To the Editor:
In “Putin & Co: What Is to Be Done?” [May], Richard Pipes offers characteristically profound insights into the Russian situation. His picture of a pre-modern polity, characterized by atomization, alienation, and a strong urge for stability is not pretty, but it is certainly accurate. Its government, the Putin regime, is legitimized by economic growth, a dubious provision of “stability,” and little else. Official Russian statements are as inconsistent as they are cynical, but they also reflect the lack of a real ideology.
Russia’s obsolete politics stand in sharp contrast to its thriving economy. Thanks to Boris Yeltsin’s reforms in the 1990’s, Russia now benefits from a vibrant capitalist economy. The growth of the middle class is stronger than usually perceived. According to the World Bank, small and medium-sized businesses account for some 45 percent of Russia’s GDP. Russia has five million registered enterprises and almost as many individual entrepreneurs. By the broad UNESCO definition of higher education, over two-thirds of Russian youth go to college. Russia’s GDP per capita (in terms of purchasing power parity) is now one-third of that of the U.S. If present trends continue, Russia will have the fifth-largest economy in the world by 2020.
Just how long Russia’s obsolete authoritarianism can manage under the “stress” of its market economy remains to be seen. According to Freedom House, only eight countries in the world are richer than Russia and more authoritarian: they are Singapore and seven small oil states, hardly Russia’s peers. By the standards of Transparency International, the only country wealthier and more corrupt than Russia is Equatorial Guinea. Russia has simply grown too rich to be so undemocratic and corrupt.
Vladimir Putin’s crooked rule has been made possible by the sudden windfall yields from the international oil trade and post-imperial nostalgia, but it is not likely to last. Oil prices will eventually moderate, and the dysfunction of the Russian state will become evident to everyone as modernization proceeds. The present role of the secret police is so outmoded and pernicious that it is likely to ignite a public uproar in the coming years. Too many accumulated problems, from health care to infrastructure and law enforcement, cannot be resolved without the mediation of democracy. Russia will have to break with its Stalinist past sooner rather than later.
Peterson Institute for
To the Editor:
Any discussion of the sorry state of Russia’s relations with the West invariably comes back to NATO enlargement. Richard Pipes agrees with the conventional wisdom that the West “has indeed been oblivious of Russian sensitivities, and has broken promises made when Moscow dissolved the Warsaw Pact.”
There is no question that NATO enlargement has been an extremely difficult pill for the Russian elite to swallow. (In our book, Power and Purpose, my co-author Mike McFaul and I have a chapter titled “NATO is a four-letter word.”) But that does not mean the West has been “oblivious,” nor does it mean that it has reneged on promises.
In the 1990’s, President Clinton delayed making any firm announcement about NATO’s plans to expand until after Boris Yeltsin was reelected, so as not to hurt his candidacy. The Clinton team worked hard to find other ways to draw Russia closer to the West—e.g., including Russia in the Implementation Force created at the close of the war in Bosnia and inviting Russia to join the G-7.
As for the question of “broken promises” to Russia, many cite then-Secretary of State James Baker’s comment at the start of the German unification process that NATO forces would not extend “one inch to the east.” But those early comments were made in reference to forces within Germany at the time. The West had not made any commitment about the nature of its future relations with countries like Poland.
Others point to assurances given to Boris Yeltsin in 1993 by then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher. When the two met to discuss the Partnership for Peace initiative to build trust between NATO and Eastern Europe, Christopher did not draw new lines and only vaguely referred to NATO’s possible future expansion. Yeltsin could have been forgiven for being upset the following September when President Clinton broke the news to him about the enlargement. But this, too, does not mean “obliviousness” or “broken promises.”
There is no question that the issue is complex, and many in the West underestimated how deeply the NATO policy has troubled Russian officials. But those who persist in raising this issue as the crux of the problem fail to ask what would have happened had NATO not expanded. The enlargement of the European Union would likely have been delayed significantly. Countries aspiring to join the club of Western democracies would have been left on the outside. Perhaps some would have failed to consolidate democracy. It does not even require conjuring up visions of other Yugoslavias; after all, look at Slovakia in the mid-90’s. The West should certainly consider Russian sensibilities in crafting its policies, but it does not need to apologize for promoting democracy in Central and Eastern Europe, including in places like Ukraine and Georgia.
Council on Foreign Relations
To the Editor:
In his otherwise penetrating essay, Richard Pipes writes: “The Russians regard NATO, not without reason, as a hostile alliance directed against them, and they intensely resent the fact that it has expanded to their very frontiers.” But what hostile act or word has NATO directed at Russia? It is a myth that NATO expanded toward Russia’s borders only after the cold war; NATO bordered with Russia or the Soviet Union from the very beginning—see Norway, Turkey, and the state of Alaska.
The expansion of NATO to include Central Europe and the Baltic States has brought security and stability to the region by easing threats against former “satellites” of the Soviet Union. Non-NATO countries like Ukraine and Georgia face regular intimidation from Russia. In any case, NATO, being a defensive alliance, has never represented a threat to Russia. Moscow knows this, and its NATO alarmism is just rhetoric for domestic consumption.
Prague, Czech Republic
Richard Pipes writes:
I appreciate the favorable comments of Anders Åslund, author of the excellent recent work Russia’s Capitalist Revolution. He is right to note the contradictions between Russia’s maturing economy and its style of government, but I think he is too optimistic in concluding that “Russia will have to break with its Stalinist past sooner rather than later.”
The contradiction between economic freedom and political dictatorship can also be resolved in another way, namely, by abolishing or severely limiting economic freedom. I think that if and when the masters of today’s Russia decide that private enterprise challenges their authority, as eventually it is certain to do, they will be more inclined to give up prosperity than power. They have no inhibitions in centralizing in their hands control of the natural resources that constitute the bulk of Russia’s wealth.
I believe that James Goldgeier and Roman Joch underestimate the prevalent antipathy and fear of NATO that is widespread in post-Soviet Russia. We know from public-opinion polls that a majority of Russians regard NATO as a hostile military alliance and are very sensitive about its encroachment on territories that until 1991 were, in effect if not in name, theirs. They do not understand why, given that they have dissolved the Warsaw Pact, the West not only maintains NATO but expands it to their borders.
We should at least understand this concern; are we not exceedingly sensitive to powers perceived as hostile encroaching on the Americas? Objections to NATO’s expansion in Russia are not merely “rhetoric for domestic consumption” but a deeply felt attitude.