25 Years On: Russia Since the Fall of the Soviet Union

By

Time: 13:00 – 14:00, Monday 5th December 2016

Speakers: Arkady Ostrovsky, Vladimir Pastukhov, Sir Andrew Wood and Robert Service

Host: James Gray MP

Address: Committee Room 9, House of Commons, Palace of Westminster

Arkady Ostrovsky: Had I been speaking 6 months ago, it would be all about Russia. How Russia failed to move closer to the West, how Russia failed to converge with the West for various historical reasons. Speaking today, after Brexit, after Donald Trump’s victory, it’s increasingly clear to me, that the story that I have been writing for the past 20-25 years about Russia, where Russia was a separate story from the West; where there was a West and there was Russia, and Russia was supposed to get more like the West. In fact, it is a story of much broader significance, in which the West is looking increasingly like Russia. The convergence is happening the other way and Vladimir Putin, we hardly need any great commentaries about his system, has become a symbol of a strongman, of populism, of state nationalism as opposed to civic nationalism, and now stands, as I said, as a symbol of both populism and ethnic nationalism. So the date, which was just supposed to be a historic date needs, I think, and I think there needs to be a great deal more of it done to assess what exactly happened in 1991. Was it the uprising of people against an authoritarian regime? There is little evidence of that. Was it the movement of the national republics within the Soviet Union, to claim their independence? I would say very few examples carry through that argument. Was it the tiredness of the empire perhaps? Something that, a genuinely great writer, Alexander Solzhenitsyn referred to in his famous letter to the leaders of the Soviet Union in 1973. If you go back an reread that letter, it’s all about that ‘we’re tired and the Soviet Union is tired and for god’s sake, give up on this ridiculous ideology of Marxism and Leninism, which is dead by then anyway, and put Russia first. And the only thing that can save us going forward, is nationalism.’ Some of Solzhenitsyn’s arguments sound very relevant today, be it on a different level. A few months later after he wrote that famous letter, which argued for replacing Marxism-Leninism with nationalism as the only force that could save the core of the Russian empire, that is, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. He got a reply from, no less a great man, than Andrei Sakharov – a great Russian humanist, a physicist, the Nobel Prize winner for peace who argued, that Solzhenitsyn’s argument was very dangerous, indeed, that nationalism and Russian Orthodoxy would be far more dangerous and disruptive to the world, than Marxism-Leninism. And that the only thing that could bring Russia and the West together would be universal human values.

I find, that in the work of The Economist, we are very much in the middle of this debate today. Russia, from 1917, if not earlier – and no better person could talk about that than Bob Service, one of the finest historians of that period, Russia has been an experimental laboratory for various ideas. At that time, perhaps it was the first idea of globalisation and of socialist revolution that would go global. Movements against nationalism which ultimately lost, very soon after under Stalin’s regime. But today, Russia again, has become an experimental lab for everything that we are looking at in the West. There has been, indeed, this attitude towards Russia that, ‘they are a smaller brother, they’re final getting their act together and moving towards us’. As I said, I feel increasingly that we are moving towards the Russian system. Perhaps the period of the 90s that follow the 1991 revolution, which was a revolution, the period of the 1990s was this idea, of Russia becoming a normal country, becoming part of the civilised world, with elites – the cosmopolitan, liberal elites, ruling the country with terrible contempt and arrogance. Which, ended them in the situation in 1999, where the only option to stay in power was, they thought, to promote this man, who was a pseudo-populist. Not the real thing, of course, not a real hard strongman, but somebody they could control, but a populist nevertheless. A man who, first argued about a far greater role of the state, was Vladimir Putin. Who, I would argue, survived, and not only survived but prospered, in every sense of the word, for the subsequent 18 years. Not through entirely at least, authoritarian means. Not through mass repression – he has been in power for 18 years because he responded to the same demands and the mood within Russia that is now increasingly evident in America and this country. So, my argument today would be that 1991 and the 25 mark of the end of the Soviet Union, far from being the end of history, is very much a part of, not just history, but the present. As George Orwell said, he who controls the past controls the future, and he who controls the future controls the present. So we need to look at 1991 in a completely different perspective. In a perspective of ‘what’s been happening in the West?’ and ‘what are the trends?’ Rather than just say what can Russia learn from the West? More to the liberal democrats, what can liberal democracy learn from things that have been developing in Russia for the past 25 years. Thank you.

