Russia and the West: Where the Differences Lie
№4 2007 October/December
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.

Now that there
is little positive left in Russia-West relations, it would perhaps
not be appropriate to focus too much on the differences between the
two parties. Rather, it would be better to nurture the seeds of our
positive qualities.

Russia pursued
this line until recently – to be more precise, until President
Vladimir Putin’s speech in Munich. For quite some time, Russia
tried to ignore negative developments that had been increasing (not
on Moscow’s initiative) in its relations with the West. We
cherished all constructive moments in our relations with the United
States and the European Union and refrained from making dramatic
moves in order not to destroy what had been achieved.

Of course, it
could be argued that Russia was simply too weak to afford a
confrontation with the West, but now its “energy muscles” enable it
to carry out its old plans. U.S. Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos
recently expressed this view, widespread in the West, in scandalous
fashion. Such logic reveals the true approach to our country: the
West benefits from a weak Russia because a strong Russia will
always challenge it.

Well, what is the
real cause of the differences?

Of course,
there are natural geopolitical, economic and other interests that
may not entirely coincide. Russia sells energy resources, and the
West consumes them. Russia is in the process of restoring its
influence, while the West is seeking to retain influence of its
own. Most often, however, differences between the two sides are
explained by an alleged mismatch in their value systems. However
speculative such an approach may be, it is the most dangerous since
it makes conflict a permanent feature in our relations; something
that exists almost at the genetic level, so to speak.

In interpreting
Moscow’s position, the West demonstrates its lack of understanding
of the true nature of the processes and sentiments that have been
prevailing in Russia’s government and government agencies over the
last 20 years. Neither Mikhail Gorbachev, nor Boris Yeltsin or
Vladimir Putin viewed Russia’s openness to the West as a
manifestation of their country’s weakness. All three leaders
believed that the Soviet Union/Russia and the West were to meet
each other halfway. The Soviet Union – followed by Russia – covered
its half of the road, despite the fact that many particularly
sensitive stops along the way presupposed real responses, as
opposed to mere promises.

By the beginning
of the new century, Russia had reached the halfway mark in its
rapprochement with the West. At this point, any sort of further
unilateral movement by Russia would have meant the

– the
establishment of external control over Russian
– the
construction of European and global security systems patterned
after NATO and without Russia’s participation in it;
– continuous
loss of Russia’s influence in the area of its strategic interests
(former Soviet republics); this would have included the adaptation
of political, legal, economic and other systems to European
standards, and the ensuing loss of regulatory functions of the
federal center, in addition to the inability to uphold the
country’s interests (actual de-sovereignization).

The Russian
leadership stopped at this point; there was simply nowhere else to
go, except beyond the frameworks of national sovereignty. In this
sense, Putin was less fortunate than his predecessors who had had
more room for maneuver, and who had received large personal
political dividends from their grand gestures.


By the beginning
of the century, one thing had become clear to Russia: we thought
that we were covering our part of the distance, while our
partners/opponents in the West believed that our conduct was
natural for the loser in the Cold War.

objectively, however, it was the Russians who really won the Cold
War – they not only freed themselves from totalitarianism, but they
also delivered other peoples from it. For a period of time, we
considered this subject closed, regarding any discussions as to who
was the winner as absolutely unimportant. We attached primary
importance to our “bright common future.” However, Europe and
particularly the United States were still very serious and
sensitive about the issue of who won the confrontation between the
two systems. We obviously underestimated the significance of what
victory in the Cold War meant for the Western (especially U.S.)
establishment. Meanwhile, here lies the key to understanding many
of today’s problems.

