Temptation of Uniqueness

16 september 2003

Vyacheslav Nikonov, Doctor of History, President of the Polity Foundation,  Deputy Chairman of the Editorial Board of the Russia in Global Affairs journal.

Resume: In ten years, Russia will not become a genuinely Western country. But the temptation to “follow our own way,” which some members of Russia’s political elite have, will hardly be irresistible. Self-isolation of a country claiming to be unique in the contemporary globalized world is possible only if it falls very far behind the system and, ultimately, out of history.

In late January 1917 in Zuerich, Vladimir Lenin stood before an assembly of young Swiss workers and declared: “We, old men, may not live long enough to see the decisive battles of the future revolution.” Lenin was mistaken. Only one month later in St. Petersburg, a revolution put an end to the centuries-old Russian monarchy. This one example proves that we should not place too much trust in forecasts; history has disproved them too often. Indeed, of the major historical events which succeeded in completely changing life in Russia, and the rest of the world, not one of them had been predicted in advance: the beginning of World War I, the overthrow of the Romanovs, and the collapse of the Soviet Union were all unexpected events.

It would probably prove to be no less futile to forward bold predictions concerning Russia’s future at this time as well. The country is passing through an unstable transitional period, while the democratic rules of the game are fragile; the political institutions have not yet developed sacred traditions. Moreover, since Russia is now integrating itself into the global system, forecasting its development necessarily becomes more difficult. Today, more than ever before, Russia’s development depends on external processes, as well as the situation in the world’s leading countries. These cannot be fully predicted, either.

Actually, it is impossible to predict truly revolutionary events, and these occur very rarely throughout history. Throughout Russia’s long 1,000-year history they happened only during the “times of trouble:” in the early 17th century, in 1917 and 1991. Following each of those revolutions, stability was restored upon a new foundation that was a combination of old and new elements. This kept the nation’s genetic code preserved largely intact. In order to fully assess Russia’s future prospects, it is necessary to first understand its historical inertia, traditions in the organization of its power apparatus, and the mentality of the Russian people. Generally speaking, Russia is a slow-moving country, and its everyday, non-revolutionary development can be analyzed on the basis of current tendencies.

This statement has been proven by particular forecasts made in previous years and already coming to fruition. In the book Russia 2010: And What It Means for the World (1993) by Daniel Yergin and Thane Gustafson, the future prospects for Russia are described in optimistic scenarios, depicted by the Two-Headed Eagle and Chudo (The Russian Economic Miracle). Their forecasts are consistent with modern life within the country, although Russia is already ahead of their expectations which were put forth ten years ago.

Most forecasts for Russia’s development are not overly optimistic or very specific. The U.S. National Intelligence Community’s report Global Trends 2015 says: “Between now and 2015, Russia will be challenged even more than today to adjust its expectations for world leadership to the dramatically reduced resources… The most likely outcome is a Russia that remains internally weak and institutionally linked to the international system primarily through its permanent seats on the UN Security Council… Many Russian futures are possible, ranging from political resurgence to dissolution.”

The most authoritative Russian forecast, made by the Institute of the World Economy and International Relations, is moderately optimistic: by the year 2015, Russia will have the world’s sixth strongest economy, stronger than the economies of France, Italy or Britain, but weaker than that of Germany. At the same time, in per capita income terms, it will place 48th, next to Malaysia, Bulgaria and Lithuania. The country will not disintegrate and will integrate into the world economy.

Analysts, both optimists and pessimists, emphasize that the options for Russia’s future development largely depend on the quality of the country’s political governance, as well as on the government’s ability to consolidate society. It will be necessary for the state to display the will for realizing an adequate national revival strategy. The supreme power in Russia – a country with a czarist political tradition – can dramatically alter the image of the state or, on the other hand, it could do nothing at all to confront the present realities. This would bring about debilitating stagnation that many people would wrongly interpret as stability.

As an inhabitant of Russia it is difficult not to arrive at the conclusion that everything is possible in this country. The future options for Russia’s development are truly diverse: the predictions have ranged from an authoritarian government with a mobilization economy that has become dangerously isolated from the world, to a model democracy that has achieved full integration into the world economy; much of the success of such a model would derive from a big inflow of international capital. Due to the low probabilities of Russia conforming to these extreme prognostications, together with space restraints of this article, it is not necessary to give undue attention to these subjects. It will suffice to say that authoritarianism and autarchy are unthinkable scenarios for a country wishing to remain amongst the membership of the great powers. At the same time, any best-case scenario for Russia’s development would be totally uncharacteristic of this country for such a thing has never happened throughout its history; only the hopeless optimists can expect such a turn of events.
Therefore, I will dwell on the more probable scenario for Russia’s development.


