Remotely Russian

By Parrott, Bruce | Harvard International Review, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

Remotely Russian


Parrott, Bruce, Harvard International Review


Nikolai Zlobin's article ("Together But Separate: Russia and Europe in the New Century," Fall 2004) asks how Russia's relationship with Europe is likely to change in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse. Historically, geopolitics has been the most salient element of that relationship. Except during a few periods of internal disarray, Russia has played a central role in the European balance of power for three centuries. Its political and cultural relationship with Europe has been more variable. Usually the main lines of influence have run from Europe to Russia, but sometimes they have run in the opposite direction--especially in the early Soviet years, when communism claimed to offer solutions for the domestic crises of 1930s Europe. Economically, the dominant motif has been Russia's quest for the Western know-how and investments needed to industrialize and compete against other great powers.

The Soviet system's collapse has relegated Russia to Europe's geopolitical margins. Its remaining assets, such as its nuclear arsenal and membership in the UN Security Council, were inherited from the USSR. Moscow lacks reliable alliances with major powers, despite numerous declarations of strategic partnerships with other countries. Internally, Russia has struggled since the Soviet break-up to introduce liberal practices borrowed from the West, but this effort has triggered material hardships and social turmoil, and the political pendulum is now swinging toward authoritarianism. Although Russia has widened its economic engagement with Europe, it remains a peripheral actor in European economic life. The one important exception is its growing role as a major supplier of European energy, especially natural gas.

If present trends continue, Russia's prospects for closer relations with Europe are likely to remain modest. A further deterioration of US-European relations would permit more Russian cooperation with Europe, but within definite limits, because relations with the United States matter more than relations with Europe. In addition to possessing unequalled international power, the United States has a global agenda that directly affect Russia's but not Europe's security.

In the political-cultural sphere, Russian President Vladimir Putin's authoritarian turn and likely continuation of the brutal war in Chechnya will sharpen the differences with Europe--especially with the new EU members that previously experienced Soviet domination. …

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