the relationship. Historical
emotions ingrained in the mindset of our peoples can be aroused
with the greatest of ease by events – the poisoning or shooting of
political opponents by persons unknown, missiles falling on
neighboring countries, bitter arguments over war memorials. These
are serious matters in their own right, but their political effects
are magnified by history (and all too readily manipulated by
politicians and polemicists). The very word “NATO” has inescapably
negative connotations in Russia. When Russia and Estonia came to
blows over the Tallinn war memorial, it was not difficult for a
third party to understand the deep grievances on both sides. It is
not only in relations with Russia that we have to contend with the
legacy of the past. One could quote hundreds of examples from
around the world. The events of 90 years ago still have a bitter
effect on Turkish/Armenian relations and have recently disrupted
U.S./Turkish relations. The partition of Ireland happened in 1922;
the UK and Republic of Ireland joined the EEC together in 1972; but
the Republic is one of the few countries to which the British
sovereign has not paid a State Visit in her long reign. One could
cite France and Algeria; Japan and China (and the Yasukuni Shrine);
Japan and Korea; Germany and Poland or the Czech Republic; and so
on, almost ad infinitum. The real Cold War ended only half a
generation ago. The memory will linger on for at least a generation

The Russian
people are reacting also to a yet more recent memory, which is
under-appreciated in the West: the pain, destabilization and
humiliation of the 1990s. Their political system collapsed (which a
majority welcomed), but without a ready-made alternative (to this
day). Their economy collapsed, twice, which was painful and
frightening. Their empire and country, previously a proud
superpower, collapsed almost without warning, losing two fifths of
its population and much of what was previously regarded as the
heartland. They were sent food parcels and economic and political
advisers. These nightmarish experiences happened only in the last
decade, under what they were misleadingly told was a system called

Westerners ought
not to be surprised at the yearning of the Russian people to regain
respect, strength, independence and “sovereignty” – a yearning
which has been both reflected and directed by their political
leadership. Nor should the West be surprised if Russia’s leaders
tend to exaggerate their country’s renewed strength (much as
Khrushchev vastly exaggerated the USSR’s nuclear capabilities and
economic potential in the 1950s). It took other former imperial
powers (the UK, for example) fully half a century to adapt
psychologically to their loss of status and to find a new
equilibrium. Most of Russia’s population, and all of its leaders,
were well into adulthood in Soviet times. Of course this affects
their outlook on the world (just as British leaders in the 1950s
still thought in terms of Empire and of membership of a global “Big
Three”); but this does not mean that Russia can or will go back to
the Soviet Union.

Second, we are paying a price for
disappointed expectations on both sides – expectations which arose
through naivety, ignorance and lack of understanding; and
disappointment which has been exacerbated by ancient suspicions.
Solzhenitsyn has called this “the clash of illusory hopes against

In “Getting
Russia Right” (Carnegie Endowment, 2007), Dmitry Trenin recalls
that “the idea, popular in the 1990s, that Russia would be
integrated as a full-fledged member of the Western community
inspired Russian democrats and their partners in Europe and
America… Hopes were raised of a new Marshall Plan, early NATO
membership, and some sort of a progressively tighter association
with the EU… In the 1990s, when Russian elites wanted integration
in principle, they dreamed of an instant accession to a position of
prominence in each and every club they were seeking to join.
Instead of going through obligatory and tedious homework on the
path to joining, they hoped to use networking to reach a master
deal with American and European elites. This approach went

There is now a
strongly-rooted belief in Russia that the West deliberately spurned
the opportunity to embrace and integrate Russia; offered no help;
and sought instead to exploit Russia’s weakness.  Karaganov
reflects this perception when he says that “when Russia was weak,
it was not invited to join the ‘club’ of Western democracies.” So
does Solzhenitsyn (in his interview with Der Spiegel of 23 July
2007) in lamenting that the West refused Russia’s helping hand
after 9/11. Arbatov complains that Putin’s major step toward
Washington after September 11 was rewarded by U.S. withdrawal from
the ABM Treaty, the liquidation of large Russian oil concessions in
Iraq, and NATO’s Eastern advance.