In sharp contrast with the 1990s when Russian society was overwhelmed by the feelings of national humiliation, hopelessness and retreat, as well as the pain of a lost empire, the country is now being swept by an ideology of historical optimism. The ideas of national revival and the growth of the national spirit are becoming highlights of the 2003-2004 election season. “The only reason why Russia cannot develop itself quickly is the irresponsible and defeatist-minded elite who are afraid of setting serious goals to itself and the country,” wrote a group of prominent TV journalists and publishers united in the Serafim Club. “What is described in the spiritual and metaphysical language as Russia’s revival, is called modernization and powerful economic growth in political language.”

The Council on Foreign and Defense Policy is also working on a strategy for Russia’s modernization, which it intends to offer as the basis for the agenda of the next presidency (2004-2008).

Russian society has already fully realized the need for a consolidating ideology, mythology and self-identity; it remains unclear, however, what these will be based on.

The room for national consensus is much greater now than it was in the 1990s. During that delicate period, Russian society was engaged in heated debates concerning Communism and democracy, not to mention the possibilities of avoiding a war, Yugoslav-style, or even widespread famine. Today, few people would question the principles of the market economy and democracy, yet they would interpret those notions in various different ways. The watershed in the political class (except for the orthodox Communists who will probably remain a political force for quite some time) is reminiscent of the traditional differences between the social democrats, liberals, conservatives and far right political affiliations predominant in the West.

It is already evident that Russia’s new identity will be built on the foundation of its long and colorful history. This follows from Russia’s present-day state symbols: the Byzantine state emblem introduced by czar Ivan III in the late 15th century, the tricolor borrowed by Peter the Great from Holland, and the national anthem of the World War II era, complete with post-Soviet lyrics. Different attitudes to various periods of Russian history (particularly Stalinism), which are threatening to split Russian society, will leave the sphere of politics and move into the sphere of pure history. This has already occurred with Lenin and his epoch.

The new national identity will be based on one essential ingredient pointed out by Yergin and Gustafson: the country’s transformation “from a four century-old empire to a nation-state.” For the first time in its history, ethnic Russians now make an overwhelming majority of the population; their numbers now stand at about 85 percent of the total population.

The new state will consolidate largely as an ethnic state, rather than as an advocate of some global idea. The following factors will work for nationalism:

  • the mentality of the younger generation. They are more nationalistically-minded than the older generation who were brought up on the traditions of “proletarian internationalism”;
  • the growing “clash of civilizations” which will manifest itself in strained relations with the predominantly Moslem regions, for example, in Chechnya, where the process of lasting peace settlement may require several decades;
  • the growing trend of migration into Russia, which could, incidentally, result in increased cases of xenophobia;
  • the growing importance of the religious factor: over the last decade, the membership in the Russian Orthodox Church has increased from 51 to 58 percent, while the number of Moslems has increased from one to five percent. The Russian Orthodox Church has always been the main ethnos- and culture-forming element of the Russian state.

Nationalism seems to have good chances for becoming a major component of the developing national idea. The patriotic cluster of voters advocating a strong state has attracted the largest amount of interest, which makes the concept of Russia’s “greatness” the most popular and most likely to be accepted as the national unifying idea.

Pure democracy cannot become a national idea in Russia since it has been discredited through a decade of painful reforms. Yet it can become part of a national idea if it is bound up with patriotism.


Over the next ten years, Western-style democracy will not secure a bridgehead into Russia. This country possesses a political regime which transitologists most often describe as immature, or as being a non-liberal democracy; such a system has rather good chances for perpetuating itself. Many of the major components of democracy – among them the rule of law and accountability of power – are now carving out a path for themselves, yet as concepts which occasionally bear little relation to reality.

The stability of a regime of non-liberal democracy is largely guaranteed by the Constitution which provides far-reaching powers to the head of state, and places him beyond the system of checks and balances. Yet there are no expectations that major amendments or revisions of the Constitution will be initiated with the purpose of restricting the presidential powers, especially given the traditions of the political culture, the ability of the head of state to influence the political process, and the complexity of the procedure for introducing amendments. Besides, no major political force advocates amendments to the Constitution: all of them have adapted themselves to the rules of the game.

