In March 1946, the U.S. chargО d’affaires in Moscow, George F.
Kennan, sent a famous ‘long telegram’ to Washington. That document
remains to this day one of the most exemplary attempts in the U.S.
to analyze the motives behind the foreign policy of Josef Stalin
and his administration. In July 1947, Foreign Affairs published
that document in a somewhat modified form in an article entitled
The Sources of Soviet Conduct. Kennan exerted much influence on
America’s political thought by formulating the key concepts of
‘deterrence’ toward the Soviet Union. For decades, those concepts
largely determined America’s relations with the Soviet Union.
Kennan’s analytical undertaking is of interest as one of the
first successful attempts to expose the political, psychological,
ideological, and cultural determinants of a nation’s foreign
policy. Without such an understanding it is as difficult to
formulate an effective foreign policy today as it was half a
century ago, especially when it involves the largest international
partners, such as Russia and the U.S. This article aims to mirror
Kennan’s attempt and expose the specific motives that the U.S.
elite follows in its relations with the outside world.
DEMOCRACY OR AMERICAN DEMOCRACY?
Confidence in their own superiority is probably the dominant
attribute of the American. It is observed among different economic
classes, as well as among the U.S.-born and recent migrants. It is
observed in the educated and not particularly educated. It is
observed in the various political affiliations, such as the
liberals and conservatives, and even among those who are
politically indifferent. The entire pyramid of American patriotism
stands on the idea of superiority. Manifestations of patriotism may
be variegated, but they are always reduced to the common
denominator: there is much to be improved in America, but still it
is the best country in the world. A feeling of superiority has
worked its way into the American consciousness in much the same way
that injured pride (self-resentment) has worked itself into the
consciousness of the contemporary Russian; in that sense, Americans
are the reversed reflection of Russians.
For about two centuries, Russians have been obsessed with
questions of intellectualism or anti-intellectualism, while
vacillating between the standards of democracy and xenophobia.
Representatives of both camps complain about the horrors of living
in Russia; such self-torture is incomprehensible to the average
American mind. Citizens of the U.S. can pass the harshest judgments
on any president, but to call into question America’s essence is
inconceivable. To the American mind, to debase one’s country even
by words is to place oneself beyond morals. Americans love their
country and understand how to love it. They have developed a
ramified culture of love for their homeland that admits of
criticism, while at the same time rules out irreverence – even
toward its vices.
There are many things that make the U.S. worthy of respect;
however, the average American ignores the true statistics of his
country’s achievements. I believe that America’s conviction that it
“is the best” would be its key characteristic even if the U.S. were
not the wealthiest and most powerful country. Why, you ask? Is it
because new immigrants continue to arrive at its shores, while few
are in line to leave? This argument is incontestable in mass
consciousness. Why are Russians loath to admit that hundreds of
thousands of people, many of whom are healthy and educated, are
streaming to Russia from Ukraine, Moldova, Kazakhstan, China,
Vietnam, Central Asian countries, and the South Caucasus?
American patriotism has yet another side – a genuine, sometimes
blind and frightening, conviction that the U.S. has a calling to
“set an example to the world” and to “help” it adopt their notions
of good and evil. This is the second most important trait of the
American character. The American people typically have a serene
belief that their conceptions are good for everyone since they
embody the superiority of the American experience and the successes
of affluent American society.
It is commonly believed that the system of American values
relies on the idea of freedom, yet Americans tend to intertwine the
abstract notion of freedom with the more specific notion of
democracy, although the two notions differ from each other.
True, the white colonizers to the new continent succeeded in
defending their freedom against encroachments from the Old
Continent. Their efforts were assisted by the democratic
organization of the North American colonies. That is why deep in
the American mind the idea of personal freedom is organically
linked with the idea of national freedom. Furthermore, in the
American consciousness, the notion of ‘nation’ fuses with that of
‘state.’ Since the Americans have never known (and never actually
sought to know) any other forms of statehood but their own, a
specific triad of Freedom–Nation–(American) State emerged.