This is a myth.
There were certainly large helpings of naivety and wishful thinking
in Western attitudes to Russia in the early 1990s, and much of
Western behavior will have come across as insensitive and
(unintentionally) patronizing. But the fact is that Russia was
welcomed into a number of democratic “clubs” in the 1990s and
before and after 9/11 – to the maximum extent possible. In the 1997
Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Russia, the EU declared
“a strategic partnership founded on common interests and shared
values.” Russia joined the IMF and the Council of Europe. President
Yeltsin was invited to G7 Summits. The G7 was then enlarged to G8.
In response to Russia’s support after 9/11, the NATO-Russia Council
was established; and the 2002 G8 Summit at Kananaskis awarded
President Putin the accolade of hosting (in 2006) the premier
“club” of the largest industrialized democracies – a club to which
neither India nor China has yet been admitted. These are but the
leading examples among many. From which “clubs” has Russia been
excluded? Russia has not applied to join, indeed does not wish to
join, the EU (in the unlikely hypothesis of Russia wishing to join
and the EU agreeing, it would take many years for the Russian
economy and political system to achieve the necessary alignment).
Russia has not applied to join NATO (the possibility has been
discussed but was never pursued). The WTO is not a “club” of
democracies, but a rules-based trade body: Russia’s accession
negotiations, though slow, are well advanced. And the OECD, a club
of lesser stature, is considering Russian membership.

Such are the
facts; but what matters politically is that there is a perception
within Russia of rejection and exclusion. The most extreme form of
this perception is the accusation that the West is actively trying
to undermine or even “dismember” the Russian Federation. Can any
responsible person actually believe this? There is not a shred of
serious evidence to support the idea. What possible motive could
the West have for dismembering Russia? The worst nightmare of
Western policy-makers in the early 1990s was that Russia might
collapse and fall apart, with terrifying consequences – especially
for Western and Central Europe.

Third, there are genuine and substantive
differences of interest and policy between Russia and Western
countries. Rows about NATO enlargement or the possible stationing
of a handful of interceptor missiles in Poland or the gesture
politics of renewed patrolling by antiquated Bear reconnaissance
aircraft over the North Sea may have been played up for political
reasons. On the most important global issues there are no
fundamental differences between Russia and the West. However, there
are of course some areas where our interests diverge. Russia takes
a different view of Iraq from that of the U.S. and British
Governments, though its view is widely shared in Western Europe. In
the Middle East generally, in Asia, and in certain parts of Africa
and Latin America, Russia is pursuing its interests more actively.
It has every right to do so, within the framework of international
law. Legitimate competition should not be confused with
deliberately obstructive confrontation.

Fourth, the conflict of values is an
obstacle to partnership. In his article, Foreign Minister Lavrov
sought to exclude values from intergovernmental relations: “The
Westphalian system, which has become a fashionable object of
criticism in certain circles, has placed differences in values
beyond the scope of intergovernmental relations. In this respect,
the Cold War was a setback. Should we really follow this path back,
which can only lead to confrontation?”

In the world of
the 21st century, whether we like it or not, values inescapably
play a part in international relations. Why else, for example, has
the UN Secretary-General involved himself (with wide support) in
the internal affairs of Burma? Russia has joined the Council of
Europe and signed the European Convention on Human Rights. It has
signed documents declaring that it shares the values of the EU, and
has joined the G8’s club of industrialized democracies. States
which do not share values of course cooperate where they have
interests in common. But genuine partnership, joint membership of
democratic clubs, demands a commonality of values. The perception
that our values are not converging, especially with regard to the
rule of law, has taken a toll on Russo-Western

Fifth, differences have been played up for
reasons of domestic politics. This happens on both sides. Arbatov
warns that “those politicians in Russia and the West who are
attempting to gain political capital from this confrontation are
recklessly turning the major national interests of their states
into bargaining chips for internal political games.” In a similar
vein, the Editor of this journal commented in the Moscow Times on 7
March: “The escalation of aggressive rhetoric we are witnessing is
capable of reviving the outward appearance of the Cold War, which
will do nothing toward providing real security, inasmuch as the
real threat does not come from any real conflict between Russia and
the West. But it is far simpler for politicians on both sides to
fall back into familiar patterns of behavior than to try to resolve
the real problems they actually face.”

