Russia: Perceptions and Reality -- a Round Table Discussion 13 February 2003. (Russia Round Table)

By Brierley, Natalie | New Statesman (1996), April 7, 2003 | Go to article overview

Russia: Perceptions and Reality -- a Round Table Discussion 13 February 2003. (Russia Round Table)


Brierley, Natalie, New Statesman (1996)


* Please note that this event was held one month before war was declared on Iraq.

JOHN KAMPFNER

Welcome to this forum organised by Expert magazine, the Foreign Policy Centre and the New Statesman.

This event is part of a growing co-operation between Expert and the New Statesman which aims to open up the channels of information between Russia and other countries and to address the common perceptions of Russia.

Given the situation today, I think it would be appropriate to start this discussion with the theme of international affairs and Russia's place in the world, and then move onto the question of Russia's economy and the business climate. In the time remaining, we will look at social issues and Russian culture.

Perhaps Sergei Yastrzhemibsky could start us off.

SERGEI YASTRZHEMBSKY

Thank you. I wanted to talk about the problems of the perception of Russia in the west.

On 13 January 2003, Time magazine stated that: "Even in a world where Russia and the USA wage a joint battle against terrorism, cold war suspicions die hard." And indeed, despite major changes in our relations with the US and other countries, that observation is essentially true.

However, the more positive aspects of Russian culture are increasingly being covered in the western media, which is a good sign. We are now at the three-year mark in Vladimir Putin's presidency, which has been a period characterised by greater stability and steady economic growth. Inflation is down. There is a trade and budget surplus, reformed legislation, new tax, land and labour codes, and a very impressive new code of criminal procedures. So a lot of the framework for a market economy and civil society has taken shape.

But Russia still faces huge challenges. For instance, how to extend economic progress beyond the energy sector and the other raw materials exports; how to spread the Moscow miracle to the regions; and how to cope with the declining population, escalating drug use, the incipient Aids epidemic and the crumbling infrastructure, to name just a few. And of course the problem of Chechnya is ever present.

We were the first to support the US after the 11 September tragedy and we have supported, the US policy in central Asia. We are allies in this anti-terrorist fight. But these things are not reported correctly in many western newspapers, and stereotypes are still dominating comment about Russia.

The world is no longer divided into two parts as it was ten years ago, when the ideological opposition of the US and the west to Russia resulted in information wars. The freedom of information that western liberals and Russian dissidents dreamed of for decades is now a reality.

JOHN KAMPFNER

I am somewhat disconcerted by your perception of the western media as still stereotyping much of Russian life. I think there is a lot of food for thought in that. But before opening up the conversation, I was wondering if Denis MacShane, our minister for Europe, would like to comment.

DENIS MacSHANE

There are times when I'd like to shut out the entire 20th century, which, frankly, didn't live up to the needs of the human race. And I think there's now going to be a long struggle to ensure that the values of the 18th century come out supreme over the passions of the 19th century. We need Voltaire/Adam Smith reason to defeat Nietzschean nationalism and Romanticism. Goethe said: "Classic is healthy, Romantic is the illness." And that, I think, is our conceptual challenge.

In terms of foreign policy we all have an enormous choice to make, and that is whether we move in the direction of international rule of law or simply follow the assertions of nation-state might. That is why it is viral that the United Nations resolutions on Iraq are seen to be implemented. The choice in Iraq at the moment is Saddam Hussein or the UN. If Saddam Hussein wins, by tricking the UN into further delays and accepting his hide-and-seek policies, then the UN will suffer a terrible defeat. …

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