Friday, April 14, 2006

Михаил Горбачев: холодная весна России и США

Михаил Горбачев: холодная весна России и США Cold Spring of Russia and the USA

Mikhail Gorbachev has an interesting article in Rossiyskaya Gazeta today, regarding increasing tensions between Russia and the US. His viewpoint is different than my own, but certainly worth reading none the less. I think the average Russian's point of view is even harder towards the USA. As I've discussed in other articles the past few months, Levada Center polls and Vladimir Zvonovsky's studies suggest Russian citizens have rather negative views of the US these days. Until recently, citizens of the US had rather favorable views of Russia (I expect that has slid a bit as Russian policies have been in the headlines more the last few months).

A few US politicians have used this opportunity to do a little bit of drum-beating and saber-rattling in Russia's general direction. Bush has been accused of being "soft" on Russia and Putin. These news stories have been barely noticed here in the US, but made headlines in Russia. Americans are much more focused on the Moussaoui trail, Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes, and the Duke University Lacrosse team, to care about what is going on with a country like Russia. To Americans, worrying about Russia is about like worrying about Italy. China, the UK, Iraq, Iran, and India get more attention from us (and therefore, headlines) these days.

And as always, Russians have rabbit ears regarding what someone might say about them. Pedro Martinez has nothing on Russian leaders in such regards.

So, the much maligned (in Russia) Gorbachev has taken this opportunity to write something which few American politicians are likely to read and which most Russians will dismiss, simply because it is Gorbachev speaking. To the uninformed westerner this might be a surprise - Gorbachev was the first leader of the former Soviet Union who didn't seem either like a complete asshole or a decrepit fossil. But to Russians, he is something like Jimmy Carter - blame for anything bad over the last 20 years pretty much falls at his feet.

From Gorbachev's Rossiyskaya Gazeta article:

Last weeks appeals in Washington for cooling and even toughening of attitudes between our strong countries is "Today's Special". During my recent trip, such views were in the press and in the performances of visible politicians, in particular senator John McCain, the possible candidate from Republicans for the 2008 presidential elections. We Russians also have people, who with alarm and anticipation, are adjusted for a renewal of "Cold War" in any new format.

Clearly, during these moments, we all have underestimated the complexity, the differences in our attitudes, and the necessity to approach to them carefully and building towards realistic purposes. At one time, we Russians were euphoric in those occasions with a prospect of cooperation with America. And in the USA there was an illusion that Russia had become their junior partner in the devising of the world on the American sample.

Now this phase has past, but sober analysis alone does not suffice for now. One of the main results of this has become a wrong understanding of results of the "cold war" in which one of the parties - the USA - has hastened to declare itself the winner. Russia, the other party, has appeared in deep crisis as a result of disintegration of the Union and reforms of 90 years.

Having remained in role of a unique Superstate, the United States was sick with a complex of the winner - which is dangerous including that behaviour which it defines. In such conditions it was impossible to build a proper attitude between our two countries towards long-term prospects. The USA gave Russia compliments which were often not deserved, and applauded radical-reformers under whose control the country spiraled downwards. Simultaneously the USA allocated to themselves on the world scene a role of police, prosecutor, and judge. This behavior should cause disagreement, and not only in Russia.

All of Russian history testifies: We have always left such past crises, gained strength and again became a serious world player. So it has occurred now, the Yeltsin chaos inherited by president Putin has resulted in a period of steady growth. Here there is more to be done still and all is far from done ideally, but the trend is obvious. And during this moment of the critics of Russia in the West and especially the USA have chosen to become especially sharp and irritable. In Russia it is noticed and we form our conclusions.

I can say this responsibly: the open lines of dialogue and interaction between presidents of Russia and the USA is supported both in political and public circles of our country. But recently there was has been anxiety: will this open dialogue remain intact?


In general if you look at the list of concrete claims by American politicians towards Russian foreign policy, it becomes obvious that the real disagreements are quite often exaggerated - to the detriment of opportunities for interaction in our common interests. Take, for example, the problem of the nuclear program of Iran. Here still political means have not been exhausted (as the president of the USA has confirmed), and Russia makes all efforts to find a resolution agreeable to everyone. I think, it will be reached more quickly if the USA, after planned consultations with Iran on problems of safety in Iraq, will go on towards wider contacts with the Iranian government.

