UNTIMELY THOUGHTS: A homepage devoted to understanding Russia, April 21, 2002.

Untimely Thoughts’ Weekly Russia Experts’ Panel: US-Russia and conflicting perceptions

By Peter Lavelle

Contributors: Patrick Armstrong, Sergei Roy, Dale Herspring, Gordon Hahn, Ira Straus, Dmitry Babich.

Peter Lavelle: There is no denying that the bilateral US-Russia relationship is under a lot of strain and has lost most of the hope many had immediately after 9-11 that two countries would develop a strong and lasting alliance. The relationship – if it can be called even that – now is really only focused on issues that both countries have no choice but to agree on, i.e. the war on terrorism, drug trafficking, and stopping the spread of WMDs.

Both countries differ on how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program, trade (Russia’s entry into the WTO), the Greater Middle East peace process (Hamas), change in the regions and countries that were once part of the Soviet Union ("colored revolutions"), and other important issues.

One could argue that both the US and Russia have changed significantly since 9-11, as well as the world system, to make any working relationship difficult. Whether either country has changed much does not belie the certainty that both countries perceive the other in ways that hardly resemble perceptions only four years ago.

Starting with Russia: How has the Kremlin changed its perception of the US over the past few years? What issues have motivated this change of perceptions? Are these motivations rooted in Russia’s domestic politics? If not, what issues are in play? Does Russia have legitimate reasons to cool relations with the US (or is it only reacting to coolness from Washington)? What are some of the Kremlin’s misperceptions of the US (and the West, in general)?

Patrick Armstrong, analyst for the Canadian government:

15 years ago, Russians had hopeful, if unrealistic, expectations from the USA and its Western partners. Much of that hopefulness has been replaced with suspicion and, in some circles, with actual mistrust of the West and the USA. There are objective reasons for this change. Russian opinion polls have consistently shown a population divided on many things but united in two: opposition to NATO expansion and to privatization as it was carried out. These two can easily be woven into a conspiracy theory.

In the 1990s Westerners were shipped over to advise the Russians on how to effect the changes. US assistance was channeled through the Harvard Institute for International Development. Janine Wedel was the first to show, in 1998, in her book Collision and Collusion, the failures on the ground. The US actors selected a particular group of Russians, immediately named "reformers" - everyone else by implication being wooden-headed opponents of "reform" – who pushed their prescriptions through by presidential decree. In short, the principal beneficiaries of this policy were the oligarchs whom it created. When the long lawsuit against HIID rumbled to an end last year, she was shown to have been correct. Russians are not so stupid that they didn't notice this and for many Russians, therefore, democracy has become associated with insiders ripping off the people and enriching themselves, while cheered on by Western observers. This association has, to put it mildly, tarnished the image of one of the West's most important foundations; while polls show that Russians like freedom, democracy is now a tainted word. Old people saw NATO expansion as the extension of a military alliance up to Russia's borders; young people saw it as a door slammed in their faces. But NATO expanded anyway. Then the fears of the fearful appeared to be confirmed when NATO had its adventure in Kosovo - this indeed seemed to be muscle flexing by a confident military alliance that didn't care about anyone else.

Full article available at Untimely Thoughts, April 21, 2002.

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UNTIMELY THOUGHTS: A homepage devoted to understanding Russia, July 15, 2005.

RP’s Weekly Experts’ Panel: The "Kasyanov Affair"

By Peter Lavelle

Contributors: Eric Kraus, Dale Herspring, Vladimir Frolov, Gordon Hahn, Patrick Armstrong, Donald Jensen, Ethan Burger, and Ira Straus.

Peter Lavelle: A criminal investigation, focused on an alleged illegal property transaction, has been opened against former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. The criminal investigation, of itself, is not really surprising – Kasyanov’s nickname, “Misha 2 percent” arose from allegations that he was involved in a number of questionable business/financial transaction during his decade in government. What is of interest is the timing.

Kasyanov clearly was attempting to present himself as Russia’s answer to Ukraine’s Viktor Yushchenko, with all the Western support and attention he could muster. However, his turn against the political elite he helped to create and benefited from in the name of democracy and Western liberalism has hardly been convincing.

Thus, should we understand Kasyanov’s current travails within the framework that, when he was dismissed from the post of prime minister, it was understood that he would be left alone (along with what some claim to be considerable wealth) as long as he retired from politics? At this point, this would seem to make sense. He broke the rules of his "severance package" and the Kremlin is simply reacting to his "breach of contract."

Ethan S. Burger, Esq., scholar-in-residence, School of International Service, American University, Washington:

The fact that a criminal investigation has been opened against Mikhail Kasyanov should not be a surprise to most who have followed political and legal developments in Russia over the last year. It is difficult to think of a major Russian political player in the last 13 years who is “clean.” Unfortunately, many of those who were well regarded by western governments and international organizations frequently turned out to have been engaged in questionable activity. Janine Wedel’s book Collision and Collusion is a bit out of date, but a very good work on this subject, particularly her discussion of “reformers” Anatoly Chubais and Boris Fyodorov.

Full article available at Untimely Thoughts, July 15, 2005.

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© , Janine Wedel