Policy Memos

Who Won and Will Win Russia?

Policy Memo:


Publication Date:




According to conventional wisdom, the United States "lost" Russia in the 1990s. This assessment can be found on the pages of The Nation, The Washington Times, The New York Times magazine, or foreign policy issue papers prepared for presidential candidate George W. Bush. These attacks fall into two contradictory categories. One school holds that the policies pursued by the United States over the last decade have failed to establish capitalism and democracy in Russia, and instead have fueled corruption, crime, and ill will towards the United States. The other school argues that the United States was wrong to try to engineer domestic change within Russia in the first place.

Never have so many people been so wrong about such an important issue in US foreign policy. First, Russia is not lost. On the contrary, despite real setbacks regarding reform and integration, Russia still aspires to build a democratic polity, consolidate a market economy, and join the Western community of states. The basic trajectory of reform in Russia and in US-Russian relations is still in the right direction. Second, even if Russia does take an anti-systemic turn away from markets, democracy, and the West, this change will not have resulted from the policies pursued by the Bush and Clinton Administrations in the 1990s. On the contrary, those who aspire to contain or ignore Russia (now that Russia is "lost") are more likely to produce such a shift, as they erroneously believe that Russian domestic politics do not directly influence US-Russian relations. Finally, however, the policies that were appropriate yesterday to help Russia pursue domestic reform and international integration with the Western community of states may no longer be appropriate today. As conditions in Russia change, so too should US policy toward Russia. The 2000 presidential elections in both the United States and Russia offer a propitious moment to reframe the bilateral relationship. [...]

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