Russia needs understanding, not aid

Taken from the World Service Lecture given by the deputy director of the Institute of Europe's Academy of Sciences, Sergei Karaganov
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The Independent Online

The picture of Russia that prevails in the Western press is bleak. Russia is portrayed as a totally corrupt state dominated once again by security services, a country almost culturally alien to the West. The privatisation is now nearly universally condemned as unfair. But the disillusionment is largely misplaced, born by inadequate expectations, by the belief that a country as large and as complex as Russia could with one jump rejoin the civilisation it had parted from.

The picture of Russia that prevails in the Western press is bleak. Russia is portrayed as a totally corrupt state dominated once again by security services, a country almost culturally alien to the West. The privatisation is now nearly universally condemned as unfair. But the disillusionment is largely misplaced, born by inadequate expectations, by the belief that a country as large and as complex as Russia could with one jump rejoin the civilisation it had parted from.

The West needs more realism in understanding that, as a result of 75 years of Communist rule and 10 years of unsuccessful reforms, Russia is living through a political period that most other European nations experienced more or less a century ago. It is relatively poor, has an underdeveloped democracy, strong autocratic tendencies and a weak civic society. Its population is exhausted by years of excruciating Communist experience and a decade of painful reforms.

Russia has developed quickly over the last decade, but not instantaneously. It has to acquire its own experience through its own victories and defeats. But even when and if it becomes a successful economy and a developed democracy, it will never become exactly a Western economy or a Western democracy. Russia should be able to choose its own mix of policies that suits its weaknesses and strengths, its history and culture.

The West should acknowledge with some humility that even if it won the Cold War - with the great help of Russians and other citizens of the former USSR - it has achieved very mixed results in terms of the post-Cold War reconstruction, especially in terms of the creation of the new international system and its dealings with Russia. If, of course, the aim was not to make things worse. But I do not believe in the anti-Russian conspiracy theory.

Probably the West could not and should not help much. But at least the policy should be: do not hinder. Do not hinder by sucking all the juices from the Russian economy by insisting on quick repayment of Soviet debts. Do not hinder by providing new aid, other than restructuring old debts. The past has shown unequivocally that aid only postponed necessary reforms, providing fertile ground for stagnation and the corruption of the regime.

Do not hinder by increasing the feeling of humiliation and insecurity through further expansion of Nato, by repeating this past mistake. Nato has been, and would have continued to be, a legitimate organisation even without expansion. The slogan "expand or die" was a wrong one.

And do not hinder by turning a deaf ear to possible violations of personal freedoms, of freedoms of the press. In the past, the West has supported policies that most Russians, even Russian Westernisers, rejected or detested - such as bad reforms, the 1993 bombardment of parliament, or the first Chechen war. This time the West should try to support values that most Russians support too.

History has shown that there is no reasonable third way for Russia. If it wants to be an affluent country where citizens live decently and are proud of their homeland, it has to go the first way - liberal economics, a strong but democratic state, and integration in the new global economy and informational space. However, the same history, as well as simple common sense, shows that there are many paths to travel that one and only way. There are success stories outside the traditional West.

Ten years ago Russia, and those whose advice it took, decided to travel a wrong path. That happens. But Russia cannot afford to make a second mistake. It has already lost almost hundred years. Now it should not hurry and it should not be pushed.

Russia is a country living through a very difficult but fascinating period. Most countries, we know, have lived through such periods. Many have survived and prospered.

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