James Gray: Thank you very much indeed for that fascinating, intriguing thought, that what’s happening in ‘Trump-land’ or in Italy, or ‘Brexit-land’ has a parallel with what’s been going on in Russia for the past 25 years. A fascinating historical thesis, (Inaudible). Next we have Vladimir Pastukhov, Dr in political science, a visiting fellow at St. Anthony’s , Oxford, and been a fellow at the Institute of Comparative Political Sciences, and the institute of Latin America, both under the Russian Academy of Sciences. Served as council to the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, and to the DUMA, and to Moscow City Mayor’s office, all through a wide variety of books and scholarly articles on Russian matters, and one of the authors of the report: Constitutional Crisis in Russia, and how to resolve it. Vladimir Pastukhov.

Vladimir Pastukhov: (Inaudible). Despite Trump and Brexit I will talk on Russia, and I will say that I’d like to thank the Henry Jackson Society for inviting me to speak again, I apologise that I can’t stay today for the whole panel due to unpredictable circumstances. Despite Trump and Brexit, I will talk on Russia still, and I will say that I will assess the evolution of Russia, and I will take about 5 to 10 minutes on that Topic. I would like to raise, and hope to answer, what are 5 different questions today.

The first question which I would like to ask myself, and to others is: is modern Russia truly different from the USSR 25 years ago? And surprisingly, if this question were asked 5 years ago or 10 years ago, or 15 years ago, I would have answered it would be different. But 25 years on, asked this question today, I think I can say that it is not too much different from the USSR. Russia continues to be a colonial empire, where the bureaucratic hierarchy is still the main structural wall of this political integrity, and is (Inaudible) to civil society. At the same time, Russia today is not such a (Inaudible) religious (Inaudible) which used to start wars, and in this sense, it’s highly varied. I would rather suggest that Russia today, got back to its normal culture of terror, while in the USSR it was something extraordinary.

The next question which follows from that is: how far did Russia today went away from the USSR? And I should say that despite all the (Inaudible) music we hear from Russia, about human rights and so on, and despite all the limitations of global resolutions, Russia went quite far away from the USSR, it is definitely not a totalitarian state today, and I would say that even in the worst days, the level of freedom in much higher than the best days in the USSR. At the same time, we can exclude that at some point in the future, Russia might go back to its old ways again. We can’t exclude that. Because the background for that, the roots and the culture continue to exist, but I seriously doubt that it would happen under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, it something, for the future. All that I still have to say, is that institutionally, Russia continues to be the same as the USSR.

So the next question, which may look ridiculous today, 25 years after, came from (Inaudible), was it really necessary to demolish the USSR to get Russia to that point where it is now? And my suggestion is that the fall of the USSR was the most probable event at that time but not the only possible and positive alternative. I would suggest that the de-communisation of Russia, could have happened in different ways, and the country could have paid a bigger or smaller price for it. And it could be better, or it could be worse. We are now somewhere at the end of the realisation of one of the different scenarios. Maybe I could suggest something that may not be politically correct, but I would say that for the USSR, the loss of Ukraine and other parts, was the same price for the revolution as today the loss of Crimea is the price of the Ukrainian revolution. That something would happen, but what shouldn’t happen necessarily.

So the next question is what were the reasons for the fall of the USSR? And with all respect to those who say that the fall was because the USSR was defeated in the cold war, I don’t think that it was external pressure or human rights activists, dissidents were the main reasons which led to the disintegration of the USSR. I think that the USSR died from that natural reasons, which are the dystopia of the communist elites, and the old upper tiers of the Soviet institutions. And what is the most important is that most of these persons began working for the post-communist Russia. So it’s not that something had disappeared, because we can find today in our post-communist Russia that 25 years after the fall of the USSR the same evidence: the dystopia of the communist elite and the collapse of post-soviet institutions.

