, Volume 90, Number 6

David Wedgwood Benn

There are several strands in western antipathy to Russia which predate the Soviet era by more than a century. Public opinion was always divided on how to respond to the Russia problem; however, neither western nor Soviet leaders sought out war. There is fresh and credible evidence that Brezhnev was a ‘dove’, who was not interested in world revolution and genuinely wanted reconciliation with the United States. The attainment of democracy requires not only an enlightened leader but an intelligent opposition. However, the crucial factor in democratic transition is the avoidance of economic collapse. Nevertheless, the consensus in both Russia and the West in the 1990s was that a laissez-faire policy was the only viable strategy. This article suggests another strategy which might have avoided or mitigated economic collapse. The consensus in both Russia and the West in the 1990s was that nothing should be done to impede the breakup of the USSR. The example of President Kennedy in the aftermath of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis is an example of magnanimity and a model of constructive reconciliation. In the present crisis over Ukraine there may be no alternative to confrontation—but confrontation in itself is a totally inadequate response. Western attitudes must not become an obstacle to reconciliation. Western public opinion can play an important part in forcing the clarification of such attitudes.

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