The EU's Russia policy cannot succeed as long as it continues to rest on faulty analysis and mistaken assumptions. This is the main conclusion of What does Russia think?, a collection of politically revealing essays by intellectuals whose views influence the Kremlin - many of whom have advised Putin or Medvedev - which the European Council on Foreign Relations has published today. The collection includes essays by Fyodor Lukyanov, Valery Fadeev, Vyacheslav Glazychev, Gleb Pavlovsky and Leonid Polyakov.
Despite a tendency toward insularity, the policy debate in Russia as reflected through these essays is ongoing and lively. As ECFR Russia experts Ivan Krastev, Mark Leonard and Andrew Wilson write in their joint introduction: "If we want to influence and deal with Russia, we need to understand it. But if we want to understand Russia, we should be interested in it. Unfortunately, we are not. Taken together, these essays show that the EU will only be able to develop an effective approach to Moscow if its policy makers rediscover some of the curiosity for Russia's internal debates that they had during the Cold War."
According to the intellectuals:
Russia does not want to be like the EU. The overarching quest for most Russian policy-makers is not to move closer to their Western neighbours, as many in the EU would like to think, but rather to free themselves from the West. Leonid Polyakov is the Chair of General Political Sciences at Moscow State University, and has worked on developing and publicising the controversial "sovereign democracy" concept. In his essay, An Ideological Self-Portrait of the Russian Regime, Polyakov writes: "the task before us is to turn Russia from an imitator of other civilisations into a model to be imitated by others."
There is mounting distrust towards the EU in Russia. Russia fears that its borders are vulnerable, which explains the ongoing drive to surround itself with buffer states. Fyodor Lukyanov is editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs, which produces the most widely read analysis of Russian foreign policy. As he writes in his essay Rethinking Security in 'Greater Europe', "not a single country in the former Soviet Union, including Russia, can say for certain that its borders are historically justified, natural and, therefore, inviolable".
The West has lost interest in discovering what is really going on in Russia, and relies on obsolete perceptions going back to the end of the Cold War. Gleb Pavlovsky is head of the Russia Institute and is one of the Kremlin's leading strategists. He helped launch Putin as Yeltsin's successor and ran Putin's two election campaigns in 2000 and 2004. In his essay, Two missions in Moscow, Pavlovsky argues that western liberals focus stubbornly on what Russia lacks: "The West persistently repeats, like a mantra, that Russia is "weak". The US refuses to recognise, and the EU refuses to accept, the reality of a global Russia. This is the biggest problem in relations between Russia and the West."
Russian political debate is far more complex than a struggle between democracy supporters and Putin followers. There is an underlying "Putin consensus" in Russia - Putin's approval rating hovers at around 70%, while support for the government he heads is not even a third of this figure. But in denouncing the "Putin consensus" as manifest authoritarianism, the West fails to appreciate its social and political origins. To understand it, one has to look back at the debilitating crisis resulting from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the anarchic democracy that followed. Vyacheslav Glazychev is the Managing Director of the Evropa publishing house which specialises in books on Russian politics, philosophy and history. In his essay The 'Putin consensus' Explained', he argues that "fear of empty space" is the essential reason for Putin's majority support. According to Glazychev, "the Putin phenomenon has only an indirect relationship with the rational. Without a shadow of a doubt, Putin's macho style has an almost magical effect on the majority of Russian citizens."
The economic crisis has strengthened Putin's Russia. Contrary to many predictions, the economic crisis has made the Russian state more powerful at home and abroad. Valery Fadeev is the editor of the influential business weekly Ekspert. In his essay, Has the economic crisis changed the world view of the Russian political crisis, he writes that when the economic crisis hit, "the authorities acted quickly and nearly always correctly. They preserved the financial system at a high level of functionality and prevented panic from entering the banking market."
For the full text of the paper:http://ecfr.eu/page/-/documents/ecfr_what_does_russia_think.pdf