It's a truism that stable and friendly relations between two
countries require each to look at a situation from the other's point
of view. The recent tussle between Russia and the West over Georgia
is a stark reminder of how the United States has fundamentally never
understood Russia's point of view.
The conventional view is that Russia in recent years has been
pushing away from the West. But the reverse is more accurate. The
Russia-Georgia conflict is a consequence of the West's "pushing
away" of Russia.
Russia needed a good friend to stand by her side the past 15
years, to counsel her on becoming an open, democratic country
tightly bound to the West. Russia thought it had found a friend in
America. Unfortunately, despite the desire of Russia's newly formed
leadership to move closer to the West, to be integrated to Western
institutions, there was no move to meet Russia partway. All issues
of integration were talked away during the many years of
negotiations, and all questions of economic aid ended up as miserly
loans from the World Bank.
Having worked in Boris Yeltsin's government as a deputy prime
minister, I know how the West tried to persuade Russia to take on
the entire foreign debt of the former USSR. Russia agreed to take
this very difficult step in the hope that the West would appreciate
its sacrifice and begin seeing the world through its eyes.
Unfortunately that did not happen. Yeltsin's government ended up
with almost no allies or supporters in Russia. He was perceived as a
puppet of the West, his policies dictated by the US. It should come
as no surprise, then, that Vladimir Putin came to power as he did in
Now, the West considers Prime Minister Putin a foe of democracy.
But he was the first to support America after 9/11, and he provided
substantial help in organizing operations in Afghanistan. Putin made
simple requests in return: membership in the World Trade
Organization (WTO), dropping visa entry requirements to European
Union (EU) countries, and significant cooperation with the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). All this was promised to him
and none of it happened.
Let's imagine for a moment that Russia had been integrated into
the West. Then the corruption of the Russian judicial system and its
susceptibility to administrative pressure would be balanced by
European judicial institutions and the imperfections of its
electoral system would be muted by European legislation and the
European parliament. The government's economic policies would be in
accord with the norms of the EU and WTO and Russia's military
independence would be constrained by NATO rules. …