Leading Article: Don't ignore the other casualty of the bombs

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The Independent Culture
THERE IS a sense of deja vu about the ongoing mission of Yevgeny Primakov, the Russian Prime Minister, to Belgrade. Before the Gulf war Mr Primakov visited his "old friend" Saddam Hussein to broker a peace deal with Iraq. Then as now, it would be impossible for the Western Allies to accept the aggressor's offer of a ceasefire. With Saddam it would have meant accepting his seizure of Kuwait. With Slobodan Milosevic, President of Yugoslavia, it would mean rewarding his ethnic terror in Kosovo.

However, this is no reason to denigrate Russian efforts to find peace. For not the least casualty of the air strikes is the co-operation on foreign policy and military matters which the West and the Russians have developed since the end of the Cold War.

A Pan-Slav campaign to defend the Serbs is unlikely. But the West should not ignore Russia's sense of betrayal. Russia accepted the eastward expansion of Nato and military co-operation with the West on the grounds that Nato was a defence alliance. The West is in danger of teaching a generation of Russians to distrust international co-operation.

The need for the West to be sympathetic to Russian's sense of hurt is strengthened by its partial responsibility for Russia's economic predicament. The decision to guide Russia from a command to a market economy was correct. But the means chosen were far too theoretical and the pace was far too fast. Western economists neglected to wait for Russia to develop the legal and social infrastructure that prevents capitalism degenerating into gangsterism.

In the short term, the West can afford to listen to Russia's roars with equanimity. Despite its geographic size and large population, Russia's economy is smaller than Holland's. It needs its IMF loans too much to fight for Serbia.

But in the longer term, Russia's sense of betrayal could be dangerous to the West. It will increase the appeal of nationalist politicians, such as Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and those people within and close to the army who regret Russia's loss of status. Both groups will make the task of developing a liberal and democratic politics in Russia much more difficult.

A desire to build up the power of Russia could encourage the meddling in neighbouring states and arms trading which the West has tried to stop. Small countries with restive Muslim minorities - Armenia and Georgia, for instance - might become fearful of US intervention and want to tighten their borders with Russian weapons.

The outrage of the Russian people will die down once the Kosovo campaign is over. The man in the Moscow underground has only the vaguest idea about Mr Milosevic and the issues at the heart of the conflict. None the less, the West will have to struggle to reintegrate Russia in international institutions. The IMF could begin that process today by providing Russia with a generous loan.