It is not necessary to exaggerate the possible tactical disagreements on Middle Eastern problems. Russia and the USA - cosponsors of the Madrid conference, participants of intermediary "quartet" on Near-Eastern settlement. There is no basis to see as criminal the contacts between Russia and the freely-elected HAMAS government in Palestine. It is necessary to work more actively as partners with agreed tactics for such contacts, but it is already, as they say, in the working order and certainly, without unreasonable claims and charges.

I apologize for the mistakes in the translation, I might have done a better job with more time.

Personally, I find many Russian myths, rhetoric, and revisionist history in this article by Mikhail Gorbachev. This is my American point of view (even with my appreciation of Russian culture and history). I also think he completely misjudges the areas of cooperations between the US and Russia, particularly where Russian behavior towards Hamas, Syria, Iran, and apparently even in Iraq can be seen as nothing less than provacative towards the US.

In the US, recent history of the USSR and Russia would be seen as the collapse and defeat of the Soviet Union (a nation which oppressed its citizens), followed by an inevitable period of economic chaos, and now some recent signs of rebuilding. Based on Gorbachev's words, Russia was never "defeated" and suffered by mistakes and liberal reforms under Yeltsin. I supposed they just accidently fell on their sword. And now Russia has emerged as a real world power. Such thinking seems to suggest if there had been no Yeltsin - there would have been no problems for Russia. In this view, Russia has merely been resting - regaining their strength - so that they could reemerge as a leader on the world stage, as they have been since time immemorial (apparently).

I think Gorbachev completely misjudges American perceptions of Russia's Middle East partners. He feels the American concerns have been exaggerated - I think they have been rather mild as the US has a full plate already in Iraq. As regards nuclear power plants and missle deals with Iran - Americans would not be much more horrified if it was announced that Russia was selling nuclear missles to Satan himself. He seems to forget the extreme state of animosity between Iran and the USA since 1979 - an animosity that can not be resolved by the US alone. Everytime we begin to think of Iran as "normalizing" some leader there makes statements about killing every Jew and chanting "Death to America" with images of the American flag being burned. As prideful as Russians are, they would have burned Iran to the ground about oh ... 1982 or so ... if such behavior were directed against their own nation. Look at Chechnya for examples.

It becomes apparent that if this is the Russian point of view (I suspect it is actually the more LIBERAL side of the Russian political spectrum) that there is not going to be any resolution between the US and Russia in the near future.

More on Gorbachev's article can be found via the AFP article here.


Sean Guillory said...

First, I think Gorbachev is really concerned about his legacy. His assessment of his reforms and the collapse of the Soviet system shows this. By his own admission, he remains a socialist and maintains that the collapse of the Soviet system was a bad thing. He still believes if given a chance his reforms would have worked. There have been some interesting historical analyses of perestoika and I think the concensus is that despite Gorbachev acting as if he had a plan, the whole effort was pretty experimental. Some wonder if Gorbachev actually knew what he was doing.

He also maintains that the end of the Cold War was a missed opportunity to create a more stable global order. I'm rather pessimistic about that since "the Great Game" as Kipling called it, is rather inherent to the modern statecraft and I don't see geopolitical alignment as a means to increase states' global and regional influence going away any time soon. The players may change, but the game remains the same.

In a way the Gorbster might think of himself as "falling on his sword". This is why he accuses the US of triumphalism and taking advantage of its sole superpower status. However, with policy papers like the New American Century, you can really blame him.

Finally, I find it rather interesting that he sees the end of the Cold War as such a stark break and is silent about its historical residue. After all, the problems that are with us today have their seeds in the various proxy wars the US and the Soviet Union engaged in. So I think there is enough blame to spread around concerning that. As you point out the Iranian question wasn't created yesterday. As are how Russia approaches them. Their long history of trying to curry influence over the Persians streches back a few centuries.

andrei said...

Russia provocative being soft with countries US doesn't like?! C'mon! It's all about arms trade - we are talking about billions of dollars here: aircrafts, tanks, anti-aircraft systems. Making profits on anti-American paranoia. As for Hamas - Palestine definitely doesn't buy arms but Russia's image became super-good in the eyes of almost all Arab countries.

