Twenty years ago this month, Mikhail Gorbachev began his policies of perestroika and glasnost, which led to the end of the Cold War. Now, however, a new chill has entered relations between Russia and the West. President Vladimir Putin is frequently criticized for taking Russia in the wrong direction. The very people who in 2000 called Putin a man they could do business with are having second thoughts. People once fascinated by Putin now publicly rebuke him.
Putin is shooting back, accusing the West of trying to weaken and dismember Russia. As politicians in the West compare him to Mugabe or Mussolini, Putin’s Kremlin aides invoke the Munich appeasers who tried to push Hitler eastward. Putin himself once blamed the West for trying to channel Muslim radicalism toward Russia.
Why this sharp change in tone? Initially, most nations exiting from Communism reached out, almost instinctively, to their immediate pre-Communist period. The Baltic states revived their constitutions of the 1930’s, the Armenians and the Azeris revived their political parties of the late 1910’s, and Eastern Europe, with the exception of East Germany, which reunited with the Federal Republic, suddenly became once again Mitteleuropa.
This revival of the past was a big worry for West Europeans and Americans, who feared the re-emergence of historical enmities and tensions, which did indeed come to the fore in the former Yugoslavia. These fears underpinned the dual enlargement of NATO and the European Union.