Russia Goes to War

9 november 2004

Fyodor Lukyanov is Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, and Research Director of the Valdai International Discussion Club. Research Professor, Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow.

Resume: Following the recent hostage drama in Beslan, where hundreds of schoolchildren were brutally killed by terrorists, we must ask the question: “What kind of country has Russia become?”


Following the recent hostage drama in Beslan, where hundreds of schoolchildren were brutally killed by terrorists, we must ask the question: “What kind of country has Russia become?” It cannot be denied that the September 2004 tragedy (preceded by a series of other terrorist acts) has changed Russian politics. President Vladimir Putin, like his U.S. counterpart George W. Bush three years earlier, in a televised address to the nation declared a war – a war on international terrorism which has chosen the Russian Federation as a target for its attacks and which seeks, as the president argues, a breakup of the country and its disappearance from the international stage.


To counter this threat, the president proposed measures providing for a change of the state model. As a guarantee against the country’s disintegration, the president and his administrative team intend to build a rigid vertical of power. According to this plan, all state officials, from top to bottom, would be appointed by Moscow and will be responsible to it. In reality, this move signals a return to the traditional governance system that existed in czarist Russia, as well as in the Soviet Union. Analysts, both in Russia and abroad, remain divided in their comments on the proposed changes.


Some warn against the possible restoration of authoritarianism in Russia; they accuse President Putin of taking advantage of the Beslan tragedy in order to bolster his personal power. Others argue that the outrages committed by terrorists prove that a Western-style democracy cannot guarantee safety for the Russian people. They insist that only an effective and united authority can achieve this goal.


Despite the justifications, the moves made by the Kremlin in the last few months have provoked a harsh criticism from the West – which, in turn, has provoked a nervous reaction from Russia. The same old Soviet song is once again being sung by some officials, experts and ordinary people: “The country has been encircled by enemies who are unable or do not want to understand us. Moreover, they rejoice at our misfortunes and may well direct the terrorists.” The difference of perceptions concerning the developments in the world between Moscow and the Western capitals is depressing.

Russian veteran diplomat Anatoly Adamishin calls on the former Cold War enemies to forget their senseless conflicts. The civilized world is not yet fully aware of the real scale of the danger posed by international terrorism, he writes. Many of the present controversies and problems pale and seem insignificant against this global threat.


In this issue, specialists have contributed articles that are intended to help understand the motives behind the present changes in Russia’s political system. Analyst Vitaly Tretyakov explains why the American and European methods for combating terrorism and forms of state system cannot be applied in Russia. Political observers Tatyana Gurova and Andrei Tsunsky admit that the new political system will not be like a Western democracy, while they attempt, at the same time, to allay fears that Russia is in for a dictatorship. Finally, philosopher and sociologist Igor Yakovenko investigates whether there are real prerequisites for the breakup of Russia.


Our German contributors, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and political scientist Alexander Rahr, do not doubt that Russia, for all of its differences, will remain a key part of the European space.


The developments of the last few months have again brought into the limelight the numerous threats posed by the situation in the Caucasus. Professor Vladimir Degoyev warns about the danger of a geopolitical standoff in that explosive region. Political scientist Andranik Migranyan and journalist Leonid Radzikhovsky offer different visions of Georgia, and of Russia’s policy vis-a-vis that country. One more Russian veteran diplomat, Vladimir Kazimirov, explores the oldest seat of instability in the ex-Soviet Union – Nagorno-Karabakh. The authors of the Armenia 2020 project present their views about the different paths that Armenia may take in the future.


Finally, a special section of this issue is dedicated to a “new Russia” – which is sweepingly expanding its presence on the World Wide Web. “Russia and the Internet” is the subject of articles contributed by Andrei Korotkov, Pavel Zhitnyuk and Robert Saunders.


Our next issue will continue the discussion concerning the war on terrorism. We are also planning to focus on the migration problem, a topic being actively discussed now in Russia, as well as provide more expert comments on the political reforms being launched by the Russian leadership.

Last updated 9 november 2004, 18:15

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