At the same time, the existing model of the state system will create ever more managerial problems: real political power has become focused on one point (the president) while the functional level of policymaking (the government and parliament) have found themselves relatively powerless. The realization of this situation may bring about changes in the power pattern within the Constitution’s framework. This may take place according to either of the following two models. According to the first one (the American model and less probable option), the president will simultaneously assume the duties of a prime minister in order to combine power and responsibility. According to the second model (French, and more probable), the government will assume power from a parliamentary majority. This will increase the degree of responsibility that the government reserves for its constituents.

Changes in the legislative branch, apart from its participation in the government’s formation, may take any of the following directions: the two chambers of the Federal Assembly will receive the right to conduct parliamentary investigations; deputies of the upper chamber – the Federation Council – will again be elected by a direct vote (now, for unknown reasons, they are delegated by the governor and the legislative assembly of each Russian region); the number of State Duma factions will decrease, and parliamentary deputies will become more professional. Deputies will include more prot?g?s of big business who are interested in restructuring the State Duma into a counterbalance to the president’s absolute power.

It should not be anticipated that there will be any marked growth in independence of the judicial branch; at this time, there are no independent court traditions in Russia. At the same time, the prestige of the judicial system, together with the profession of a judge, will begin to grow as the courts gradually become the standard method for resolving conflicts between businesspeople; this is more desirable, of course, than to have businessmen arranging the assassination of the competitors. The threshold for corruption within the Russian courts will continue to go up. Actually, small-scale corruption has practically been eliminated since big business began defending its interests in court.

The judicial system may also be improved by reforming the office of the public prosecutor, which is a peculiar vestige of the czarist and Soviet systems. It is both an “independent” body that ensures an observance of the law, as well as a body that brings charges against criminals on behalf of the state. As a result, law and power are identical notions for the office of the public prosecutor, which runs counter to the generally accepted idea of justice. Proposals have already been made to delegate part of its functions to the Ministry of Justice; this suggests that a reform of the public prosecutor’s office is practicable.

The reform of the civil service is already in full swing. This will be aimed at reforming the training methods of the civil servants, as well as their selection and promotion. There will also be mandatory competitions for the selection of candidates, as well as a contractual system, which will determine the amount of compensations by individual results. The number of bureaucrats will decrease somewhat, while their salaries will multiply. Time will change the nature of bureaucracy more than the new legislation: in ten years, there will not remain a single bureaucrat from the Soviet period (today, these comprise two-thirds of all bureaucrats): all of them will have simply retired by that time. They will be replaced by career-minded young people (the civil service will become a more fashionable and patriotic job), as well as by business advocates who will promote its interests. The two-way flow of people between the state apparatus and the world of business, a commonplace in the West, will eventually emerge in Russia, too. The scope of bureaucracy will directly depend on the degree of state regulation: excessive dirigisme will create an even more attractive range of applications for the state apparatus, while a liberal economy will slow down its growth. This reform will hardly be completed by 2013, as there will likely appear a “conflict of interests” concept which may actually prove helpful in addressing the corruption problem more efficiently.

A more competent state apparatus will help solve one more immediate problem confronting Russia’s statehood, and that is the creation of an adequate decision-making mechanism for domestic and foreign policies. The direction that these efforts will take is already obvious: more research centers will be involved in the expert assessment of decisions made; state bodies (ministries, the Federal Assembly chambers, etc.) and private actors (corporations, institutions of the civil society) will coordinate their efforts to a larger extent. Today, the Ministry for Economic Development and Trade coordinates economic policy; foreign policy is determined by the Foreign Ministry. However, the logic of governance will demand that these sectors be coordinated under the supervision of the presidential staff.

Russia’s resources and potentialities may be boosted through its anticipated military reform, but this has not yet yielded positive results, due in large part to insufficient defense spending, corruption, the unwillingness of the Ministry of Defense to change. It has even been alleged that the experiments for transforming the army into a contract-based service had been compromised. Nevertheless, such a reform is inevitable, if only because of the imminent “demographic decline” which will decrease the draft-age group by 60 percent. The success of the military reform is solely dependent on the government’s political will and its ability for drafting the right international strategy.

Any attempts by the military to engage in independent games seem unlikely due to their traditional lack of independent political activities. The most they can do is pull off something like the surprise entry of Russian troops into Kosovo’s provincial capital, Pristina, in 1999.

