Pipes on Russia, Barnett on Pipes
Professor Richard Pipes, the Harvard University political scientist, is a seminal figure among sovietologists, historians and scholars of Soviet Studies. I highly recommend his trilogy, Russia under the Old Regime, The Russian Revolution and Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime ( I would pair the first with W.Bruce Lincoln’s The Romanovs Autocrats of All the Russias to see the differences between the way eminent historians and political scientists handle the same topic). Dr. Pipes has written an op-ed for WSJ.com and it was reviewed by his former student, Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett.
First the Pipes op-ed, then Tom’s assessment and then my comments:
“Pride and Power: Russia is caught between continents and haunted by its past,”
One unfortunate consequence of the obsession with “great power” status is that it leads Russians to neglect the internal conditions in their country. And here there is much to be done. To begin with: the economy. The Russian aggression against Georgia has cost it dearly in terms of capital flight. Due to the decline in the global prices of energy, which constitute around 70% of Russian exports, exports in the first half of 2009 have fallen by 47%. The stock market, which suffered a disastrous decline in 2008, has recovered, and the ruble has held steady, but the hard currency reserves are melting and the future does not look promising: The latest statistics indicate that Russia’s GDP this year will fall by 7%. It is this that has prompted President Dmitry Medvedev recently to demand that Russia carry out a major restructuring of her economy and end her heavy reliance on energy exports. “Russia needs to move forward,” he told a gathering of parliamentary party leaders, “and this movement so far does not exist. We are marking time and this was clearly demonstrated by the crisis… as soon as the crisis occurred, we collapsed. And we collapsed more than many other countries.”
….Today’s Russians are disoriented: they do not quite know who they are and where they belong. They are not European: This is attested to by Russian citizens who, when asked. “Do you feel European?” by a majority of 56% to 12% respond “practically never.” Since they are clearly not Asian either, they find themselves in a psychological limbo, isolated from the rest of the world and uncertain what model to adopt for themselves. They try to make up for this confusion with tough talk and tough actions. For this reason, it is incumbent on the Western powers patiently to convince Russians that they belong to the West and should adopt Western institutions and values: democracy, multi-party system, rule of law, freedom of speech and press, respect for private property. This will be a painful process, especially if the Russian government refuses to cooperate. But, in the long run, it is the only way to curb Russia’s aggressiveness and integrate her into the global community.
Read the rest here.
Now, Tom on Pipes:
Pipes the Elder on Biden comments: so impolite because they are so true
The biggest issue, like with China, is official corruption. The second is the pervasive depoliticization of the populace: they’ve never really had any experience picking their own leaders over the past 1,000 years. That fend-for-yourself mentality pervades the political system and its foreign policy. All citizens want from the state is order, and what they miss most about the Soviet past was that it preserved Russia’s contiguous empire beyond that of any in Europe or Asia.
Russians have no idea who they are today: they don’t feel either European or Asian. Eventually, they’ll come to some conclusion about what sitting between those civilizations means in terms of identity.
So patience and care is required.
Very nice piece by Pipes.
Read the rest here.
Russia has had repeated bouts of historical, “geographic schizophrenia”: the long Tatar Yoke, the age-old conflict between Petrine westernization and Orthodox slavophilism, the iron Soviet dictatorship, especially Stalin’s democidal rule. Russia has neither joined the West nor considered itself to be fully Asiatic. Instead, the Russians inherited a “Third Rome” complex from Byzantium that has helped keep them isolated from their own best opportunities as a great power. Fringe groups of ideologues promoting nutty “neo-Eurasianism” in Russia play upon this historical legacy.
To the extent that the cold-blooded Vladimir Putin and the Siloviki clan have made their nation into “Russia, Inc.” – a gas and energy monopoly in the tattered rags of a nation- state, the long term trend will be accepting globalization and integration, regardless of any deep cultural angst and Ivan Q. Public Great Russian nationalist-chauvinism along the way.
“The Western View of Russia” by George Friedman
I have a mixed opinion on STRATFOR’s analytical products but Friedman is playing to his strengths here in a piece that is measured and thoughtful. Hat tip to Lexington Green.
Forget Me Not. Obama’s Russian “Reset” Risks Alienating Eastern European Allies by Mike Wussow
Adds some regional context to Friedman’s post .
September 8th, 2009 at 7:28 pm
Um, it’s not okay for Joe Biden to say the same things about Russia that Pipes is saying?
Yes, I realize that one is Vice President of the United States and the other is only a professor, but please. At worst, Biden stepped slightly over a line, which is one of the things that intelligent statesmen may do in pursuit of national interests. And opening up a more candid discussion with Russia is in our national interest. Pipes’s comments would carry less weight if Biden hadn’t said what he said.
