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By Grigory Yavlinsky

Temporary Friendship or Eternal Union?

Obshaya Gazeta, January 24, 2002

Our party has from the outset ultimately backed the position expressed by President Vladimir Putin in his television address to the nation on September 11, 2001, - solidarity with the US in the fight against international terrorism, a course towards rapprochement with the West and the establishment of a partnership and preferably an alliance.


First, this was the only possible moral reaction to the tragedy in New York and Washington, and to the honour of our country our President reacted immediately and spontaneously. Unlike the largest part of our elite, that did not hide its gloating and began hypocritical speculations that "we pity Americans, but not America".


Second, as the decision to support the global anti-terror coalition was exclusively pragmatic from the viewpoint of Russia’s national security interests. I should note here that a year before the September tragedy the leadership of the RF Security Council had publicly discussed the issues of a possible bombing of terrorist camps and the Taliban’s positions in Afghanistan. In the present condition of our unreformed army such an action would lead the country to developments that are very dangerous for us. But the threat to Russia's security remained, and the Defence Ministry planned the creation of a 50,000 grouping in the Southern direction.


The support, including military assistance, provided by Russia to the US and its allies played a key role in the destruction of the Al-Kaida structure and the Taliban regime that supported it. Thus, the most important task of Russia's security was resolved. The diplomatic resource created on the initiative of the President of Russia made it possible to use in our interests the military and economic potential of the USA.


But in addition to the pragmatic aspect, the choice made by the Russian leader in September 2001 can and is strategically important. This represents a choice in favour of a long-term union with the Western, European civilisation, and Russia plays a limited clear. It is obvious to us that the great Russian culture is an integral part of European culture and the heritage of European civilisation which would in turn be impossible without Russia.


We shall support and fight for this long-term strategic course, because we are convinced that Russia which has the longest borders with the most unstable regions in the world will only be able to resolve the problems of its security within the framework of its union with the West, while the Western countries need a union with a leading Eurasian state.


But we are also supporting this course for the simple reason that if this choice is consistent and long-term, it will inevitably affect the domestic development of the country. Such a course in the historic perspective will be incompatible with the system of oligarchic capitalism that dooms the majority of the nation to poverty, with the creation of a manageable democracy and a restraint on freedom of speech and human rights.


At the same time serious questions need to be answered today.


How honest is the West, and first of all its undisputable leader - the USA about the strategic union with Russia, a union which would reflect the mutual interests of its participants?


Whether the global fight against terrorism threats the democratic institutions in the countries leading such a fight? Whether their governments would restrain human rights for the sake of victory in such a fight? When such concerns emerge in the countries with democratic traditions dating back several hundred years, then what should we say about Russia, where the sheer words "human rights" still stir a conditioned reflex "names, surnames and secret addresses!"


And, finally, no unions should let us close our eyes to our national catastrophe - the war in Chechnya, moreover pass it for "the fight with international terrorism".


Let us start with the first issue. Regarding Europe - the answer today is "yes". The leading European leaders (Blair, Schroder and Chirac) and the public opinion of European countries are interested in a strategic union with Russia.


The situation with Russian-American relations is more complicated. The decision to support the US in the fight with international terrorism was highly appreciated by American society, as reflected in the expression of gratitude from President Bush to his Russian colleague during his visit to the USA.


However, we should not ignore the fact that there is an influential group of supporters of strongly ideologised and dogmatic views on foreign policies within the republican administration in the USA. It would be inaccurate to call this group "anti-Russian". Its philosophy of unilateralism is we could say so, global in nature, rather than any specific anti-Russian stance. This creates problems even in American-European relationships. This philosophy can be summed up as the intention of the USA to get rid of any international legal restrictions, including those of the allies, in arms control and other areas of security. This is not simply criticism of the outdated ABM treaty of 1972, but principled resistance to any possible kinds of treaties in international security. On such a basis it is difficult to create something really stable and long-term.