Russia will no longer face the threat of disintegration; mono-ethnic states (and Russia is now one of them) do not disintegrate very easily. Yet, there will remain threats of territorial breakaways, above all in Islamic regions of the North Caucasus. The Chechen conflict has good chances to enter a sluggish stage that will be mainly characterized not by separatism but by a vendetta-styled feud between local groups and clans.

Russia will remain a federation. The Kremlin understands that governing such a huge and heterogeneous country from one center is irrational. Moreover, it is undesirable for the president to bear responsibility for the hardships and outrages in every region. For the same reason, governors will continue to be elected.

The entities within the Russian Federation will have to enlarge, since the system of government in some of them is quite confused due to an excessive number of sub-entities.

The recently launched municipal reform initiatives will produce a system of local government, which the Constitution failed to mention. Or rather, it replaced it by “local self-government” separated from state government. This constitutional mistake will be remedied and the local governments will become more financially stable; they will be able to solve their problems at the grass roots level.


There are prerequisites for the emergence of full-fledged political parties, as well as an actual party system in Russia. The main obstacle obstructing this development is the unwillingness of the authorities to identify themselves with any particular party. As a result of the struggle against the legacy of the Communist Party, the president, ministries, Federation Council deputies, and governors do not belong to any specific political affiliation. The parties are struggling for only 50 percent of the seats in the State Duma, and in the near future, in regional legislative assemblies. The legislative ban on the participation of the top officials in the activities of political parties is expected to be lifted soon. Yet, true parties will emerge only after they receive an exceptional right to nominate their candidates for president, governors and senators. This may happen during Putin’s second term of presidency.

The number of parties represented in the State Duma will decrease. No doubt they will include the so-called “party of power,” which is United Russia. When Putin’s term of presidency concludes in 2008, it is difficult to imagine the present Kremlin group losing its hold on power.  Therefore, it is plausible that the present “party of power” (perhaps in a slightly modified version) will retain its position inside the Kremlin under the next president as well. Actually, the domination of one party is not an exception for post-totalitarian countries (suffice it to recall the decades of one-party rule in Germany, Italy and Japan after World War II). This helped to consolidate the elite forces, while ensuring the continuation of democratic reforms.

The expectations of those who cynically believed that the Communist Party would automatically whither away, together with the generation of pensioners of the 1990s who voted for it, have obviously failed to materialize. This generation is being replaced by pensioners of the early 21st century, whose living standards are not higher than those of the previous generation. This factor makes them automatically vote for the “advocates of have-nots.” The low living rates in Russia, where the percentage of the old-age population will only keep growing, will continue breeding the pro-Communist electorate. It looks as if the Communist Party, like the Italian Communists, can hope for 20-30 percent of the votes at all elections, albeit without any chance for obtaining power except in some of the provinces.

The pro-liberal electorate will not grow faster than the middle class, and will thus remain too small to support both Boris Nemtsov’s Union of Right Forces and Grigory Yavlinsky’s Yabloko party. In the last decade, each of these parties gathered a mere five percent of the total votes in the country; the chances are high that before 2013 one of these parties will have left the political stage for good. Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party will qualify for the next State Duma, but after that its future looks rather bleak as well.

The reduction in the number of political parties – a natural process for any young democracy – is unlikely to produce new and dynamic political actors. Yet there are electoral niches that are capable of giving rise, under certain circumstances, to new parties. The social democratic niche – packed with small proto-parties (the parties led by Mikhail Gorbachev, Gennady Seleznyov, Ivan Rybkin and others) – can attract more voters following the emergence of the lower middle class, which is now all but nonexistent due to increasing wealth inequality. Another Chernobyl-scale ecological disaster, for example, may provide a good political opportunity for the environmentally conscious Greens. Finally, there is a social basis for a non-Communist nationalist party, which may be established under the influence of rising Chechen terrorism, or due to another major U.S. military operation in a region that is deemed sensitive to Russia. However, the establishment of off-mainstream influential, the more so mass opposition movements and parties is unlikely: socially and politically active groups of the population will prefer to realize their interests within the existing system’s frameworks.

