Promises made, promises broken? Russia and the West


The West does not need to back down from its view that the inclusion of Central and Eastern Europe into NATO and the EU promoted strategic interests and values, notes James Goldgeier, Dean of the School of International Service at American University. But it does need to understand the roots of the sense of insecurity in Russia, not as part of a blame game, but to assist both sides as they seek to grope for a way forward to a more stable relationship between the West and Russia, says the author or co-author of Not Whether But When: the U.S. Decision to Enlarge NATO; Power and Purpose: U.S. Policy toward Russia after the Cold War (with Michael McFaul) and America Between the Wars: From 11/9 to 9/11 (with Derek Chollet).

What was conveyed by [Warren] Christopher to [Boris] Yeltsin in October 1993 illuminates a central challenge the United States has faced since the end of the Cold War: how to support freedom in Central and Eastern Europe and avoid recognizing Russia’s claims to a sphere of influence in the region, while at the same time not feeding Russian insecurities that the West seeks to humiliate and take advantage of Russia, he writes for War On The Rocks:

Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, we have the declassified memorandum of conversation (MemCon), which sheds much more light on what was said in October 1993 (and in what order) than do the memoirs of Christopher and Clinton’s chief Russia hand, Strobe Talbott. But it’s not just what was said at any given meeting that is central to understanding the trajectory of U.S.-European-Russian relations since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The 1990 and 1993 meetings symbolize the narrative of the entire decade: While desirous of a new relationship with Russia, the United States saw itself as the Cold War victor and had the power to shape the security dynamic across Europe. Yeltsin, meanwhile, believed he had been responsible for the overthrow of communism and wanted his country’s place in Europe recognized, but had no power to push back against U.S. initiatives that he believed only served to strengthen his more nationalist opponents within Russia. 

There’s a Russian word, “raspad,” that means disintegration, breakup or collapse. Raspad is what happened to the Soviet Union in every sense of the word, notes David E. Hoffman, the author of “The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal.”

An enormous party-state and the ideology and history behind it simply crashed like a tired old building, leaving heaps of broken windows and girders, piles of dust and bricks, he writes for The Washington Post:

But what of the living people who made up Soviet communism and found themselves, literally the next morning, citizens of the new Russian capitalism, who lived in an exhausted police state and woke up in a nascent democracy, who gave their blood and treasure to defend the Soviet Union in World War II and now found the country tossed in the ashbin of history? Not to mention, what of the younger people who dreamed of a capitalist paradise that did not materialize; those who made the pivot, leaped with energy and joy into the new era — only to see it disappoint? How does a whole society cope with a raspad of such enormous scope?

This unknown lies at the heart of Svetlana Alexievich’s “Secondhand Time*,” Hoffman adds, one of the most vivid and incandescent accounts of this society caught in the throes of change that anyone has yet attempted, the story of what one character aptly describes as “our lost generation — a communist upbringing and capitalist life.”


*Discussed at a recent meeting at the National Endowment for Democracy.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email