So, the next and the last question, which I would count as a big question to state to our society today, is the question: could Russia repeat the destiny of the USSR? That is a most interesting question for all of us, and I would say that if we were talking about a (Inaudible) Russia in time, irrevocably, it would follow the USSR. But that doesn’t mean that it would happen tomorrow. It will take the likes of two generations before we see the end of this story. But again, at the same time, as I just told about the USSR, I wouldn’t say that the disintegration of empire means immediately the disintegration and fall of Russia. It’s possible that the weakness of the elites and lack of institutions make this much more possible, but it’s not the most probable scenario for Russia. And I would say that the good (Inaudible) part of it for Russia would be the type of choice between manageable decentralisation and organisation, where Gorbachev and the USSR allies failed, or unmanageable disintegration. That will be a key issue, I would say, for the next two decades of Russian history. I just want to say that I would like to raise these questions and I may not have the answers to them, but I hope other will put forward answers to the questions that will exist anyhow. Thank you very much.

James Gray: Thank you very much for that, you’ve certainly stimulated our thoughts on the questions that you’ve answered. So thank you very much for that. Our next speaker is, Rob Service, who’s a senior fellow at Oxford, interested in Russian history and politics from the late 19th Century till now, recently looking at international affairs with his newest book: The End of the Cold War, 1985-1991, published in October last year. Now beginning to look at Nicholas II, his family, entourage and the way in which his final … assassination, from February 1917 through to July 1918. Rob.

Robert Service: Thank you. I think, to follow up on what the two previous speakers have been saying, we are often asking ourselves, why is it that Putin is such a successful leader is stabilising what is left of the Soviet legacy. There certainly is, an element in here, a strong element, in his governing credo of preserving Soviet traditions. He’s constantly referring to 1991, or he did one memorably refer to 1991 as the greatest human catastrophe of the 20th century. So, the disintegration of the Soviet Union in that year is regarded in entirely negative terms by this former KGB officer, Vladimir Putin. He has, more readily than Yeltsin, restored – I would use the word authoritarian about the politics of Russia, the fact that there freedoms of expression in limited fora, doesn’t mean that we miss-describe Russia as an authoritarian political system. After all, this was the case in Guatemala in the 1960s, or even other Latin American states, which we would rightly call authoritarian. The FSB had a prominence; it’s the institutional legacy of the USSR, above all other legacies. The survival of the KGB through the new agency of the FSB – the party’s gone, completely gone, the Communist party is a burnt-out shell of itself, never a serious competitor for power, and no party – Putin’s own party, is not a serious vanguard party in the way the Communist party of the Soviet Union was inside the Soviet Union. But the FSB is something like, what the KGB was; they do have fiddly elections, the do have, I would say, an authoritarian political system, and like other collapsed empires, the ‘main people’ of the ex-USSR, the Russian people, have an imperial syndrome. They live with an imperial syndrome like the British do to this day. The French, to some extent the Dutch, all the great European empires have this problem, of adjusting to the loss of empire, and in 1991, between the point of the august coup that Arkady was talking about, in 1991, and the declaration of the abolition of the USSR, Russian politicians around Yeltsin were openly saying that Ukrainians – if it comes to the breakup of the USSR, we want some of your territory back. So Yeltsin, so far from being an all-out democrat willing to respect territorial boundaries, did have people in his entourage, before he became the president of a fully independent Russia, did have people in his entourage who were willing to countenance the sort of thing Putin actually did, in moving on Crimea and destabilising Eastern Ukraine.

