I’ve been doing a lot of book shopping here in Moscow. Most of the libraries and archives I work in have little lavki of mostly academic books. I have to say that there are some interesting things being published here.
What has caught my eye is the sheer number of translations of post-structuralist philosophy. The works of Jacques Derrida, Alain Badiou, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze are filling bookstores philosophy sections.
There are also some interesting historical works being published. I was happy to find Igor’ Navskii’s brilliant study of the Russian Civil War, Zhizn v katastrofe: Budni naseleniia Urala v 1917-1922 (Life in Catastrophe: Everyday Life in the Urals, 1917-1920), at a ROSSPEN store for only 99 rubles as well as the second volume of Sovetskaya derevnia glazami VChK-OGPU-NKVD dokumenty i materialy, 1923-1929 (The Soviet Countryside through the eyes of the Cheka, GPU and NKVD documents and materials, 1923-1929). There are also an increasing number of studies, memoirs, and document collections on the Gulag, Spetspereselenie or “Special Resettlements,” etc. These are also common subjects now being researched and published.
What is even more intriguing are books like Irina Zherebkina’s Feministskaia interventsiia v stalinizm ili Stalina ne sushchestvuet (A Feminist Intervention in Stalinism or Stalin does not Exist). The author of the acclaimed Strast’: Zhenskoe telo i zhenskaia seksual’nost’ v Rossii (Passion: The Female Body and Female Sexuality in Russia), Zherebkina makes a gender and Lacanian analysis of Stalinist Russia. Influenced by the works of Slavoj Zizek, Zherebkina seeks to deploy “Alenka Zupanchich’s methodology of the “ethics of the Real” as a theory of ethical choice in the analysis of totalitarian eroticism, especially the gendered structure of subjectivity” (7).
Another interesting find was Nataliia Lebina’s Entsiklopediia banal’nostei: Sovetskaia povsednevnost’: kontury, simvoly, znaki (Encyclopedia of Banality: Soviet Everyday Life: Contours, Symbols, Signs). This is a great book of short entries on the small, not to mention forgotten tokens of Soviet life. Inside you can find entries on things like stiliaga, the postwar youth subculture, Eseninshchina, the 1920s hysteria about suicides inspired by the poetry of Sergei Esenin, and babetta, which was a woman who dressed and did her hair like Brigit Bardot in the late 1950s and early 60s.
Lastly is Il’ia Utekhin’s Ocherki Kommunal’nogo byta (Study of Communal Life). How Soviet citizens live, regulated, and ordered communal space in kommunalki is a fascinating subject. We often forget that the Soviet experiment was more than just changing the economic and social structure of Russian life; it was also about the restructuring of how people interacted with space. The communal apartment was both practical and revolutionary. The crisis of housing required many families to share apartments; while at the same time also trying to create unalienated living space. Utekhin’s text tries to capture what life was like in these living spaces and how residents negotiated its many compromises and conflicts.
You Might also like
By Sean — 13 years ago
—Newsru.com is reporting that an anti-fascist rally in front of the Moscow city hall was broken up by OMON on Sunday. About two hundred protesters gathered in response to the rise in nationalism and racism. Shortly after they gathered, buses carrying OMON officers arrived. The officers charged the crowd arresting participants. One woman was taken to the hospital with injuries after an officer hit her over the head. Sunday’s protest was in response to the nationalist rallies held on the first celebration of “Unity Day” on November 4. The holiday, which celebrates the liberation of Moscow from Poland in the 16th century, was commemorated by the ultranationalist Eurasian Youth League with a rally 1000 strong to denounce the influx of immigrants into Russia.
—The Moscow Times reports that the office of the National Bolshevik Party was raided by police on Thursday. Last week the Russian Supreme Court liquidated the NBP, overturning its own earlier ruling upholding their right to operate. NBP spokesperson, Alexander Averin told Ekho Moskvy that ten NBP members chained themselves to a radiator to protest the eviction. This made them easy targets for police to beat them.
