Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, thank you for this opportunity to appear before you and share with you my views on an important topic: Where is Russia headed, and what will the speed and direction in which it’s headed mean for U.S. security interests?
This is a timely question. Russia, I believe, is now entering a new phase of its post-Soviet development. The next two or three years may not be as dramatic a period as that from 1991 through 1994, say, but they could easily be as important.
There are two salient facts about this phase of Russia’s development that bear upon U.S. security. The first is that the internal struggle for Russia’s future is as yet unresolved. Put bluntly, Russia is not yet “lost.” The second is that the power of Russia as a state is growing. Separately, each of these facts has major implications for the United States. In combination, they complicate U.S. policy considerably. Let me briefly examine each in turn.
First, the internal struggle. For the past ten years, and especially for the past five, Russia has been engaged in a search for a dominant ideology and direction. On the one hand there are the ideas of the past, which feature, among other things, a society that is closed (closed both internally and to the outside) and an economy governed by heavy regulation and administrative fiat rather than voluntary transactions. Opposed to that direction is the ideal of an open society with individual liberty, and especially the sort of free choice embodied in the principles of a market economy—something we generally can call the “Western outlook.”
Americans, both as a nation and as individuals, demonstrably care a great deal about the outcome of this struggle, and rightly so. If the great nation of Russia and its people were to embrace the broad values we regard highly, it would not only mean a better life for the Russians. Their sharing of fundamental values with us would also offer an unprecedented foundation for interaction between us to our mutual benefit. While the sharing of values does not guarantee the absence of conflict, it does enable us more easily to resolve problems and conflicts that do arise.
The second assertion I made was that the Russian state is growing stronger. This I attribute to the growing stability of the Russian economy. Russia has passed through a period of wrenching dislocation following the breakup of the Soviet Union and the abandonment of the institutions of the old economy. Today, it may finally be achieving some stability. It is still too early to speak of the success of the Russian economy. At best, we can speak of “a non-collapsing Russia”—“only” a four-percent drop in GDP in 1995 as opposed to earlier years’ declines of 15 to 20 percent. But this alone is enough to change things substantially with respect to Russia’s status as an actor on the international scene.
Since the demise of the Soviet Union, precisely because of its economic weakness more than anything else, Russia has been relatively passive in international affairs. From the standpoint of Western security policy, Russia’s recent economic weakness may therefore appear to have been a great benefit. Those days are now over. As Russia gains economic strength, it will be capable of more assertive postures in many areas. Post-Soviet Russia will in the next few years have many options it has not yet had in its brief existence as a nation—options in international relations vis-a-vis the developed West, the third world, and, most immediately, its neighbors from the former Soviet Union. In many cases, the mere exercising of these new options will bring Russia into conflict with the United States.
Implications for U.S. Policy
I have mentioned that each point—the continuing and unresolved struggle within, and the strengthening of Russia as a state and its ability to act beyond its borders—affects us. I also said in the beginning that the combination and coincidence of the two makes things particularly complicated for us. Let me explain this latter point.
To the extent that we focus on the struggle for ideas and direction inside Russia, we emphasize the non-unitary nature of that society; we focus on divisions. We distinguish among Russians as people with different views and interests. We implicitly see some as our friends, our intellectual and cultural allies, and others as opposed to our values. In so doing we almost assume away the existence of a “Russia” in the sense of a unified society and state.
On the other hand, as Russia becomes more active and more independent internationally, we in response will be increasingly compelled to formulate policies towards Russia as a state. In so doing, we will treat it more as a monolithic entity. We ascribe to it a unified idea. We will speak of what “Russia” wants, of “Russia’s” historical impulses towards this or that.
Former Brookings Expert
Here is the dilemma: at the very point when we need most to distinguish and differentiate among various forces and tendencies within Russian society, events will increasingly force us to adopt postures toward Russia as a state, and in so doing we will treat all Russians the same. The effect may be to undermine the positions of the forces we need to support, those who broadly speaking would advocate the “Western idea.”
How do we resolve this dilemma? There is one obvious way: That is to cease to try and reconcile the two approaches. Simply choose one and abandon the other. Today, in practice, that seems to mean giving up on the internal struggle. We can in effect say, as some have: We have already “lost Russia.” I would advise against such a response as premature. The struggle inside Russia is very much undecided. True, its dynamic has changed in important ways. It should be clear that there will be no quick and easy victory of the “Western idea” in Russia (as much as we may like to think that it was a possibility in 1991 and 1992). We do have a chance to influence the outcome of the internal struggle. But it will be difficult and frustrating.
Implications of the Election for the Two Processes
Let me now turn to the possible impact of the current presidential election on the two trends. First, on the struggle of ideas. At issue in the current campaign is not so much a possible victory of one or the other idea as it is the nature of the relationship between the parts of society who identify with each idea. For most Russians, the internal struggle I have been referring to is something more concrete and real than a struggle between ideas and abstract principles. It is literally a choice between two different worlds that actually exist today in Russia: the Old World that has been carried over from the socialist past, one whose advantages and disadvantages are well-known, and an emerging New World, which is much more uncertain.
The question this election will answer will not be: Which idea, and which world, will prevail? Rather it will be: Will Russian society be polarized between the Two Worlds? Will they be sealed off from one another, and even hostile? Or will the Two Worlds be able to co-exist relatively peacefully, with individuals and households moving between them?
A Yeltsin victory will ensure that the Two Worlds continue to co-exist, and most likely—though not necessarily—co-exist peacefully. Yeltsin has epitomized this approach. To repeat, a Yeltsin victory does not mean victory for the Western idea. All it means is that the West has not lost—not yet. The struggle of forces inside Russia continues. But the balance between the forces is more delicate than it was before, and there is less room for us to make blunders.
A Yeltsin victory also promises a stronger Russia. Not because Yeltsin will adopt an aggressive pro-reform policy a la Gaidar of early 1992. On the contrary, stability may come more from Yeltsin’s failure to do so. The stability of adjustment to the status quo will continue. Equally important, Yeltsin has shown that he is committed to using increased strength for a more independent foreign policy.
In sum, on both points—the struggle within Russia and the state’s growing strength and the independence of Russian policy to the outside—the likely outcome of the election, a Yeltsin victory, will mean “more of the same,” a continuation of the same trends we have been observing over the past year and a half. But a continuation of the same trends does not mean that the results will be the same. The trends are, as I have outlined, intersecting in a way that will make our own policy towards Russia more complicated.
With respect to our policy response, I conclude by stating—or restating—two simple messages. First, we should expect a more assertive Russia in the coming period. We should prepare for this change in Russia’s behavior but we should not overreact to it. Nor should we let it so consume our attention that we ignore Russia’s ongoing internal struggle. We must of course protect U.S. interests in relation to the Russian state, but we must also continue to engage its citizens. Doing what we can to help the emergence of a Russian society that shares as many of our fundamental values as possible should be a vital part of our effort to protect U.S. security interests in both the long and the short term.