Five Challenges for Russia

Sergei Rogov is Director of the USA/Canada Institute in Moscow, succeeding Georgy Arbatov in that important role. He was involved in drafting the Paris Agreement, which was designed to smooth over the problems caused by NATO's expansion. Russia and the U.S. have jointly adopted it. This abbreviation of Rogov's June 28 lecture at the University of Toronto analyzes the five great threats his country now faces

By Sergei Rogov

I Russia's Lost Identity

Russia faces five major challenges today. The first is loss of identity. Today 24% of ethnic Russians live outside the Russian Federation in other successor states of the Soviet Union, where they are suspected of being loyal to Russia. In Central Asia, their legal situation is fine but their physical survival is threatened. In the Baltic states, they are well off materially but legally they are non-citizens. Ethnic Russians now constitute 77% of the population of the Russian Federation, while in the Soviet Union they were only 52%. But these figures may be deceptive. A poll last year showed that non-Russians are reluctant to disclose their ethnic origins. Thus Russia faces the same problems that destroyed the Soviet Union six years ago and it may have the same fate.

For Russia to become a "state for Russians" would be suicidal because that would validate the Chechens' and Tatars' and Yakuts' fear that Russia is not their country. But what could be an identity for Russia other than as a nation state? In the United States, Switzerland, and even Canada, states are not based on faith, blood, or ethnicity. Can Russia develop this concept while renouncing its imperial identity as a Czarist or Soviet state? We don't know yet.

II Economic Reform

The second challenge is the economic transformation. Marxism was imposed on Eastern European countries by others but Russia accepted it. Eastern Europeans are quickly returning to what they had not forgotten under communist rule, but Russians never knew what a market society was and their transition to it is more difficult. Russia is suffering from an unprecedented recession. Today the Russian GDP is about 25% of the Soviet GDP. The Soviet Union was a unified economic system but disintegration broke its economic links.

Moreover, the Russian reformers in 1992 accepted Reagan's economic philosophy. People converted from Marxism-Leninism to Milton Friedmanism overnight. But Reaganomics has worked neither in the United States nor in Russia; deregulation by itself is no answer to Russia's economic problems. Without other methods of managing a market economy, deregulating Russia simply brought a total collapse. Industrial production dropped by 70% and consumer goods production dropped 90%. Some 30 to 50% of all food consumed is imported. Productivity dropped by 75% in five years. Unemployment in Russia is higher than in the United States. If you include hidden unemployment it is as high as in Soviet days, and we now have open unemployment as well.

Investment in the Russian economy dropped by more than 90%. As a result, Russia's GDP is about US $600 billion today in purchasing power. We aren't in the top ten world economies. We are behind Brazil, behind Indonesia, and going down every year. Russia is about 27th in expenditures in investments. Foreign investment has been 30 times smaller than in Hungary, and without investment there can be no recovery. The extraction of raw materials accounted for 20% of the Soviet GDP. Now it accounts for 45% of Russia's.

The entire citizenry has become criminal because the government has imposed rules that are so unfair. The Soviet rules were harsh, but if you played by them you could expect to be protected from cradle to grave. Now if you play by the government's rules you lose, whatever you do. In '93 for instance, taxes reached 112% of the output. Who would produce anything? In my institute if I played by the rules I would never be able to pay the salaries because what I have is insufficient to pay taxes. So the name of the game is to avoid paying taxes. Result: the government is bankrupt.

III Democratization

The third challenge is political democratization. We do have an elected executive and an elected legislative. Elections were relatively free, but it doesn't mean that Russia today is a true democracy.

The Soviet Union collapsed practically bloodlessly (blood flowed only later) but not simply because the people wanted a change. It was difficult to understand then that the Russian bureaucracy wanted to get rid of control by the politburo. The post-Khrushchev generation of Soviet nomenklatura (high bureaucrats) was totally devoid of ideological conviction. The "democratic" presidents of the new independent states had been (with few exceptions) members of the central committee. They were opportunists par excellence who became tired of paying lip service to communist ideology and to the politburo's total control of society.

But what happened later was unique, without historical parallel. The former Soviet bureaucracy achieved the desire of all bureaucracies. There is no control from above (from a politburo) and no control from below (from grassroots democracy). The legislative branch, which during perestroika had been limiting the power of the executive branch, was manipulated by the Communists. However, when the Russian Supreme Soviet was crushed in '93, what was defeated was not the Communist position toward reforms, but rather the legislature's ability to limit the power of the executive branch.

