The domestic situation in Russia and the NATO expansion problem
are closely interrelated and influence each other in a number of
important directions. It is extremely difficult to predict the
ultimate outcome of such an interaction, but it seems obvious that
the process will be long, complicated, and even painful.
Russia is undergoing a difficult transition in its social,
economic, and political systems. The point of departure is more or
less clear: Russia was once a totalitarian communist system. As for
the point of destination, no public consensus yet exists. When
speaking of democracy, civil society, the rule of law, and the
market economy, the Russian people differ in their understanding of
these concepts. Moreover, the psychological legacy of the past has
engendered a negative attitude toward these internationally
accepted values. The pace of reforms has been significantly
hampered by a lack of agreement concerning these values.
Nevertheless, recent years have witnessed breakthroughs in
building a genuine democratic system. The privatization process is
one of them. Its main outcome to date has been the gradual
formation of a new entrepreneurial class with private ownership and
commercial and political initiative. Despite its numerous
controversial features, privatization generally continues, and it
is the chief litmus test for Russian economic reform.
Politically, a free electoral system is the principal result of
reform. It is the first experience for the Russians in choosing
their representatives to the legislative power and, by this,
influencing the policy of the government.
The freedoms of the press and expression are another major gain
of the Russian reform. They guarantee the irreversibility of the
democratic process. The mass media also play a significant part in
the system of checks and balances, and their position is hard to
ignore. However, the press is often subjected to intimidation and
financial pressure from legal and illegal centers of power.
Russian reforms are facing severe obstacles. No real
anti-totalitarian revolution has taken place, and the communist
nomenklatura, ill-equipped for a democratic environment,
remains the source of political and economic power. In many cases
privatization merely legalized the monopolistic control of
industrial giants on the market, entailing inflation and
stagnation. And the market has yet to break down Russia's highly
Executive power is far stronger than the legislative power and
is further consolidating its position. In fact, Russia's
bureaucracy is more powerful, wasteful, and arrogant than its
Soviet predecessor. A lack of public control mechanisms contributes
to an unprecedented spread of corruption. People feel unprotected
against arbitrary bureaucratic rule.
The Russian economic mentality is still largely based on
paternalist and egalitarian ideas. People believe that the
government should take care of them in every situation. This
provokes an increase in overregulatory governmental functions, with
direct interference in all the spheres of economic life.
Bureaucratic control over the economy is growing. Egalitarian
trends predetermine a negative attitude toward industrious and
wealthy people who succeeded in building their well-being by honest
labor. This is particularly true in rural areas, where private
farmers are discriminated against and preference is given to the
old collective farms. The vested interest of the old economic
nomenklatura in preserving its economic power hinders the
progress of reform and impedes the efficiency of production.
The weakness of democratic political and economic institutions
has contributed to the rising crime rate. About 75 percent of
private companies have to pay up to 20 percent of their income as
protection money to mobsters. More and more people are joining
businesses owned and operated by criminals. The law enforcement
agencies are highly corrupted. The taxation rate is so high (up to
90 percent of income) that the majority evades it by concealing
The Russian political scene demonstrates the weakness of
Russia's democratic institutions. There exist several hundred
political parties, but very few of them have influence and
virtually none can get an overwhelming majority in the parliament.
Confrontation between center-right democrats and left-wing
communists continues, and the centrist parties are not playing a
significant role. Democrats are not in good shape, as people tend
to attribute the failure of reform to their ideas rather than to a
lack of persistence in their implementation. But neither communists
nor nationalists have any efficient remedies. Attempts to
consolidate a "centrist" party of power such as Chernomyrdin's "Our
Home-Russia" are made again and again, but only time will show how
solid this bloc will be.
Many of the political differences of the parties arise from
different economic interests. The sectors of the economy that
depend on further international cooperation (such as the oil, gas,
trade, and banking industries) are internationalist and more open
to the West. Others that suffer either from competition with the
West (such as the agricultural sector and consumer industries) or
from the relaxation of tension (such as the military-industrial
complex) are more isolationist and nationalist.
RUSSIAN FOREIGN POLICY AND NATO
The collapse of the Soviet Union brought about a profound crisis
in Russia's national identity. Russia's role as a world power has
decreased, and an inferiority complex has emerged. As a result,
Russians are becoming more nostalgic for the Soviet past when their
country was, in their eyes, more powerful and wealthy. Many
Russians still view themselves as Soviet and not Russian citizens
and believe that the disintegration of the USSR was a mistake. The
rise of a nationalist sentiment, including its aggressive
component, is a response to political and economic challenges the
society faces. Psychologically, many people doubt that the newly
independent states are truly independent. The feeling of Orwell's
"Big Brother" is as widespread as the conviction that these states
cannot survive without Russia.
The idea of a "great power" today is based largely on nuclear
potential. It clearly does not rest on Russia's economic
performance. Two-thirds of the Russian population live below the
minimum subsistence level. According to all major social and
economic indicators, Russia can hardly be regarded as a prosperous
country. This engenders a bitterness that is often the fuel of
extremist political parties.
The expectation after the demise of communism was that the
Western alliance would pay for Russia's transition to democratic
capitalism. When it became evident that this would not occur,
Russians were profoundly disappointed. The result has been a rising
anti-Western mentality among the Russian people. This sentiment is
easily manipulated by communists and extreme nationalists.
The Chechen crisis shocked Russian society. It clearly exposed
the fact that little had changed in the new democratic Russia.