The Western
powers view their Cold War victory not just as a historic event,
but as an event that adds moral and political legitimacy to all of
the policies of the West over the last decade and a half. Indeed,
if the end of the bipolar confrontation is not considered to be a
victory for one of the parties, there arises a reasonable question:
By what right does a group of states, even powerful and highly
developed states, dare to reshape the world order according to
their own ideas, without taking into account the views of other

The West viewed
Moscow’s unilateral moves solely as an act of capitulation, which,
of course, did not require any counter-obligations. Promises (not
to enlarge NATO, for example, or not to deploy armaments in Eastern
Europe) were rather given to let Russian politicians save face at
home. This is why the strengthening of Russia’s positions, together
with it declaring its own interests, is viewed in the West as
inappropriate behavior for a vanquished state – or, even worse, as
the revival of an old enemy into an even more dangerous form
(following the German scenario after the First World

Viewed from this
standpoint, the anxiety of the West is quite understandable. Soviet
people experienced similar sentiments when, for example, they saw
manifestations of a revanche policy in Germany in the second half
of last century. However, given that Russia has never acted as
under capitulation, nor viewed its unilateral moves – even in the
most sensitive areas – as forced and painful concessions, the
picture changes dramatically.

Meanwhile, the
West, which believes it won the Cold War, fails to behave toward
Russia as a strong and confident winner – that is, magnanimously.
Nor can it show weakness because this is not typical of it. Thus,
the result is an unproductive mixture of fear and arrogance, when
the West has to interact with Russia exerting pressure on it and
fearing it at the same time. These actions are camouflaged by the
alleged existence of “systemic” differences, which could be
overcome by some “constructive moves” (that is, new concessions) on
the part of Moscow.

However, if we
put aside the root cause of our present problems – that is, an
adherence to winner/loser logic – and thoroughly examine the key
points of our differences, we will find that none of them are truly
systemic (that is, of course, if the West does not have a systemic
desire to counter Russia under any circumstances).

At this time,
we will delineate the three major groups of differences – security,
values, and the situation in the post-Soviet space – that are not
insurmountable if their causes are correctly

The differences
between the two sides flare up when the West begins to impose its
security agenda on Moscow; invariably, this is topped by threats
from “rogue countries.” The West takes it for granted that
“suspicious” political regimes, with their nuclear programs and
international terrorists (not all terrorists, incidentally, just
those that struggle against Western nations), are primary threats
for Russia as well.

However, when
Russia offers its own understanding of security (for example, when
it expresses concern over NATO’s approach to its borders, the
deployment of weapons in countries of Central and Eastern Europe,
or over dangerous activities in the Caucasus and Asia), the West
prefers to see no problem at all. It took some good jolts, like the
Russian president’s Munich speech, or a moratorium on the
implementation of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe
(CFE), to make the West pay at least some attention to this factor.
The West, however, insists that some actions should be taken with
regard to Moscow – either by ignoring it, convincing it, or
reassuring it – depending on the situation, that is, on how strong
Russia happens to be.

In the eyes of
the West, NATO is the main, if not the only, universal and
irreplaceable security structure in the world. This attitude
explains the tendency to deliberately devalue the UN role in
security matters, and the desire to place all the eggs of the OSCE
into one humanitarian basket. Other security structures, for
example, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, are not
viewed as potential partners, since any alternative collective
security systems are out of the question. All non-members of NATO
are invited only to decide on the degree of their interaction with
the North Atlantic Alliance, and on how far they are ready to go
toward rapprochement with it. Non-members are almost automatically
ranked in order from potential candidates to outright “rogue
states,” that is, potential enemies.

The problem
lies precisely in the automatism, which affected Russia, as well,
as soon as it became obvious that it did not fit into the
Alliance’s format. As they say, nothing personal: if Moscow
suddenly wishes to obey the West’s common principles (naturally on
Western terms), it will be ranked “friendly.” But until then, the
system, guided by its own inherent logic, mechanically reacts to
Russia as if it were a potential threat, surrounding its perimeter
and taking various measures to neutralize it. The fact that Moscow
may have interests of its own, not to mention solid grounds not to
trust NATO because it has failed to fulfill its promises on too
many previous occasions, is simply not taken into consideration.
The implied essence of statements made by NATO Secretary-General
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer during his meetings in Moscow in June was,
“join if you want; but if you don’t want to, you will have to
endure this type of treatment. There is no alternative to NATO

However, the
problem is that NATO does not live up to the description of a
“universal” organization. And there are no signs that it will be
able to replace the security instruments and forums inherited from
the last century. The Alliance was conceived as an instrument of a
global fight against preponderant opponents, whereas networked
terrorism cannot be ranked as such an opponent. If serious
opponents cannot be found, they are either invented or designated.
NATO, which claims universality, in practice demonstrates its
inability to undertake a global mission that is sought by its
leaders. It is common knowledge that the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization is experiencing a very serious conceptual crisis, as
it is simply unable to adequately react to the real, as opposed to
imaginary, threats of the 21st century. The difficult situation
that the Alliance now finds itself in Afghanistan is an
illustrative example of that.