The constitutional system which we have had since 1993 has no checks and balances. Even on paper, control by the executive branch is nearly unlimited. The legislative branch has almost no authority; it cannot even control the purse. I don't know of any other country where the executive gives the money to the parliament.

This situation could be described as "democracy for bureaucracy." Bureaucracy as a class - nomenklatura - got freedom to do what they want. Any bureaucrat and any bureaucratic institution, including myself and my institute, wants to survive and expand. So Russia's bureaucracy has been expanding rapidly, with bureaucrats increasing to 60% above the number in the entire Soviet Union. Practically all Soviet bureaucracies survived, and some of them multiplied. Since the KGB was disbanded we have seven successor KGB agencies, each trying to rebuild a KGB of its own. The military has been reduced, but we have the growth of parallel armies, so there are more people in uniform in other troops than in the defence ministry.

The government stopped performing its proper functions. Street crime has grown because the government does not protect citizens. Bureaucracy has been given the right to supervise privatization without democratic control. Few bureaucrats can withstand this tremendous temptation, so corruption has reached enormous proportions.

Organized crime moved into all economic spheres because the government is not enforcing the sanctity of the contract. Another machine fills that vacuum, using force and extortion. You know whom to ask for help, and they will help - in their own manner. While the government fails to perform its functions, its bureaucratic structures multiply and compete for authority and money. No one knows who is responsible for what.

Under the Russian constitution the president is above all branches of the government, though he leads the executive branch. But there is the prime minister and his cabinet. The so-called "power ministries" (or "muscle" bodies such as the interior ministry, defence ministry, and the KGB successors) are not accountable to the prime minister but act on their own. Then you have the Security Council, which does not coordinate but competes with the Chernomyrdin government. And the Defence Council was created last year to neutralize the Security Council. You also have the Chernomyrdin Commission in charge of the military reform, and the Chubais commission in charge of financing military reform.

IV Military Reform

Nowhere have the results of this disorganization been more negative than in the field of defence. The Soviet Union maintained parity with the United States, Europe, Japan, China, and all the rest of the world. By the end of the 1980s, we had as many or more weapons, conventional and nuclear, as the rest of the world. We lived under conditions of permanent war, permanent mobilization.

There has been no military reform because military bureaucrats received as much autonomy as bureaucrats in other fields to run their own affairs. In the Soviet period there was civilian control over the military (it was not through a democratic mechanism, but it was civilian - the Communist Party) butthat mechanism was destroyed overnight and nothing was created to replace it. Nobody in the military field is accountable.

Russia inherited 60% of the Soviet GDP (which has dropped to 25% because of the recession) and 85% of the Soviet armed forces (which has dropped to 30-35% of what it was seven years ago). The burden of defence for Russia today is heavier than it was for the Soviet Union, because the Russian economic base has reduced more than the shrinking Russian military forces. Without military reform you cannot conduct an economic reform because you have a tremendous black hole in the federal budget. You cannot have a political reform either, for without civilian democratic control of the military you cannot have a democracy. The gap is widening between the budget and the force structure which the military wants to keep. By the end of this year the debt of the defence ministry will exceed its annual budget.

There's a tremendous growth of social problems in the military.The military didn't want to fight the civil war in Chechnya. They refused to fight in 1991 but later they were forced to shed the blood of their fellow citizens. This has psychologically affected the Russian military, who don't want to think of themselves as an army that suppresses its own people.

The military is getting less funding nowadays but the other forces and paramilitary agencies are getting more. There are more troops in the interior ministry of Russia than used to be in the ground forces of the Soviet Army. With this level of defence expenditure, the reform in Russia cannot succeed.

V The Expansion of NATO

The leaders expected the West to reward Russia for helping to defeat communism by admitting it immediately into the Western community. On December 22, 1991, a week before the Soviet flag came down, Yeltsin sent a message to Brussels saying that Russia plans to join NATO soon. It produced such a reaction that two days later he claimed it had been the mistake of a typist, who had left out the word "not"!

For the first few years after the end of the Cold War there was tremendous euphoria, but 1994 was the turning point. The West decided to enlarge NATO and a sea-change took place in Russian foreign policy. Why was that decision made?

NATO's expansion can be explained by the need for cohesion in the Western community and for coordination of their foreign and defence policies. NATO was a unique mechanism for these purposes and for maintaining American leadership. In other Western institutions the U.S. is either the first among equals (as in the G7) or is not even present (as in the European Union). When the Cold War suddenly ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the total victory of the West, almost simultaneously you have Maastricht and the proclaimed intention of Europe to consolidate; you have the growth of the APEC; and you have the response through NATO.