Americans perceive democracy as something embodied in the United
States of America, not as a type of social and political structure
of a state per se. Democracy for them is a combination of U.S.
state institutions and practices. Leading U.S. politicians forward
the logic that their country is a democracy, while the European
Union countries, for example, possess presidential or parliamentary
republics. For the American mentality, these things are not
Paradoxically (from the liberal point of view), the American
conception of freedom fuses with the idea of state. The concept of
the individual’s emancipation from the state did not take root on
American soil at once. Since the 8th century, the Europeans have
regarded the tyrant state as the antipode of a free individual. In
the U.S., the state seemed to be more of an instrument for
acquiring freedom, since it was solely due to the state that the
inhabitants of the North American colonies won their freedom from
the British monarchy.
The idea of the liberation of the individual from the state
secured a place in the American mentality only at the time of John
F. Kennedy’s presidency, i.e. by the 1960s. This concept was
tentatively linked to the commencing emancipation of
Afro-Americans. Partly because of that, the idea of liberty (as a
combination of freedom and democracy) has a somewhat more unstable
ground in the American mass consciousness than the idea of
patriotism and vocation which refer directly to freedom (for
details see N.A. Kosolapov’s commentary on “Illiberal Democracies
and Liberal Ideology” in Mezhdunarodniye Protsessy, No. 2,
Commitment to such a combination of freedom and democracy is the
third crucial feature of America’s political vision of the world.
In practical foreign policy, ‘liberty’ quite easily translates into
‘America’s freedom,’ which implies that the U.S. is permitted the
‘freedom of unrestrained actions.’ The administration of President
George W. Bush is conducting foreign policy that perfectly conforms
to this understanding of freedom, witnessed by the ideological
policy of unilateral actions.
The Americans are confident of the self-value of liberty and
cherish it as the supreme universal asset. The concept of the
freedom of action, combined with a belief in its historic calling,
is embodied in America’s mission, which is to carry the ‘light of
democracy’ to all corners of the globe. The conviction that
America’s supremacy is justified permits it to ignore any doubts
concerning the legitimacy of U.S. ‘rights’ and global
‘responsibility.’ The chemistry of all the three above-mentioned
properties of America’s political nature produces the fourth
property, which supports the idea of global democratization along
The Americans’ “proprietary” attitude to democracy may provoke
an ironic smile, but it is necessary in order to distinguish the
U.S. administration’s arrogance from the particular inner feature
of America’s national consciousness. The American peoples’ rather
bizarre belief in the almost magic omnipotence of democracy is
equally as common for the Russian people’s inborn preference
for a ‘strong but merciful’ government and ‘order.’ It is hard for
Americans to understand why other countries show a reluctance to
replicate on their soils the practices and institutions that have
proven effective in the U.S. Their almost morbid desire to
‘democratize’ other peoples against their wishes (as is the case
with Iraq and Afghanistan) is a strong characteristic of the U.S.
vision of the world. Ironic remarks about this desire produce
astonishment or a cold detachment in Americans.
In many ways, America’s approach to democracy has a religious
tint. It is partly explained by the high moral authority that
preaching enjoys in the U.S. in general. The Protestant missionary
preaching to the African slaves, for example, played a huge role in
integrating them into American society through their conversion to
Christianity. Thus, in the American mentality, the democratization
of the world has acquired sacred significance, since its aim
resembles the customary forms of religious conversion.
There is reason for sarcasm here. It should be noted that what
the Russian people believe to be part of their cultural and
emotional self-identity, Americans define as ‘natural
totalitarianism.’ Russia was formed on the huge open space of
Eurasia, and the Russian state would not have survived without it
maintaining a high degree of readiness for military mobilization.
This readiness has molded a particular mode of Russian behavior, in
which greater accent is placed on subordination than on personal
Interestingly, the global Communist brotherhood and the global
democratic community are the only secular utopias; their power and
span can compare with the main religious ideologies of
Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. However, Communism has been
thwarted, while religion can only harbor dreams of partially
restoring their previous positions. Democracy remains the only
universal ideology aspiring to a historic victory worldwide.
