Who Lost Russia?

Who lost Russia? This question remains hotly debated in media and policy circles across the West. The question seems to presuppose, not only that Russia was lost, but also that if someone in America’s government, the IMF, or EU headquarters had been paying more attention or had devoted more resources towards helping Russia’s government, the results would have been better. But hardly anyone today thinks the West should have been putting more money into Russia, or even that it should have been helping Yeltsin, and now Putin, to a greater extent than it has been.

An opposing critique, favored by some of George W. Bush’s advisors, holds that the Clinton Administration tried too hard to help, not that it did not try hard enough. There is something contradictory about using the phrase “Who lost Russia?” to mean that the US tried too hard to help. The harshest criticism comes from those (including some Bush advisers) who say America and the West sent money down a rat-hole instead of following the practice adopted to fighting some wildfires B ie, standing back and letting the flames burn themselves out.

All in all, the patiently calibrated approach of the last eight years has been right for the most part. Few will agree with this, probably not even those responsible for conducting Russia policy over the past years. So let me add that I do not claim that things are good in Russia, nor that American and Western policy had much positive effect there, nor that there isn’t corruption, misery, and their like in abundance across Russia.

Of course, the current situation for the West is more satisfactory, not only from where it was 10 or 20 years ago, when the Soviet Union’s fall did not appear even a remote possibility, but also from where it might have been given Russia’s economic hardship and social instability. Russia pulled back from hyperinflation in 1995; it has not veered off either toward rightwing dictatorship nor back to Communism; nor has it entirely degenerated into anarchic chaos.