Russia at the Turn of the Century: Hopes and Reality
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September 2004, the Russian city of Novgorod hosted an
international conference entitled Russia at the Turn of the
Century: Hopes and Reality. Its organizers were the RIA Novosti
news agency, the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, Russia in
Global Affairs, and The Moscow Times. The list of participants
included leading scholars, experts and journalists from the U.S.
and European countries, who met to discuss the level of Russia’s
political, social and economic development that has been achieved
since the introduction of democratic processes 15 years ago. This
review presents a synopsis of the views provided by the Russian
participants in the forum and offers a general account of their


Karaganov, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and
Defense Policy and Chairman of the Russia in Global Affairs
Editorial Board, said Russia had fallen short of both the most
optimistic and most pessimistic forecasts that the experts
forwarded at the start of the reforms. What is most important is
that a totally new reality has emerged in the country, he


Dr Alexei
Salmin, President of the Russian Social Political Center, opened
the discussion on Russia’s domestic policy by focusing attention on
the transformations that are yet to come. People without the
slightest amount of Soviet experience will join the economically
active sections of society in just several years from now. While
these individuals possess no experience of the Soviet past, they do
have abounding experience with Russia’s imperfect democracy into
which they were born. This fact may have variegated consequences,
ranging from a willingness to turn Russia into a model democracy,
to attempts to thwart any form of democracy in principle. The
commencement of their participation in economic life will coincide
with the 2008 presidential election. At this time, the problem of a
cohesion between the current and future political course may
acquire a dramatic taint, while the change of power will mark a
tense and dangerous moment.


Vladimir Ryzhkov, who represents the liberal opposition in the
lower house of Russian parliament, said he was confident that the
country’s democratic system had been dismantled during the years
since Vladimir Putin’s election to the presidential office. All the
independent institutions that would ensure the plurality of
opinions and balance of powers in the 1990s – the upper and lower
houses of parliament, independent deputies, the powerful regional
governors, political parties, independent mass media, and
independent big business – have been cut down to size. “We’re
offered an array of hollow democratic institutions having facades
but void of real content,” Ryzhkov said. “This is a road to
disaster, to the country’s collapse.”


MP Andrei
Klimov, a member of the pro-presidential United Russia party,
disagreed with Ryzhkov, saying that much of what was happening
today was part of putting things into order and repairing the
mechanism that had been shattered during Yeltsin’s presidency. He
charged Yeltsin with leaving Putin with an unstable political
system that was in disarray, and a feeble, undemocratic state that
was dependent on numerous factors. Klimov admitted at the same time
that some of the recent proposals for the consolidation of power
might actually aggravate particular problems as opposed to solving

Konstantin Kosachev, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in
the State Duma, offered the opinion that Russia – for the first
time in its recent history – has acquired clear political
personification, represented by President Putin and the United
Russia party which has taken full responsibility for the situation.
What the country also needs, Kosachev said, is a government that is
formed along the party principle.


problem concerning the centralization of state power sparked an
animated discussion, with writer Alexander Prokhanov arguing that
Russia as a country, and the Russians as an ethnos, are living
through a disaster. The population is dwindling, huge territories
remain undeveloped, and culture and science are degrading, he said.
“Russia has come to the brink of something bigger than
disintegration – it can be absorbed by powerful nationalities
moving in from the East and South,” Prokhanov said. He pins hopes
for Russia’s salvation solely on the tough centralization of state


Region Governor Mikhail Prusak supported the idea of suppressing
petty regional separatism, but spoke against the centralization of
financial flows and economic powers. “Western civic society grew
out of the economic freedom of the land and the economic freedom of
each particular man,” he said.


analyst Vitaly Tretyakov highlighted the fact that liberal
democratic reforms in Russia had always led to the disintegration
of the government, state, and its territory. In the meantime,
historic experience shows that the Russians treasure those
territories, and maintaining them is a kind of a Russian national


Trenin, Deputy Director of the Moscow Carnegie Center, said the
problem of Russian democracy was deeply rooted in the absence of
demos and of a responsible and conscientious choice of voters,
rather than in authoritarianism. “Russia has moved from the phase
of Yeltsin’s revolution to the phase of stabilization,” he said.
“It has reverted to its organic path of development, from which it
was knocked off in 1917.”


chief ombudsman Vladimir Lukin developed the subject of
post-revolutionary stabilization during the next session of the
forum, where the participants discussed humanitarian issues.
Following the end of a revolution, society must readjust itself to
a different way of life and this process of adjustment usually
takes a long time. This phase often implies ceding some gains of
the revolutionary epoch. Such is the law of development, Lukin

Bovt, Chief Editor of the Izvestia daily, believes Russian society
is generally insufficiently developed – it cannot speak
articulately and does not know how to formulate or perceive many
things, and that is why it would be most productive to begin with
the words and ideas easily understandable for society. The
authority’s inability to speak a language clear to the people is
especially detrimental today.


