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
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
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
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.