The mentality of the political elite in the U.S., like in any
other country, has elements of cynicism, yet the average Americans’
belief in the usefulness of democracy for other countries contains
much sincerity. This explains the intrinsic energy, a genuine
pathetic element, and even romantic heroism, which enables the
Americans to convince themselves that they are working to enlighten
the world as their warplanes are dropping bombs on Serbia or
Democratization is, in fact, a peculiar supra-ethnic state
interpretation of American nationalism. The U.S. successfully poses
democratization as an ideology of multinational solidarity. This is
a rebuke addressed to U.S. politicians and intellectuals, as well
as a footnote about the character of the average American. An
ordinary American has only partial responsibility for the policies
of a power group he votes for. His vote, refracted by the electoral
machinery, brings a particular group to power, but leaves him with
limited opportunities for influencing its decisions on an everyday
basis. However, his opportunities of influence are greater than are
the average Russian’s chances to influence his government.
An ordinary U.S. voter who does not have enough opportunities to
influence his country’s foreign policy easily shakes off any
notions that he may be somehow guilty for it. Economic policy and
domestic issues evoke debates, but foreign policy is an area of
consensus. Despite the seeming split in American society over the
war in Iraq, the actual polemic concerns the tactics of securing a
victory – whether the U.S. should achieve this goal by relying
solely on its own forces, or cooperating with allies; should it
ignore the UN or engage in some sort of token cooperation with this
international body. When it comes down to the question of winning
the war, the Democrats and the Republicans display unanimity.
This type of attitude toward war with an obviously weaker enemy
is no novelty in American history. Nor is it new in the history of
the Soviet Union (the war in Afghanistan), France (Algeria),
Britain (the Boer War), or China (the 1979 war with Vietnam). In
the 1960s, the Americans began changing their attitude toward the
Vietnam War only with the approach of the 1968 presidential
election. At this time, the Republican Party staked its electoral
victory against the Democrats on popular antiwar sentiments. The
Republicans poured money into the news media and released formerly
unknown facts concerning U.S. losses in Vietnam. Journalists, and
the owners of the news channels, had this information beforehand,
but they waited for the opportune moment to make it public.
The fifth feature of America’s unique vision of the world can be
witnessed through its Americanocentrism. Placing one’s own country
into the center of the universe was typically a feature of the
Chinese; this may have been so in the past.
Nations of the small and condensed European continent could
hardly develop a “centric” psychology. All of them invented an
ancestry based on the legacy of two (Western and Eastern) Roman
Empires– the empire of Charlemagne, and the Holy Roman Empire of
the German Nation. The Europeans perceived themselves as ‘parts of
a whole’ as opposed to actual centers. It was quite common for the
political center of Europe to shift from one country to
Russia never quite succeeded in developing the idea that it was
the ‘center of the universe’ either. Throughout its history, it
cast its gaze on Byzantium, then the Golden Horde, and then Western
Europe, investing all of its strength in overcoming marginality
rather than positioning itself as the center of the universe.
The U.S. did not develop Americanocentrism for quite a long
time. Its policy had elements of isolationism and a tendency to
enclose the Western hemisphere into a kind of ‘American home,’
according to the Monroe Doctrine. These concepts did not imply
aspirations on a global scale. The idea of Pax Americana budded in
the minds of American intellectuals only after World War II, but
for America to play the role of the world’s center still remained a
fantasy then. Americanocentrism was kept in heavy check by the
Soviet Union, and this idea only bloomed after the Soviet Union
Americans do not think that the spread of their controls to
Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, and then again to Iraq and
Afghanistan in the 2000s, is synonymous with expansionism. However,
this is not the way that peoples in Russia, Germany, Japan, or
China, for example, view it. The Americans think they are tidying
up their own house – a peculiar house where the walls “pulsate” and
the floor space repeatedly shrinks and then expands. The external
walls of this house serve as sanitary cordons and visa checkpoint
sieves. From the inside, however, the walls tend to increasingly
expand when it comes to U.S. interests.
Any U.S. foreign policy document confirms that Washington
includes the whole world in the sphere of its interests. The
Americans have the conviction that no other country may have
military or political interests in the Western Hemisphere, North
America, and even in the Middle East. They have to tolerate the
presence of Chinese and Russian strategic interests near their
borders, and they view Moscow’s and Beijing’s attempts to set up
zones of exclusive influence as encroachments on their interests.
The principle of an ‘open door policy’ in the field of security
embraces the whole world, except, that is, for regions where the
Americans believe it is inappropriate.