So it’s odd that Barnett seems to see this as the main part of Pipes’s piece.
On a quick read, there’s one thing that Friedman gets glaringly wrong.
But from the Russian point of view, START is a peripheral issue, and Washington’s focus on it is an indication that the United States is not prepared to take Russia’s current pressing interests seriously.
The Russians have wanted START talks for the last five years or so. The Bush administration played games with them, including Lucy’s version of football with Charley Brown, indicating a severe lack of respect. Being able to continue START verification measures of the Moscow Treaty is important to the Russians, and it should be important to Americans as well. Trust but verify, as someone said.
On the Wussow piece (again just a quick reading), I thought about blogging the letter from the Eastern Europeans and then found that I just couldn’t because it saddened me too much, although I think I mentioned it in passing. I highly respect many of the signers, but I believe that they are living in a different time, closer to the late eighties than today. I suspect that their views are not representative of current Eastern European governments or populations. Their countries need to be better integrated into Europe, not looking to America for special treatment.
I’d like to spend more time on these articles (particularly Pipes’s and Friedman’s), but I may not be able to.
September 8th, 2009 at 9:40 pm
Turning towards or away from the West is a pendulum swing in Russian history. From 1700 to 1918 Russia turned towards the West with a vengeance, modernizing and engaging in enormous capital investments. The pendulum has swung the other way for nearly a century and today’s Russians continue to live off the Tsar’s investments.
September 9th, 2009 at 4:14 am
I’m not so sure re: Biden vs. Pipes. Not only is Biden the Veep, a more important job now thanks to Cheney and Gore than in 1991 or 1981, but Pipes is from the Russian perspective, an old anti-Soviet hardliner, out of step and out of power. Hearing disparaging remarks from Biden stings Russian pride a lot more than from Pipes.
Do Russians want START solely for the intrinsic importance of reducing nuclear weapons or as an acknowledgement of the importance of Russia as a global player?
You are right. if I recall correctly, Russian GDP growth rate in the 1890’s-1910’s was oftenc omparable to China’s today and FDI was so high, especially from the Reich, that Russia was in danger of becoming an economic colony of the German Empire.
September 9th, 2009 at 6:11 am
Russia is neither Eastern nor Western. Russia is Russia. And the defining characteristic of Russia? Russia wants what others have. The bar has been set. As Uncle Joe ruefully observed, "Alexander made it to Paris". Uncle Joe, of course, never did. Only in clearing that bar and consuming the West would Russia ever Westernize.
September 9th, 2009 at 11:03 am
Biden was wide of the mark, a strong economy is never a goal in the way it is in the states.
Its just not that important. Russian economy has always been weak, but its power is very great Vast territory, second strike ability, huge natural resources. Eclipsing much larger and more modern economies. By focusing on the Russian economy it shows how little he understands Russian strategic thinking.
September 9th, 2009 at 1:31 pm
Hi Mark –
It seemed to me that Biden’s remarks were not so much disparaging as recognizing a reality. And we’ve had far too little of that for far too long. Yes, you could combine both, but I think that the reality part was more of Biden’s intention, so far as I can discern such. And perhaps Russia’s response was perfunctory? It’s pretty much blown over now.
I would say that the Russians want START (again, so far as I can discern their intentions!) for its accountability, so that they know more about what we’re doing with our nuclear weapons. And then they also like to be recognized as the "other" nuclear superpower. So it’s both.
Russia’s got some big problems right now. It may be, as Joey says, that the economy per se is not that important to Russia. Or, perhaps more accurately, the immediate effects of the economy on the population. But they will need a vibrant economy to have the status in the world that they want. That vast territory requires roads and other utilities, and the thin settlement in the east, combined with China’s increasing population, is more of a liability than an asset. Second strike ability is not so important when nobody’s threatening nuclear war. And exploitation of those natural resources depends, again, on the economy.
Not to mention the brain drain. And the fact that they based a lot of their plans on last year’s inflated price of oil. There’s that economy again!
Russia is included in many international fora, but improving their position is largely dependent on internal measures. Not having manufactured goods to trade in large quantities is a real difficulty, and there doesn’t seem to be such a sector arising. Bullying their neighbors isn’t taking them very far either.
September 9th, 2009 at 4:08 pm
I agree a vibrant economy would be nice, but has Russia ever had a vibrant economy?
Its economy hasn’t ever really had an effect on its ability to project power and influence.
