The Spiral of Russian History

8 february 2005

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: The year 2004 has proven to be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most difficult year since he took office in 2000. Apart from an upsurge in terrorism, which culminated in the horrible terrorist act in Beslan, Putin faced a decrease in economic growth rates, the declining position of Moscow in the post-Soviet space, and a marked deterioration in the West’s attitude toward Moscow.

The year 2004 has proven to be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most difficult year since he took office in 2000. Apart from an upsurge in terrorism, which culminated in the horrible terrorist act in Beslan, Putin faced a decrease in economic growth rates, the declining position of Moscow in the post-Soviet space, and a marked deterioration in the West’s attitude toward Moscow. As a result of these negative developments, Russia’s leadership is forced to make grave decisions. It is no wonder that heated debates have begun in Russia as to whether the president has a development strategy, and if he has, is it adequate to the problems now facing Russia?

The contributors to our journal provide different answers to this question. One of Russia’s leading political analysts, Vyacheslav Nikonov, says that Putin adheres to a straightforward strategy which can be best described as conservative – with an allowance made for the specificity of Russia’s very young democracy, of course. The designers of the present regime did not have a systemic restructuring plan, argue Svetlana Babayeva and Georgy Bovt. They hold that the Kremlin has focused all its efforts on a search for ways to preserve its power after Putin’s presidency expires in 2008. Journalist Alexander Budberg fears that Russia has “lost” the Putin who was bent on transforming the country into a modern developed state.

Businessman Mikhail Yuryev blames the numerous problems confronting Russia on “internal foes” who criticize Putin not with a view to changing the regime but in a bid to liquidate Russia per se. Economist Mikhail Delyagin believes that Russia’s loss of status as a great power, as well as its setbacks in the ongoing competition with the West, can be blamed on the ruling bureaucracy. The analysis of the role of the bureaucratic machinery continues in an article by Russia’s most famous prisoner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who observes that the unique and mixed attitude of the Russian people to their own state is rooted in the past.

In general, analyzing the past is a characteristic trend of Russia’s present socio-political context. Many politicians, scholars and ordinary citizens seek to find answers to these contemporary questions in Russia’s recent and more distant history. Critics of President Putin accuse him of seeking to restore – deliberately or unconsciously – the Soviet system of government. Many of his supporters view the centralization of power as a return to the traditional Russian (pre-revolutionary rather than Soviet) matrix, which they believe corresponds best to the Russian national tradition.

This issue also focuses on Russia’s relations with the former Soviet republics. Moscow has been cut to the quick by the loss of its leadership role in the post-Soviet space. It views the developments there, above all in Georgia and Ukraine, as the shameless expansion of the West into a legitimate sphere of Russian interests. Analysts and journalists Yekaterina Kuznetsova, Vadim Dubnov and Robert Bridge examine what has happened to the fragments of the Soviet Union and whether Russia has a chance to restore its influence there. Sergei Kortunov focuses on a unique problem that Russia has inherited following the breakup of the Soviet empire – the Kaliningrad Region, a Russian enclave that is surrounded by countries of the European Union.

Global governance and the formation of a new world order is another highlight of this issue, and we have included policy articles by two Russian authorities on this issue – Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and foreign-policy patriarch Yevgeny Primakov. Specific aspects of the governability issue are analyzed in articles by American scholar Naiem Sherbiny and Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa (Italy), a member of the Governing Council and the Executive Board of the European Central Bank. Prominent scholars Alexei Bogaturov and Nikolai Zlobin explore the policies of the United States, the main candidate for the right to rule the world. Finally, the most acute problem of our times – international terrorism – is the subject of articles contributed by Alexei Arbatov and Yevgeny Satanovsky.

Our next issue will be dedicated to a crucial event in Russian history, when, in the spring of 1985 the Soviet Union acquired a new leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, who was also destined to be its last leader. We will sum up some of the results of those two tumultuous decades, and analyze how much Russia has developed since then.

Last updated 8 february 2005, 13:52

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