U.S. interests represent three partially overlapping zones. The
first zone matches the contours of the Western Hemisphere; it is a
courtyard of sorts for the U.S. The second zone encompasses the
oil-producing regions of the Middle East and the Caspian Sea with
outreaches into Central Asia. The third zone sweeps Europe and
borders the threshold of European Russia in the West, engulfs Japan
and Korea in the East, and envelops China and India. The first zone
embodies U.S. security interests, the second – demands for economic
security, while the third comprises old and new spheres of actual
U.S. strategic responsibility.
International events seem to be the last thing that interests
Americans these days. They are immersed in what is happening on the
domestic front – everyday social problems, crime, and
entertainment. Next, the economy, availability of jobs, elections,
political intrigues, and scandals demand attention. Developments
abroad, except for situations like the Iraq war, have secondary
importance for them. But the Americans view even such stories as
Iraq on a purely domestic level; the woes of the Iraqi people do
not matter much to them. What matters is the influence that the war
has on America’s life – how many more soldiers will die or how much
the price of gasoline will rise.
Geography, history, and culture beyond their borders do not
especially pique the interest of the Americans. They are only
really interested in all things American, while the rest may be of
concern only if it poses competition to U.S. products. America pays
particular attention to those foreign states with which relations
are worse than with others. Fears about Chinese power, for example,
prompt government organizations, private companies, and public
associations to spend heavily on Chinese studies. An outburst of
contradictions with France over the war in Iraq saw the rise of new
centers concentrating on French studies. Kim Jong Il’s threatening
nuclear program brought about 20 poor (and not so poor) books on
the subject of North Korea in 2003 alone – more than all the books
written about Russia over the past three years.
The fact that the U.S. media mentions Russia infrequently, and
that spending for Russian studies is being slashed, only proves
that Washington does not take the ‘Russian threat’ seriously.
Meanwhile, U.S. political schools that focus on Russia are going
through a crisis, comparable only with the crisis of North American
studies in the Russian Federation.
The analysts’ vision will hardly become clearer. The geographic
notions of Russia’s counterparts in the U.S. (except professional
geographers) writing about Eurasian developments are growing even
more obscure than in the past. Since real distances may be
deceiving on a world map, one occasionally hears the argument
during “scientific” discussions in the U.S. that deploying military
bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan will increase the reliability of
crude supplies to the West. The “scientists” are not dismayed by
the vast distances separating the oil fields in Kazakhstan’s
Caspian area, which is in the extreme west of the region, and the
U.S. bases in Central Asia, located near the border with China.
Westerners find all of this unimportant. They imagine Central Asia
as a continuous oil pool stretching from Xingjian in northwest
China to Abkhazia on the Black Sea – a huge Tibetan-Black Sea oil
province with the local people being ecstatic about forthcoming
democratization from the West.
RUSSIA AND THE U.S.: A UNION OF THE DISCONTENT
U.S. officials prefer to hold talks from the position of
strength, projected overtly or covertly. They also reckon with
force and use it in one form or another as an instrument of
diplomacy. This mode applies to both versions of U.S. policies,
whether they be Democratic and Republican.
And yet there is some difference between the two parties. The
Democrats believe the use of force is a measure of last resort,
while the Republicans are ready to use it without any hesitation,
unless they know that the other side may retaliate with a
proportionate destructive power. In the 1950s, this willingness was
cooled by the fears of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
However, the absence of apprehension with regard to Russia adds a
certain degree of audacity to the George W. Bush
What is the way then to handle a partner like the U.S.? The
answer is problematic. If Russia really plans to become a
partner/ally of the U.S., it must seek to become stronger without
posing a threat to the Americans at the same time. Otherwise,
cooperation with America will not be considered in earnest.
Washington will never see sense in an alliance with a weak Russia,
an idea popularized by the ‘defeatists’ of the infamous Yeltsin
era. As for the role of a satellite, Russia is simply too heavy for
the U.S. to keep in its gravitational field.
Russia must begin the second phase of its economic reform in
order to make the economy less dependent on oil and gas exports. At
the same time, this will allow it to modernize its defense
potential, reform the armed forces, rationalize and consolidate the
government, and simultaneously foster democracy. A refusal to build
a viable democratic model would be an argument for subjecting
Russia to more pressure.