With the
exception of the United States, Britain, and to some extent Poland,
the majority of NATO member states are not ready to address real
problems of military security – especially in places far away from
their own territory. It seems that the Old World is most of all
afraid of becoming involved in America’s strategic games in the
Middle or Far East. At the same time, Europe does not have a
security agenda of its own, while feeble attempts to formulate such
an agenda are thwarted by the “postmodernist” outlook of the
leading European states and – let’s put it boldly – skillful
counteraction by Washington. The United States is not interested in
Europe becoming an independent military-political

This impasse can
be overcome only by strengthening the role of the United Nations
and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and by
developing a strategic partnership among various security
organizations. NATO, as a military-political structure intended to
protect the interests of its members only, rather than the whole of
mankind, can only serve as one of the partners, albeit the
mightiest one, in any collective security system.

Those European
politicians who propose various ways to reform NATO feel the
ambiguity of its current position and the contradiction between its
claims and the reality. And although such views do not yet prevail,
the situation is not hopeless.

abovementioned factors do not mean that Russia must patiently wait
for the situation to change. Russia’s diplomatic aggressiveness,
based on the proposal of creative ideas aimed at achieving end
results, is more than manifest. The contours of this basically new
foreign policy emerged in the summer of 2007 when Russia invited
the United States to jointly operate a radar system in Azerbaijan’s
Gabala; it followed up on this proposal with initiatives made
public at a Russian-American summit in Kennebunkport,

position on the deployment of elements of a U.S. missile defense
system in the Czech Republic and Poland has not changed. Yet,
Russia has departed from its habitual behavior pattern typical of
the last century, when it rejected any unified position of the
West. Then, as a rule, there only emerged a new field for
confrontation, while the desired result failed to be

This is not the
first move of its kind: some time ago, Russia made a strong move by
proposing to establish international uranium enrichment centers. In
view of Iran’s nuclear program, this initiative was supported even
by the United States. Regrettably, Teheran declined to cooperate;
yet the initiative has not been removed from the agenda.

Approaches of
this kind not only strengthen Russia’s international authority;
they demonstrate its willingness to look for ways to overcome
differences, thus cutting the ground out from under the feet of
those (both in the West and Russia) who – for political and
ideological motives – feed on latent or open

Russia should
continue to accommodate its new international policy with more
specific ideas. It may take an inventory of all of the accumulated
problems – for example, in Ukraine, Georgia, Kosovo, and the Baltic
States – and search for Gabala-style ways to solve them. This does
not mean, of course, that Russia should back off or damage its own
national interests. But it is in our power to make such proposals
to our partners and opponents that will throw them into a dilemma:
either cooperation and the desired solution, or admission that the
problem is actually rooted in their biased attitude toward Russia.
This would help materialize a diplomacy of new quality, and we have
resources for that.


Regarding the
“values” dialog, allegedly full of discord, Russia does not see any
real grounds for conflict here. Oftentimes, we seem to be at odds
with each other when actually we are in accord. The West prefers to
point to the situation inside Russia, while we tend to raise other
issues, such as the controversial practice of “exporting
democracy,” and the real situation in countries that like to
criticize Russia. As a result, instead of a dialog we have two
monologs, and both fail to reach the other party’s ears. But if we
do not listen to each other, conflict will always seem

We must
completely rethink the role that values play in Western politics.
It is time to admit, as difficult as this may be, that democratic
messianism simply does not work. It is not only undemocratic to
force people into a “bright future,” but it may also bring about
serious internal conflicts. Democracy imposed by bayonets has
proven ineffective in Iraq – much to Washington’s surprise. With
regard to Ukraine, the European Union wonders why the “liberated”
people in that country are unable to overcome their domestic
crisis. Both examples prove that artificial “democratization” does
not work.

