Letter to the Editor(1)

Dear Editor:I have followed with interest the discussion of Ira Straus and Janusz Bugajski about relations between Russia and the West in Central Asia and the Caucasus (In the National Interest, Volume III, Issues 25-27, 2004).

Dear Editor:

I have followed with interest the discussion of Ira Straus and Janusz Bugajski about relations between Russia and the West in Central Asia and the Caucasus (In the National Interest, Volume III, Issues 25-27, 2004). The opinion of a Russian political scientist on this exchange may be interesting to the readers of ITNI.

I prefer not to use the zero-sum theory of international relations. In my view, it funnels thinking into a one-way rut - a kind of a linear direction from negative to positive sum. If we adopt this model, then one country will be seen as the leader on the "democracy" track and the others trying to catch up. In real life, there are a lot of possibilities for development. Besides, if one sticks to this way of thinking, the main principle of his world vision will be opposition. Director of the Russian and Eurasian Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Anders Aslund writes in In the National Interest (May 19, 2004) that "no political event in Europe this year is more important than Ukraine's presidential elections next October. They amount to two clear-cut choices between democracy and dictatorship, as well as between a Western and Eastern geopolitical orientation". Such clear-cut black-and-white dual choices are in the heads of culprits and officials, whereas life is a mixture.

I believe democracy is a process and not a status quo. There may be potholes on the roads of democratic societies. Watergate, Enron, and Iraq are just a few examples in modern U.S. history. The Russian way is paved with much more of them, and it is only natural: the country is in transition; old and new approaches are present in its policy. It may happen so that at the beginning the residues of old adversarial interests will prevail in number over the new shared interests. But only a blind person will not notice that the direction of change in Russia is a democratic one. These new trends should be sought out and encouraged whereas old ones understood. New tendencies are often born from naive idealistic assumptions, and they turn into reality of state policy afterwards. It is not so simple to overcome the old views. The poignant example of this thesis is Bugajski's position. He sees only old Soviet traits in Russia's foreign policy.

Finding ourselves amid this diversified world, it is vital to understand why, when and where Russia and the West are partners or adversaries. Actually, adversity and partnership are modifications of zero-sum and positive-sum approaches correspondingly. We should recognize that today both adversity and partnership simultaneously makeup part of our foreign policy. The share of each in the whole is what counts. The task of Russia and the U.S. would be to broaden the area of partnership-winning and minimize adversity. Success of this activity depends on many factors, but the keynote one is the willingness of political leadership to reach such an aim. If we follow Bugajski in his vision of Russia's aim to "undermine our [U.S.] own long-term interests in Central Asia and the Caucasus" we will sit in the trenches forever.

There is tremendous difference between adversity and partnership. Adversaries count tits and tats as Straus puts it, while partners look for consolidating idea. There is no necessity to look for it after 9/11, but, up to now, we have not managed to use it in full measure. It sounds cynical to me - like to any Russian citizen - when Bugajski says America sees international terrorism as a major security threat while Russia uses it to its advantage. Thousands of victims of international terrorism in both countries have the same humane sense. They make the governors of both states share the same objective in eradicating international terrorism. And from this point of view, I would not agree with Straus about a need to reconcile Russian and Western interests in Central Asia. Reconciliation means palliation, i.e. half-measure, destined for a short period of time. What all the parties concerned need is a common strategic initiative in the interest of all the actors in the region.

This last position deserves special attention. It is of vital importance to take into account the national interests not only of Russia and the West, but Kazakhstan's, Turkmenistan's, Georgia's etc. If we don't do that, our political analysis and ensuing foreign policy actions will provide the wrong results. During their short years of independence, the CIS states grew accustomed to adverse interactions between Russia and the West in the region. Some Russian politicians call this approach the "sucking two cows" policy. In case a new common Russian-Western strategy in the region is developed, the Central Asian states will have a new motivation for cooperation. Otherwise a divide may deepen along the East-West axis, Christians-Muslims, strong- weak, local- foreign, friend-foe. Bugajski's vision of the U.S. aim to control or counter regional instabilities will become illusionary. Regional development, not stability, will be better achieved through cooperation rather than control.

 

Sincerely,

Alexander Mikhailenko,

Russian Academy of Public Administration