Exaggerating the
threat of an external opponent is an age-old political gambit.
Russia entered an ideological vacuum and an identity crisis in
1991. Some argue that anti-Westernism has now become the new
“national idea,” that xenophobic nationalism is being used to bind
the nation together. Certainly, the oft-repeated assertion that the
West is trying to subvert and weaken Russia has its uses. It can be
used to justify increased central control over civil society,
limitations on civil and political rights and the reinvigoration of
the internal security organs. Blame can be diverted onto external
opponents. And now that the flow of critical opinion into the
country can no longer be blocked, discrediting external critics as
malign and destabilizing forces is the most effective
counter-attack. It seems to me that Russia’s anti-Western rhetoric
is being aimed above all at the domestic audience.


A neutral
observer landing from Mars and reading the newspaper headlines of
the past few months would reasonably conclude that Russia was
locked into a bitter and lasting confrontation with the West. But
if the same observer had sat in any one of the dozens of meetings I
attended in Russia in 2007 – business meetings, negotiations
between Russian and international companies about joint projects,
seminars on leadership, education reform and civil society and so
on – he would have made the opposite deduction.

Russia and the
West are not in what can properly be called a confrontation. The
Russian leadership is pursuing a vision of “sovereignty” modelled
on the great powers of the 19th century. It is using all the
instruments at its disposal to reassert influence and explore the
limits of Russian power. Yet I do not believe that the leadership’s
objective is a generalized policy of confrontation with the West.
This would be very costly; and it would not serve Russia’s

Likewise, neither
the European Union nor the U.S.A. is seeking a confrontation with
Russia. This would serve no Western interest. Russia has enjoyed
becoming a more awkward customer for the West, and in some areas a
competitor: but it is not a threat to be contained or

So is Karaganov
wrong to warn that we could find ourselves in an “even more
dangerous” confrontation than in the past? It is not hard to
identify issues which could produce this unintended consequence. In
his article, Arbatov gave a list which included the breakdown of
arms control agreements, the possible knock-on effects of Kosovan
independence, the risk of Russian involvement in armed conflicts
with NATO-supported Georgia and Moldova and the risk of a
flash-point in Ukraine. None of these risks have receded in the six
months since he was writing.
Meanwhile the intractable problem of Iran’s nuclear program has
moved closer to a denouement. Iran is playing a dangerous game of
brinkmanship. The noises coming out of Washington are all too
reminiscent of the build-up to the Iraq conflict (the lessons of
which seem to have been lost on the Bush administration); and the
Presidential candidates are vying to display their virility over
Iran. No sane person wants to see a nuclear-armed Iran; but the
question is how best to avert this undeniable threat. Up to now,
Iran has been a source of tactical rather than strategic
disagreement between Russia and the West. But if the U.S.A. were to
use force against Iran, it seems likely that the Kremlin would come
out strongly on the other side – and the consequences would be
extremely serious.

This is far from
an exhaustive list of possible sources of a deeper rift. As Arbatov
rightly puts it, “Russia’s slide into confrontation and rivalry
with the U.S. and NATO must be stopped, even though this
confrontation is not global but regional, geopolitical and
selective in military-technical issues.”


