Time will tell which of these prevails. All we can be sure of is that the result will depend ultimately far less on decrees handed down in Moscow than on decisions made and opinions formed in Russia's classrooms, farms, factories and living-rooms.
It is grounds for encouragement, then, that the Russian people have at every opportunity clearly rejected both the Soviet past and a dictatorial future, despite their dissatisfaction with the present. They have yet to see democracy produce; but they have not abandoned democracy's promise.
Today in Russia, unlike in the past, allegations of corruption, incompetence and other shortcomings are lodged even at the highest level openly and often. The press and public can investigate, criticise and question. This autumn, in regions of Russia most notorious for corruption, political leaders face challengers who have made clean government their rallying cry.
This seems normal to us; in Russia it is revolutionary. Coupled with the growing emergence of a post-Soviet generation, and Russia's ongoing search for a new national identity, it holds the promise of positive change. These are reasons to increase our efforts with Russia, not - as some suggest - to cut our aid and walk away.
Obviously, we should not send good money after bad policy, but nor should we turn our backs on good people doing the right things. And that is precisely who and what our aid programmes are designed to support.
Unfortunately, Congress is proposing a 25-30 per cent cut in the amount President Clinton has requested for programmes in Russia and elsewhere in the New Independent States next year. This would require unacceptable and self-defeating trade-offs. And it ignores the fact that our programmes directly serve important American interests and values.
Americans know it is in our interests for Russia to succeed. And that we want to see a Russia with legal structures that ensure due process for everyone, including dedicated activists such as Alexander Nikitin. We want to see a Russia where bigotry is shunned and anti-Semitism everywhere condemned; a Russia as renowned for its freedom as for culture, music and literature, and the bravery of its people.
I know what the cynics may say, but I believe the ongoing surge in aid agencies in Russia is a big deal. As the human rights advocate Sergei Kovalyov has said, "the quality of democracy depends on the quality of democrats. We must wait for a critical mass of people with democratic principles to accumulate. As in a nuclear explosion, a critical mass must accrue."
No one can predict when, or if, that day will come. Certainly it will not come immediately. It may come in fits and starts. But it assuredly will not come at all if we, who championed liberty through five decades of Cold War, desert its cause in Russia now.
In recent years, Russia has moved from one critical point to another: the confrontation with parliament; the war in Chechnya; the rise of extreme nationalists; the resurgence of hard-line Communists; the financial crisis; the disagreement over Kosovo; and now investigations into money-laundering and corruption.
Each time, the chorus has arisen to pronounce the death of the new Russia. Each time, the Russian people have refused to attend the funeral.
Tolstoy wrote that "the strongest of all warriors are these two - time and patience". These are not qualities Americans have in abundance, but they are needed now in our approach to Russia. It is beyond our prerogative and our power to determine Russia's future. But we can shape our own policy. We can be hostile and dismissive towards Russia and risk re-creating our enemy. Or we can explore with vision and persistence the full possibilities of this new era.Reuse content