—One year later Ukraine’s Orange Revolution continues to ripple through Russian politics. The latest ripple is the State Duma’s passing a law that restricts the operation of some 450,000 NGOs and other civil society groups operating in Russia. The law, passed 370-18 vote, with 48 abstentions by mostly Communist deputies, requires NGOs to reregister with the Justice Ministry’s Federal Registration Service under rules that give the government more oversight over NGOs’ tax flow, sources of funding, and involvement in Russian politics. The bill comes as a response to two goals of the Putin Administration. First, the Administration seeks to place tighter controls on the ability of NGOs to operate and foster Russian civil society and democracy. NGOs like Human Rights Watch, which released a briefing paper on the issue, has been increasingly critical of Russian human rights violations in Chechnya, the treatment of soldiers in the military, government censorship and control over the media, and the general whittling away of democratic checks and balances. Second, it address a concern that foreign NGOs were instrumental in funding Ukraine’s Orange Revolution; a claim that is not entirely false, but not completely true either. Moscow believes to this day that the election of Yushchenko was the result of a CIA plot and they will be damned if something like that happens in Russia. When asked about this specter of Orange Revolution in an interview on Ekho Moskvy, Alexander Petrov, the head of Human Rights Watch in Moscow downplayed the possibility and added his own thoughts on the need for a strong and influential civil society in Russia:
“I would like not to talk about Orange Revolution as a real danger which the Russian Administration, state, and state institutions are looking out for. It’s simply because Russia is a completely different state. First, it is not divided into two parts like the Ukraine, nor in three like Georgia. Opposition parties do not have enough influence in Russia. Therefore, it seems to me, that the situation is different and all these ideas about the possibility of Orange Revolution are simply a cover for something else. That is, I ask myself the question, for what reason does the government need to not only strengthen the law of registration, but also the life, activities, accounting, everything that is necessary [for them]. I cannot find an answer for this because despite all the maniacal desires to describe this one vector, the vector of civil society alongside the vectors that are already built—the vector of executive power, the vector of representative power, I call them wax figures, which appear to be representative power, but they aren’t. Because there must be debate in representative organs to check all legislation, but apparently they simply conduct all other discussions without hesitation. A similar process exists in the mass media. We see television channels look more and more like each other, and the tone of commentators, even their rhythm and tempo looks remarkably alike; you often don’t know what you are watching the first channel or the fourth. The theory is to create a third vector. But the rational, logic, and reasons for this are not recognized.”
The passing of the bill comes as government officials make stronger claims that NGOs and other civil society groups are fronts for foreign spies. Alexei Ostrovsky, a member of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party and co-author of the bill accused NGOs of being the tool of the CIA to destabilize Russia and promote revolution. “We remember how those human rights organizations defended human rights in Yugoslavia, Ukraine and Georgia under the cover of the CIA, and we know how it ended,” he was quoted in the Moscow Times. In an interview in Rossiiskaya gazeta, FSB head Nikolai Patrushev had this to say in reference to terrorism and the control over organizations (read: NGOs) that might aid them:
“One of the priority tasks right now, as I already said, is to identify and eliminate the funding sources and to cut off the funding channels of terrorist organizations and bandit formations.
Both our own and foreign experience demonstrates that one of the key conditions for effective enforcement work in combating terrorism is that the special services and law enforcement agencies should be endowed with the relevant procedural powers with regard to monitoring of financial flows, freezing and seizing suspect accounts, and compelling financial and credit organizations to collaborate with them.
For example, in the United States the Patriot Act introduced amendments to the laws on banking and financial confidentiality that make it possible to obtain relevant information from banking and financial institutions when international terrorism is involved.
The FSB considers it necessary to increase the liability of credit organizations and their leaders for funding terrorist activity and organized crime closely associated with it, and the Bank of Russia should respond more promptly and firmly to alarm signals from the law enforcement agencies. It is not acceptable to make money from blood.”
Putin was more measured in his remarks on the bill. Though while agreeing that Russia needs such organizations he added, “The ongoing funding of political activity in Russia from abroad, I think, must be on the state’s radar screen, especially if this funding … comes through the state channels of other countries, and … organizations operating here and involved in political activity are, in essence, used as foreign policy instruments by other states.” Only time will tell on this. But the bill is sure to send a chilling effect through NGOs, especially ones like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International which heave heavy and much needed criticism of the Putin Administration’s policies.
