November 28, 2006

The End of the Cold War

Relations with Russia have preoccupied Western Chancelleries since at least 1917 as being of a different character from relations with other powers. Whether in the 1930s where British appeasement of Nazi Germany was in part motivated by a genuine concern about which was more dangerous- Germany or Russia, or in the era of the Cold War or even today where for John Miller Russia is now an enemy or Pat Buchanan fears the instigation of another Cold War by interests opposed to the present Russian regime, Russia has been an object of exoticist Western curiosity. Partly of course this is based around an ideological rivalry that lingers in the minds of Western analysts- the confrontation between global communism and global capitalism provided a simple model within which Western policy could be measured against a global enemy.

It is interesting in this context to read of the publication of diaries that record the last meetings of the Gorbachev politburo in the 1980s. As described by Der Speigel they provide a glimpse (however biassed) into the world of cold war diplomacy as perceived by Gorbachev at the height of Glasnost and Perestroika. What they reveal though is not the simple pattern which the cold warriors would like us to see- for example by the end of the 1980s, Helmut Kohl and Erich Honecker, the leaders of West and East Germany, were competing for the ear of the Russian Government. What they reveal is the degree to which the Russian satallites were largely against the will of their governments abandoned by the Russian government. They show a government that was struggling with a society in transition- a government that was often reacting to events that it did not understand and had not been informed of- a government where controversy about foreign policy was as much a central though hidden part of politics as it was (though much less secret) in the West.

Gorbachev's era was characterised by hostility to Russia from those who liked their foreign policy in simple shades of red and white, similar things are at the root of what is going on today with regard to Russia. The Economist has called Putin a fascist, others envisage him as a communist. The truth doesn't lie in those simple labels- Putin's regime does have a bad human rights record in Chechnya and a Russian democrat might well be disturbed by some of the developments that have taken place- but as a threat to the West, we misunderstand Russian foreign policy if we read it through a simple prism of opposition to the forces of capitalism. We find even in the days of Communist Russia that most of the senior members of the politburo could not be easily categorised in those terms- Gorbachev and the men he led can't be described simply as reds opposing the forces of capitalism.


Political Umpire said...

Interesting post. I'm being a bore here, and apologise accordingly, but don't you mean read (or look) through a lens rather than a prism? I may be wrong.

Gracchi said...

Doh English language, English language when shall I escape thy peevish bonds.

Yeah I probably did.

Liz said...

Interestingly Gorbachev is very unpopular in Russia yet a hero in the West. His reforms did end with the collapse of communism yet did not result in the model of Swedish social democracy that he offered the masses, and was what they (and he for that matter) wanted. Instead they resulted in the gangster capitalism there today.

Stalinism had to be destroyed but not to be replaced with what exists there now.........

Gracchi said...

Liz I agree with you that what exists now is hardly perfect at all. I also agree with you about Gorbachev- you get the sense that the early 90s saw him lose control of the process he had begun. What Putin represents and where Russia is heading is something that I'm not sure about personally- I think we probably need some distance from it and also some more of the minutes- as with Gorbachev they might reveal a lot more than we expect- his hostility to Kohl for the first two years based upon personal dislike of Kohl. I often think policy emerges more with confusion and personal anger and animosity than we admit in journalism or blogging- because what we see is perfect from the outside whereas its actually muddled on the inside.

Not sure whether that's answered your point at all. Cheers for coming over and commenting.