There is an open secret: Everybody in Europe is terrified by the unified Germany, which by sheer numbers is already dominating Europe. Multilateralism is necessary to control Germany, which is the first reason why a new raison d'être for NATO was invented. The decision to enlarge NATO had nothing to do with Russia.

The second reason for it was the desire of Eastern Europeans to join the West institutionally. The European Union is in no rush to pay the bill for the absorption of the Eastern Europeans, so NATO became a back door for institutional acceptance into the Western community.

The purpose of NATO remains, just as 45 years ago, to "keep Americans in, Germans under, and Russians out." Seven years ago we expected a new security system that would bring the former rivals of the Cold War into a "Common European Home." A common European home is being built now, but without Russia. When Russia lost power and its military capabilities were reduced, it could be ignored. The European Union and NATO are becoming the backbones of the new post-Cold War European system, economically, politically, and militarily. And Russia, as a non-member of those two bodies, is out.

That's a disaster for Russia. Disengagement or a return to confrontation with the West dooms its reforms. Western and Russian leaders blundered by missing opportunities that existed at the end of the Cold War to build a security system that would integrate Russia. As a result, Russian and Western relations deteriorated in the past two years. By last spring we were on the verge of a new disengagement.

The NATO enlargement contradicts the notion of Europe, whole and undivided, by creating four classes of European countries: the exclusive club of good old gentlemen who make the decisions; the group of young guys who have applied for membership and will be admitted; the larger group of countries standing in a long queue to be admitted someday; and those countries such as Russia who probably will never get in.

Nevertheless, this decision seems irreversible and presents Russia with a very bad choice: either to accept the West's unilateral decisions or to enter a new Cold War when the balance of forces is far more negative than for the Soviet Union in 1947. The Russian GDP is 27 times smaller than that of the NATO countries.

The only real solution for Russia was a compromise which would allow us, despite NATO's enlargement, to build a means of coordinating the foreign and defence policies of Russia and the West. There were plenty of declarations but no institutional mechanisms for partnership. This is more important than NATO enlargement because if Russian and NATO military machines and foreign policy are complementary, not competitive, the security of Europe is ensured.

The Paris Agreement

And that was Primakov's great achievement Taking into account that Russia had to negotiate from a position of extreme weakness, the founding agreement signed in Paris is a major achievement. It makes Russia a full participant in European decision-making on security issues. There are three major layers in the founding act. First, it's a binding document - legally as strong as the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, which nobody ever ratified. In American constitutional terms, an agreement signed by the President is an executive agreement which does not have to be ratified like an international treaty but which is practically of equal power.

Second, it binds Russia and NATO to build a mechanism for coordination of policies parallel to NATO in which Russia is equal to NATO. In matters of defence there is no veto power, but decisions on use of force for other purposes (e.g. peacekeeping) have to be taken together through this permanent council of Russia and NATO, which de facto gives a Russian veto. This decision has to be approved by the Security Council, where Russia has a veto right, or the OSCE, where Russia can easily muster a second voice in support of its position.

Finally, this mechanism for coordination of military policies includes two meetings a year between defence ministers and chiefs of staff, exchanges of missions from general staff and SHAPE, and information exchange on strategic doctrine, force structure, and military planning. It is weaker than a military alliance, but it was a great victory to induce the West to accept Russia as an equal power.

It may be a false hope. It could be forgotten and not implemented. We ourselves contribute to that prospect by refusing to come to Madrid and thus demonstrating what we wanted to avoid- that Russia is isolated, humiliated, and not welcome. If Yeltsin had come to Madrid on July 9 and launched the first session of the joint permanent council, we could have had these institutions established within the next few months. Instead we had a lower level meeting and the results are not encouraging.

Has a crisis between Russia and the West been prevented or are we still on a collision course? That depends on us and the West. Some Westerners want to make it impossible for Russia to revive as a major player. Nationalists and communists of Russia perceive this as a desire of the West to eliminate Russia.

The outcome of the reforms and the political struggle will be determined by Russia. The West can play only a marginal role, but nothing could be more counterproductive than its decision to enlarge NATO. Confrontation may become unavoidable if NATO invites in former Soviet territories. The decision to start Western expansion through a military institution and not through other institutions sends a bad signal to Russia.

Peace Magazine Sep-Oct 1997

Peace Magazine Sep-Oct 1997, page 8. Some rights reserved.

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