—Chechens go to the polls today for parliamentary elections. The vote, which is expected to solidify Moscow’s political hold in the war torn region, is sure to raise questions about the legitimacy of the results. The new leader of the Chechen separatist movement Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev appeared on Al-Jazeera denouncing the election as a “farce”:
“This is not the first time Russia performs a farce of this kind on its soil. We know how this sort of democratic elections had previously been held when they appointed [Moscow appointee Ramzan] Kadyrov to be the first Chechen president as if there had been no elections or Chechen presidents before him. Although history mentions that Dzhokhar Dudayev and Maskhadov were presidents of Chechnya, yet Russians are trying to erase them from history and to rewrite Chechen history afresh. But they could not and will not be able to do that because no-one gave them the right do so.”
Sadulayev added further:
“They are trying to add some points to the Chechen constitution indicating that the Republic of Chechnya wants to voluntarily be part of the Russian Federation. Naturally, this was not enshrined in the previous constitution and is something made up by the Russians. We know that farce very well. The Russian side in the committee in charge of drafting the Chechen constitution wrote as a clause in the constitution that Chechnya does not want independence and wants to be part of the Russian Federation. But, the Chechen side in the committee rejected that and after God took away the soul of renegade Kadyrov, they held a new farcical election that resulted in appointing Alu Alkhanov, so as to be able to steer Chechens in any direction they wish, to order achieve their own personal end. They are now trying to call these elections parliamentary elections to achieve stability, but no matter what they do this will not do them any good. There attempts will always be useless.”
To follow developments I urge readers to point their mouse to Radio Free Europe’s special section “The Crisis in Chechnya.” I hope to address the elections more thoroughly in the coming days.
—It seems that this is the year of elections in the former Soviet Republics. Azerbaijan held theirs. Chechnya is voting now. On December 4 Kazakhs will go to the polls to elect a new president. There is little doubt, with all the state oppression, manipulation, and other shenanigans, that current President Nursultan Nazarbaev will win. There are signs that the Kazakh elections are trying to appear legitimate. Last week candidates participated without Nazarbaev in a televised debate. The participants included Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, from For a Just Kazakhstan; Alikhan Baimenov, from Ak Zhol (Bright Path); Erasyl Abylkasymov, from the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan; and lawyer and environmentalist Mels Eleusizov. Nursaltan did not participate and was on an official visit in Ukraine. Like in all the other former republics, the elections have sparked speculation of a “colored revolution.” The leader of the opposition bloc For a Just Kazakhstan, Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, stated that his bloc “have ever planned or are planning any anti-constitutional actions or measures aimed at destabilizing the situation in the country.” This follows statements by Kazakh security forces warning that they have information that the Opposition is planning such actions and promise that if they do they will be “severely dealt with.” For more information as it develops, Radio Free Europe has set up a special section “Kazakhstan Votes 2005”.
—Finally one cannot forget that this week marked the first anniversary of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution and the second anniversary for Georgia’s Rose Revolution. Paul Abelsky from Russia Profile gives a good analysis of how a year later the rifts in Ukraine continue to dog how the country relates to Russia. He argues that relations between Russia and Ukraine are still wrought with tensions. Ukraine’s dependency on Russian energy and its subsidized prices gives it little wiggle room when it comes to its relationship to its big brother. Abelsky writes:
“Ukraine will have to choose between the subsidized Russian energy exports and a more independent economic and foreign policy course. Developing a degree of self-sufficiency in the energy sector will bring obvious long-term dividends, but it is bound to result in widespread hardship for the population in the foreseeable future. Ukraine’s plunging economic growth, which fell from 12 percent in 2004 to 3 percent this year, only aggravates the political intricacies of the situation.”
To make matters worse for Yushchenko, his administration was full of promise but delivered little by way of domestic reform. His administration was cobbling together of “politicians who came to power were not able to offer a satisfactory socio-political model and, instead, became preoccupied with a banal redistribution of property and influence,” says Yury Boiko, the leader of Ukraine’s Republican Party. “The team that emerged was formed on the sole basis of a disdain for the previous government and the wish to overthrow it. Their business and political interests differed, which took a toll on all the subsequent efforts and reforms.” According to Abelsky such a situation has not squelched speculation of the legitimacy of last year’s elections, and perhaps worse squandered the “vast symbolic potential of an uprising built around declarations of justice and democracy.” Thus the parliamentary elections in March will be a more effective measure of the Orange Revolution successes and failures.
