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Russia, Georgia, the world in 2009: Sergey Karaganov

Sergey Karaganov, dean of the Department of Global Economics and Politics, Higher School of Economics, Moscow. Photo: unknown

Sergey Karaganov, born in 1952, heads the Council for Foreign and Defence Policy.  He is regarded as one of Russia's top foreign policy experts. In 2005, Foreign Policy and The Prospect (UK) ranked Sergey Karaganov among the world's top 100 public intellectuals.[14] Karaganov's research interests focus primarily on Russian foreign and defence policies, as well as the security and economic aspects of Russian-European relations. Karaganov previously advised former presidents Yeltsin and Putin on foreign policy issues.

An article in the June 2009 issue of Russia in Global Affairs sets out his view of Russian-EU rivalry following the Georgia war in 2008.  Like many Russian observers, he sees the Kosovo war in 1999 as a turning point in that it convinced Russians that the West could not be trusted:

"This New Epoch is characterized by increased tensions between Russia and the traditional (in Cold War terms) West, caused by objective changes in the alignment of forces and by Moscow's tough and even arrogant policy of revising the model of relations with the West, which had taken shape in the years of chaos and destruction in Russia. The growing tensions expanded into a direct confrontation when Georgia attacked South Ossetia and was defeated. This conflict has shown that, despite assurances from all parties, the Cold War has never ended."

"… in 1999, the United States and European nations, euphoric with feelings of victory in the Cold War and of their rightfulness and impunity, attacked Yugoslavia. Russia's attitude towards the West underwent an important psychological change. Moscow imagined itself repeating the fate of Belgrade bombed by NATO and a process began that led to a profound estrangement between Russia and NATO ... It was the first time since World War II that one country or a group of countries in Europe attacked another European state. There had been many shameful episodes during the Cold War. For example, in the mid-1940s, a British expeditionary corps crushed the Communist guerrilla movement in Greece. In 1953, the East German authorities ordered the opening of fire at a demonstration of workers. In 1956, Soviet tanks suppressed an uprising in Budapest. In 1961, the East German authorities, acting on approval from Moscow, built the Berlin Wall. In 1968, troops from the Soviet Union and its allies invaded Czechoslovakia to put an end to the Prague Spring. Yet towns and cities had not been the targets of air strikes since World War II."

He also describes what he considers false, even naïve, hopes after 1989:

"It seemed that liberal democracy, U.S.-European style, had finally won. But the experience of the past years has shown that this type of political and economic system has only taken root in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. They have received huge economic aid – in exchange for part of their sovereignty.

In all probability, the new Russian elite were ready to follow the same path. In the early 1990s, much hope in Russia was pinned on close rapprochement with the West, which sounds naive today. Russian leaders even spoke about their desire to join NATO (statements to this effect were made by Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Vice President Alexander Rutskoy) and the European Union (by Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin). It is difficult to say how seriously the West discussed such scenarios, but it decided against this idea. Apparently, the EU concluded that integration with Russia, which was too large and potentially independent, would be too expensive for it. In defiance of Moscow's opinion, NATO began to expand. A historical crossroads was passed.

It is embarrassing to admit, but the Russian political class of that time initiated the breakup of the Soviet Union and lost some historical Russian territories …. When giving up the empire (and even part of it which they viewed as the historical territory of their own country), the Russians hoped for the coming of a new era of a 'common European home' and the creation of a 'united and free Europe' (as put by George H.W. Bush). That was not only starry-eyed self-deception, as everyone predicted at the time that Europe would look like that. This is why the Kremlin believed that written guarantees of the non-expansion of Western institutions, above all NATO, were not necessary and that verbal promises from the leaders of the U.S. and Germany would suffice …  However, after hesitating in the first few years, the West began to behave like a winner and to view the territories from which the Soviet Union withdrew not as being abandoned voluntarily, but as occupied and freed. NATO expansion began in 1994 and 1995. The first and the second waves of NATO enlargement had no ideological footing, but there was a desire to consolidate the booty, taking avail of the weakness and chaos in Russia."

"Expand or die. Washington and its allies decided to consolidate their geopolitical acquisitions in Europe by laying down the markers for a zone of their economic and political influence … NATO degraded from the anti-Communist defensive alliance of the Cold War years into an offensive union. The alliance unleashed three major wars over the last decade. NATO committed aggression against Yugoslavia and annexed Kosovo from it. The NATO leader, with a group of its allies, attacked Iraq. NATO is actually waging an offensive war far from its original area of responsibility in Afghanistan – with Russia's consent, it must be admitted. NATO's appetite is increasing. …NATO expansion towards Russian borders and the inclusion in NATO of countries whose elites had historical complexes with regard to Russia because of their setbacks and defeats in previous centuries, have increased anti-Russian sentiments in the alliance. I do hope that Tbilisi's attack on South Ossetia and Russia's response to it will prove to be a fruitful episode in the historical perspective. The sacrifice – the Ossetians, Russians and Georgians who died in that war – may not be in vain. Russian troops gave a strong military rebuff to the logic of NATO's infinite expansion which, if not stopped, would inevitably bring about a big war – not in Georgia but around Ukraine, almost in the heart of Europe."[15]


[14]"The Prospect/FP Top 100 Public Intellectuals," Foreign Policy, September 2005.

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