Russia’s internal course is fundamental to any reappraisal of how
Russia and the West should act toward each other. Foreign policy
emanates from domestic policy.
“Russia is at a crossroads” is an overworked clichй. It would be
more accurate to say that Russia passed a crossroads four years
ago, and that the next fork in the road lies some considerable way
ahead. I recall two prescient speeches made in Moscow by
sympathetic Westerners around the turn of the year from 2002 to
2003. Carl Bildt (at a meeting to launch this journal) noted the
great progress made in convergence between Russia and the West but
saw warning signs of impending divergence. Stanley Fischer,
speaking at the Academy of the National Economy, praised economic
restructuring, but was concerned that the process was slowing

As we can now
see, 2003 was a turning point in both internal and external

Internally, the
flood of petrodollars was the death knell for reform. Externally,
it has become increasingly clear since 2003 that the dominant
forces in the current Russian leadership have turned against the
idea of a “strategic partnership” with the West. They do not feel
they need it: Russia is strong enough to pursue a wholly
independent policy, does not need to make concessions to Western
viewpoints, and can dictate its own terms for cooperation. They do
not wish to be tied by the constraints of partnership, or to
embrace the responsibilities it requires. They mistrust the motives
of the West – a mistrust reawakened by events and Western actions,
and by Western criticism of Russian behavior. And they are angry:
there is a bitter feeling (which is reflected in the articles I
have cited) that Russia has not been respected, but has been
abused, exploited, ignored and made a victim. As Sergei Karaganov
says, Moscow “does not want and cannot afford to integrate with the
traditional West on the terms the latter proposed just recently…
Russia has made the decision that it will not join this club; and
if it does ever decide to join in the future, it will do so as a
strong power.” Or, in President Putin’s words, “Russia will either
be independent and sovereign or will most likely not exist at

“Respect” is a
key point in this debate. Russia “wants its legitimate rights to be
respected and its views on major issues to be reckoned with,” says
Arbatov. It is worth pondering why Russia enjoyed more respect
internationally in 2002 than in 2007. A state earns more respect by
moderation, by applying the rule of law, by speaking softly while
carrying a big stick, than by bullying, threats, accusations and
manipulating or ignoring the law. In 1991, the United States and
their allies earned huge respect for halting the first Gulf war
once Kuwait’s sovereignty had been restored – complying with UN
resolutions and humanitarian principles, and preserving the unity
of a wide coalition. By contrast they have suffered a major loss of
respect and influence by taking the opposite approach in the second
Gulf war. Russia is recognized as a force to be reckoned with; but
too much force engenders opposition.

At the risk of
over-simplification, there are two broad schools of thought about
Russia’s future direction.

One is that
Russia has chosen its course. What we are seeing now is the future.
There are not a few analysts within Russia and outside who believe
that, having regained strength and self-confidence, Russia has now
reverted to a historic model which is fundamentally incompatible
with the West: “sovereign” should be interpreted as “separate.” (As
a retired Sovietologist from the U.S. Navy put it in a recent
letter to The Economist: “Any scholar of Russia knows that Russian
history revolves around long periods of authoritarian rule, broken
only by brief periods of chaotic liberalization before a new kind
of authoritarian regime comes to power to exploit the nationalistic
anti-Western xenophobia of the Russian people.”) Russia has a
unique Eurasian character. Its national identity, in part founded
on the Orthodox Church, is deeply conservative. It is not attracted
by democracy: strong, centralized authoritarian rule is the only
way of ensuring order in this vast land and – as opinion polls show
– is widely supported by the people. Stalin (who in the West tends
to be equated with Hitler and quantitatively was responsible for
even worse atrocities) remains an admired leader. The country’s
future success can be built on its huge natural resources (in a
resource-hungry world) and traditional strengths in heavy industry,
with the State playing the dominant role in the economy.

The opposing
school of thought is that what we are currently witnessing is a
revisionist cycle in a long process of transition. Processes of
change are underway which are not yet apparent at the political
level – notably the growth of a new middle class, of new and
competitive private sector businesses, and the gradual emergence of
a generation of young, educated Russians who have been exposed to
the outside world in a way that was denied to their parents, and
wish to be part of it. It is also argued that the traditionalist
model of Russia will not work – that an economy based on gigantic
and massively inefficient (indeed value-extracting) state-run
industries failed in the 1970s and 1980s, and will fail again.
Likewise there are doubts about the long-term viability of a
political model based on a single individual and the single
institution of the “vertical of power” – a vertical heavily
dependent on the cadres and successor institutions of the former
KGB. As Arbatov put it, “the main problem with Putin’s ‘managed
democracy’ and ‘executive vertical’ is that the country’s present
economic well-being and political stability rest on a very fragile
and short-lived foundation.” Speaking to the Valdai group on 14
September, President Putin himself expressed these doubts
succinctly: “We cannot build Russia’s future by tying its many
millions of citizens to just one person or group of people. We will
not be able to build anything lasting unless we put in place a real
and effectively functioning multi-party system and develop a civil
society that will protect society and the state from mistakes and
wrong actions on the part of those in power.”