On the Georgian side, Shaun Walker gives his analysis of Georgian-Russian relations two years after Mikheil Saakashvili led protesters in overthrowing Eduard Shevardnadze. While there has been some progress on governmental transparency, Georgia is far from democratic and in fact according to Oksana Antonenko of London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies, “Georgia has not become more democratic. What we’ve seen is the emergence of a very strong, centralized one-party structure, in which the president decides everything and there’s no real opposition.” While relations with the West have improved, those with Russia have gotten colder; so cold Georgia has hinted at pulling out of the CIS all together. Such a move would be an economic disaster for Georgia. Especially in the price of natural gas, who like its Ukrainian counterpart, receives price subsidies from Russia. In all, the reality of the colored revolutions is structured by economics. While Ukraine and Georgia can strive for political and foreign policy independence, their economic dependency on Russia for energy and markets hampers that desire. The champions of revolution who now sit in Kiev and Tbilisi have painfully learned a hard lesson: pro-Western and anti-Russian rhetoric might win you elections, but it won’t make it easy to rule.
By Sean — 13 years ago
Opposition parties are struggling to keep momentum going in Azerbaijan. The results of the recent Azeri parliamentary elections left the 125 seat legislature in control of the ruling Yeni Party. The Opposition received only 10 seats and claim that the elections were rife with fraud, a claim that has been supported by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, among others. There is no doubt that this is true, but it seems that the Opposition’s hopes of staging its own “Orange Revolution” are fading. Despite yesterday’s presence of 15,000 supporters in a protest against the elections, the crowd was thinner than the initial protests a week ago.
One problem it seems is that the Opposition does not have the will to risk a government crackdown on demonstrators. This lack of will has the potential to alienate and disillusion younger radicals who want to take more direct action. As one Azeri journalist named Shain Abbasov, told Radio Free Europe (RFE):
“The opposition leadership are trying to operate at least until 26 November, when the CEC [Central Election Commission] should announce the official results of the elections, they are going to operate exactly within the law. So, no unsanctioned rallies, no clashes with the police, etc. They remember their experience in 2003 elections, when Isa Gambar [Ed. an opposition leader who lost against Ilham Aliyev in the presidential election] moved his supporters to the streets and then they were cracked down. . . Young people want to stay at the square [in central Baku] after the next rally, to put up tents, to put [up] orange tents, to repeat the Ukrainian events, as they call them. So, stay and attract more attention of the Western international community to falsification and maybe provoke police violence. They want [a] more radical struggle. They think the carefulness of the leadership will help the government confirm the falsified results.”
Such a clash of generations can be death to an opposition movement. Many Azeri youths understand the vital role their Ukrainian and Georgian counterparts played in forcing their “revolutions.” It appears that Azeri youth organizations are ready to fight. As Murad Hasanli, a spokesperson for the main opposition bloc, Azadlyq (Freedom), told RFE.
“If you look at what happened in Georgia and Ukraine, it was the youth movements that provided the catalysts for political change. They were the foot soldiers of the revolution — and the opposition has recognized that here in Azerbaijan, and from early on began to engage with young people, and a whole plethora of youth organizations has developed in Azerbaijan very quickly. We had Yeni Fikir (New Idea), Maqam (Opportunity), Yokh (No!). Some of them were single-issue organizations, some were broader political movements and they did engage the young people.”
At the same time, young Azeri activists should learn yet another lesson from their Ukrainian counterparts: Revolution does not mean automatic changes. Sometimes it simply means putting the other guy in power.
This is a feeling settling in on the first anniversary of the “orange revolution.” The Moscow Times reports a deep sense of dissatisfaction among those who come from afar to join Viktor Yushchenko and his orange believers. One such believer is Natalya Simonenko, a 26 year old business woman from Odessa. Now a year later she tells the Times of deep disappointment, “I was one of the few in Odessa to support Yushchenko; I traveled to Kiev to demonstrate. I used to argue with my family and my neighbors who supported Yanukovych. I wanted the country to change, but after a year I see that nothing has, corruption is still high, and the oligarchs are still running things.”
