The Russian Bridge Over the Atlantic
№1 2002 December
Vladimir Lukin

Russian diplomat, politician, and international relations expert; former Ombudsman of the Russian Federation (2004–2014), Research Professor at National Research University–Higher School of Economics.

Vladimir Lukin — Doctor of Science (History), Professor,
Deputy Chairman of the State Duma of the Russian Federation,
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Member of the
Editorial Board of the Russia in Global Affairs journal.

Vladimir Lukin

What role will be played in this century by Russia, a country
that had on the eve of the 21st century lost nearly all its
positions on the international stage? Does it have a chance to
become a leading power on which the vector of world development
will depend to a large extent?

Don’t hasten to include me among the dreamers possessed by the
mania for insane suppositions. Let us first think about what, in
the coming decades, will shape the drama of world politics,
primarily the system of relationships along its leading axis – the
Eurasian-Atlantic one.

Some scholars believe that the main international political
problem of this century will be a clash of civilizations. There
have always been frictions between civilizations and one cannot
rule out an intensified confrontation in the future. But in the
first decade of this century, one of the most substantial political
problems is not so much a conflict between civilizations as inside
them. At issue are increasingly serious and deep differences
between the two great democratic poles on either side of the
Atlantic – American and European.

One can, of course, reduce the U.S.-European conflict to a set
of political discrepancies, such as the differing interpretation of
international law as a whole, and as applied to the situation with
Iraq; the attitude to the Kyoto Protocol; Europe’s objections to
the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty; the differences concerning
the destruction of biological weapons; and the clearly negative
U.S. attitude to the European idea of establishing an International
Criminal Court. This is to say nothing about the usual competitive
struggles, accompanied by regular trade wars between the Old and
the New Worlds.

One gets the feeling that it is not only a matter of political
and economic competition but also a question of dissimilar basic
notions of contemporary life and future paths of its evolution.
Over the past quarter-century, having overcome the complex of a
“former European province,” the U.S. became an increasingly less
“European” country in the economic, cultural, national and ethnic

Europe and the U.S. do indeed have a common system of values
(democracy, market economy, priority of human rights and so on) and
this is constantly stressed on both sides of the Atlantic. On the
other hand, the U.S. and the European views on ways of the state’s
self-realization differ greatly. Old and wise Europe is becoming
aware that the Westphalian principle of national sovereignty,
dominant in international relations, is becoming increasingly less
applicable. In Europe, they believe that the time has come to make
more resolute steps toward establishing a comprehensive world legal
order, one where it will be possible to accommodate both Europe’s
own interests and the interests of other serious world players. The
traditional European view of the world relies on the Cartesian
principle of doubt and thus generates the propensity for compromise
and permanent self-adjustment.

Being relatively young, unprecedentedly powerful and thus
self-confident, the U.S. reduces international relations to the
following simple principle: “What is mine is mine, and what belongs
to somebody else is also potentially mine.” This view of the world
is based on the notion instilled by the Founding Fathers of U.S.
democracy, of America being somehow “chosen” and of its special
mission in the world as the “country closest to God.”

Very much depends on how the relations between Europe and
America will develop. If they manage to overcome their differences
(which is quite possible), the situation in the world will become
more predictable and the threat of conflicts will be reduced in
many regions, including where there are elements of competition
between civilizations.

Conversely, if the “intra-species” struggle between the U.S. and
Europe increases, the confrontation will sharpen the world over: in
the Asia-Pacific region, in South Asia, and in Latin America.

Russia and America

Over the long term, Russia may substantially influence the
political climate on both sides of the Atlantic. Historically and
culturally, Russia is a European country par excellence and an
Eurasian culture in geopolitical terms. At the same time, the very
specificity, so to say, the “chemistry” of Russia’s relations with
the U.S. is unique by virtue of many historical, psychological and
strategic circumstances.

A number of parameters suggest the Russian mass consciousness is
substantially closer to the American than to West European. Both
countries have vast territories populated by many peoples of
different religions. The Russians and the Americans have always had
the sense of superpower status. The long period of confrontation
along the fronts of the Cold War has, in a way, brought them closer
together: the two have grown accustomed not only to fear but also
to respect each other.

It appears that these psychological circumstances hide a
paradox: at the height of the Cold War in the Soviet Union there
was almost no clear feeling of anti-Americanism at the level of
everyday consciousness. It arose, rather, precisely in the years of
reforms and upheavals as a feeling of frustration over the
perceived U.S. failure to fulfil the promise to turn us into a
“second America.” But the feeling of proximity, a “connectivity,”
remained. This manifested itself immediately in the wake of the
September 11 events of 2001, when Russia’s president was the first
to express solidarity with the U.S.