It seems to me
that the determining factor will be the economy. But the prosperity
generated by high oil and gas prices has merely masked, rather than
resolved, the underlying structural weaknesses in the system. Both
Karaganov and Trenin (in the works already quoted) see the need for
modernization of the economy as the probable catalyst for wider
change in Russia’s future internal and external

forecasts that, in five to seven years’ time, “Russia will come
down to earth after its present euphoria and will conduct a more
cautious, although not less active, policy.” This is because
Russia’s share of world GNP will tend to decrease unless
“sustainable growth of 8 to 10 percent a year” (a very ambitious
target) can be achieved; and because “the new epoch of competition
requires the transition to a knowledge economy; advantages based on
energy resources are transient. The continuous modernization of the
political system is required in order to prevent a slide into
stagnant authoritarianism. If Russia does not take avail of the
favorable economic and geopolitical situation, and fails to use
semi-authoritarian and state capitalism methods for moving to a new
development model, the country’s decline in the next epoch will be

Trenin’s verdict
is not dissimilar: “Over time, Russia will acquire more and more
rightful owners: from a few dozen today to a few hundred several
years from now to hundreds of thousands. Within a generation,
having a single master of the land will first become impossible and
then unthinkable. The powers of government will have to be
separated in reality… Governance and competence are likely to
emerge as criteria for grading the political regime and determining
its fate. Russia circa 2025 will still not be a democracy, but it
will be considerably more liberal and modern. The liberalism that
has a chance to prevail in Russia will be economically

We should not
expect an early change in the atmosphere. For the next few months
Russia will be preoccupied by the “2008 question.” Whatever
reshuffling takes place within the ruling elite in the spring of
2008 is not expected to lead to a sharp change of direction. But
over time the facts of economic life and social development will
require a reappraisal of where Russia’s best interests

How will Russia’s
future leaders view the world in 5-10 years from now? Let me hazard
a few guesses:

  • It will be clear
    to all – indeed it is already – that Russia has asserted its
    sovereignty. No one will be under any illusion about Russia’s
    economic revival and determination to be regarded once more as a
    significant and independent actor on the international
  • The angst of the
    1990s will have faded. It will have become obvious that raging
    furiously at the West and developing a national sense of victimhood
    is a political tactic, but not a strategy. If the aim is to regain
    respect, the tactic is counter-productive. The more the Russian
    Government accuses the West of failing to acknowledge Russia’s
    strength or of seeking to undermine Russia, the more it conveys an
    impression of insecurity, of not feeling (as the French put it)
    comfortable in its skin. A siege mentality did not serve Russia
    well in the past. I believe that the bile will pass through the
  • Economic
    integration will have advanced. Russia will want a modernized,
    diversified, competitive economy, making full use of its human
    capital, not one that qualitatively lags behind the developed
    world. The growing shortage of skilled personnel will have required
    higher levels of education, training, and investment to achieve the
    necessary productivity. Progressive private sector companies,
    succeeding in global markets, will have shown the way forward – not
    state monopolies.
  • Internal
    pressure to strengthen the rule of law and diminish corruption and
    the rule of bureaucracy will have increased.
  • The array of
    global threats – including weapons proliferation, international
    terrorism, instability in the Middle East, climate change – will be
    no less acute.
  • Adapting to the
    rise of China will be a difficult issue for Russia, as for the
    United States and the EU.
  • The United
    States will have moved beyond the failed ideology of
  • The EU will
    still be the world’s richest bloc and Russia’s largest trade
    partner, and will have developed a more cohesive foreign

In these
circumstances it is more likely that a future Russian leadership
will wish to use the country’s independent weight to be part of the
solution, in concert with other powers whose interests overlap,
rather than to be a part of the problem.