Even members of Pora (It’s Time), the youth group that occupied tents for weeks in freezing weather, have taken Yushchenko’s backtracking as a signal to extend their political participation. Pora has since split into two wings. One, black Pora, is focused on being a pressure group and committed to staging demonstrations. The other, yellow Pora, looks to run candidates in next March’s parliamentary elections. Such a move shows that Pora activists will not simply be the “shock troops” for their father’s political party. They are seeking independence to assert their own political agenda. As the head of black Pora, Nadya Prudyak, 24, reminded the Times,
“Much of the old system we were fighting has remained. We were fighting not because we liked Yushchenko but because we hoped for big political changes. We wanted to get rid of the players of Kuchma’s era, but nothing has changed.”
Pora in the Ukraine. The National Bolsheviks in Russia. Emerging youth organizations in Azerbaijan. Something is in the air in the CIS in regard to youth politics. While all of these groups, and the many others within these countries vying for influence, share different views, all of them see extra-parliamentary, and in some cases, extra-legal means to achieve political change. And as the Ukrainian case shows, even despite the disillusionment that has followed, youth organizations do play a very powerful rule in this change. After all who else but young people can spend days, even weeks, holed up in the tent in the freezing temperatures? Who else but youth risk their bodies against the bludgeon of police batons? Who else but youth are on the barricades of social change? The naivet? of the ruling parties, whether they are the “opposition” or not is that they think these young people are merely their political pawns. Youth are merely bodies to be mobilized for instrumental purposes. But political experience breeds consciousness. Coming out into the streets en mass gives an immense feeling of collective power. The youth in the CIS know the power they have and could have. The question remains is whether they will take it for themselves.
By Sean — 12 years agoThe Soviet Union, the U.S. and Russia: Opportunities Lost
An interview with Stephen F. Cohen, Professor of Russian and Slavic Studies at New York University and author of several books, including Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia.
Washington Profile: There have been several prominent theories proposed as to why the Soviet Union collapsed. In your extensive research on the subject, what is the conclusion that you have reached?
Stephen Cohen: It is fresh in my mind because I just published a little book in Moscow in Russian on this question. I call this book:
“Why did the Soviet Union end?” The publisher called it: “Vopros voprosov, pochemu ne stalo Sovetskogo Soyuza.” I don’t use the word collapse because I think that prejudges an explanation. If you say collapse, it implies an analogy with the end of tsarism in 1917, because we always say tsarism collapsed. And it suggests that the system collapsed because of some internal and irreparable, inevitable factors or defects. So I simply ask, ‘Why did it end?’ And as I went through the literature, I was astonished to discover that there are somewhere, depending on how you define them, six to10 rather different explanations of why the Soviet Union ended. You find this many in both the Western scholarly literature and the Russian serious literature, scholarly or journalistic. I go through, in this little book of mine, each of the six which I believe to be the most prominent. In order to explain the end of the Soviet Union, as historians will be trying to do not only on this fifteenth anniversary, but probably for the next 100 or 200 years, you need to take into account three factors.
The participating factor was Gorbachev’s political and economic reforms that began in 1985 and reached their peak at about 1990 in a form of a rather extensive democratization of the former Communist system. Essentially by 1990 Gorbachev had dismantled the communist political system, what used to be called the totalitarian system (I didn’t use that word, but we know what we mean by it). He had loosened state control of the economy. That made possible other factors to come into play. Some people, for example, say the Soviet Union ended because of nationalism or the Soviet Union ended because of popular unrest. But none of these factors would have come into play, probably not even today, had it not been for Gorbachev’s reforms. Then came the second factor, and that was the emergence of Boris Yeltsin by about 1989, 1990. Now you had something rather unusual in history, but not unusual in Russian history where leaders have played special roles: you had a conflict between two Russian leaders, Gorbachev and Yeltsin, between two men of extraordinary political will. I define it as Gorbachev’s extraordinary will to reform and Yeltsin’s extraordinary will for power. This conflict created the possibility that Yeltsin could go to Belovezh Forest on December 8 and abolish the Soviet Union in order to be rid completely of Gorbachev, and to beat him completely by abolishing his presidency and his country. But then that leaves a third question and a third factor. Yeltsin didn’t control an army, he didn’t even have a political party. How would he be able to abolish what was still a nuclear super power of what was still nearly 350 million people, in the face of the Soviet elite, particularly the state nomenklatura, not necessarily the party, that had based its position on this state. Why did they permit Yeltsin to do this? And here I think would be the third factor, that, the high nomenklatura that might have stopped Yeltsin had been too busy privatizing the wealth of the state to care about defending it. The struggle over property actually did not begin until after the end of the Soviet Union, but early on in the late 1980s. But by 1990 and 1991, main members of the high elite, ministerial elite, even the army elite, certainly the party elite, were seizing state property for themselves, so while they were stripping the state’s assets, they had no interest in defending it, so they simply stepped aside and allowed the political struggle between Yeltsin and Gorbachev to unfold, and it unfolded in the end of the Soviet Union.
