Events

Russia and a Post-Divided Europe

July 19, 2000 // 12:00am

"The following are excerpts pertaining to Russia from a lecture on post-divided Europe and its implications for American foreign policy given by Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor, at a Woodrow Wilson Center Director's Forum on 19 July 2000. The remarks were delivered without a prepared text.

...We tend to define the post-communist decade of the 1990s in a very undifferentiated fashion, failing to note fundamental differences between what happened in Central Europe and what transpired in the former Soviet Union. In Central Europe, the post-communist decade involved the rejection of communism, the organic rejection of something alien; the rejection of something imposed from the outside. This transformation was spearheaded by spontaneous national movements that were able to consolidate a critical mass of new political leaders capable of undertaking the process of democratization and reform.

In Russia, we are not dealing with an organic rejection of communism. Rather, we are dealing with the collapse, from exhaustion, of an inefficient totalitarian state that overreached in its global competition with the United States. That competition precipitated the Soviet Union's collapse. It was not produced by a democratic movement; it was not the consequence of popular unrest. Indeed, the implosion of the Soviet Empire was a collapse of will, imagination, and of power stemming literally from physical exhaustion. That collapse left behind a political elite that, while realizing the need for change, is still very much a product of the preceding system. This is especially true of the current leadership. Just think of this: there is not a member of President Vladimir Putin's government who was ever associated with any dissident activity. What is more, there is not a member of Putin's government, including Putin himself, who could not be in the Soviet government today if the Soviet Union still existed.

...That brings me to my third point: namely, how the Russians perceive themselves, and how we treat them. Putin recently said that "we are not seeking to make Russia a great world power because Russia is already a great world power." This point was reiterated in the statement on Russian foreign policy just issued a week or so ago, which explicitly stated that Russia is "a great power; one of the most influential centers of the modern world."

It is worth noting that Russia's GDP of today is one-tenth of America's, one-half of India's, and less than that of Brazil.... The UN recently ranked Russia's health system 131th, just ahead of Sudan's. Finally, Russian population in the last decade has decreased from 151 million to 146 million, with deaths exceeding births by slightly more than 50 percent. So much for Russia being one of the most influential centers of the modern world.

On top of that social and demographic crisis, Russia is not in a very favorable geopolitical position. To the east is a country with a population eight times that of Russia and an economy five times larger--and economy that is growing far more dynamically.... To the west is an increasingly integrated Europe with a GDP ten times larger that Russia's--a Europe Central European countries wish to join. And finally, to the South of Russia, there are three-hundred million Muslims whose goodwill the Putin government is now fostering through its policies in Chechnya.

In conclusion, ...an un-divided Europe is really unfinished business, and there are certain areas where a persistent strategically minded sense of direction is needed.... It is almost obvious, and many of the strategic issues are very clear-cut. First, if we want post-divided Europe to be stable and eventually to be whole and free, then there must be a sustained expansion of both the EU and NATO. The absence of the expansion of either institution leaves a large portion of Europe in a state of ambiguity. The expansion of the two together helps to reinforce the transatlantic relationship by deepening the scope of the security while widening the span of post-divided Europe.

Second, ...we should help consolidate the independent states in the former Soviet space, primarily because their very existence helps to consolidate positive change in Russia. If the new independent states in the former Soviet space are stable, then Russia is encouraged to redefine itself in a more basic and fundamental way...

Finally, we have to keep the European option open for Russia.... That option must be held open if Russia is at some point to exercise a choice--a choice in favor of reality rather than nostalgia for a status and for a capability that is not within Russia's reach. The notion of Russia as a center of the modern world is unrealistic unless Russia becomes more like Europe...a more advanced, more developed modern democratic state. It cannot do that by exercising a domineering role in the former Soviet space, or by blocking Central European membership in Europe and NATO as it is currently seeking to do vis-Ö-vis the Baltic states. This strategy has a broader purpose. The option for Russia must be held open while the external geopolitical conditions become so stable and consolidated that integration with the transatlantic community is Russia's only logical choice.

These are the challenges in our relationship with Europe that we will face in the course of the next administration. During the past decade we spoke of a Europe whole and free. That is still our objective and there are clear ways of reaching it.

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