December 9, 2003 by AK
Putin Revels in Election; Others See Flaws, reports the New York Times. I, too, saw flaws of great proportions, but I didn’t notice Putin reveling; on the contrary, he did not even look happy at the government meeting after the election, and gave a reserved assessment of its results, promising to utilize the ideas and human capital of the losers. “It is not clear whether the two liberal parties that had represented a small but vocal coalition of reformist, pro-Western deputies will survive,” says the NYT. The Washington Post runs a longer feature titled ‘One of Those Days of Defeat’ for Pro-Western Parties. Everyone’s floating “pro-Western”, but what in the world does it mean?
Suppose it refers to a commitment to a foreign policy favoring an alliance with the West–the US or the EU. Such a policy might not be possible at all, for neither the US, nor NATO, nor the EU have abandoned their hostility to Russia, not ashamed of the gap between deed and word. Bill and Boris, George and Vladimir have professed eternal friendship, and officially Russia is the righteous coalition’s partner in the war on terror. Yet NATO keeps expanding eastwards, recreating a sanitary cordon along the borders of the avowed ally, while the US takes a too vivid interest in former Soviet republics which Russia naturally includes into the area of its vital national interests. The EU’s eastward expansion holds no promise for Russia except a new tariff wall and visa curtain. In short, the West got what it wanted: the Soviet empire and Russia’s military might are no more,–and got it so cheaply that it doesn’t have to take Russia into account any more. Obviously, Russia cannot become unilaterally friendly to the West now; thus, the most pro-Western policy I can think of would be passive non-participation. I admit it might be a good course for Russia, but so far it has not been articulated by any major party, which means none of them favors a pro-Western foreign policy.
“Pro-Western” must refer to values then. Indeed, if anyone cared to read the programs of the Union of Right Forces (URF) and Yabloko, it should be clear that they do support individual rights, limited government, and rule of law; in practical terms, they favor civilian control over the military, police and secret services, a well-functioning court system, a smaller and weaker bureaucracy, more flexibility and less regulation for non-oligarchic businesses. I am not sure this appeals to the Russian equivalents of the guys in pickup trucks with Confederate flags, but it certainly does to the Russian equivalent of the middle class. These people may live in small apartments because mortgage lending is in its infancy in Russia (and rightists have supported pro-mortgage legislation), but they are behaviorally middle-class: they have stable families, rear children, work and — most importanly — they save. A URF leader once estimated the pool of their potential voters at 20% of the total. That may be correct, but somehow these people are not seen flocking to vote for the “pro-Western” parties.
The problem is not in the values but in the messenger and the way the message is conveyed.
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