Paul Goble reports:
Russians who think Barak Obama is a “more suitable” partner for Moscow than George W. Bush was are deceiving themselves, according to a Moscow analyst, because unlike Bush who always took Moscow seriously even if he opposed it, Obama views Russia as a third world country that Washington can largely ignore.
“This was not our year,” Russian commentator Vladimir Pastukhov writes in an essay posted online. “And it was not our president who was featured on the cover of magazines.” Instead, “Obamamania has seized the world,” and one of the places where this has happened is in Moscow. For many in the Russian capital, he continues, “Obama seemed a more suitable partner,” but Pastukhov insists, this is “a deceptive impression” because in fact “Obama relates to Russia not better than Bush but more realistically.” And “in the long term perspective, this does not bode well for [Russia].”
“As a result of inertia, Bush conceived Russia as an equal, even as a competitor, and did so even though the ‘de-industrialization of the 1990s meant that Russia could not in any way pretend” to that status. But Russia linked its greatness to the past, and Washington willingly or not played up to it.”
Thus under Bush, “all the escapades of the Kremlin on the international arena were taken seriously [in Washington],” Pastukhov says, and the Americans “continued to ‘press’ on Russia from all sides.” That was something that many among the powers that be in Russia viewed as confirmation of a status that they aspired to but no longer in fact have.
Obama’s arrival in the White House, however, brought with it a serious change in the American approach, one that for Russia has “both pluses and minuses.” For the new president, “Russia and the USSR are not one and the same thing” as they often appeared to be to the members of the administration of his predecessor.
Consequently, President Obama has made an assessment “not on the basis of what was but on what is.” And that in turn means, Pastukhov says, that “Obama looks at Russia as a ‘third world’ country with a full load of unresolved economic, demographic, social, ethnic and other problems.” The US leader therefore “does not see the need to continue to put pressure on Russia as Bush did — but not because he listens to the arguments of Russia but only because he has ceased to take them [and it] seriously.” And it is in this context, Pastukhov insists, that the much-ballyhooed “reset” of American policy toward Moscow needs to be understood.
Unfortunately, Pastukhov says, most people in Moscow have completely misunderstood what the US has done: With regard to Russia, Washington has shifted “from a policy of ‘containment’ to a policy of ‘engulfing,’” a “neo-colonial” approach that reflects an understanding that “in order to control Russia, it isn’t necessary to fight it.”
War “is always expensive and ineffective. It is possible to administer Russia while preserving its sovereignty and even its territorial integrity,” Pastukhov says. Given its “colossal experience in neo-colonial administration,” the US doesn’t even have a problem with Russia having a regime that “from time to time makes loud patriotic declarations.”
Pastukhov says that once, when he told a Western banker that it must be difficult to do business in Russia now “because of the high level of corruption and the unpredictability of [the country’s] political course,” the latter responded “’This isn’t bad. We have had the experience of working in Nigeria.’”
“The West doesn’t fear Russian corruption as strongly as the papers suggest,” he says. Businesses know how to deal with that. “Transnational corporations easily adapt to our specific conditions. Where there is no law, force works. And so, in that event, they will speak with us in the language of force.” Russian “bureaucrats will hold Western investments in Russia hostage,” he says, “and [Western] bureaucrats will hold hostage the money of our bureaucrats that has been carried out to the West.” As a result of “the corruption” of Russia’s officials, “the cowardice” of its politicians, and “the betrayal of its intellectuals,” “Russia slowly but surely will become a dependent state.”
In this way, Russia’s project of “’sovereign democracy,’” something proclaimed as a means of “administered democracy for the salvation of sovereignty … will end with a complete fiasco,” with Russia in this way “not only recall Africa from the inside but also preparing to occupy its place in the international arena as ‘a world colony of the 21st century.’” Right now, Pastukhov continues, Russia is undergoing “a stress test,” one in which most of the outcomes are bad unless it changes itself in order to genuinely take control of its fate. “The worst of the possible scenarios of development for Russia is the neo-colonial one,” the most likely end point if current trends continue.
“The enormous natural wealth of Russia will attract powerful corporations both from the West and from the East regardless of what kind of political regime exists in Russia,” he argues. And these firms will provide Russia and its people with “money sufficient for survival but insufficient for revival.”
According to Pastukhov, “the problem of present-day Russia is that there are few people in it who think for decades ahead,” even though it is precisely now when decisions are being made that will determine “the fate of Russia almost for an entire century.” Instead, Russians “are sacrificing everything in the name of stability.”
But “unfortunately,” he concludes, “not only progress can be stable.” Consequently, unless Russia changes and changes in the relatively near future in fundamental ways, Pastukhov says, there appears to be relatively little chance that the country will “be able to preserve itself as a sovereign independent state.”