Programme Paper

Project: Russia and Eurasia Programme

Andrew Wood
  • The West does not have a shared view of Russia beyond generalities regarding the need to 'engage', and the inevitability of Russia's eventual alignment with Western values. The first proposition is policy-free, since ignoring Russia is not an option. The second is a statement of faith, not a guide to policy today.
  • The weight of European opinion over the years has been on the side of those who assume that 'engagement' means wooing a Russia that will one day recognize her true destiny of becoming more liberal, Western and democratic. This has often involved overlooking countervailing tendencies and withholding criticism of Moscow.
  • However, the problem of the 'sphere of privileged interests' is central and cannot be wished away. Russia's aspiration to be a 'great power' is not compatible with the suppositions of those who believe the country to be evolving towards European values.
  • There are plausible tactical reasons for adopting a placatory attitude to Russia. If Russia were about to embark on a new, liberal, stage of its evolution it would be right to encourage that process. But there is little evidence that the current modernization rhetoric is pushing the country in that direction.
  • The West is too eager to treat Russia as a singularity. Russia is still one country among others. It has no special rights. The West needs to adopt a more modest perception of Russia, and accept a higher degree of uncertainty about its current development, and eventual destination.