Furthermore, the chances for the alternative political forces seem insignificant also because of the increasingly predictable outcome of parliamentary elections, which will continue to attract the attention of big business and its regional branches who view election campaigns as business projects or investment opportunities. However, the practice of selling seats in party lists will become an archaic practice, and Duma deputies from different factions will unite themselves into oil, energy and other various lobbies. The interests of the business world and the political Establishment will continue to merge. Businesspeople will make it into the top echelons of power, and informal, yet very influential, financial and political clans will form. They will include the owners and top managers of large corporations, top bureaucrats, party and parliament functionaries, and members of the media elite. The role of these clans will only grow over the next few years, adding something of an eastern tinge, and at the same time, a sort of stability, to the political system. The clans will seek to remove all outside sources of destabilization since they are certainly not interested in such developments. Yet, inter-clan feuds can bring about serious internal conflicts, as was the case when the “St. Petersburg team” of former secret service officers “attacked” the YUKOS company, or may be the case when it comes to choosing Putin’s heir. In Russia, the main source of instability has always been within the circle of the political elite.

A clash between these mighty clans will help the freedom of speech to survive, and possibly even to thrive. The number of media actors within non state-controlled newspapers, magazines, radio stations and TV channels will increase, at least because political and economic groups will be interested in their success. The Kremlin will deem it sufficient to retain control over a few major media resources, that is, one or two leading TV and radio channels.


According to the government’s estimates, in order for Russia to maintain a favorable level of development in the next two decades it will have to attract approximately two trillion U.S. dollars in domestic and foreign investment. To this end, Russia must improve its investment climate and create a fundamentally new administrative environment.

According to the Ministry for Economic Development and Trade, the investment climate in Russia will achieve European standards by the year 2012. To achieve this goal, the government will need to adopt a national program for Russia’s development that will include, among other things, the implementation of anti-corruption measures, an increase in ownership guarantees, the development of the infrastructure and switching to Western accounting standards throughout the country. The size of foreign investment that flows into Russia will largely depend on its political sentiments; whether it is in favor of, or opposed to, such investment is, of course, a very crucial factor.

The mid-term programs already worked out by the government suggest that the privatization of industrial enterprises will continue, the share of the consolidated budget in the GDP will decrease, and a government procurement system will be introduced on a competitive basis. All of these measures, which are intended to undermine the corrupt interests of the influential clans, will be implemented with tremendous difficulties. The government-declared institutional reforms, which are to ensure structural transformation toward a post-industrial economy, will help develop the educational and health systems, ensure an accelerated growth of new-economy sectors, normalize the procedures for protecting property and contracts, make the economy more open and the accounting practices of the corporations more transparent.

The much publicized tax reform will be completed. The social security tax will decrease, the sales tax will be abolished, and the value-added tax will be made simpler and will decrease, too. These measures will prompt businesses to make more of their incomes transparent. The banking reform will make credit resources more available and will create a deposit insurance system. The capitalization of the economy and an increase of its monetization (which now stands at only 20 percent of the GDP) will boost the development of new sectors in the economy.

Some Russian companies – and not only those in the energy sector – position themselves on the international market as transnational corporations. They operate on foreign markets on a par with the local companies and are capable of opening new production facilities in these regions. The promotion of projects forwarded by the Russian transnational corporations will begin to slow down due in large part to the bureaucratic and political media in foreign countries, especially in Europe.

Russia will be admitted to the World Trade Organization. The lobbyists of exporters who are interested in an open economy and a post-industrial breakthrough will win the struggle against the producers who are oriented toward the domestic market.

The problem of Russia’s foreign debt will disappear: from 2000 to 2002, the foreign debt decreased from U.S. $158.4 billion (89.5 percent of the GDP) to $123.5 billion (36.2 percent).

Russia will continue to be a major energy supplier to the world market where demand will increase 50 percent by the year 2015, according to the U.S. National Intelligence Community. Russia, which alone consumes 120-130 million tons of oil a year, can easily increase its oil output to 400 million tons by merely improving oil extracting capabilities. The president of Russia’s YUKOS oil company, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, foresees oil output being increased to 500 million tons by the year 2010, while LUKOIL president Vagit Alekperov believes that this figure can increase to 560-610 million in 2015-2020.

The Arctic Ocean’s continental shelf, where the oil resources have been estimated at five billion tons, will begin to be actively developed. Russia will start exporting oil from new oil fields in the north of its European region, in Eastern Siberia and the Caspian region. Gazprom and LUKOIL will be the main contractors for oil extraction in the Turkmen and Kazakh sectors of the Caspian Sea shelf. Russia will transport Kazakh oil to its terminals in the Baltic, thus calling into question the demand for the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline. At the same time, the participation of Russian companies in the operation of the latter pipeline will reduce political tensions over the extraction and transportation of Azeri oil.