Russia and Europe

In Europe, two tendencies are now in conflict in regard to its
Eastern neighbor. One proceeds from the assumption that Russia
should remain an “external factor” in regard to the integrated
Europe, a mineral resource and energy “underbelly” and do the
“dirty work” (discuss disputable strategic issues with the U.S.,
the EU being assigned to a “number two” role acting behind Moscow’s
back; participate in the settlement of local conflicts, supplying
human resources, ordinary military equipment and so on). For the
rest, the EU must clearly regulate the degree of Russia’s
involvement in Europe, confining itself to decorative, external
forms of cooperation.

Adherents to the other trend are aware that the role in a global
world rather belongs to a Europe which unites all states – from
Lisbon to Vladivostok. To maintain its leading positions in the
international arena until the middle of the current century, the
Old World will need to concentrate all its economic, technological,
geopolitical and cultural resources. This second current tends to
regard the Russian-European situation in less practical terms,
without rejecting outright the strategic perspective of Russia
turning into an “internal factor” of European integration.

In any event, there is a growing realization in Europe that any
intelligible European policy is impossible without accommodating
the factor of Russia. The recent developments (Iraq, Middle East)
demonstrate that the U.S. has tended to heed the Russia-EU duet
while the soloist — the EU without Russia or Russia without the EU
— is immeasurably less significant for it.

An “Inter-Atlantic Integrator”

And so, Russia at the turn of the century is returning to Europe
with its baggage of perfectly special relations with the United
States. This provides Russia with an historic chance to take the
niche of an “inter-Atlantic integrator” – a country positioned in
the inter-Atlantic space between the two Atlantic poles, assuming
the mission of eliminating the political gaps and striving to be
the catalyst and initiator of concerted tripartite political

This foreign policy line and the related diplomatic strategy and
tactics are the best way of a stage-by-stage, long-term return of
Russia into Europe with the consent and support of the United
States. This is the most effective way of establishing favorable
international political conditions for modernizing the country and
turning it into a “subject,” not an “object” of the world economy,
politics and culture of the 21st century. If Russia does not miss
this chance, it will, even with its limited possibilities, already
in the near future become an active political force in the world
and exert serious influence on the destinies of the world.

One ought to point out that, in the foreseeable future, no other
country can realistically claim the role of an “inter-Atlantic
integrator.” The desire to take such a niche is sometimes observed
in British foreign policy. However, today’s Britain is hardly
prepared to fulfil the uniting mission. On the European continent,
London is sometimes perceived as a U.S. Trojan Horse rather than an
“honest broker.” In addition, being an EU member, Britain cannot
play for one team while being the referee of the game.

In the last quarter of the 20th century, many analysts believed
that a global political role in the early 21st century could be
played by Japan rapidly moving to take the position of the third
world center after the U.S. and the EU. It soon turned out,
however, that its political possibilities were clearly inadequate.
And in the economic sense Japan entered a stage of structural
stagnation, and one has difficulty seeing prospects for it emerging
from the stagnation in the foreseeable future.

Within the context of Russia acquiring a long-term
inter-Atlantic status, the position definitively expressed by
Russia’s president in the first hours following the September 11
terrorist attack undoubtedly played a positive role. Another
indispensable prerequisite was another initiative of Russia’s
president – proclaiming Russia’s European course as a strategic
priority. The Kremlin then made it clear enough that the course of
rapprochement with Europe was not a political maneuver, albeit of a
long-term character. It marked the return of the “prodigal son” to
his organic civilized environment, abandoned after the stormy and
tragic cataclysms of the early 20th century.

Earlier, Russia had also tried to wedge itself in-between the
two Atlantic coasts, playing on the specific relations between
Washington and the European capitals. For half a century the U.S.
regarded itself as the guarantor of the security of Europe
experiencing pressure from the East. The Europeans, however, were
not completely confident in the reliability of U.S. guarantees
(including nuclear) in the event of a conflict between the
North-Atlantic Alliance and the Warsaw Pact.

In periods when relations between Moscow and Washington became
exacerbated, the European capitals did not rule out that Washington
could sacrifice Europe for its own salvation. To avoid this
eventuality, the Old World strove to get increasingly closer to the
U.S. Moscow would be told that, to engage Europe in a successful
dialog, it ought to establish constructive relations with
Washington. When the USSR strove to relax tensions in its relations
with the U.S., the European leaders would seriously begin to
suspect Moscow and Washington of wishing to come to a separate
agreement and to relegate Europe to the periphery of world

Incidentally, there was some ground for suspicion, especially
when the Republicans were in power, a party that traditionally has
more respect for force than for law. Those were usually the peak
periods of detente in U.S.-Soviet relations.

