No Return to Realpolitik

Wow. A very important article in the Washington Post by Lev Gudkov, Igor Klyamkin, Georgy Satarov and Lilia Shevtsova. More comments coming later.

We object, for example, to the basic proposition of calling for a return to realpolitik because some believe that the worsening of Russian-American relations was mainly caused by Washington’s insistence on “tying policies to values.” The result, some American “realists” argue, is that the United States needs to build a new relationship with Russia based on “common interests and common threats.” Yet in blaming the Bush administration for trying to “teach” Russia about democracy, these realists appear to accept the official Russian position. In our view, America has ignored the problems of democracy and civil society in Russia, but even turning a blind eye did not prevent the breakdown in the U.S.-Russian relationship — and now Obama is essentially being asked to treat Russia as though it is incapable of democratic transformation.

While there is anti-democratic sentiment here, such feelings are notubiquitous. In fact, nearly two-thirds of Russians would like to seethe establishment of democracy and the rule of law, according to a 2008Levada Center poll. The ruling elite oppose the development ofdemocratic institutions, but the key is that members of the elite aremore than ready to integrate into the Western world on an individuallybeneficial basis; they will do everything in their power to “protect”the rest of Russian society from the perils of such integration.

To be clear, we are not calling on our American democraticcolleagues to “promote” democracy in Russia. Such efforts arecounterproductive and ultimately serve only to discredit Russiandemocrats by helping the propaganda machine color them as agents of theWest. But we do not understand how one can hope for cooperation whileignoring Russia’s internal development and the principles on which thestate functions.