The “export model
of democracy” contains a genetic defect: as a rule, it contains
elements of desovereignization of the target country. And it cannot
be otherwise, because “democracy exporters” seek to complete
several missions at once. Apart from introducing their standards in
the field of rights and freedoms (which would cause the least
rejection, but such introduction never takes place without other
kinds of interference), outside forces seek to increase their
influence, carry out geopolitical reorientation, neutralize
competitors, take control over resources and major economic assets,
and create footholds for the deployment of military

Since impulses
for democratization do not derive from truly universal and
generally recognized organizations, like the UN, but from states –
with all of their inevitable self-interests – there inevitably
emerge internal contradictions and double standards. Sometimes
these impulses take the form of undisguised and even gross
interference. Meanwhile, the people who fall victim to such
“experiments” do not reject democracy – they reject what is found
inside the democratic wrapping. There is no “values” conflict here,
nor is there one between Russia and the West.

Yet the illusion
of conflict will arise each time Russia declares its interests.
When Russia stands firm in upholding its interests, or shows
evidence of its independence in conduct and thinking, it is treated
in the West as a signal for ideological attacks. Conflict of values
is a matter of propaganda, rather than ideological, civilizational
or psychological realities; so the issue should be resolved from
this point of view, instead of using this sensitive topic as a
political weapon.

especially after the events in Estonia, the issue of values has
taken a new turn in the Russia-West dialog. However, Europe,
carried away by the demonstration of its internal solidarity, has
not realized this in full measure yet. Formerly, many people in the
West – and even in Russia – believed that Russia was not yet ready
to fully embrace “positive” Western values. But now people are
questioning why these values easily include the ideology of the
Baltic elites. Why do these values comfortably co-exist with
travesties against the memory of the fallen heroes of the
anti-Hitler coalition, which includes a tolerant attitude toward
the revival of Nazism. There has also been a revision of the
political results of World War II, together with the massive
deprivation of rights on ethnic grounds. These developments, and
many others, are not at all associated with the true conception of
democracy. Perhaps the Western countries think that by blaming
Russia for the developments in Estonia they achieved some sort of
subtle victory; but Russian society experienced a real culture

It cannot be
ruled out that we are witnessing a new phenomenon that can be
described as the “Bolshevization” of democratic consciousness:
progressive and positive ideas are becoming dogmatic in essence and
aggressive in form. This impression underlines the fact that some
of the world’s major “progressors” – i.e., American neo-cons –
originate from Trotskyism.

Russia has handled the democratic idea almost in the same way as
the Western Social Democrats, stigmatized years ago by Bolsheviks,
handled the socialist idea. Russia has borrowed the constructive
aspects of democratic principles, but refrains from falling into
the democratic hysteria that increasingly accompanies public
discussions on humanitarian issues in Europe and the United States.
For example, it is easier for Russia to understand that the
processes underway in Ukraine, Belarus and Central Asia are much
more complicated than the primitive debate over “democracy or
non-democracy.” Moscow’s refusal to participate in the collective
harassment of the “last dictators,” and in other passionate
“crusades for freedom,” is explained not by the absence of
democratic views. Rather, Russia is guided by sober realism and its
own bitter experience of imposing the “only true teaching” on
others. This is why the die-hard Western “revolutionaries” attach
harsh epithets to Russia and accuse it of betraying “cherished
ideals” – just like Vladimir Lenin did a century ago vis-à-vis
Karl Kautsky and Co.

Hence, the
notorious “conflict of values,” the essence of which lies not so
much in the peculiar perception of democratic ideas in Russia
(where they have been developing independently for centuries), as
in the transformation of ideology in the West.