So this real syndrome, I think is certainly another legacy. As is the great power complex, exemplified by what Russia is doing in the Middle East. Pulling back Syria to being a client state as it was in the 1970s, as Iraq was, as Libya was in the Middle East, but Russia is reasserting itself as a great power in the world, and has now, I think it would be agreed, has been accepted as a great power. And the fourth legacy of the collapse of the Soviet Union that I would point to, would be the focus on the single leader. Putin has made a success of this in a way Gorbachev did through to at least 1989, if not later. And the party spokesman sought to make his predecessors, in the same way, a popular leader who could coordinate the politics of the country. Putin has been remarkably effective for lasting for 16 years and still regularly scoring ratings of 70% approval or higher. However, I think the other side of this coin is that this is not a fully stabilised political, economic or cultural system in Russia today, the very insistence on the focus on a single leader is a danger, as it was to say Stalin in 1928-29, when he collectivised agriculture. He succeeded in collectivising agriculture but he built up an enormous resentment in the rural population among the peasantry. And they knew who to blame. As a result, they hated Stalin, some even wanted the Germans to invade in 1941 to liberate them from the iron heel of Joseph Stalin. Well, Putin is taking a terrible risk in placing such a primacy on his own single leadership status. There is an advantage, but there is also a massive potential disadvantage.

The second point I would make, which is a legacy that hasn’t been resolved, is that the Yeltsin leadership in 1992, deliberately chose to ignore manufacturing and go for an economic programme based upon oil and gas revenues as the principle part of the state budget. It means that the Russian economy has not been diversified in the way that is essential for the maintenance of great power status in the 21st century. Another great risk, another legacy from the Soviet past, and actually, in many ways the Soviet economy was more diversified than the Russian economy is today. And the other point I bring to mind, is that while, overtly, Soviet leaders in the last years of the Soviet Union talked endlessly about America, so too do Russian leaders today, talk endlessly about Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and all the rest of it. Privately we now know from, what was going on in the early 1980s, they talked a lot about China. They didn’t make a fuss about this publicly. Now, if they are not thinking about China, they must be completely imprudent because, in the longer term, Russia’s fate will depend in international relationships, in international relations upon its success in forming partnerships, and its great rival, its great strategic rival, is China. And, there’s no sign of that happening quickly, although deals have been done on oil, but in order to be a good partner to China it has to be an effective rival at the same time, and there is not much sign of the necessary economic diversification that would make it able to stand up to China, rather than being gobbled up by China.

And finally, I think the record of Russia over the last 100 years or more, indicates that if you clamp down on political dissent, if you manipulate the political system as Nicholas II did before 1917, if you use the political police extravagantly, as Putin is doing today, you don’t have the channels of information that you otherwise would have, and you always need, and you don’t lift the lid on the pressure cooker, in the way that liberal democracies do. And therefore you get surprised, as Nicholas II did in 1905, and again in 1917. As Lenin did, or very nearly did, in 1918, and certainly did in 1921, when the communist system was very nearly overthrown, Stalin had his problems in the late 1920s – even worse problems in the 1940s, and in the year of his death; the (Inaudible) itself, sparked off demonstrations in Moscow. So, if you’ve got an ultra-authoritarian system, you build up problems in the longer term. In 1962 there were food riots and lynching of KGB officers in the town of Novocherkassk, in 1989 coal miners severely shook the Gorbachev administration before the Soviet Union was as democratised as it was to become in 1991. So I think the idea we have of Putin, the great successful and dominant figure has to be challenged, I think it is a much more unstable chemical compound, Putinism, than appears at the moment when so much is going his way.

James Gray: Thank you so much. Finally, we have the British Ambassador to Russia, from 1995 – 2000, and prior to that, he was the Ambassador to Yugoslavia, form 1985 – 1989, and so covers the two sides of the collapse in 1991, and has remained of course, since then, a huge expert on matters Russian and Eurasian at Chatham House and elsewhere. Sir Andrew.

