Home pageAdvanced searchIndexe-mailAdd to favorites



Nuclear Umbrellas and the Need for Understanding: IC Interview With Ambassador Lukin


Vladimir Petrovich Lukin
Vladimir Petrovich Lukin

Vladimir Petrovich Lukin has formerly served as ambassador to the United States from Russia, the RSFSR Congress of People's Deputies and the RSFSR Supreme Soviet. During the attempted August 1991 coup he served as liaison between the Russian government and foreign nations. Lukin is considered to be a moderate reformer. He currently chairs the Russian Parliament's International Affairs Committee. He sat down last week to discuss Russia's foreign policy with IC editor Pete du Pont.


IC: What is the current view of the Russian government and the Russian people in regard to your country's relationship with the United States?
LUKIN: Well, there are no people in Russia who would want Russian-American relations to be bad, or based on animosity. The problem, however, is to look and determine the basis for these relations -- whether such relations should be those of open policy, or they should be based on the old premises of checking the other side, or keeping it in check. In the past, that was the policy. Now, of course, the policy is that of involvement, that of participation in things external, and even in things internal. The issue is to determine the share of each as far as Russia is concerned. Russia is all for joint participation, for mutual involvement, but alas, in the United States, there are some quarters who, due to certain inertia, are still adhering to the old premises of checking the other party, of keeping it well under control.
IC: Would it be fair to say that some people in Russia felt that the West should have been more responsive in helping the new Russian democracy get on its feet economically and become a more viable trading partner with the West?
VL: Yes, it would be a true statement to make. Back in the old days of totalitarian rule, one would listen to the advice of America. We were naive to believe what we heard, and what we heard was, "Drop communism, and the United States, the West, will come forwards to help you pave the way toward a bright future for Russia." And this is what we were all sort of led to believe. This line was continued under President Bush and President Clinton, but as it turned out, we were quite a bit misled on that.
IC: If Russia were offered today to become a part of a tariff-free trading bloc, like the European Common Market, is it your view that the Russian government would accept an offer of that kind?
VL: We are proceeding from the premise that those who are invited over to spend an evening together first get that invitation, and then think it over, whether to accept or not. But in principle, we, of course, have a vested interest in active participation.
Although we do appreciate the scope of challenges and issues related to this, the economic and social infrastructures are not mature enough for us to equitably participate in the European Union, for example. We have decided on a number of intermediate measures. At this stage, we have signed an agreement of cooperation with the European Union, and what is more, Russia has ratified this agreement, unlike quite a number of Western countries that haven't done so yet. So there isn't complete credibility in this respect.

IC: Another issue that has been of concern to both the United States and Russia is the expansion proposed by President Clinton of the NATO umbrella, to include three of the nations of Central Europe. The Russian government has opposed that expansion, although less vigorously of late. Does that mean that the concept is accepted in Russia?
VL: You made reference to a umbrella that is being offered to these new nations. Well, umbrellas are used when it is raining. At this point in time, we do not see any rain falling, actually. By the same token, a person who walks about with a deployed umbrella while there is full sun out and there is no rain, looks a little bizarre, and out of touch with reality. So when the noonday sun is bright and out, you see in summer, a strange person walking toward you, waving a fully deployed umbrella, you have two options. One is to sort of fight that person, or the other is to learn how to live with that person. We have chosen the latter option, and we have decided not to fight with the NATO allies.
IC: Turning to Russia's eastern view, as opposed to looking west through central Europe, when Russia looks east, it sees China. There are those who say that Russia needs an alliance with China to counterbalance the United States and NATO. There are those who say that China is aggressively threatening Russia on its eastern border and is a military -- potential future military threat to Russia. What is the status of Soviet-Chinese relations today, and how do you see them developing in the future?
VL: A formal, official military alliance between China and Russia is impossible, for two reasons. For one reason, any such alliance would be too obsolete, would be too reminiscent of the 18th, 19th and maybe early 20th century. The second reason being that neither China nor Russia would be interested in such an alliance. Both China and Russia have a vested interest in modernization. And according to Yeltsin, modernization entails a policy of open doors. A policy of open doors is not an alliance. It's just doing things together. It's just cooperation.
Cooperation between China and Russia will not be conducive to analyze, nor will it prevent any interaction between China and the rest of China and Russia. China will not pose any threat to Russia, if Russia is strong and stable enough. China, as well as any other country bordering on Russia, would present a danger and a threat to Russia, if Russia is weak. So the major threat facing Russia is located very much inside Russia itself.

IC: Speaking of problems close to home, the Republic of Belarus has been quite bellicose, of late. And, I believe in some people's view, more Russian than Russia. Is this republic and its embracing of communist thinking long after communism has left Russia an internal problem for Russia and the Russian government?
VL: In a certain way, to a certain extent, Russia will treat this issue as an internal problem, because Russia and Belorussia are a lot closer than, let us say, the United States and Canada.
In Russia, there has always existed, again, cooperation in civilizational terms, if you wish, between the capital and the provinces -- or between the many capitals (such as St. Petersberg) and the provinces. Belorussia is very much like a typical Russian province, with their traditionalist authoritarian leanings that are seen even as natural in those parts.

And of course, these traditionalists' views give rise to rather authoritarian politicians surfacing in their political system -- And such authoritarian rulers are quite natural and understood in any Russian province.

So what is happening in Belorussia is the spreading of the sort of backwater influence of the Russian province coming closer towards the center of this country -- from the provinces, towards the center. And it's very hard to draw a clear line between the internal and external aspects of the Russian and Belorussian problem at this time. So the challenge is who, or which trend, will win across the board of the ex-U.S.S.R., whether it is the Belorussian trend, or the Uzbek way, or the way suggested by the Russian capital, and major urban centers. It would be very good if in America at some level there would be a clearer understanding of these issues.

IC: Thank you, Ambassador Lukin.