In the post-Soviet time, one still feels the inertia of the old
approach making itself felt from time to time, but the counterpoint
message, characteristic of Russia’s European policy, lost any
sense. When Russia turned out to be weakened militarily and
politically and the U.S.-EU confrontation grew sharper, Europe
cautiously but insistently began to seek its own foreign-policy and
defense identity. Today the U.S. is needed increasingly less by the
European Union as the “strategic guarantor” in the old sense. There
is no need for a guarantor if there is no threat. Moreover, Russia
is increasingly regarded as a possible new guarantor in equalizing
the threatening pressure from the traditional “guarantor.”

Indeed, on quite a number of significant political issues Russia
occupies “European” rather than “American” positions. It is most
important that Europe should not get the impression that Moscow
strives in a purely Soviet style to use the contradictions between
the two Atlantic poles. Russia must “inscribe itself” into this
space and become its internal factor. Only then will it be able to
manifest its originality to the maximum extent.

Unity in Diversity

It goes without saying that Russia very much differs from other
subjects of the common Atlantic space which, incidentally, is not
fully homogeneous itself. Spain and Greece are very different from,
for instance, Sweden and Norway, although they are also members of
one civilized family of nations. As frequently happened in Russian
history, now, at the turn of the century, it is time to decide
whether Russia is the most Eastern country of the West or it is the
most Western country of the East. Where, in what macrostructure, is
the Russian originality materialized? Where is Russia’s creative
potential fulfilled most fully and where is the destructive
potential contained? In my opinion, the answer is clear: Russia’s
specificity, which has already exerted a most benefical impact on
world civilization, is capable in the 21st century of manifesting
itself in the optimum way inside the common Atlantic space rather
than outside it.

This determines the basic parameters of Russia’s foreign-policy
strategy for the coming decades – to remain in the Euro-Atlantic
“habitat” and, in the process, stay the political and diplomatic
integrator of the two Atlantic poles so as, on the one hand, to
avoid an open domination of one of them and, on the other, to
prevent overly acute conflicts among them.

It is my conviction that such a position holds out the greatest
promise for Russia in terms of the cardinal interests of its
security and prospects of socio-economic growth. It can only be
implemented if the line is not crossed, beyond which we will no
longer be regarded as a kindred community, albeit complex and

Contemporary history has repeatedly demonstrated how important
it is to follow these principles. Thus, Greece during the times of
the “black colonels” fell out of the field of Euro-Atlantic
civilization, despite successes in the social and economic fields.
The country paid dearly for the years of isolation. On the
contrary, de Gaulle’s France, very much testing the nerves of the
U.S., Canada and European partners, never permitted itself to
abandon the common Euro-Atlantic space. Despite all his arrogance,
globalist ambitions and a certain nationalism, Charles de Gaulle
was clearly aware of the line dividing civilizations and never
crossed it.

Neither should the present and future politicians of Russia
forget in any circumstances the need to combine the specific
interests of expediency, on the one hand, and the long-term
interests, on the other. Russia has its interests in the East and
in the South and in different overseas regions. It is important not
to confuse the means and objectives and not to lose sight of the
basic priorities.

If we hold on to this strategic line, stick to it by not
becoming a victim of morbid imagination and nostalgia, we will
accomplish the main thing – relatively calm, sustainable
development over the next two or three decades. In addition, this
goal can be accomplished not through refusal to participate in
international relations but rather through revitalizing foreign
policy in a really pivotal direction. In this way, Russia will use
a unique chance to become a factor leading to a balance of
interests and positions inside a kindred (and in this sense
“unipolar”) Atlantic space, united in its diversity.

On the whole, Russia did not make a mistake taking the course of
integrating into Europe: the nation’s importance in the world
increased, its economic and political potential has grown, and the
political situation at home has improved. Of course, far from all
of Russia’s political and diplomatic steps, taken from the time the
European course was proclaimed two years ago, corresponded to the
course chosen. Sometimes one had the impression that the routine of
official diplomacy, like a quagmire, swallowed up all long-term
strategic planning and each time the “strategic choice” was the
country where another summit was planned. (It shall be noted for
the sake of justice that European bureaucracy is not always up to
the mark either.) It will be possible to maintain a correct line
only if the Russian leadership proves capable of pursuing on a
systematic basis a home policy based on state interests, i.e. a
policy that does not boil down to a timid maneuvering between
various interest groups seeking goals that by far do not coincide
with the interests of the state.

One should not forget the main thing: Russia’s strong
foreign-policy strategy, aimed at assuming a new global role and
emphasizing the Euro-Atlantic factor, is only possible on the basis
of a strong and purposeful home policy, a gradual and consistent
expansion of democratic principles and institutions. This is an
objective difficulty and, at the same time, a great historical