Sir Andrew Wood: Thank you very much, I will be brief, I will just say that the word expert is a very dangerous word to have over you. I’ve enjoyed all the presentations, it seems that there is one central theme that seems to go through. (Inaudible), I don’t think Brexit is about the collapse of the Labour party, (Inaudible). The central thesis that I would have is that what we’re witnessing, is a tragedy of Russian development and Russian history. The events of the late 80s/ early 90s were a kind of half-transition towards a different type of society, which was not able to be carried through because of its very nature. It was half overcoming of the Soviet past, of the historical burden which goes with that. There is also, as the putsch itself illustrated, a continuation of a hard line, hardened expectation based on the Soviet past, based on the fact that naturally Soviet Union was a great power (Inaudible). It seems to me that by now we have reached a position, as Mr. Pastukhov said, in which we are back to, in many ways, the position in the mid-80s. That we’re facing a country that is much troubled by its past, which is horrible, the Soviet past in particular. And if you read what Svetlana Alexievich said, when she was accepting the Nobel Prize for Chernobyl, she said ‘we dreamt that we were building a new heaven, and what we got is bloody ruins.’ She also said what it shows is that to pursue power, as oppose to normality and decency and sort of western – I suppose in my translation. I think you’ve reached quite an unstable point. Our relations – western relations with Russia, are governed by this absolute obsession that the Russians under Putin or Putin and the circle who make foreign policy have kept the idea that Russia is a Great Power. But a Great Power, if we think about it, has no definition. What is a Great Power? Does that entitle you to tell Ukraine what it’s got to do? Does it entitle you to suppose that Kazakhstan must always obey orders from Moscow? Or is it simply an expression of achievement? So I don’t think recognising – I listened before coming out here to a good exposition by Dmitri Trenin, who is the spokesperson for Carnegie in Moscow and someone who’s listened to with great attention in the West, and he has said that the problem was, that there was an adversarial relationship with the United States, that Russia would never surrender, and that Putin should not be demonised and that Russia should be treated with respect and that Russia was a superpower. None of those things, in my mind, have any content. You can respect someone for their achievements, or you can respect the chief of the mafia. But on the whole we are not inclined to respect the chief of the Mafia, if Putin aspires to that.

Just one thought about the need for economic reform. Actually it seems to me that Putin is now in a position where he cannot undertake serious economic reform. The role of possession of money streams, the role of corruption – not in the sense that you take a nice (Inaudible) but in the sense that control of those money machines is contingent on the appellation of Putin, and something to be struggled over so that the money streams could go somewhere else. That is deeply disintegrative. To have genuine economic reform you would have to have an independent and effective judiciary, you would have to have a press which was critical and investigative. You would have to have police which were effective on adjudicating on an independent basis. Russia has none of those things. What Russia has, is a leader who has no established succession lineage. It has the illusion of a seat of great power, as its dominant ideology now. It has an economy which is in deep trouble. All those things seem to be dangerous. And dangerous because Russia is not up to terms with its past. Bits of the Soviet Union have been able to deal with that with more success because they have broken off. Ukraine is perhaps a special case, but Ukraine has a vibrant, effective civil society which Russia does not. It seems to me, that what we face, is a very difficult process on trying to merge the information on Russia, which is very troubling. We have a habit of blaming ourselves for the way we treat Russia and we have a habit of accepting the narrative Russians have and sincerely believe in, that we have betrayed them and so on. We tend to accept this too easily. I think what we have to do is try to recognise Russia for what it actually is now, to preserve hope that it will revert back to a European orientation and get used to the idea that a Great Power doesn’t actually feed you. To be encouraged by the fact in that regard, that now the initial excitement of Ukraine and Crimea is over, some 75% of the Russian population called to the polls say they don’t want any more foreign adventures, and hope that somehow, a post (Inaudible) Putin will allow Russia to be what it deserves to be, what its people inherently are, a nation which can hold a proper conversation with itself and try to determine in a constructive way, what its future will be. I probably spoke than I meant to, so I will stop.

James Gray:  Thank you very much for that, a fascinating set of four speakers, I’m sure you’ll all agree. Now we have got a quarter of an hour for questions, if you don’t mind stating who you are.

