Friday, April 11, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russia Must Escape a False Hobson’s Choice, Lukin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 11 – Many commentators have observed that those Russians who support an activist and expansive foreign policy at the same time back authoritarianism at home, while those who support the democratization of the country oppose that kind of foreign policy because they see it as threatening ties with the West.

            That confronts those who would like to see democracy at home but a forceful foreign policy at home with a false choice, one in which they are called to sacrifice something they care about in one sphere in order to realize it in another, according to Aleksandr Lukin, pro-rector of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy (

            In an article in “Nezavisimaya gazeta” this week, Lukin argues there is no necessity to choose “chauvinism or chaos” as Russian liberalism in the past supported an activist defense of Russia’s national interests abroad while backing reforms at home and as Russian conservativism often opposed an activist foreign policy in order to protect authoritarianism at home.
            But those traditions of the nineteenth century have broken down, he says, because of the specific features of post-Soviet Russia and the international community within which it exists; and therefore, as so many Russians in the past have done, he calls for “a third way” so that his country does not have to sacrifice one or another of the things he wants.

            Lukin’s argument is not entirely persuasive – in Russia as in many other countries, there is often inverse connection between expansiveness abroad and democracy at home – it is important to attend to his words because they reflect the effort of some close to the Kremlin to back away at least to some extent from the more draconian consequences of such a relationship.

            The events of the last several months involving Ukraine, the pro-rector argues, represents a breakdown in what he calls “the post-Soviet consensus” in which Russia considered itself a partner of the West and sought cooperation with it.  As a result, it is quite likely that “the entire system of international relations and the internal life of Russia will not be what they were.”

            That “consensus” was nominally based on the ideas that “both sides would move toward closer cooperation, that both would act on the basis of the interests of the other, and that both would seek mutually acceptable compromises,” Lukin says. But according to him, “in practice only Russia fulfilled these conditions,” and the breakdown is thus entirely the fault of the West.

            The West has failed and is failing to take Russia’s interests into account especially those concerning the defense of “the rights of the pro-Russian population in the former republics of the USSR.”  And nowhere has that been more obvious, the pro-rector says, than in the case of ethnic Russians in Crimea and Ukraine more generally.

            Russia’s current proposals for defending such groups are in Lukin’s telling entirely reasonable, “but in the eyes of the West, to accept Russia’s proposals would mean to recognize that someone besides itself has the right to define what is the public interest and what is good and bad for other societies and states.”

            Instead, he says, “the West is choosing another approach, supporting pro-Western radicals everywhere on the post-Soviet space which will generate new conflicts.”  As a result, Russia is “re-orienting its policy toward the South and East,” a shift that the West has “left” Moscow with no choice but to make.

            But the crux of Lukin’s article lies elsewhere, in the relationship between Russia’s foreign policy and Russia’s domestic ones. “For some reason,” he says, “in Russia today, the supporters of liberalization of society almost completely lack an understanding of the national tasks of the country” and are prepared to defer to the West.

            And, the foreign ministry official says, “at the same time, those who support an [independent] role for Russia in the world and the strengthening of its influence usually are supporters of a harsh internal regime, authoritarianism and at times even the rebirth of Stalinism.”

                Many see this pattern as logical or even inevitable, but it was “not always” the case in Russia in the past.  In the nineteenth century, “conservatives in tsarist Russia typically were not supporters of an active foreign policy,” while liberals were often the strongest supporters of precisely such a policy.

            That earlier pattern reflected the conservatives’ understanding that the country should preserve its resources rather than spend them on costly foreign policy measures and the liberals’ view that “a modernized and even Westernized Russia must not be a subordinate part of the Western world but a legitimate and powerful part with its own interests.”

            But more recently that pattern has broken down and some recent liberals have even taken the view that Russia should be divided up in order to liberalize. “Such views were reflected even in the draft constitution of Andrey Sakharov,” Lukin says. But they reflect a complete failure to understand the situation.