In the meantime,
what approach should the West take?

first requirement is to try to prevent a further
deterioration in the atmosphere. The current agenda needs to be
handled consultatively, with restraint and sensitivity, if we are
not to slide into a mutually damaging confrontation. In place of
strategic partnership, the West should seek cooperation with Russia
on specific strategic issues.

Second, Western Europe and the United
States must recognize that change in Russia will come from within,
and over a long period. To the extent possible, they should
continue to support processes of enlightenment there – but should
not gear policy to unrealistic expectations of the pace of change.
It is futile to fulminate that Russia does not meet the benchmarks
of Western democracy. In the countries where it exists, democracy
takes many forms, and took hundreds of years to develop. A fair
amount of personal freedom has developed in Russia over the past
twenty years. Genuine democracy (which is a bottom-up process), not
surprisingly, has yet to start – but may well develop over the next
25 to 50 years. It would make better sense for the West to focus on
the rule of law, where the Russian government has clearly defined
internal and international commitments: implementing them would
unarguably be in Russia’s best interests, and would provide a much
stronger foundation for Russo-Western relations. The West, however,
will have no credibility in Russia unless it practises what it
preaches: the cavalier attitude of the Bush administration to
international law has done insidious damage.

Third, the Western reappraisal should be
geared to neo-engagement, not neo-containment. In fact no major
Western government or organization is pursuing “neo-containment.”
If the West is to have an influence, it will be felt predominantly
through the power of example, the flow of information and human
contact. Isolation is wholly counter-productive: the case should
not need arguing again.

The most
important form of engagement is the mutually advantageous two-way
interaction of business. The further development of the market
economy will be the most powerful driver of the modernization of
society and governance in Russia. In Trenin’s words, “market forces
can be relied upon to open up Russia even wider and help transform
it even more deeply, but they need encouragement.” Growing economic
interdependence is already a constraint on negative behavior, and
will become an even stronger one in the future.

Last, but by no means least, I believe
that the European Union needs to articulate a clear and principled
long-term view of its relationship with Russia – Europe’s largest
nation. The European Union should make clear that it:

– is resolutely
opposed to a new division of Europe and commits itself to work over
time for the progressive dismantling of barriers.
– recognizes that a strong, stable, prosperous and modern Russia
will make a very large contribution to the well-being of the
European continent; and seeks to cooperate with Russia to the
greatest extent possible.
– fully acknowledges Russia’s right to defend its own interests and
pursue its own independent policies within the parameters of
international law and of the sovereign rights of other
– has an equal interest in the sovereignty, stability and
development of the Russian Federation and of all of the other
states of the former Soviet Union, and in harmonious relations
between them.
– is not seeking to expand its influence at the expense of Russia,
but will oppose any encroachment on the sovereign rights of any
European state.
– will defend its own interests and values robustly where they are

*  * 

Policy should not
be based on a misplaced presumption of confrontation. We are not –
yet – in a confrontation. Confrontation would be unnecessary,
mutually damaging and potentially dangerous; but the possibility

We tried to
become partners and allies. That turned out to be unrealistic. We
have failed, for the time being. But that should not make us
enemies. There is too much at stake, and we have too much in

We need to
rebuild trust, step by step, by cooperating where we share
interests. That will require levels of statesmanship and sobriety
in rhetoric and behavior which have recently been conspicuous by
their absence; and a realistic perspective on the situation we are
in and the problems we face.

It will be a slow
process. But if the analysis which I broadly share with Sergei
Karaganov, Alexei Arbatov and Dmitry Trenin is well founded, a time
will come a few years hence when genuine partnership is feasible.
It may be inoperable now, but it is a worthy long-term objective.
We may no longer be at the “dawn of a new golden age,” but in a few
years’ time we shall be in a different situation and – with luck –
a more rational environment.