Audience member: we are all now witnessing a big argument between the West and Russia, very publicly open, particularly the threat to Russia which the United Nations poses. On the one hand we hear the West saying ‘yes we need to protect those former soviet states’, the Baltics, Ukraine, et cetera. On the other hand Russia arguing that the West is violating the agreement which they had on Germany, when Russia gave its consent and the West (Inaudible) its borders. So on the one hand we can see the Western position but we can also see the Russian position and let’s face it, ever since Genghis Khan, all invaders of Russia came from the west, for centuries and centuries. So where the pros and cons are, can the West see Russia’s view? Or is it basically ‘Russians are wrong’.

James Gray: We might take two or three simultaneously, then we can answer them all together, there’s one over here.

Audience member: Yes, my name is Hugh Evans and my concern is how Putin and Trump are going to work together, because it seems to me that they have very similar personalities – very dominant, and they see enemies everywhere. One of the things more authoritarian leaders tend to do is underestimate their opponents (Inaudible)

James Gray: Ok another aspect for us to talk about, and we have time for one more.

Audience member: My name is John Dobson, former diplomat. I was there in 1994, when Margaret Thatcher went out to Nizhny Novgorod to see Boris Nemtsov – it is Boris Nemtsov I would like to ask a question about. He was always the great hope for a liberal Russia and we know what happened to him, sadly. Did he ever stand a chance of leading Russia? And is there a similar immense person eminent in Russian society?

James Gray: Right, Russia’s position, the new president and Nemtsov. Who wants to go first?

Robert Service: I’ll start with the Trump – Putin relationship. I was thinking about this on the way here today, that we’re thinking about the possibility that Trump will engage in talks with Putin and come to some sort of rapprochement through personal diplomacy, and how reminiscent that is of what happened with Reagan and Gorbachev. But there’s a really big difference. Gorbachev led and elite, a central elite that was on the decline that was riddled with problems that it knew existed, but it didn’t know how to cure the problems. I think that the Putin leading group doesn’t feel that way. It’s more like the Khrushchev leading group, it feels confident that the direction it’s leading the country in is the correct direction. There doesn’t seem to me to be much prospect of, as Andrew Wood said, economic reform at the moment. So I don’t think that there is going to be much joy there when the American political establishment kicks in and pulls back Trump from any possible stupid misstep. On NATO expansion, I think it’s very much to be borne in mind that it’s not just a question of America and Russia, it’s also a question of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Those countries have rights, and if NATO hadn’t expanded as far as it did expand towards the east, one can only imagine what would have happened to them in the Putin Years. So I don’t think we should be totally preoccupied with Russia and America. We should think of the rest of Europe.

Sir Andrew Wood: Well, I’d just like to say I strongly agree with the point that has just been made, there has actually been no promise – I was in Washington at that time, there was no promise. Gorbachev at the time said himself that there was no promise about the reunification of Germany, which was going to happen anyway, whatever any of us wanted. Being dependent upon this promise just wasn’t a fact. I believe it also points to a difficulty, an understandable difficulty, that if you go into the Kremlin (Inaudible) that the leaders of Russia always had (Inaudible). Nemtsov, was a very interesting person, very likeable indeed. Would he have actually commanded the loyalty of the market and the Russian people? I rather doubt it. His ideas were good ideas, but that is a different thing. Part of the cycle I was trying to describe, Arkady describes it better really in his book – the slow changes in Russian society. I don’t ever see Nemtsov as a Prime Minister who was going to be effective, but what he was and what people around him, like him were, was a different way of thinking. A way of energising a debate that one way or another Russia was going to have to have.

