April 20, 2017

Russian Foreign Minister Reflects on Promises, Failure of Post-Soviet Russia

Print More

The Cold War has not ended, claimed Andrei Kozyrev, the first foreign minister of the Russian Federation. Instead, his government failed.

Kozyrev — whose son is an editor for The Sun — reflected on the promise, obstacles and ultimate failure of post-Soviet diplomacy during and after his administration in a lecture at Cornell Thursday.

“Did the Cold War end, and if not, when will it end, if ever?” Kozyrev asked rhetorically. “I believe it did not end. What we have now is just a continuation of the good old Cold War.”

The Cold War continues today because confrontation with the West is required for the “outdated” Russian regime to legitimize itself, Kozyrev claimed.

“Russia being backward domestically, politically and economically, it could not be pro-West,” he said. “Russia can keep regimes outdated relative to European regimes, including Tsarist Russia and Putin’s regime, through confrontation [with the West.]”

A liberal reformist who denounced class struggle, Kozyrev attempted to “play catch-up” with the West in the political and economic sphere, a process he believes has ultimately failed.

“[The] government in which I participated in, led by Yeltsin, we failed,” he said. “I admit it. We destroyed some communist ideology, but we failed to replace the old system with a new system [defined by] democracy, rule of law and free market.”

Inhibited by dated authoritarianism at home, Russia still pursues outdated era expansionism and rejects the Western liberal international order, prolonging the Cold War even after the fall of communism, according to Kozyrev.

“For centuries, the definition of national interest was … taking more territories and colonies,” he added. “Today, Putin’s regime continues to insist on centuries old ideas of national interest, asserting Russia should still fight for territorial control, as they did in Ukraine.”

A confrontational approach to foreign policy suppresses Russia’s shared heritage with its European “brothers” and portrays them as an “awful, devilish enemy,” stymying international cooperation, Kozyrev said.

“The Russian people are Europeans by its culture and religious orientation,” he said. “But beginning with the Tsars, [Russian leaders] developed crazy ideas and interpretations of history that Christian Orthodoxy has nothing to do with Western Christianity. All this was developed by outdated Russian regimes … to portray Europe as something threatening.”

Stagnancy of Russian policy extends beyond foreign policy — the totalitarian nature of Russia survived unscathed the many regime changes the country underwent, according to Kozyrev.

“The communist rule was even worse. In many ways it was just a reincarnation of Tsarist Russia,” he said. “In some sense people changed places — revolutionaries became new Tsars and the former upper class were expelled and their property taken by the new.”

Kozyrev had even more blistering criticism of Soviet communism, even going as far to say it is akin to fascism.

“Fascism is fascism all over, even under communist banners,” Kozyrev said. “Nazism was different — it was racist — but Mussolini wasn’t very racist. Fascism is populist authoritarianism. Fundamentally, [Tsarism and communism] were the thing. Communism was reinterpreted as a new religion. It was a new dogma [that was] anti-western, pretending to be superior to Western democracies.”

Though Kozyrev repeatedly acknowledged that the continuation of old Russian authoritarianism was not the fault of the West, he maintained that the western assistance to the new Russian democracy was inadequate.

“Not that we expected it, but we were hopeful that the United States will help,” Kozyrev said. “The West didn’t humiliate us. … America was helpful. We had some crucial contribution politically, economically. But it wasn’t enough. It was not a Marshall Plan. Nothing real materialized.”

Kozyrev regretfully noted that, if his reforms succeeded, it would have “ended the Cold War.”

“Democratic Russia would have had much to offer,” Kozyrev said. “We could have been useful to the world in the Middle East [and] North Korea.”

Nevertheless, Kozyrev remains hopeful. He believes that with time, Russia will break free from its historical shackles.

“Whether it will end will depend on if the underlying forces of the Cold War will stop working,” he said. “The cold war will end — and I believe this will happen one day — when the next generation comes in, empowers reformers and brings Western political system.”