Meanwhile, the place that a moderately strong (and ‘moderately
democratic’) Russia has in the American picture of the world is a
The U.S. has known dozens of instances of partnerships with
other nations – from Britain, France, Canada and Imperial Russia to
China (between the two world wars), the Philippines, Australia,
Japan, and Thailand. However, there have been only two cases of a
truly equitable partnership. First, there was the U.S.-Russia
alliance during ‘the armed neutrality’ under Catherine the Great in
the second half of the 18th century. The second occurred during the
Soviet-American cooperation during World War II.
No other cases are known. Historical examples of partnerships
with America are that of a powerful boss and a less powerful
dependant. Such notions of friendship do not match the Russian
understanding of unions between equitable parties or between a more
powerful party and a less powerful party, where Russia has the role
of the former. We have too many similarities with the Americans,
and our friendship cannot be an easy one. Russia is trying to gain
more power and hoping to speak more confidently with its foreign
partners. The U.S. would like to view Russia as a moderately strong
and not menacing country, but it strongly objects to Moscow
carrying as much weight as Washington.
There are several versions of special relationships that may
exist between two countries. The first, which can be named Greater
France, is being partly implemented today. Just like France during
Charles de Gaulle’s presidency, Russia supports the U.S. on major
issues, like fighting terrorism, nonproliferation of WMD and
respective technologies, and even working to prevent a nuclear
conflict between India and Pakistan. Like Paris in the era of de
Gaulle, Moscow does not share U.S. approaches to regional
conflicts, such as the ones in the Middle East and Northeast Asia.
Unlike France, however, Moscow is bound to Washington by an allied
treaty and is building its defense strategy on the basis of
theories that do not rule out an armed conflict with the U.S.
The second version, Liberal China, has no parallels in reality,
yet it may come into the spotlight should estrangement between
Russia and the U.S. arise from any American unilateral steps in
Central Asia or the South Caucasus, which Moscow may consider
unfriendly. This will not automatically mean a new confrontation,
but will obviously force Russia closer to China.
The latter is certainly concerned about the dubious U.S.
military presence along its western borders, as well as the
uncertainty about Taiwan. Neither Moscow nor Beijing want a
standoff with the U.S., but their mutual suspicions about the
unclear American strategies in Central Asia force them to build a
closer relationship. Russia’s implementation of the ‘Liberal China’
version will not scare the U.S.; moreover, Washington may find it
to be an acceptable scenario, if not attractive, provided that
Beijing and Moscow do not team up in a full-scale alliance against
Quite possibly, the U.S. might favor the Russia in the role of a
more powerful Britain option. On the one hand, it would be a
friendly country and a supplier of crude oil. On the other, it
would be powerful enough to support America’s foreign policy
initiatives in the deep inland zones of Eurasia. But no one can say
whether Russia’s leadership would find this version acceptable,
given that Britain conducts a subordinate policy that tends to
undermine its authority even among its European neighbors.
As a compromise solution, Russia might consider a combination of
the first and third options. Like Britain, Russia would develop
relations with the U.S. separately from its relations with the
European Union. At the same time, it would be less yielding than
Britain and more persistent in defending its positions, like
The most rational policy line under such a scenario would be to
escape from the embrace of the EU and NATO. Forcing a friendship
with the former seems irrational in light of the EU’s attempts to
impede Russia’s rapprochement with the U.S. As for NATO, the
prospects for cooperation with this organization are not very good.
Its old function as an instrument of security, restricted to the
Euro-Atlantic area only, does not have value for the U.S. any
longer. A transformation of the alliance from the American point of
view implies a greater role than simply a European defense
structure. It must acquire military and political functions in
Central-Eastern Asia and the Broader Middle East, that is, in the
former Transcaucasia and the former Central Asia. Should NATO
transform in such a way, Russia will get more favorable conditions
for joining the bloc as a key geopolitical power of the region.
Should there be no such transformation, NATO will be playing an
even more marginal role and there will be no sense in Russia
attaching significance to it.