Is it not
strange that the public West-Russia “dialog,” if judged by mass
media reports, proceeds under bombastic headlines, such as, “Stop
Russia” or “Let’s Say Enough to Russia”? As if it is Russia that
admits former Western allies into its military-political bloc and
deploys strategic armaments on their territories. As if it is
Moscow that provokes controlled political upheavals, bringing
anti-Western regimes to power, or forces competitors out of the
market, and blocks negotiations with strategic

To ease such
tensions, the West should look for other ways to consolidate its
ranks than the habits of the 20th century. Today’s world is a far
cry from the highly ideological realities of the last century;
Ronald Reagan’s emotional speeches would be as appropriate now as
Alexander the Great’s chariots would be on today’s battlefields.
There is no “empire of evil” or “bad” Russia and “good” West.
However, there are normal countries, whose interests are close and
compatible if their leaders and elites have the will and sober mind
to understand this.


The subject of
the post-Soviet space has broadened of late, and now it makes sense
to speak of a post-Communist space. The range of these issues
includes not only the conflict of influences in the Commonwealth of
Independent States, but also problems pertaining to the Baltic
States, Poland, as well as to some countries of Central and Eastern
Europe (the issues that require immediate consideration in this
region involve the deployment of armaments, an understanding of the
“Soviet occupation” and the revision of history, the war against
monuments, the status of Russian-speaking minorities, neo-Nazi
marches, etc.). Many of the abovementioned factors overlap, among
them the redivision of spheres of influence, security problems, the
struggle for Eurasian resources, and the use of post-Soviet
countries as proving grounds for testing democracy-export

This space is
now a scene of changes that directly concern Russia. As was
mentioned above, the “export model of democracy” has begun to fail;
not all people enjoy “living well but under control” as opposed to
real democratization. The situation at the present time is that
every country has problems of its own, which cannot be solved by
“all-out collectivization.”

representatives of the Ukrainian elites, for example, who pinned
their hopes on the West and Euro-Atlantic structures, believed that
by embracing socio-economic standards of the European Union they
would ensure national unity and overcome their dependence on
Russia. Instead, Ukraine is now deeply divided and gripped by a
stubborn political crisis. Furthermore, it has no chances for
gaining membership into the EU, while it must pay world market
prices for Russian gas.

In Georgia, its
pro-Western leaders cherish hopes that they will restore their
country’s integrity all at once, believing that the West will do
anything to achieve its goals. Strangely, Tbilisi’s convictions are
based on the way the United States and the European Union are
handling Kosovo. However, it is Georgia most of all that should
oppose Western plans to separate a part of a state by breaching
international law. This illusion only adds fuel to the conflicts
over the unrecognized republics.

Meanwhile, the
Asian republics of the CIS are becoming increasingly convinced that
the price for Western protection may turn out exorbitant and simply
destructive for their sovereignty; moreover, it will not add
stability to these countries nor improve the wellbeing of their

In light of
these factors, Moscow’s role in the post-Soviet space has been
highlighted in a new way, and many view it as almost a revelation.
For many years, Russia subsidized the economies of its neighbors –
without transforming its decisive role into solid geopolitical
dividends. The CIS was rather viewed as a “civilized divorce.” No
one is now compelled to join new structures, while the economic
dependence card is not played in order to consolidate one’s sphere
of influence. Russia has not even insisted that the rights of its
Russian-speaking minorities in post-Soviet states be ensured – a
subject where the West’s democratic concern always

The consequences
of the “divorce” began to be seriously felt only after Russia made
the decision to stop subsidizing energy prices; there are no more
guarantors of independence left in the world that do not demand
anything in return.

The differences
that exist between Russia and the West in the post-Soviet space can
be removed. Of course, conflicts of interests are inevitable while
states exist. But we must call a spade a spade rather than mislead
people by uttering false alternatives, such as, “Are you for Russia
or for democracy?” Russia is as interested as the West in genuine
democratization of the vast region, and no one in this country
wants to see peoples’ views on momentous issues ignored, or
decision-making processes usurped by elite groups.

However, it is
clear that if Moscow only passively watches other countries propose
their models for settling conflicts and solving problems in regions
that are vital to it, no one will guarantee that Russia’s interests
will be met. This is why a passive position is absolutely
detrimental for us.