Those who have witnessed and especially those who in one degree or another helped bring about the momentous changes in USSR in the late 1980s and Russia in the early 1990s, remember only too well the overwhelming euphoria of those times. The dark years of totalitarian communism were receding into the past, and the peoples of Russia were ready, nay, eager to join the great family of the Western civilization led by the United States.
Twenty five years ago in April 1989 we brought a large group of Americans to Moscow to check out if Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost were for real or there were just a sinister KGB ruse to fool the naive West. The group included Members of Congress, exiled Soviet dissidents, foreign policy experts and scholars with strong anti-Soviet and anti-communist credentials while our host was Gorbachev’s right hand man Alexander Yakovlev who was told that we are coming to help the Russians understand the “values of the Western civilization.”These were then and still are now the buzz words. They meant human rights, the rule of law, democracy, freedoms, market economy, and so forth. Fresh from the yoke of communism, Russians were eager to embrace all these nice things, and confidently expected them to come with help primarily from the United States.
Boy, how naïve we were. What actually came about was somewhat different. Russia’s economy crashed worse than in World War II. Millions lost their jobs, actually lost all means of earning a livelihood. The freedom of pursuing economic prosperity morphed into the freedom of banditry, bandit capitalism becoming a precise description of the prevailing order of things. Law and order crashed, too, as police turned into bands of racketeers and worse. Democracy, the rule of, for, and by the people, morphed into the rule of, for, and by a handful of oligarchs.
All these ills, and others too numerous to recount here, were obvious to any unprejudiced mind, yet the West heartily approved of this state of affairs. It actually aided and abetted it, with ubiquitous Western advisors and IMF officials actually running the country.
Well, some of those unprejudiced minds wondered – Why? Why this support for the oligarchy, this caricature of democracy?
The answer was plainer than the proverbial pike: Russia was following in the footsteps of many an unfortunate land in the past, becoming a semi-colony run by the comprador class; it was turning into an adjunct of Western economy – a source of raw materials and a vast market for Western goods. It was just Russia’s fate – to be part of the Western civilization, but a very subordinate, auxiliary part, never destined to be a member of the golden billion.
Anyone who has studied Russia’s thousand-year history, its habit of rising, Phoenix-like, out of the ashes of countless invasions, subjugations, wars and revolutions, could have predicted that a reaction would inevitably set in against the tendency toward total ruin, subjugation, and disintegration. And it did set in. Enough members of the Russian elite realized that, unless they started formulating and looking after Russia’s own interests, there would soon be neither Russia nor the Russian elite.
Time and again the Russians – not just the elite, but the masses, too – watched, amazed and shocked to see the methods used by the West to promote its values and most precious of them like freedom and democracy.
In the last fifteen years alone there was the bombing of Belgrade and breakdown of Serbia; the ousting of a legally elected governments through “color” revolutions; assaults on Iraq, Libya, Syria; the “Arab Spring,” all leaving a bloody trail of hundreds of thousands dead, chaos, ruin, hatred and strife plus the rise of the new generation of terrorists which make Al-Qaida look like pretty moderate bunch.
However, what happened to Ukraine – the country tied to Russia for centuries through family, religious and economic links dispel the last illusions among Russians about the West.
This week EU agreed to bring Russia into negotiation process about EU – Ukraine economic association and to delay until the year 2016 the trade deal with Ukraine. However, such delay and getting Russia involved was proposed by Putin and the former Ukrainian president Yanukovich in the first place but Brussels has unceremoniously rejected this approach. What followed was the coup-d’etat blessed by EU and U.S. which led to the civil war, thousands of civilians killed and wounded, hundreds of thousands refugees and huge devastation and destruction of South-Eastern Ukraine.
Now everyone, including the EU political nobodies admit that all this could have been avoided had they agreed to involve Russia in the process from the outset. They finally did but what horrible price the Ukrainians had to pay for the West’s incompetence at best or sinister ploy to weaken Russia’s geopolitically at worst.
When Ukrainian billionaire Viktor Pinchuk at a recent meeting in Brussels asked EU Commission President Barroso “so did we have a chance to prevent what happened with a different political strategy of the European Union or the West?” Barroso’s answer was “I am not here as a commentator.” So far we did not hear what Obama or Kerry have to say.
Now comes the most disgraceful act by U.S. Congress when this distinguished body invites Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to address its joint session – the highest honor which could be bestowed on the foreign leader. Besides being directly responsible for all these tremendous sufferings of Ukrainian people the man is accused of being a “corrupt oligarch” by no one else but by the U.S. embassy officials in Kiev.
Still, the real values of the Western civilization are not obsolete, of course, as the people do not necessarily approve the actions of their leaders. For example, according to the latest polls only 13% of Americans approve the job done by Congress. This is the good sign which shows that perhaps the Western civilization still has a chance to bring back the world’s respect and admiration but this could happen only if American political landscape changes dramatically and finds the strength to recover from the miserable foreign policy failures of Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations.
Prof. Edward Lozansky is the President of the American University in Moscow.