Russia will sharply strengthen its positions within the energy markets of East Asia’s economic giants. It will build oil pipelines from the Irkutsk Region to China’s Daqing, and to Russia’s port of Nakhodka, from where oil will be transported to Japan, Korea (perhaps by this time it will be reunified) and Southeast Asia. The available oil resources in Eastern Siberia will not be enough for both projects, so Russia will need to prospect for more oil resources there.

Energy supplies to the West will grow at the same time. Russia and its foreign partners will implement a multilateral agreement to unite the Druzhba and Adria oil pipelines which will deliver Russian oil to the port of Omisalj on the Adriatic coast. By 2007, Russia will have completed an oil pipeline to Murmansk, from where large-capacity tankers will transport oil to the U.S. Russia and the United States will pool their efforts to develop new-generation nuclear reactors, while finding new ways to utilize the spent fuel.

Transport corridors throughout Eurasia will continue to largely depend on Russia. The most promising areas of transit transportation will be: air transit, which includes air transit across the North Pole; trans-Siberian railroad shipments, which would prove to be especially critical in case of the quick development of the northern and northeastern regions of China, not to mention a potential post-crisis situation in Korea, together with the natural growth of the Korean economy; the resumption of navigation on the Northern Seaway which will require the renovation of the icebreaking fleet; and the construction of new North-South transport lines to the Middle East and South Asia. The government continues to support its political commitment to build seaports in Russia that will replace its Ukrainian and Baltic ports. At the same time, in 2013 transit transportation will continue to be restrained by Russia’s underdeveloped transport infrastructure, the small number of express highways and modern airports. In terms of its navigation of the high seas, it will have to replace its ageing fleet.

The emergence in 2002 of the Concept for the Development of the Venture Industry in Russia shows that the government is beginning to understand the need for a breakthrough in the fields of innovation, information technologies, telecommunications, biotechnologies, and medicine. The cornerstone of this concept includes the establishment of technology transfer agencies and new state technology foundations, tax breaks for venture companies, and a public relations campaign aimed at creating “histories of business success.”

According to the Ministry of Industry and Science, by the year 2007 these agencies will help launch annually 3,000-5,000 new venture companies on the basis of state research organizations; this will create new jobs for some 150,000-200,000 people. It is difficult to determine how realistic these forecasts are, since such a rate of new companies would let Russia surpass Israel, thus ranking second in the world after the U.S. Apart from manpower resources, there will be an additional demand for new technologies. Yet, even if the number of projected companies will be ten times smaller, they will prove to be enough for the technology sector to take root and blossom. Russia’s share in the technologies markets, high-tech products and educational services will grow (now Russia controls not more than one percent of these markets).

There are some very favorable forecasts for Russia’s economic development even if Russia will take the line of least resistance and will simply export its raw materials and low-processed products without taking much effort to diversify production. Brunswick UBS Warburg’s strategic report stated that by the year 2006 Russia’s GDP will have increased by 77 percent (compared with its level in 2002), and by 160 percent by the year 2010. This growth will be achieved solely through the export of raw materials, above all to China. This development is reminiscent of the economic growth model used by Australia after World War II, which emphasized the export of its raw materials to Japan and Southeast Asia.

However, Russia seems to have set itself more ambitious goals, as follows from Putin’s plans to double the GDP within ten years. Actually, this is not an infeasible task, provided the present economic growth rates are retained and the government refrains from any unpredictable moves that could serve to undermine the market (as recently occurred in case with YUKOS). Moreover, even higher growth rates are possible if large international financial groups begin to invest in Russia; this possibility largely depends on how efficiently Russia positions itself within the global system.


Any favorable scenarios for Russia’s development can be achieved if Russia makes the right geostrategic choice. However, rhetorical disputes concerning where Russia belongs – to the West, the East or itself; or to Europe, Asia or Eurasia – have not been resolved, although they have become less fierce. How Russia projects its “self-identity” may actually serve to prevent its dynamic development. Moreover, it could draw itself into confrontation with the more developed countries to the point of no return.

The probability of various scenarios largely depends on how well the head of state understands the country’s national interests. It is also dependent upon the dominating sentiments at the top of the political class and business. Finally, to a lesser degree, it is dependent on how active the social forces that support them are.

