Those who witnessed or took part in the monumental transformation of Soviet society in the late 1980s and of Russian society in the early ‘90s remember well the euphoria of those times. Everything associated with the lives of a society under a totalitarian communist regime passed into history, and the citizens of a new Russia sought to join the great family of Western civilization, of which America was the undisputed leader.
Twenty-five years ago, in April 1989, I was an organizer of and participant in the highly respected American delegation’s landmark Moscow meeting, with Gorbachev’s “right hand” and the real author of the Perestroika and Glasnost policies, Alexander Yakovlev.
Our group, which included members of the U.S. Congress, former Soviet dissidents and international experts with a strong anti-Soviet and anti-communist reputation, had two objectives. The first was to examine the extent to which perestroika and glasnost were Moscow’s real policy and not just another Potemkin village to deceive the naive West. The second was to help the Soviet people understand the true meaning of the great Western civilization’s values.
These values, as much now as then, are understood as the highest manifestation of human ideals — of human rights, the rule of law, democracy, freedom, the market economy, and many other concepts associated with them. Weary of the communist yoke and having gotten their first taste of freedom under Gorbachev, the vast majority of Russians were ready to adopt all of these values and expected that none other than America would help turn them into a reality.
What actually ended up happening in Russia couldn’t have been further from the aforementioned ideals and dreams. The country’s economy suffered far more than during World War II. Millions lost their jobs and life savings. Business freedom turned out to be the freedom of racketeering and gangsterism, while some commentators dubbed the privatization that was carried out the greatest robbery of the 20th century.
Of course, the West alone can’t be blamed for all of this, but it can’t be denied that many of the reforms, like privatization, were carried out with the direct participation of a huge number of Western — mostly American — advisers. The role of the Clinton administration in facilitating this far-reaching tragedy is described in detail in a well-known report by the U.S. Congress published in September 2000, titled “Russia’s Road to Corruption.” Though the report soon mysteriously disappeared from Congress' website, it’s easy to find on search engines.
There is no clear-cut answer to the question of why America, despite the desire of a majority of Russian citizens, refused to integrate Russia into Western economic, political and military structures, as it’s trying to do now with Ukraine and Georgia. Most likely, the West was not interested in the revival of Russia as a world power, but preferred to see it as more of a raw-materials appendage for its economy, and as an export market.
However, a miracle happened, and Russia, like the mythological phoenix, was able to spring to life again and become one of the world’s top five economies, while the values of Western civilization, or rather the methods of their dissemination, have begun to be questioned — not just in Russia, but also in other parts of the world.
The bombing of Serbia, the color revolutions, the "Arab Spring," the attacks on Iraq, Libya and Syria without a United Nations mandate, the hundreds of thousands of victims, millions of refugees, chaos, devastation, emergence of a new generation of terrorists in comparison with whom al-Qaida is nearly a model of moderation — all of this, of course, undermines the West’s image. At the same time, the events in Ukraine have dispelled any remaining illusions about the West as a guarantor of a higher justice in the world.
Recently, Brussels finally agreed to include Russia in the talks on trilateral economic cooperation among the European Union, Russia, and Ukraine, and to postpone the implementation of the EU-Ukraine association agreement until the start of 2016. In the end, what happened was precisely what Putin and Yanukovych had proposed, but was rejected by the West, which supported a military coup in Kiev, after which followed a civil war with thousands of victims, hundreds of thousands of refugees, and colossal devastation in southeastern Ukraine.
It’s clear that the declared values of Western civilization have not lost their power, however, any more than communist slogans about equality, justice, freedom from exploitation, etc. Lately, however, the forced introduction of Western values is painfully reminiscent of similar communist methods used by the Soviet regime.
Nevertheless, according to all public opinion polls, most Americans are against interfering in the affairs of other countries that do not threaten U.S. security. Obama’s approval rating is tumbling, and as for Congress — which recently gave Poroshenko such a warm welcome — now only 13 percent of Americans assess its job as satisfactory. This means that Western civilization and its leader, the United States, still have a chance to regain the world’s respect, but only if the American political landscape is able to transform itself and find the strength to radically revise the country’s foreign policy, recognizing the disastrous mistakes of the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations. It’s clear that the chances of that happening are slim, but then, the chances of communism’s collapse were even less so, so miracles do happen.