Friday, June 12, 2015

In the Last Year, Russia Became a Different Country: ‘We don’t Run to Washington; Kerry Comes to Us,’ Ivashov Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, June 12 – Over the last twelve months, a “Svobodnaya pressa” survey, concludes, Russians have become “different” and their country has “changed significantly,” changed in ways that Leonid Ivashov of the Moscow Academy of Geopolitical Problems can be put in lapidary fashion: “Now, we don’t run to Washington, but Mr. Kerry comes to us.”


            The last 12 months have brought major changes in Russia and Russia’s relations with the world, Andrey Ivanov says, and today, as the country marks the Day of Russia, is “a good occasion to look back and see how the country has changed” in social relations, economics, and politics and consider what has been achieved and what not (


            Polls show that Russian support for their government and president are an unprecedentedly high levels, Ivanov says, and the sanctions regime, which the West imposed to try to shake that support have had “the opposite effect – under pressure from the outside, society has come together.”


            The liberal opposition has been marginalized in the minds of most Russians, the “Svobodnaya pressa” commentator says, in large measure because of the support many of its members have given to Ukraine and because of their continued deference to the West.  But according to him, “the authorities have not limited the right of liberals to express their opinion.”


            Events in Ukraine and changes in the relations between Russia and the West have reduced the amount of attention being given to Russia’s many domestic problems. No one denies they exist, but “to speak about them today is somehow unacceptable.” Moreover, it is clear to everyone that the state media “have been transformed into an instrument of propaganda.”


            According to Vladimir Shevchenko of the Moscow Institute of Philosophy, “the most important thing that has happened with [Russian] society over the last year has been to dispense with illusions.” Up until 2014, many Russians looked Westward and wanted to stay on the path the West had sketched out. Now, “the majority has begun to look more soberly on their country, its possibilities and its position in the world.”


            That doesn’t mean that there has been an explosion of anti-Western feeling. What has occurred, he continues, is that Russians have come to recognize that “Russia must go along its own path, consciously choosing its own goals and defending its own interests” rather than allowing anyone else to do so for them.


            The opposition now is very small, but that is not necessarily a problem, he argues. Any opposition must not only criticize but offer alternative ideas. Sometimes that is possible and sometimes it isn’t.  But all the Russian opposition is offering now are programs that would lead to the destruction of the state.


            A major feature of Russian life, he says, has been the debate about Russian history. Such discussions can be a problem if they raise questions about the existence of the country. And that is a risk.  Imagine what would be the case if the US every day talked about the destruction of the Indians or the French talked about Algeria.  Such an approach would not be healthy.


            The last year has not been an easy one for Russia in the economic sphere. If people initially laughed at sanctions, but by the end of the year, it became clear that they would have an effect. “The fall in world oil prices led to the collapse of the ruble. In the first quarter of 2015, real incomes fell almost ten percent.” And no one can say when the declines will end.


            Russians have learned to live with sanctions, Andrey Kolganov, a Moscow State University economist, says, but they have also learned that there are many economic forces in the world which affect their lives over which they have little or no control and that there will be more dangers ahead.


            According to Kolganov, the Russian government may be making a major mistake by cutting social spending because that reduces incomes and the amount of money people have to spend thus sending the economy into negative spiral. 


            But the biggest changes in Russia over the last year were in foreign affairs and involved Russia’s shift from the West to the East as a result of Western criticism of Moscow’s policies in Ukraine. That shift meant, Ivashov says, that the West failed in its hopes to isolate Russia and make it into “an outcast.”


            But this shift is more than a tactical one, he continues. Russia’s best thinkers – and he names Pushkin, Dostoyevsky and Danilevsky – have always pointed out that “Europe will always be hostile to us, that we and they are completely different civilizations, with different geopolitical goals and ways of life. Sanctions helped us recognize our place in the world.”


            As far as Ukraine is concerned, Ivashov continues, Moscow had no real policy in the 1990s and 2000s. Instead, it allowed private economic interests to drive things. Moscow’s opponents exploited this. That is now recognized, but at the same time, he says, “we try to resolve our relations” in ways that are not adequate to the task.


            And there is another foreign policy area on which Moscow needs to work, Ivashov says. The Russian government has not yet formulated an idea that is “attractive for other countries and peoples.” It has organized some things, but it hasn’t come up with an idea.  Moscow must hold on because that is what Russian society wants.


             But what Russian society does not want, Ivashov says, are the oligarchs.  And that division of views can become “a destabilizing factor for Russia.”

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