Anti-Western Feeling Grows Across Russia
After fall from superpower status, Russians resent leaders' bowing to West's conditions for IMF aid
MOSCOW — SERGEI STANKEVICH is the kind of Russian that Westerners feel comfortable with - fluent in English, a student of American democracy.
The former Vice Mayor of Moscow and present adviser to Russian President Boris Yeltsin is a frequent visitor to Europe and the United States, where he is known as a leading light in the Russian liberal democratic movement.
So it is worth taking notice when Mr. Stankevich issues a manifesto warning against a foreign policy of alliance with the West. Such an "Atlanticist" policy is based on the illusion that Russia can be integrated into the Western economic system, he says.
"For many years to come, we will be allocated at best the role of a junior partner, which we should not accept," Stankevich opined in the pages of the leading liberal paper Nezavisimaya Gazeta (Independent Newspaper) last Saturday.
Stankevich's article, which has attracted much attention among the Moscow intelligentsia, is a clear sign that anti-Western feelings are deepening here, moving well beyond the ranks of extreme Russian nationalists and communists into the intellectual mainstream.
These anti-Western sentiments are complex. In part they reflect the sense of wounded pride of Russians disturbed by their rapid decline from superpower status to a supplicant at the door of Western aid agencies. Mixed with shame is a nostalgia for Great Russia, a Russia that still has, as Stankevich carefully put it, a "mission."
Russians are uncomfortable with the knowledge that they are being treated as just another developing country, having to swallow the same harsh austerity dictates of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as Brazil or India. From Siberia to Moscow the complaints flow that Western multinational corporations are only interested in exploiting Russia as a source of raw materials, a place to mine minerals and pump oil, leaving as little behind as possible.
But more ominously, a tendency is growing to lay blame for Russia's rising woes at the doorstep of the West for offering a dream of riches that is proving an illusion.
"Partly, it is frustration," Stankevich adds in an interview in his Kremlin office, with "the incapacity of the West to organize any effective support for our reforms."
"I expect an anti-Western backlash within six months," predicts a Western economic adviser to the Russian government. "Now they say: 'We have been wrong all along.' They have an impressive plasticity in their views. But then if you disappoint them, they will react strongly to it."
The most visible target of resentment of the West is the IMF, whose prescriptions for a "shock therapy" transition to a market economy reformers in President Yeltsin's government profess to follow faithfully. Those reformers, led by Vice Premier Yegor Gaidar, are unabashed believers in Western economics and the universality of the application of market economics.
"There is a widespread illusion that Russia is a special country," Pyotr Aven, head of the government committee in charge of foreign economic ties, wrote recently. "It is not true.... There are no special countries from the point of view of economists."
Mr. Aven was replying to a wave of criticism from Russian parliamentarians, critiques that have increasingly pointed a finger at the decision to heed the IMF's advice. Russian parliament chairman Ruslan Khasbulatov, a Yeltsin supporter but an opponent of the Gaidar team, led the way at a Feb. 15 gathering in St. Petersburg of local government officials from across Russia.
"We believe it is incorrect to fulfill all the demands set forth by the IMF," he told the meeting. "Such programs are prepared for the certain clients of the IMF; I mean for developing countries.... These IMF schemes are unacceptable for our country."
Ramazan Abdulatipov, who heads the chamber of the parliament composed of representatives of the national minorities, expresses the widespread view that the IMF, as the agent of the West, is out to undermine Russian statehood. "If we pursue the path we are on now and bow before the IMF, we will never achieve real sovereignty," he told reporters on Tuesday.
The view of the conservative former communists who still make up a significant part of the parliament is even harsher.
"In the best tradition of our homemade democracy, the program of the Russian government is submitted to the IMF and discussed there at the board of directors," complained former parliament vice chairman Vladimir Isakov earlier this month. "The government is going to report about the implementation of this plan to the same organization.... One shouldn't be surprised that the IMF is performing the functions of the Russian parliament."
In this context, Stankevich's commentary in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, entitled "A Power in Search of Itself," bears careful examination. Russian foreign policy must "repair the distortion" of Atlanticism and restore balance with a shift towards Asia, toward a policy of "Eurasianism," he says.
While denying any desire to return to the messianism of Soviet communism, the former scholar of American history calls for fulfilling Russia's "mission" as a bridge between Europe and Asia, its "unique historical and cultural combination of Slavic and Turkic, Orthodox and Muslim elements." He talks of a "Russia, patient and open within the limits drawn by law and goodwill ... a country that absorbs both West and East, both North and South; a unique state, probably the only state capable of harmonious uni fication of many various entities, capable of a historic symphony."
Stankevich attempts to lend practicality to this Russian hyperbole. Russia needs to control an "arc of crisis" spreading from the Trans-Caucasus into the Volga region, he says, and counter the spread of influence of Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia on the Muslim population of the former Soviet Central Asian republics and Russia's own sizeable Muslim minority.
When it comes to economics, integration with the West and Japan is "unfeasible," Stankevich pronounces. Instead, he sees a better future to the East and the South in alliance with newly industrializing countries such as India, China, and the Southeast Asian nations; South Africa; the Latin American regional powers of Brazil, Mexico, Chile, and Argentina; and countries such as Greece and Turkey in Europe.