Putin once described Russia as a country of not just European, but West European culture. This is a rather questionable idea, considering that the West European civilization was built on Catholicism rather than Orthodoxy, yet the direction of his thought is symptomatic. The president understands perfectly well the real situation in his country and what is required for its economic growth: an economic breakthrough resting on investment and technologies that Russia can expect, above all, from the West; this can be realized only in a favorable foreign-policy environment. The wish to modernize the country will motivate any Russian leadership to minimize political tensions with the rest of the world in order to maximize the political dividends.

The Russian Establishment is beginning to realize that there is no alternative in choosing a model for the country’s development. In reality, there is no Western, Eastern, Russian or some other model, but there is the successful model that has been realized in Western and Eastern civilized countries, and the unsuccessful models used by some Southern states. The wish to succeed presupposes following universal, Western-based formulas, which will make irrelevant the ongoing disputes between the ‘Westernizers’ and the Slavophiles. Proponents of integration into the global world include the most dynamic yet sluggish social groups. These are particular businesses that are export-oriented, the most advanced part of the intellectuals, and the middle class.

However, the prospect of Russia actually becoming a Western country by the year 2013 will be hampered by a number of objective factors, such as its size, geopolitical environment, and the simple force of inertia. Russia is too large and too “Russian” (meaning non-Western) to be organically integrated into the main Euro-Atlantic organizations. Russia’s interests with regard to the post-Soviet space, China or the Caspian Sea region will not fully coincide with American or European interests. Thus, the inertia of the Russian matrix will cause it to search for its own way, as will the inertia of the political class’s strategic culture. This has retained some vestiges from the Soviet times, among them the predilection to react to short-term or former threats, as well as ignoring long-term, non-military challenges. The forces opposing Russia’s pro-Western policy should not be underestimated. These include the larger part of the bureaucratic apparatus, a part of security agencies that cannot exist without a “super-enemy,” the Russian Orthodox Church, and all leftist political forces and their numerous voters.

In ten years, Russia will be following the road toward the universal, Western model of development, but it will not be the West.

Russia cannot permit itself any more confrontation with the U.S.; even the harshest critics of the U.S. policy have come to this conclusion. After all, a close Russian-U.S. partnership in the 21st century is quite thinkable. I absolutely agree with Robert Legvold of Columbia University who wrote: “Consider how different the world would be in twenty years if a democratic and economically revitalized Russia is a genuine partner of the United States, addressing side by side fundamental threats of international comity and welfare.” The U.S. and Russia, for the first time in decades, now share an in-depth common agenda. This includes the struggle against international terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, as well as cooperation in the energy field. The rapprochement between the two countries can be facilitated by the difficulties they both have in relations with Europe and the East-Asian centers of power.

Yet, I have fears that the Russian-U.S. partnership will not evolve into a close and binding alliance any time soon. Obstacles to such an alliance include Washington’s unilateralist foreign policy, not to mention the obvious disproportion in the two countries’ potentials, which will inevitably prompt the U.S. to ignore Moscow’s concerns and will thus add to the reflex anti-Americanism persistent among the Russian elites and voters. Besides, Russia’s economic system and political institutions will continue to be in disagreement with U.S. perceptions of what constitutes a true market economy and democracy.

In Russia’s relations with the European Union, this will be determined by several basic factors. On the one hand, Russia and the EU enjoy a close proximity with each other, as well as a high level of economic ties: after the expansion of the EU it will account for over 50 percent of Russia’s foreign trade. On the other hand, Russia cannot expect to be admitted into the EU because of the sheer size and scale of its economic problems. In Moscow, sentiments are beginning to change toward the idea of EU membership for fear of becoming overly dependent on Brussels’ bureaucracy and burdensome regulatory rules. Russian businesses consider them to be overly “socialist” and not in step with a market economy.

Russia’s future EU membership, or an associated partnership agreement (as is the case with East European candidate countries), is out of the question. “Considering that Russia’s membership in the European Union cannot be considered in earnest for at least twenty years, there arises the issue of a functioning replacement,” writes Dmitry Trenin. “The Russians would prefer a free system of relations, consisting of a free trade zone, partnership in the energy sector, visa-free travel, a mechanism of consultations in the political field, and security agreements on a large number of issues, from anticrime struggle to peace-keeping efforts.” Relations with the EU will largely depend on its viability in the future. The events surrounding Iraq, which actually split the European Union, caused some EU members to renationalize their foreign policy. This tendency may prompt Russia to reorient itself to the establishment of partnerships with individual EU states, rather than directly with Brussels.