WP: If those circumstances hadn’t come together the way they did, and the Soviet Union had remained in tact, what, in your view, would “the post-Soviet space” have looked like today?
Cohen: Well, it would have depended on a central question. Gorbachev set into process a Soviet reformation. He called it perestroika, but putting it into the context of history, and not just Russian history, we would call it an attempted reformation. Had that reformation continued, with or without Gorbachev, because by 1989-1990 it no longer required Gorbachev’s leadership; his historic role was to put it into motion? After all, there was a moment in the struggle between Gorbachev and Yeltsin in 1990 and 1991 when Yeltsin’s intent had not been to abolish the Soviet Union, but to become president of the Soviet Union and displace Gorbachev. The question is, would there have continued to be a reforming Soviet Union, or would something like the failed putsch of August 1991 happened again and stopped the reformation? If the Soviet Union had continued to reform, it would have meant the reform of the Union Treaty, and therefore the Soviet Union certainly would have been smaller. Three Baltic countries would have certainly gone, it’s possible that Georgia would have gone. It’s not clear about Ukraine because that was a very unusual situation, driven more by elite politics then public opinion. But if a reforming Soviet Union had continued to exist, I think the outcome would have been a smaller Soviet Union, maybe eight, nine, 10 republics, but still the bulk of Soviet territory, people, and resources. In so far as, say, the Central Asian republics had remained under the political influence of Moscow, they would have had to continue to democratize. The democratization of Central Asia ended with the end of the Soviet Union. The only reason they began democratization in the Central Asian republics was because they were compelled to do so by Moscow’s leadership. Once free of that, they reverted to authoritarianism.
In the economy you would have gotten some unstable but functioning mix of a state economy and a private economy, something like what Putin is probably trying to recreate today. You would have had a Soviet Union, I see no reason why you wouldn’t have, but it would have been a different Soviet Union. On the other hand, had the reformation been ended, and it only could have been ended by force, and you can’t rule that out, then you would have had a very nasty looking dictatorship. Remember, when the coup makers sought to overthrow Gorbachev in August of 1991 and imposed martial law in Moscow by bringing troops into the center of Moscow, almost all of the republic leaders, who until then had been acting as though they were sovereign or independent, immediately either fell silent or collaborated with the coup makers. In other words, they were afraid of Moscow. It is only when Moscow under Yeltsin said, “We no longer want you, clear your own way, we are no longer going to subsidize you,” they went away, ran away. But had that not happened, had Moscow not driven them away, or really, disowned them, because remember, the Soviet Union was abolished by the three Slavic republics. The others would have still been there, certainly Kazakhstan would have been there; Nazarbaev wanted to preserve the Union. The others were afraid of Moscow, they would have stayed. So it all depends on whether this reformation would have continued, and had it done so, I think the Soviet Union would not have looked bad today. Had it not done so, it would have been pretty terrible.
WP: With the war in Iraq and the focus on anti-terrorism, Russia is by far not the main foreign policy concern for the United States. How would you characterize the U.S. “Russia policy”? What are its goals and what have been its results?