            On the one hand, “the division of the country could not be bloodless,” the pro-rector insists. And on the other, any “plan for the division of one’s own country points to a non-recognition of its historical and cultural values” and is “in essence” a reflection of “ideological hatred toward it.”

            There were some liberals in tsarist Russia who were infected with such ideas, but these views “were not characteristic for the liberal majority and represented more curiosities than anything else.” Now, however, such ideas are more widespread, a result of the specific features of the USSR and the conditions of its disintegration.

            First, given the “stratification of all spheres of life” in the USSR, “the struggle for freedom was inevitably linked with a struggle not only against the specific Soviet state but against the state as such.”

            Second, “Russian liberals were educated on the basis of Soviet ideology and they understood its rejection as [requiring] the creation of a new ideology,” that in many respects was the old one “with a minus sign” in front of each of its elements.

            And third, given their “poor knowledge of the history and culture of their own country, particularly its religious aspect (which itself is a consequence of Soviet anti-religious training)” means that the liberals did not master and incorporate in their own programs “the unique wealth” of Russian culture which “is significantly different than the European tradition.”

            For its own reasons, the West encouraged all these attitudes among Russian liberals, Lukin says, although he notes that anti-government attitudes “in the West and especially in the United States are much more typical of extreme conservatives than they are of liberals.”

            As a result, he says, the dominance of an anti-state ideology in liberalism and the human rights movement today in essence is just as much a survival of the Soviet system as the directly opposite efforts to restore the attributes and symbols of the USSR,” but again “with an opposite sign.”

            “If the struggle for liberalization in contemporary Russia has been monopolized by anti-state people and primitive westernizers ... the struggle for Russian national goals in fact has been monopolized by supporters of a dictatorship,” a pattern Lukin says has been especially obvious during the recent events surrounding Ukraine.

            This situation would appear to put Russians before a choice between two positions that are unacceptable to many: “either they support democratization and oppose the strengthening of Russia in the world arena” or they back “the obligatory establishment of dictatorship, nationalism and threats all around.”

            In short, they are told they must choose between “Dugin and Prokhanov,” on the one hand, “or Nemtsov and Kasparov,” on the other, Lukin says.

            The first view “suspiciously corresponds to the interests of the corrupt compradore stratum headed by the oligarchs and major bureaucrats who are worried about their savings and properties in London,” while the second appears to be “the ideology of the special services,” who want to promote the idea that Russia is “a besieged fortress” surrounded by enemies.

            “Today, the bearers [of this second position], unlike in Soviet and Yeltsin times, no longer restrain the political authorities because they themselves are those authorities,” Lukin continues. But Russians should not have to make this choice. They should be in a position to support “a free but strong and independent Russia,” Lukin says.

            Today, he continue, “the close interconnection between democracy and the foreign policy goals of the West is no more than a myth of the Russian liberal opposition,” he argues, because the West does not act according to the rules that it insists others obey. Instead, it is involved in “the most profound hypocrisy,” and Russian liberals need to understand that.

            At the same time, Lukin says, neither he nor the majority of Russians welcomes the prospect that their country will move in the direction of becoming “a besieged fortress controlled by those who see enemies everywhere and who view all those who disagree [with the regime] as traitors or part of a fifth column.”

            But the sense many Russians have that this is the choice they face is already leading “many talented people” to emigrate, “not only to the West but alo to the countries of Asia: China, Thailand, India and so on.”

            According to Lukin, “there is only one way out.”  Russians must be offered “a third path which will correspondent to the aspirations of the majority,” one that will unite “normal and moderate patriotism” based on legitimate pride in the country’s  past “with a moderate liberalism” which will seek to promote a “freer, law-based, corruption free” state and society.

            “The European path or vector of Russia’s development must mean not the subordination of its interests to the EU but a borrowing of the positive elements of European statehood acceptable for Russia, above all, the supremacy of law, constructive relations with Europe and the US, and ... the tough insistence on its own interests.”

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