The same conditions apply to NATO, which could not agree on an appropriate course for itself following September 11, and was with disagreements over Iraq. In addition to these problems, it seems to be losing its significance as a military organization as a result of its continual enlargement and admission of several weak, security-consuming countries. The future of Russia-NATO ties will be determined by the atmosphere of Russian-U.S. relations and by the Alliance’s evolution. “It seems that NATO now is evolving into a political institution with less operational military significance, something the Russians have long advocated,” writes Andrew Kuchins of the Carnegie Endowment. “NATO may no longer exist twenty years from now, but if it does, I would venture that Russia will be a full member.” In my view, the probability of Russia joining NATO is inversely proportional to the Alliance’s significance as a military organization in the future. Any interest in NATO membership will also decrease in Russia as it grows stronger and begins to feel more reluctant about having its hands tied in the military-political field.

There is even less chance that Russia will be included into a system of integration in the Asia-Pacific region, at least because of the slower rates of integration there. For political and demographic reasons, Russia is destined to maintain good-neighborly relations with China, but the formation of a close union between the two countries is unlikely. Moscow, which objects to being assigned the role of a junior partner of the U.S., has even less reasons to agree to such a role in its relations with China. However, the economic and manpower potential of fast-developing China makes such a scenario possibly inevitable for Russia.

Russia would greatly benefit if it intensifies its relations with Japan, since the Pacific nation can help boost economic development across Russia’s Far East. This will become reality only after the two countries resolve their territorial dispute. However, neither state displays any readiness for a compromise at the moment.

Russia will seek to play a more active role on the Korean Peninsula, advocating a peaceful settlement of conflicts between the two Korean states and supporting the idea of their reunification. However, these attempts will be impeded by Russia’s limited ability to influence their conduct, in contrast to the abilities of the U.S. and China.

In the post-Soviet space, Russia will give up attempts to reanimate the U.S.S.R. or integrate itself with the former Soviet republics, which are now dominated by Moscow. Rather, it will choose to integrate with individual CIS countries even though at different speed. Russia will attempt to expand the common market and develop a system of sincere relations amongst allies. The Russia-Belarus Union may finally evolve into a single state, or they may continue developing as independent countries, considering that the Belarusian elite has no wish to forgo their country’s sovereignty. Russia will never tolerate the U.S. interference in the affairs of a region that Moscow regards as encompassing its sphere of vital interests. But I do not foresee any clashes in this regard, especially if Russian-U.S. relations continue to develop in a constructive way.

By 2013, Russia will sharply intensify its international PR campaign for the nation, as well as its individual cities, regions and economic actors. The state and business sectors will cooperate in these activities, and will spend a lot to hire major consultants and promoters from the West, while several Russian advertising and PR companies will receive their transnational status. There will appear a Russian-language global TV broadcasting system, as well as a Russian TV network broadcast in English. Resources for Russian cultural influence will remain rather limited. The number of people in the world using the Russian language will decrease (presently, this number stands at 284 million people; Russian is the world’s fifth most spoken language). Russia will remain a dominant cultural factor in the Commonwealth of Independent States but not the only one.

Moscow will have lobbies of its own in the world’s leading countries, including the U.S. For the first time this task now seems feasible, considering the post-Soviet wave of Russian emigrants, as distinct from all of the previous waves, have positive feelings toward Russia and maintain close ties with it. Funds will be allocated for attracting professional lobbyist organizations in respective countries.


What model for development will Russia accept in the long run? It will be neither American nor European; it will remain uniquely Russian. The country will have democratic and market-economy institutions and, at the same time, a largely token division of powers. Informal law will prevail over formal; the scale of business performed by state officials and the level of state regulation will remain high. Russia will continue to integrate into the global system but, at the same time, will be constantly tempted to follow its own way. This temptation will be strengthened by some members of the political elite who entertain a certain degree of resentment against major international actors for ignoring Russian interests. It will also stem from the mighty clans inside of the country who are not interested in making Russia and its economy open, who will therefore seek to play the card of Russia’s “uniqueness.”

However, such a temptation will hardly be irresistible. Self-isolation under the present conditions of globalization can only be possible if a country falls very far behind the world system and, ultimately, falls out of it – and out of history.

Last updated 16 september 2003, 0:50

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