Another Russia?

Renewed tension between Russia and the West has also led to renewed interest in London, Washington, and elsewhere as to the state of the Russian opposition.

Earlier this week, The Guardian published an interesting piece by Timothy Garton Ash  which looked at Russia as a country suffering from a loss of empire. Garton Ash argued that there was also another Russia ‘represented by the murdered opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, and the people who come to lay flowers on the bridge where he was assassinated’.

Yesterday, the paper published a letter in which I argued that the state of Russia today could not be fully understood without reference to the role that NATO enlargement, in the post-Soviet era, had played in forming Russian foreign policy. You can read it on The Guardian‘s letter page, here, and the text follows below.

Timothy Garton Ash (‘There is another Russia’, Monday 20 April) makes some interesting points, but misses others. While it is true that some ‘Putin understanders’ do seek to ‘excuse all’ when looking at Russia today, there are also pitfalls in adopting the opposite approach. Nowhere does the article mention NATO expansion. One can agree or disagree as to the wisdom or otherwise of NATO’s policies in Eastern Europe since 1991. One cannot disagree that the admission of the Baltic States in particular, and earlier discussions of the possible accession of Georgia and Ukraine, have been used by Vladimir Putin’s administration to fuel his popularity.
There is another Russia today, but it is of limited significance. I was in the audience at Chatham House recently when Mikhail Khodorkovsky gave a lecture. Those of us present who lived in Russia in the 1990s saw a picture of the past rather than the future. The ‘other Russia’ had its chance then. Its day may come again, but it is not here now. Overlooking this, combined with an apparent general lack of Russia expertise (not least in language skills) is one of the reasons why the West has found itself caught on the hop over Ukraine.