Reflections on Russia and the West

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Series Details November 2008
Publication Date 2008
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Those concerned with policy-making towards Russia must determine how best to listen to the country's changing conversation with itself, keeping in mind the fact that the West should not suppose itself to have more influence on that inner dialogue than is really the case.

Western policies towards Russia have been a contributory rather than determining factor in the country's development since Gorbachev. The main aim of Western policies in the late 1980s and early 1990s was to manage a peaceful transition in Europe as a whole. Policy towards Russia fitted into this wider picture, but could not be, for the West, its sole or determining preoccupation.

In the early post-Soviet period, the West pursued two main aims: to work with Russia - and other successor states - to enable the construction of market economies, and to promote democracy. However, the speed of transition could only be set by the Russian leadership.

After 2000, Western policy consensus started to dissipate. The West failed early-on to articulate its concerns over the direction the new Russian administration was heading. Putin drew the relevant conclusions from this, and his confidence in his ability to manage his Western counterparts has grown over time.

Russia's politics of grievance, its increasing belief that all international resistance is the result of the West's enmity, undermine efforts to build a constructive relationship. The West must avoid being drawn into the myth that Russia was humiliated by the West in the early nineties, and now deserves recompense in the form of spheres of privileged interests.

This does not, however, imply a policy of containment. The West should continue to try to engage with as broad a range of Russian actors as it can, whilst treating with profound scepticism the idea that Russia can better determine the interests of its neighbours than their own governments.

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