Laika the Space Dog said...

It's amazing how the USA still talks about Russia being a close and valued ally, despite the fact that Russia always blocks US diplomatic attempts to do anything and always sides with the wrong side in any dispute.

Russia backed the tyrants in the Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus. Russia backed Saddam, Hamas and Iran. Russia acts in every way as if it's not an ally, and so gains anti-American kudos and lots of lovely arms sales, and still gets all the advantages (G8 summits and aid) that it would were it really on our side.

No wonder the Baltic states and former Warsaw pact countries were so relieved to finally gain membership of NATO and the EU. They understand the realities.

What russia needs is more reform not less. Had it enthusiastically embraced the west, and got rid of some of those statues of Lenin, then it would be far stronger now than it is. The policy of opposing the west only weakens russia in reality.

Anna said...

I found this fascinating, stayed up to translated pretty much the whole thing. Left the beginning out as you have it covered. His view speaks to both the realities of the Russian perspective and an incredibly inspired hope for cooperation and mutual understanding (which is clearly lacking today).

Reading his words in Russian, something comes through that gets lost in translation, and I disagree with the cynicism expressed by those commenting above (and really most these days). I think he is sincere when he says that Russia is not trying to revert back to an "empire", that its not trying to be a autocracy, that it is just its path towards stability and finding its own way.

His tone, his quote of Kennedy's speech (which I translate literally), come across not as a has-been trying to reclaim his legacy but more as a grandfather, looking over the world he leaves to his grandchildren and urging them to get along, to find a common language and focus on what's important (which is really the same for all people, isn't it -- Putin and Bush included).

Here's the text, read his words and form your own judgement:

Mikhail Gorbachev. The Cold Spring of 2006. Rossiyskaya Gazeta, April 14th, 2006

High level politicians in Washington & some in Russia are calling for a renewed “Cold War” in some new form.

Left as the only superpower on the world arena, the US came down with a complex of the victor, which is dangerous for those whose fate it decides. In this state, building long-term relationships between the two countries was impossible. The US gave undeserved compliments to Russia and applauded radical-reformists under whose guidance the country deteriorated. At the same time, the US assigned themselves the role of prosecutor, judge and policeman. This could not but raise disagreement, and not only in Russia. The entire history of our country bears witness: it has always come out of crises of “darkened times”, gained strength and again became a major world player. So it is happening now, when in place of chaos inherited from Boris Yeltsin by president Putin comes a period of steady growth. There is still much to do, and by far not everything is done in the most ideal way, but the trend is heartening. And at this moment, criticism towards Russia from the West and US comes across as particularly sharp and egregious. In Russia this is noted and we form our own conclusions.

I can say with full confidence: the line of communication on dialogue and interactions between our presidents should be supported in the political and public circles of our country. But of late there has arisen a concern: will this line be preserved?

Of course, in Russian politics, as in all states, there may be moments that call for critical reactions. The question is how to react to differences of approach, unavoidable even among partners? Here it is impermissible to take the tone of ultimatums, to put forth terms and resort to “sticks”, and this, in my opinion, is precisely what some American politicians are doing. It is an unacceptable and harmful approach (for the US to take) when Russia is deemed necessary only in areas where things are difficult for America: say, help us pressure Iran or North Korea, while the problems that interest Russia can wait.

If you look at concrete complains, it’s clear that things are often exaggerated, to the detriment of potential actions towards our mutual interests. For example, with Iran. Here we are far from exhausting diplomatic methods (confirmed by Bush in the past couple of days), and Russia is offering all of her efforts to reach an outcome acceptable to all. I think it will be reached quicker if the US, at the end of scheduled consultations with Iran over the security of Iraq, would open wider contacts with Iranian leaders.

And it doesn’t make sense to exaggerate possible tactical differences in regard to the problems of the Middle East. Russia and the US – cosponsors of the Madrid conferences, members of the Middle East Council of Four. To consider criminal Russia’s contact with Hamas, the freely elected government in Palestine, is baseless. We should probably engage our partners more directly about the tactics we use in these contacts, but these are already technicalities.