Arkady Ostrovsky: So on NATO, I agree with Andrew that there was no promise, if you want, Putin is very good at constructing narratives. If you go back to 2004, when the Baltic States were accepted into NATO, Putin’s comment at the time was that he saw absolutely no problem with it, he didn’t see it as encirclement and he’d be happy to discuss Russia’s membership of NATO. I think NATO made a massive mistake, of not expanding far enough and fast enough when it could. And we could have ourselves a lot of trouble if it had done so. On the question of Trump and Putin, I think the two men respond to a similar mood, in the countries of sort of anti-establishment, and to sort of liberalism fears. Russia is more of a caricature of those fears, more so than the West. I would go further than Bob, as it’s not only a relationship which is not similar to the Reagan – Gorbachev relationship, but I see the real danger of this relationship in not even betraying Ukraine and the countries of Eastern Europe, because I think those can defend themselves and hopefully will defend themselves, and in fact, I would argue that the Obama administration has actually done too little to protect Ukraine, I see the great danger of the friendship, the initial honeymoon friendship between the two populists, we know that these friendships between populists and nationalists do not last, and they usually end in tears. The great friendship and admiration between Stalin and Hitler – I’m not comparing the two men to those, but I’m just saying, typologically, the friendship between two nationalists, two isolationists, two protectionists, usually doesn’t end well.

Finally I disagree with Andrew, with all due respect, about Nemtsov. Perhaps I am biased, and I am biased because Nemtsov was far more than a contact to me, when Nemtsov transferred, and I think he’s become … his murder is a tragedy. He is needed today more than ever. The only perhaps comfort we can take is how important he has become after his death. Two days ago, there was an airing of a film about him in Moscow. I haven’t seen the film, apparently it’s incredibly powerful. The entire ‘who’s who’ in Moscow turned up. It was shown in the biggest cinema, the October cinema in central Moscow. So it’s very important to understand why Nemtsov has become so important. I disagree that he couldn’t have been a leader of Russia. When he transferred from Nizhny Novgorod to Moscow his rating was 70%.  He was a genuine populist, he was the one who coined the phrase about the oligarchs, he was incredibly charismatic, and he had the endorsement of the man in power, Boris Yeltsin. Boris Nemtsov fell to in fact, I would argue, fell victim to the oligarchs. To those who believed that since they were the smartest, since they were the richest and the smartest, they were the ones who were entitled to rule Russia. He fell victim to people like Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky, and Anatoly Chubais, who was part of his government. He was different from all these men. He actually was the one who genuinely believed in democracy. And what is unique about Nemtsov is that he was both a very talented politician – I’ve seen him speak, I’ve seen him galvanise crowds, and he was a genuine politician. But he did believe in liberal democracy, he did believe in cosmopolitanism and he did believe in ethics – he’d remained the most decent and honest man in Russia, and if anything is going to help us rescue liberal democracy it’s not going to be free trade deals. It got to be believing in some very fundamental values such as ethics, and he stood for that. And I think his rising popularity after his death in Russia amongst the young is probably the only, if small source of comfort. Finally, what Andrew said, I so agree with all of it and the ideas but the one thing, and Russia hasn’t changed of course, as many of Russia’s ways remain the same. What has I feel, and perhaps I am being overly pessimistic, what I feel has changed is the West. I’m not sure that when we talk about the Western relationship with Russia we know what we are talking about anymore, because I’m not sure that the concept of the West is there. Is the West Marine Le Pen or Nigel Farage or Donald Trump the same as the West of Margaret Thatcher or John Major? Or Ronald Reagan, Bush and Clinton? I fear not.

Sir Andrew Wood: For the Record I agree with everything you say.

James Gray: We’ve got two more minutes, so let’s do one more here and one more here.

Audience member: Peter Jones. What is Putin doing about succession? And what does a post-Putin Russia look like?

Audience member:  Ewan Grant, I’m a (Inaudible) advisor to various companies’ particularly on Russian speaking countries, my question really follows on from the last comments, particularly Sir Andrew’s remark. What are the strengths and weaknesses, joined up or not joined up of Western approached to Russia? One particular thing I would particularly cite in that is the public prosecutors work in Spain on certain people with close connections. And it was rather striking that the Spanish may be working on their own without the proper appreciation of the importance of what they are doing.

Audience member: Thank you, this is mostly directed towards Arkady about 1991 as a watershed moment. Are we really taking that moment? Because what followed for people who were in the former Soviet Union, was a civil war in Chechnya, was economic and financial crisis, Tanks firing at the parliament. Really I’m not sure what 1990, 1991 meant.