Excessive secrecy, anti-democratic decision-making, neglect of
impartial expertise and public opinion, lies, and brutality toward
peaceful citizens were rampant throughout the Chechen operation, as
they were during Soviet times as well. Few Russians doubt the
criminal nature of Dudayev's regime in Chechnya. But they ask how
he was allowed to gain power and to obtain enormous amounts of
weapons. Until there is a definite political answer, no prospects
for a peace settlement are feasible. The guilty are seeking ways to
evade responsibility by waging a bloody war to wipe away all
evidence of their crime.
Foreign policy issues are not that important to the average
Russian. The ordeal of day-to-day survival is far more important
for a large majority of Russians. But for exactly these reasons,
some politicians are trying to change the subject from their
domestic policy failures to foreign policy. In this respect the
NATO expansion issue is the perfect target for channelling popular
discontent into a foreign policy issue.
The Russian attitude toward the NATO expansion debate is 99
percent domestically motivated. The following ingredients create a
nutrient medium for resisting NATO expansion plans, irrespective of
their true nature and timing: the alleged failure of the Western
development model, disappointment with insufficient Western
assistance, the growth of nostalgic pro-communist and xenophobic
sentiments brought about by low living standards, an aggressive
nationalist and isolationist stand, and weakness of democratic
tradition and institutions.
The Russian public, in fact, knows very little about NATO.
Nearly 100 percent of the common people, if asked about the issue,
would say that NATO was an "aggressive military bloc." The power of
the Cold War stereotypes is still great, and even Russian
politicians -- some deliberately, some unintentionally -- suffer
from myopia as far as NATO is concerned. While never doubtful of
the peaceful intentions of the U.S., U.K., Germany, or France
individually, Russians easily and illogically become fearful of the
NATO alliance as a whole.
The Russian debate on NATO is lacking in expertise and
competence. The NATO evolution process -- through the Harmel Report
to the Declaration in Rome and others -- is completely overlooked,
as are numerous non-military spheres of action, including political
consultation, and economic, scientific, and ecological cooperation.
Restricting NATO to a mere military function is a favored means for
its opponents to criticize it. Unfortunately, little has been done
in recent years by NATO and the Russian democratic movement to
dispel the alliance's false image with the Russian public. No
matter what the reason -- a lack of political will or resources --
there is no excuse for this failure.
I share the views of those Russians who see no problems with
NATO expansion. I even welcome it. The North Atlantic alliance
remains the most efficient and viable security structure in the
world. It has long ceased to be just a military alliance (if it
ever was) to become a politically motivated organization projecting
and disseminating democratic values. Political goals have always
been central to this strategy, and the 50 years of peace in Europe
can be attributed to NATO's resolve to defend freedom and
democracy. The plans to incorporate new members mean further
guarantees of democratic and stable development in Central and
Eastern Europe with no threat to anybody.
Only people with a confrontational mentality can presume that
the NATO enlargement will jeopardize Russian security interests.
But should, to Russia's great misfortune, those interests be
usurped and misinterpreted by extremist forces, NATO would
undoubtedly act in keeping with its political and military
deterrence function in order to maintain international security and
Russian political forces who associate themselves with the
Western alliance are by no means numerous. But this fact does not
mean that there is an anti-NATO consensus, as some people in Moscow
claim. The absence of an accepted national security strategy
provides ground for arbitrary interpretation of national interests
and threats and challenges. It prevents Russian foreign policy from
adopting a consistent, long-term approach to any international
problem. As a result, the NATO expansion issue cannot be put in
proper perspective. Thus, old Soviet-era prejudices often get the
upper hand in the debate.
Of course, the Russian military has a vested interest in
opposing NATO expansion. In order to survive and maintain a high
profile, the armed forces believe that they must have a clearly
identified and strong adversary. NATO is the largest military power
closest to the Russian borders, and wishful thinking can easily
attribute the "enemy image" to it. Moreover, cooperation with NATO
requires that the armed forces be more open in the way they conduct
their business. This is something the Russian military is not used
to. After the Chechen events it seems clearer that traditional
secrecy was designed largely to conceal the limitations rather than
merits of the Soviet Army, and this trend is likely to persist.
Finally, existing arms control agreements do not suit the Russian
military, as they impose restrictions on their ambitious military
plans and programs.
Regardless of the obstacles, NATO expansion should proceed in
conformity with European and global security and stability
interests. NATO may not be perfect, but no other more efficient
mechanisms exist on the continent. I appreciate the Organization
for Security and Cooperation in Europe's important political role
in the West-East dialogue (since I participated in its diplomatic
process, too). However, the OSCE has not shown itself to be an
adequate substitute for NATO. As far as the CIS security structure
is concerned, its shape undoubtedly faces serious difficulties, and
the ultimate result is still unclear.
In the course of its expansion, NATO should be well aware of
misperceptions and apprehensions that are sometimes exaggerated in
Russia. Political and informational effort should be made to dispel
- Versatile bilateral cooperation between NATO and Russia should
- The new generation of Russian politicians, military men, and
researchers should be more resolutely involved in NATO and North
Atlantic Assembly activities;
- The issue of NATO special educational programs for Russia
should be addressed;
- The Russian military should be brought under civilian and
public control to avoid future Chechnyas; and
- Russia's active participation in the Partnership for Peace
program is a precondition for building up mutual confidence and
If these steps are taken, close political contacts between NATO and
Russia could develop into a special partnership. Russia's full
membership in NATO, which looks quite improbable today, could
become a reality in the 21st century.
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