Leading Article: Crisis-torn Russia may reject the West

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The Independent Culture
WHERE RUSSIA'S apocalyptic financial crisis will end, no one can say. At this chaotic moment, the country is beyond Western help. For the International Monetary Fund to provide more resources - that is, assuming it has the resources - would be grossly irresponsible, a case simply of throwing good money after bad. The main task for the financial authorities now is to prevent the Russian contagion spreading to other emerging markets and triggering what at worst could be global financial collapse. It is for Russia to deal with its own mess, and this process cannot even begin until a functioning government is installed.

However, one thing is already clear, and let the West ignore it at its peril. This crisis will have far-reaching political effects. The West has grown used to thinking of Russia as a friendly, if prickly country, devoted to the same goals of democracy and free markets as ourselves. That assumption no longer holds. It would be wrong to expect that once the turmoil settles, a new crop of Harvard-trained reformers will re-emerge. In the eyes of many Russians, Western reform has been a disaster. The words yesterday of Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist party leader, castigating "governments dictated by the West, guiding policies deadly for Russia," may be opportunistic demagoguery. But they will have wide and understandable resonance.

Russia's economic distress is likely to endure for many years. The government that has to cope with it should be as strong and representative as possible - so it must have the support of the Communists, the largest party in the Duma. This in turn implies a more authoritarian government, probably less friendly to the West - in other words, like the regimes that have ruled Russia throughout most of its history. This truth may be harsh, but we would be foolish to ignore it.

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