Sir Andrew Wood: Post-Putin – that is anybody’s guess to a degree. I don’t think it is possible for Putin to choose someone who will last and it is by no means to be assumed that, like most people do, that after Putin will be worse, I think it will be more (Inaudible) whether they wish it or not. Anyway, when Stalin was coming towards his death, the BBC said the next Stalin will be worse again. We do know that Russia will have to change, and that Western Policies have been inconsistent of course, not least because the ideas, as you have heard from the panel, are going to be inconsistent and different. I think they have been reasonable in preventing things from getting more chaotic than they have been, and we have to consolidate a relatively liberal Europe up to and increasingly including parts of Ukraine.

Arkady Ostrovsky: On the last question, which I think is very important, I think revisionism is a very dangerous game. And I do think, historically, despite what happens today in Russia, 1991 was and remains a massive watershed. It was a revolution. The country that Russia is today, for all the similarities politically with the Soviet Union. The fact that people don’t remember exactly what happened in 1991, you only need to walk around Moscow or St. Petersburg or Kazan or Vladivostok or any other city – it’s a very different place. Economically its different, people have freedom to travel, people have freedom to consume, and I think these freedoms are very important. They changed behaviour. I would contend many things, was the 1996 election rigged? That is a long debate, the only thing I would say is that I’m pretty certain that a majority of Russian people in 1996 did not want to go back to communism and were not ready to elect Zyuganov. So how – technology, whatever, but the fact remained that the majority of the population in 1996 did not want to go back to the Soviet days. Perhaps because the memories were too recent.1993, which we like to refer to the events of 1993 – tanks firing at the White House, the seat of parliament. I would completely go back to what actually happened and what happened was actually a rebellion was raging on by the fascists and the hard-line communists against legitimately elected president Boris Yeltsin. How that was dealt with, the pictures that emerged, that’s a different matter. But it was an armed revolt and it should be seen as that. So, in short, I think it was a watershed, and that it remains a watershed, with all the bad things that happened, consequently doesn’t change that point. In terms of the Western policy, yes I am very worried that we’re not being … I think the best thing the West can do is believe in our Western Values. It is extraordinary to think that the leader of that world is now Angela Merkel. I am worried about the headlines in the Daily Mail about the ‘Enemies of the People’, the headlines of politicians saying if you are a citizen of the world you are a citizen of nowhere, these are the things that strengthen the Putin regime far more than any backdoor deals that can be imagined.

Robert Service: Well I agree with Arkady that 1991 was a watershed, despite all of the legacy that we have been talking about over the last hour, something had to give. When economic collapse had already taken place in the USSR but there still wasn’t a comprehensive approach to establishing a market economy that would actually make consumer goods including food, available to ordinary Soviet citizens. I mean they were very close to starvation. They were looking at an appalling winter, 1991-1992 and Gorbachev really had no answer to that. Great man that he was, he really didn’t have the answers and he didn’t have the will or the ideas to do what Yeltsin, for all of his defects, managed to achieve.

On the question of succession, the jury’s out on this. I rather feel, that with the passage from Yeltsin to Putin, Russia moved towards acceptance of nationalism at the level of the leadership, and that whoever takes over from Putin, will have to be a nationalist, if he or she is ever likely to be selected – it won’t be done on the basis of an open election, it will be preselection, and I can’t see that that will lead to a leader who is anything other than an ultranationalist. Because once you let out of the kennel the mad dogs of nationalism, you cannot get them back by persuasion.

James Gray: Well ladies and gentlemen, we’ve exceeded our time, so there only remains for me to thank all of you for coming, a very distinguished audience, and to particularly thank our speakers, Arkady Ostrovsky, Vladimir Pastukhov, Robert Service and Sir Andrew Wood. And also to the Henry Jackson Society for organising today’s useful and extremely stimulating meeting. So thank you very much indeed.

(Applause)

HJS



Lost your password?

Not a member? Please click here