Why does the U.S. need Russia? Russians are accustomed to sizing
themselves up as a nuclear power, but shy away from mentioning its
“oil identity” – standing in line, together with Saudi Arabia,
Kuwait, Qatar, Venezuela, and Nigeria, gives Russians an awkward
The Americans recognize Russia’s nuclear essence in theory and
have no intention of denying it, but practical politicians –
middle-aged and younger ones in particular – view Russia as the
world’s leading exporter of energy resources that also has a
nuclear capability. For them, Russia is not simply “an Upper Volta
with missiles,” but rather a country with a coupled potential in
energy resources and nuclear technologies.
Arms control is destined to get back on the agenda of the
Russian and U.S. leaders. However, it will only happen with the
participation of China. If the breakdown of the old
nonproliferation regime continues unabated, other countries will
have to join in, as well. When that happens, Russia and the U.S.
will have new opportunities for joint maneuvering on
This does not mean, of course, that there is no need for Russia
to upgrade its nuclear arsenals. It means that in the foreseeable
future, any attempt to persuade the U.S. to view its relations with
Moscow through the prism of arms control talks will doom Russian
diplomacy to stagnation. Russia’s nuclear potential ensures its
passive strategic defense, while the future of active diplomacy
requires a combination of offensive instruments in the energy
sector, as well as defensive nuclear arsenals. No other country in
the world has the status of being an oil exporter with a nuclear
shield, and the only nation that may get it in the future is the
The Americans are pondering Russia’s oil and gas prospects from
different points of view. First is Russia’s export reserve, that
is, crude from the Republic of Komi in the northeast of European
Russia and natural gas from Sakhalin. Next, focus is being given to
Russia’s ability or inability to hamper U.S. imports from deposits
close to its borders – on the Caspian Sea shelf, in Azerbaijan and
Kazakhstan. Third, the U.S. is pondering the opportunity to affect
new importers of East-Siberian oil and gas through China and Japan.
The nuclear factor may instigate U.S. suspicions with regard to
Russia, while the oil factor generates a constructive interest
Other factors that focus America’s attention on Russia can be
classified into ‘alarming’ and ‘encouraging’ categories. The
alarming category would include Moscow’s capability to destabilize
those states that are vital for the production and export of crude
oil to the West – Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Georgia. Another is
Russia’s ability to regain domineering positions in Ukraine, which
is a new transit territory allowing NATO to extend its military and
political functions to new zones of responsibility outside Europe.
Among the encouraging factors, the U.S. lists Russia’s ability to
support it in combating extremists in Broader Central Asia (from
Kazakhstan to Afghanistan to Pakistan) or, perhaps, to become a
partial counterbalance to Chinese power in the future.
The caricature of Russia in the U.S. is one of a “failed
democracy” and authoritarian. Or it is thought to be a faltering
democracy that may either be useful for the U.S. or will damage its
interests. Both prospects make Russia worth noticing. American
politicians retain an arrogant view of Russia as a beating post,
and there are incessant calls “to demand something from the
Kremlin,” “to tell Putin,” “to remind that the U.S. will not
tolerate (allow, permit);” these are the typical figures of speech
both Democrats and Republicans resort to. They use the standard
pretext – Chechnya, the Kremlin’s political moves, Moscow’s
unwillingness to support the reckless operation against Iraq, or
its possible replays in North Korea or Iran.
It is true that other countries come under similar attacks from
the U.S., as witnessed in the recent controversies with France or
Japan. The difference, however, is that the Japanese have one of
the most powerful lobbies in the U.S.; France, too, has many
sympathizers. On that background, there are few movements working
for Russia’s benefit in the U.S. The Russian government does not
spend money on this, and Russia’s big business lobbies its
interests in Russia by fanning an anti-Russian hysteria abroad.
This is in glaring contrast to how the Japanese, Taiwanese, Korean,
or French businesses behave.
Did any of Russia’s oil companies invest money in Russian
research at, say, the Harriman Institute, New York, or the Henry
Jackson School of International Studies at the University of
Washington, Seattle, or the Russian and Eurasian Studies Program of
the Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C.? It is not
surprising then that speakers at American conferences on Russia
keep mentioning “authoritarian and neo-imperialist tendencies.”