Prokhanov criticized the ideology that dominates in Russia at the
moment. He called it “an incendiary mix of neo-liberalism in
foreign policy and economics and a quasi-imperial sugary approach
in internal affairs.” “Enlightened centralism” can only be
developed as a national idea if all the ideologies found in Russian
society (e.g. ultra-right, liberal, super-conservative, religious
or even extremist) fuse into one ideological compound, he


Lukyanov, Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs, discussed
Russia’s position in the international arena during the session
which focused on foreign policy. He pointed out the widening gap
between President Putin’s clearly pro-Western foreign policy
course, and the model of internal relations that is definitely
drifting away from exemplary Western democracies. This creates
apparent problems for Russia’s strategy of becoming integrated into
the community of developed countries, which the President has
declared more than once.


Kosachev said many of the problems that Russia faces on the
international scene have psychological roots, which are a
combination of the superiority mania and inferiority complexes
embedded in the Russian consciousness. “We’d like to rehabilitate
the past glory of the Soviet state, and yet shy away from stating
Russia’s genuine interests,” he said. “We pull back too soon if we
hear the accusations of cruelty and imperialism. Countries of the
world will always respect one another’s interests, but Russia must
formulate its interests for itself. All of our setbacks in foreign
policy will continue to be linked to a failure to understand our
national interests, as well as the plans for implementing


MP Yuli
Kvitsinsky, one of today’s most widely known Russian diplomats,
voiced doubts about the ostensible strengthening of the country’s
international positions in the past few years. “The time that it
requires for a NATO missile to reach Moscow and St. Petersburg has
shrunk to the minimum, and all of the [European] Russian territory
up to the Urals has fallen within the range of tactical weapons
from other countries,” he said. “This should have led us to urgent
practical conclusions.” Yuli Kvitsinsky recalled that NATO
statements about friendship with the Russians are nothing more than
unbinding declarations. Should the situation change, says Yuli
Kvitsinsky, Russia will be unprepared to rebuff the


Trenin called for looking at NATO as an opportunity, not a threat.
“It may have the role of Russia’s important strategic rear and a
resource for modernizing the Russian Armed Forces,” he said. “The
same applies to the European Union as well, because it can become
an external lever of our internal modernization.”


factor that sparks Kvitsinsky’s alarm is the absence of a clear
policy line toward the CIS countries, where he believes new
impressive methods of influence, together with the promotion of
Russian interests, are needed.


Lukyanov supported the above viewpoint, saying: “Russia’s problem
in the post-Soviet countries is similar to America’s problem across
the world.” America is powerful, but it lacks soft power, that is,
an ability to convince others to side with it, he said. “Russia
needs a powerful cultural and civilizational campaign to promote
itself to its neighbors.”


Kosachev admitted that Russia’s conduct toward its neighbors
resembled that of a bull in a china shop. “Ironically, being a
small nation is a lucrative business in today’s world. If you are
one, you can harass, or even become aggressive, against your big
neighbors, because the world community won’t let them touch you,”
he said.


with the West were mulled over at a session devoted to security
issues. The Russian participants complained that the West supports
Russia’s fighting with terrorism only in words and refuses to give
it practical assistance.


MP Andrei
Kokoshin, Chairman of the State Duma’s Committee on CIS Affairs,
underlined the huge gap between the interaction of the world’s
leading countries, and the scope of the challenges that arise from
the nature of the new threats. “The U.S. action in Iraq, which
provoked an upsurge of radicalism in the Islamic world, together
with the Russian-American misunderstanding in the post-Soviet
space, do not serve to bring cooperation to the required levels for
fighting terrorism,” Kokoshin said. He recalled World War II, when
countries as diverse as the Soviet Union, Britain, France, and the
U.S. managed to put their claims aside and pool their efforts in
the fight against the Nazis.


“Like it
was during that war, Russia is now offered again to bear the major
burden of a war with terrorism,” said Vitaly Tretyakov, expounding
on the same topic. “The West remains reluctant to consider Chechnya
as a part of the problem it faces, too.”


Guseinov, Director of the Institute for Strategic Assessments and
Analysis, called everyone’s attention to the well-planned and
coordinated methods of the enemy forces back in 1994, when the war
in Chechnya just started. The enemy was neither disunited nor
scattered then, and this should not be overlooked. Guseinov
admitted, however, that even the Russians did not understand it
well enough at the time. He highlighted one more problem: the
people whom the Russian authorities select to monitor the problems
of the Caucasus generally have a vague idea of that unique region’s

Tretyakov sharply criticized Western demands that Russia make
compromise agreements with the separatists. “To grant independence
to Chechnya and to make whatever arrangements with Maskhadov will
spark similar events in Ingushetia, as well as elsewhere in the
North Caucasus,” he indicated. “This will ignite a grand Caucasus
war, in which Georgia and Armenia will be swept away as states.
After that, Russia will begin falling apart up the Volga where
there is a large Moslem population.”


Kokoshin made reference to the period of 1996 through 1999, when an
agreement with Maskhadov was in effect and Chechnya was independent
de facto. During this time, violent incidents continued to occur in
the republic and on the adjoining territories, but Maskhadov was
unable to control even his own people. Compared to the days when
the Chechen Republic was ruled by militant Islamic radicals,
today’s situation there is much better, Kokoshin believes. He also
mentioned that it is thanks to Russia that secular regimes have
stayed afloat in the Central Asian countries, primarily in
Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.