Russia: Look West

May is an important month for Russia. Its new partnership with NATO is to be decided and a Moscow summit is the deadline for a new Russian arms deal. But is America and its allies in danger of taking President Vladamir Putin for granted? His aim is to turn Russia westwards – if he fails to take most of his people with him, the consequences could be critical.

The World Today Updated 23 October 2020 Published 1 May 2002 4 minute READ

What is Russia’s place in the world? A senior Russian parliamentarian saw it like this: ‘Put yourselves in our shoes. Think how the world looks to us.

To the east is China, the most populous country in the world, eyeing empty Siberia. To the south is dangerous instability: Afghanistan, the Middle East, the Caucasus. Only to the west is there a haven of security. No wonder we want normal relations with Europe.’

That view is not shared by one former Russian general, recently quoted in a Russian newspaper: ‘If Estonia joins NATO,’ he warned, ‘NATO’s frontline will be less than two hundred miles from St Petersburg.’

Which view reflects what ordinary Russians think? The answer, of course, is both: it depends on who you ask. As ever, attitudes to the outside world are anything but monolithic. Certainly the first view – of the westernisers – has since September 11 become more mainstream. But neither should be disregarded.

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