We’ll be waiting till the cows come home before the state of there economy will force them into a more accommodating posture.
There economy could collapse around there ears but they would still have huge reserves of Land oil, gas, and weapons, Commodities that the world never seems to get sick of.
Biden was projecting, if I was a Russian I would be doomed, he was saying, and that would be true, because American power rests on the strength of its economic system,
(I’m not sure it really is, but Biden thinks so). Therefore, to Bidens mind, Russia must be doomed to dwindle away. This analysis rests on the asumption that the Economy is the main arbatiar of power. That may be the case for most countries, but not for Russia or the Saudi’s(energy and religion). Russia has spent most of it existance as an economic basket case/ pigmy, but this has had a negilable effect on its ability exercise power. It even became a superpower for a time under the most inefficent economic system it ever adopted. A Superpower using leninism, with a leader like Stalin.
September 9th, 2009 at 7:08 pm
Uh, no. Without nuclear weapons, Russia is a regional power. Power, yes. Great power, no.
September 9th, 2009 at 11:24 pm
"Russia is neither Eastern nor Western. Russia is Russia."
As I learned in Russian Civ at the University of Chicago, Russia is at root Byzantine, not Western. Samuel Huntington got this right, as well. That is the foundation on which the various uniquely Russian elements were built up.
September 10th, 2009 at 10:35 pm
Russia’s fundamental problem is that its Orthodox identity is forged upon outrage, the sacking of Constantinople and Western pushy arrogance. Russia will cease trying to fight the West when Byzantium and Rome are united. After a thousand years of disunion, Rome and Constantinople have recognized that they are one Church imperfectly united. Getting conscious buy in to perfecting that union will improve things a great deal. Unlike most of the other proposals I’ve seen for ‘fixing’ Russia’s external relations with the West, this would require just as much adjustment on the West’s part as Russia would need to do. Until the fundamentals are addressed, any agreement with Russia will always be fragile, adopted by necessity but never with joy. The West has largely forgotten its sins (they were the winners after all) but Russia remembers and nurses those old grudges.
September 11th, 2009 at 11:08 pm
The Greeks and Byzantines experienced Western/Latin arrogance more than the Russians- the sacking of Constantinople, the demands for recognition of papal supremacy and change in church practice in exchange for assistance against the Turks, etc. And yet anti-Western attitudes, while common among Greece’s anti-globalization left and fundamentalist Orthodox right, do not have the central importance in Greek politics that they do in Russia. Greece is a longtime EU and NATO member, after all.
Modern Greece is an Orthodox nation, but it is also a European nation in ways (both geographic and political) that Russia is not and never has been. Apart from religion, Greece arguably has more in common with Catholic Italy than with Orthodox Russia.
Part of the reason for this difference is that the Greeks do not share the Russians’ inferiority complex toward the West. Russia has always lagged behind Western Europe. With the exception of the Baltic, it was the last region touched by Christianity, literacy and urbanization. Greeks, on the other hand, are well aware that much of the groundwork for Western thought was laid in the Greek polis when Western Europe was still a patchwork quilt of preliterate chiefdoms. While pride in classical culture ("Hellenism") was frowned upon in Byzantine times, it never died out entirely, and was revived (with help from Western European philhellenes) as part of 19th-century Greek nationalism.
The Byzantine resentment toward the West was carried over to Russia as part of the concept of the "Third Rome" which originated with the marriage of Grand Prince Ivan III "The Great" of Moscow to Byzantine princess Sophia Paleologus and his assumption of the title "Czar" (from the Roman "Caesar"). This Byzantine hostility toward the West was clearly compounded and preceded by the importance of conflict with neighboring Catholic states (Poland, Lithuania and the Teutonic Knights) along the country’s western flank at key junctures in its history.
It is noteworthy that many of the key figures of Russian history gained their fame fighting Western armies. Alexander Nevsky established a truce with the Mongols in order to fight the Teutonic Knights at the Neva (a precedent for "Eurasianism", perhaps?) and Ivan III waged a series of wars against Poland-Lithuania and Sweden for access to the Baltic and control of Muscovy’s western frontier.
September 13th, 2009 at 6:32 pm
Interesting point, TM. I’ll have to put that in the stew with the rest of my thinking about Russia.
And small point: Alexander Nevsky’s decisive battle with the German forces was on the ice of Peipsijärv/Chudskoye Ozero/Lake Peipus, the headwaters of the Narva River.
September 16th, 2009 at 6:51 am
TM Lutas writes:
It’s not a topic that I’m all that familiar with, but I was surprised by this piece in Monday’s National Catholic Register