One thing, however, has changed. In recent years, American
political experts in Russian studies have begun reading more often
in Russian (Blair Ruble noted it in “Sincerity Is Not Always Bad”
[in Russian], Mezhdunarodniye Protsessy, 1/2004). But the contrast
between the Russian and American approaches is obvious. A Russian
manuscript on the United States will never be recommended for
publication if it has few references to American sources. Academic
councils will not approve a post-graduate’s paper on U.S. studies
if at least two-thirds of the footnotes do not refer to American
publications. Not in the U.S. During the Soviet era, Americans had
a suitable excuse for not reading Russian books, arguing that the
Soviets only published propaganda. Rare U.S. works on Soviet social
and political thinking of that time epitomized analytic impotence.
Before the mid-1980s, U.S. researchers of Soviet mentality would
typically quote the resolutions of congresses of the Soviet
Communist Party and the works of official Soviet ideologists,
leaving unheeded the shifts that were clearly taking shape in
Soviet political science in the form of cautious but quite
revisionist books. As a result, U.S. political scholars overlooked
Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika and the subsequent disintegration
of the Soviet Union.
Dozens of new books and hundreds of articles have been published
in Russia since then. They offer a broad array of opinions of
new-generation writers – and so what of it? But for rare exceptions
(Robert Legvold, Bruce Parrot, Blair Ruble, Fiona Hill, Gilbert
Rozman and, partly, Andrew Kuchins and Clifford Gaddy) U.S.
political writers on Russia read Russian publications but
occasionally. Footnotes quoting Russian materials are an exception,
not a rule, in such works. They barely comprise one-third of the
authors’ total references.
What does a U.S. political scientist refer to? First, Americans
enjoy quoting one another. Second, they use the English-language
newspapers coming out in Moscow. They close their eyes to the fact
that these articles are addressed to readers abroad, while the
Russians themselves ignore them and do not experience their
influence. Third, they use English-language books written by
Russian authors by the orders of U.S. institutions. The latter
category of books is also intended for the American audience, and
they characterize only the smallest percentage of Russia’s
political and intellectual situation. In other words, Americans pay
Russian authors for the conclusions they need. What the ratio of
refraction in those scholastic prisms amounts to is an easy
Had the Americans read more Russian works in the original, they
would have learnt something about the prospects for their own
country from the history of the lost Soviet Union. It might have
cautioned them against certain moves.
The U.S. uses historic chances to fix its supremacy in
international relations for as long as possible. This is a clue to
understanding U.S. policies. The danger is that the Americans feel
free to use any instruments for achieving this end, including the
very riskiest. It would seem that no external force – countries or
their coalitions – can halt the Americans’ advance along this road.
However, the international environment, which has evidenced marked
changes under the impact of multinationalization, may often
complicate efforts toward the realization of American global
The essence of debates in Russia around the prospects for
Russian-American rapprochement is the need to work out the best
possible stance not so much toward the U.S. but toward the
historically overburdening task that it has chosen – proudly or
imprudently – for itself.
America’s global strength cannot be considered outside the
context of egotism in its foreign policy. At the same time, the
world obviously benefits from America’s readiness to bear the
burden of global problems, like nonproliferation, fighting drug
trafficking, weeding out of multinational crime, normalization of
the global economy, solutions to the problems of famines and
pandemics, and finally, the slashing of national governments’
Will the world benefit from a situation where Washington’s
“liberal despotism” gives way to a different and still opaque
version of fighting for new hegemony? A rise of global harmony does
not seem very likely if the international grandeur of the U.S.
collapses. In light of this, what is the better option? Should the
world wait for a “revolutionary overthrow” of the leader, or should
it pool the collective wit and squeeze the leader’s ambitions into
a format compatible with the U.S.-designed constitutionalism?
When George Kennan, the inventor of deterrence, wrote his
article half a century ago, he despised the Soviet system of
government, and tried to feel compassion for the Russian people.
That is why his text abounds in cold judgments interspersed with
lyrical metaphors. I like the Americans and I cannot hate their
system for one simple reason: Russia’s present state order,
seemingly seething with anti-American sentiment, imitates the basic
features of the American order. This is not accidental and not at
all bad, I think. Such is the most significant feature of life in
present-day Russia, where political debate continues unabated.