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U.W.: Going back to the “reset policy”, why do you think it has not brought forth the expected results?

Michael McFaul: Putin believes that time is on his side: that the West will become disinterested and Ukraine will fail with reforms

 

Ex-US Ambassador to Russia on the “reset policy”, Russia’s “resource curse”, and main threats of Putin’s policy for the West and Ukraine

U.W.: When western policymakers were trying to democratize Russia, why did they overlook – intentionally or not – the rise of the regime that Russia has today?

The first thing that I would say is that outsiders have very limited influence on democratic processes internally, especially in big countries. So, the influence of the West was always very marginal in Russia. And it should never be overestimated. The biggest difference of Russia compared to more successful democratic transitions in the post-communist region was that there was a division between those who wanted to move forward and become more democratic and those who did not. In other countries, such as Poland or Estonia, there was more consensus from the very beginning. So they had a better start.

The second thing is that old institutions of the Soviet system, such as the KGB, remained in place. And we didn’t pay enough attention to them, whereas they totally collapsed in other places.

The third thing we generally know about democratic transitions is called the ‘resource curse’ in the Western academic literature. It says that if you get the majority of revenues from natural resources, you are not dependant on tax payers to raise money for the government. If you are dependent on the taxpayers to raise revenues, then you have to listen to the taxpayers. And there is a lot of research that shows that countries, which are heavy oil and gas exporters around the world, not just in Europe, tend to be more autocratic than democratic.

I also think the failure for Russian democracy to consolidate was very contingent. One can imagine just a few facts being different that might have changed the trajectory. The Russian people did not select Putin. Yeltsin did. There is no way that Putin would have become the President of Russia, if Yeltsin hadn’t selected him. He had never won an election at any level before 2000. So it was not inevitable, that whoever came after Yeltsin would stay in power for fifteen years. Had he chosen Nemtsov, who was one of other candidates at that time, Russian political history could have been very different.

People often forget that, but I think it’s an important point. There is some assumption that it was inevitable, that Putin would be the next leader after Yeltsin. I think that’s not true. It was an accident of history.

U.W.: The U.S. used to consider Russia as regional leader. Has this vision changed? If so, what country or a group of countries is considered to be a potential strategic leader in Eastern Europe now?

There have been periods in the U.S.-Russia relations after the Cold War, when we cooperated very closely on big important issues. One was in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The beginning of the Clinton Administration was certainly like that. There was still a high degree of cooperation with the Bush Administration after September 11, then during the “reset” in the early years of the Obama Administration. It’s not true today. We are now in a much more competitive environment with Russia. Therefore, those who are competitive with Russia are like our allies. So without question Ukraine is a very important country right now for not just this part of the world, but for the entire world – because of the norms that were violated with Russian intervention into Ukraine. It’s not just about Ukraine, it’s about the international system that is being challenged by what Russia is doing.



U.W.: Going back to the “reset policy”, why do you think it has not brought forth the expected results?

It had delivered lots of results in the beginning. We got a new START treaty, sanctions on Iran, new supplies to our groups in Afghanistan, and we got Russia into the WTO. Those results were and remain good. The change then happened in Russia internally. Putin had a different view about America, so our ability to work with him diminished. The “reset” was really over in 2012.


Date: 2015-12-24; view: 270


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