THE trend in Russia lately has not been good: bloody crackdowns
in Chechnya, the ascendance of hard-liners to key posts, and the
weakening of reform forces. There are many doubts about President
Boris Yeltsin's leadership, and a Communist could win the
Some even claim that Russia is headed back toward authoritarian
rule and empire. Yet this view ignores what has gone right in
Russia - and exaggerates what has gone wrong.
United States policy toward Russia should be determined, not by
bad news, but by our three fundamental interests: economic reform,
democratic reform, and military stability. In each of these areas
there is good and bad news. One fact is inescapable: Russia today
poses far less of a threat than it did five years ago.
Bad news - and good
From the perspective of US interests, much in Russia is
troubling. The economy is riddled with crime and corruption. Most
Russians believe that their country has been impoverished by
reform, and that privatization has enriched a criminal class.
Agricultural reform is halting.
Mr. Yeltsin is distancing himself from reformist principles and
attacking the unpopular policies of his own presidency. He is
embracing many of the communist and nationalist opposition's views
in order to boost his campaign. The weakened reform movement has
been unable to unite.
A more-assertive Russian foreign policy is evolving. The problem
is not an attempt to restore the Soviet Union, but more subtle
pressure to force weaker neighbors in the "near abroad" to
accommodate Russia's interests.
Yet much also has gone well in the new Russia. Capitalism is
firmly established. The private sector produces two-thirds of
Russia's output. Inflation is down to 2.8 percent a month.
Politically, democracy is taking root. Two Duma elections have come
and gone without incident. The media is increasingly independent
and critical of the government.
On the foreign-policy front, Russia has pulled out its military
forces from Central Europe and the Baltic states and is working
together with US forces in Bosnia. It has adhered to its overall
treaty obligations to cut nuclear and conventional forces, even as
we have many questions on important aspects of implementation.
US policy options
Given this mixed picture, how should the US view Russia? Today,
the idea of a strategic partnership with Russia is unrealistic. We
should lower our expectations.
Russia is emerging from a state-run economy and Communist
dictatorship. Evolution of a market economy and democracy will be
slow, imperfect, and reflect Russia's traditions. …