Consequently the prospects of the current Russian-American negotiations on a reduction in strategic weapons will be quite significant. I see here some aspects that mirror negotiations on the ABM problem. Throughout these years the position of our country has been inflexible, dogmatic and weakly argued. Each time we lost the chance of compromises and solutions that are profitable for our country, our representatives reiterated in chorus the spell they had learned by heart: "The ABM treaty of 1972 is a cornerstone of strategic stability." The arguments of American officials who are reiterating today the new, American spell, "We are friends, and what treaties can be needed here?" is also inflexible, dogmatic and weakly argumented.


Russian diplomacy holds an intellectually strong position in this issue now: it has all the grounds to persuade the American leadership and most of the American establishment that such a position is just and well-substantiated and also forms the viewpoint of America’s national security interests.


Now let me pass to the issue of a threat to democratic institutions. Such a threat does exist. In general it should be noted here that this will apply to any state where the executive authority is certain that it is without sin and knows "what is best", it will instinctively aspire to restrain the democratic rights and liberties of its citizens. Therefore, happy and unhappy countries differ in the degree of maturity of their civil societies capable of curbing such instincts, rather than the instincts of their heads. In general we should not worry about Western societies in this respect. The attempts of the administrations of a number of Western countries to abruptly expand, under the pretext of an extraordinary situation, their proxies in control over the information and everyday lives of their citizens have already confronted adequate resistance both in society, congress, parliaments and international human rights organisations. Unfortunately our society possesses far weaker immunity to the authoritarian administrative disease.


On the contrary, a number of recent developments - the "spy" processes, ousting of independent mass media and profanation of justice - demonstrates almost a feast of conservative leaders of the security, military and interior who are either taking revenge for their defeat in determining the course of Russia's foreign policy or rushing to exploit opportunities under the pretext of the fight with terrorism.


We shall resolutely struggle with these worrisome trends that are so well-known from our history. Russia cannot become a stable and economically flourishing country, without building a law-governed state and the emergence of a developed civil society.


Similarly, Russia cannot become such a country without a political resolution of the Chechen problem. International terrorism is present in the Chechen conflict. But it would be a conscientious and irresponsible deceit to consider this conflict only within the context of the present fight with international terrorism. It has lasted for several hundred years already.


Many Russian politicians state with content that t Western criticism of Russia's actions in Chechnya has become weaker, or vice-versa, note with irritation that such criticism has resumed. But neither of the views refers to the real tragedy of the Russian-Chechen conflict. We should be concerned about the families of our soldiers and officers who are dying there daily the young people conscripted to military service, honest and professional commanders, Russian academics and experts would say about all this, rather than what Bush, Chirac or even the Council of Europe would say about the actions of Moscow. We should worry about the what Russian citizens in the Chechen cities and villages, refugees camps in Ingushetia would say, what Russian society would say about it. No one will say any good words about them already.


But for the first time for the past 150 years Russia had a chance to win this war in the hearts and minds of the residents of Chechnya in September - October 1999. At that time refugees from Chechnya damned Basayev and Khattab. We hope then to stop the [Russian] troops at Terek river, begin returning life to normal in the Northern part of Chechnya and conduct negotiations with Maskhadov, isolating the forces linked with international terrorism.


Today, in a situation that is far worse for Russia, after all the bombings and "cleansings", we are again proposing negotiations, because there is no other solution. We are certain: sooner or later a special conference at the top level involving all the interested parties will be organised in Moscow to seek a solution to the Chechen problem. Who today will be as cynical as Chubais in 1999, to say that "the Russian army has been returning to life in Chechnya"? Everyone knows that it is rotting upted there, that the system of army conscription has been failing owing to the hazing between soldiers in Chechnya.


And there is another aspect of the problem. A country that does not have a professional army can ot be someone's real ally. Military reform should not be left for those who conscientiously sabotage it.


The new foreign policy, and virtually civilised, choice of the Russian President can only succeed, provided receives strong support form a nascent civil society. This requires daily struggle for the assertion in our life of all the values required by this choice - a socially-oriented market economy, political freedoms, human rights and respect for human life, rather than compliments and applause; moreover the forces categorically rejecting these values are influential and powerful in all echelons of power.


See also:

Acts of Terror in the USA

War in Chechnya

The Russian Army

The ABM Treaty

Human Rights

Obshaya Gazeta, January 24, 2002

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