Cohen: I think American policy toward Russia today actually began in the 1990s, particularly during the Clinton administration. My view is that not all, but a large part of the negative content of American-Russian relations today — and that relationship is very, very negative, as bad as it has been in many years — is the result, primarily but not only, of the Clinton administration’s decision to treat Russia as a defeated nation in the Cold War. When the Cold War ended — it was officially said to have ended in Malta in December 1989– the first President Bush and Gorbachev announced that the Cold War was over. In announcing that the Cold War was over, both said there are no winners, there are no losers. We have agreed in the Cold War, and in that sense, we are both winners. That tone changed after December 1991, when the Soviet Union ended and the first President Bush began to say, not as a matter of policy but more as a matter of getting himself reelected, that the United States had won the Cold War, but it didn’t have much consequence then. The Clinton administration embraced this view and drew an analogy between the defeat of Russia in the Cold War and the defeat of Germany and Japan in WWII, that we were the victor nation, they were the defeated nation, and therefore they should be supplicant and subordinate to the United States. That was a terrible mistake, and some of us warned against it at the time. What we said was, that’s not what happened, without Gorbachev the Cold War would not have ended, so Russia deserves as much credit as the United States, and secondly, Russia is weak now, and you can get away with using and abusing Russia, as we did when it was ruled by Yeltsin, but, we warned, that’s not going to last. And if you treat Russia like this now, you are going to regret it. Because when Russia rises to its knees, it’s going to be resentful about how it was treated. And that’s what’s happened. Because the Clinton administration did two things: first, it tried to control Russia’s post-communist transition by telling Russia what to do and not to do. To a degree, we were sending legions of advisors there to write their legislation. Americans were sitting in Russian ministries, writing legislation about privatization, textbooks, all sorts of intimate matters involving a nation that no foreign nation has any right to meddle with. There was bound to be a backlash against this, particularly when economic and social catastrophe came upon Russia in the 1990s.
The second thing we did which was equally bad, and this is often forgotten, that in 1990-1991, when Bush asked Gorbachev to permit both a united Germany and a united Germany in NATO, and Gorbachev agreed and that was a historic agreement, Gorbachev was promised, Russia was promised by Bush, and I’ll quote his secretary of state at the time, James Baker, that “NATO will not move one inch to the east.” That was a solemn promise. Now in Russia, it is said that Gorbachev should have gotten it in writing as a treaty. But when it came to the United States, Gorbachev was a little naive. He was smitten with his own ideas of the new thinking, a common European home of human values. He thought that we ascribe to those values, that the United States saw eye to eye to him about that and about how great powers should treat each other. But Clinton during the 1990s violated that solemn promise and began to expand NATO eastward toward Russia, and that continues today. That expansion of NATO and the violation of that promise that has driven the conflicts with Russia over both Ukraine and Georgia, and so long as NATO continues to take those former Soviet republics in, that conflict will continue to exist?After all [NATO is] a military alliance, right to Russia’s borders. NATO is now in Ukraine, bases are in central Asia, Russia sees itself as being encircled, and so long as that is happening, so long as Russia has that view, there will be no good or stable relations between Russia and the West. Now let me say that Yeltsin went along with all this for reasons that don’t have to concern us today; I think they were partly economic and partly psychological; it was partly Yeltsin’s sense that he had done something illegitimate, that he abolished the Soviet Union and he gave the wealth of the state to the oligarchs and he needed somebody who passionately supported him, as Clinton did, because certainly nobody at home of any repute much supported him by the mid 1990s. But once Yeltsin was gone, Putin was clearly a different cat altogether, although he may have been put there by Yeltsin to protect Yeltsin and the oligarchs, but the United States began to realize this in about 2001, 2002, 2003.
There were different episodes, there was the so-called NTV episode, there was the Khodorkovsky affair, there was Ukraine, there were various episodes. But a good deal of the animosity toward Putin grew out of the growing awareness of the American political class that he wasn’t Yeltsin, that he wasn’t going to play the supplicant role that Yeltsin had played. Now once that became a factor, the Russian political elite under Putin didn’t handle it very well. They did a lot of stupid things to make the matter worse. But I think as we were proactive, they were reactive. They were responding to us, to the way we treated them in the 1990s, to the expansion of NATO, and had they been clever people about international affairs, they could have responded in a way that might have changed American foreign policy in some way, but they didn’t. But as Reagan liked to say, now we have two tangoing. And we really are back in a cold war. You can call it whatever you want, but it is a cold war whose frontiers, whose epicenter has moved from Germany to Ukraine and Georgia, and it’s very dangerous. A new arms race is under way. Both sides are building nuclear weapons. If you look at the Litvinenko affair, that’s worse than anything that has happened in the Cold War. I don’t recall anybody ever accusing Brezhnev of killing anybody abroad.