No less important is the conversation on the questions of the relationship of both countries (not only Russia) toward independent governments in the Post-Soviet sphere. Here we have accumulated the most distrust. Often strengthening Russia in economic integration with SNG countries is perceived by the US as an attempt to restore the “Russian empire”. And Russia looks suspiciously at what American are doing in these countries. I think to alleviate these accumulation of misunderstandings we need constant contact at various (diplomatic, social) levels.

In my opinion it is a shame that we gave up the practice of the 80’s and 90’s, when in the context of ‘Soviet-American exploration’ we conducted an on-going exchange on the broadest of topics, such that when necessary issues were taken to the highest levels, and were often resolved without resorting to this. The Gore-Chernomyrdin commission did much to develop our relationship, to solidify our partnership in different areas. Why throw all of this into the archives?

Now on criticism of Russia’s internal politics. The central point of this criticism is an assertion that the Russian government has moved away from the principles of democracy and from defense of freedom, specifically freedom of the press. But even when this criticism is founded (and we in Russia can see for ourselves when this is so, and I have never spoken out on this topic), it would be a big mistake to conclude that Russia is reverting to the past. Russia is now at the beginning of its path in a “democratic education”, but it will not turn/deviate from this path. President Putin doesn’t want this; he is not creating an authoritative regime in Russia. These are my convictions and I constantly stressed them in the US.

In general, we cannot allow the capital of trust and interaction, accumulated in our relationship, to be blown to the wind. We can and must avoid sliding towards tensions and opposition. I noticed that President Bush, in the last few days, announced that he intends to continue interaction with Russia, and believes that there are prospects to our working together. We must note one thing: Russia is for cooperation with the US, but it must be on equal terms. Russia will not take the role of a junior partner, who is patted on the back.

The problems that arose in Russian-US relations must be examined in a broader context: in today’s global, interrelated world we encountered a clear regression in world politics.

We have still not left the past behind; its “deathly grip” is felt practically in all things. Above all, in the insistence on using old methods: reliance on power, commandeering, compulsion/duress. Doctrines and concepts are developed and adopted that, instead of reducing the threat of nuclear arms, predict their distant actualization/perfection.

Permanent safety requires, before anything else, a clear presentation of the kind of world we are trying to create, how we will build it, what methods we will use to address and solve problems that arise. And who will give answers to these questions?

In my view, the US government has not determined these things. The illusion of omnipotence, of an ability to solve, in isolation, the problems of its security, of an ability to rid the world of all that is an irritant to it, is still an expression of brute strength. But there are positive signs. In lieu of a period of “experiments of strength”, it seems to be coming to a realization that solid decisions are reached only through diplomatic methods, through the path of communication. And when I spoke in American auditoriums (and said) that America can hold a leadership role in the world only through partnerships, and not through domination or commandeering, the audience always greeted these worlds with applause.

A new epoch calls new leaders onto the arena of history. They will have to ponder the main questions of the epoch and find diplomatic solutions, which will be the solutions to these questions.

I think that the words of John Kennedy can serve as a guide to the new generation of leaders, spoken on June 10th 1963 at a speech at American University in Washington: “The most critical of all subjects is the world. What kind of a world do I talk about, towards what kind of a world do we aim? It is not Pax Americana, leaden with American arms. It is not a world of graves and not an absence of danger, or whom slaves speak. I speak of a courageous world, of a world that is worth living for, one that allows every human being and every people to grow, to hope, to build a better life for their children. It is a world not only for Americans but for all people, a world not only for today, but also for tomorrow”.

W. Shedd said...

I personally do not believe that the US can afford to continue this period of "experiments of strength" - the costs are too high both in terms of world credibility and financially. However, there is a very pig-headed and hawkish aspect to American international diplomacy, going back to at least Teddy Roosevelt, that feels if a first attempt at diplomacy does not work, then impose it through military means. (Speak softly and carry a big stick) This has been amended by the use of economic sanctions in some cases, but otherwise the formula is pretty true for the last century. Many American citizens take comfort in our imposing military and financial might against those who oppose US policies. It is difficult to see what American leader might reasonably seek a different path and where that path might lead us. Change is never easy, but change must come. It would seem to be time to prove that change does not need to come through the barrel of a gun.