Whoever wins the election, Russia will remain an unpredictable neighbour for the west. Nato must expand eastwards but should encourage some states to become partners, not membersby Douglas Hurd / June 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Published in June 1996 issue of Prospect Magazine
Our greatest tribute to modern India is that we take its elections for granted. By contrast, a Russian election is still an amazing event on which all eyes will be fixed in June-amazing because it happens at all, because of the colourful personality of President Yeltsin and because we feel in an undefined way that our own future is caught up with the result.
The west has an evident interest in reform in Russia and reform for the last 11 years has been identified with a personality, first Mikhail Gorbachev, now Boris Yeltsin. So it is natural that in Moscow the west has given one candidate an encouraging shove, in a way it would not dream of doing in Delhi. The Chinese have done the same; that should give us pause. Certainly we need to move as fast as we can to a position in which western policy towards Russia does not depend on the result of a particular election, any more than policy towards Poland or Hungary depended on the result of the recent elections there. At the moment of writing, Yeltsin’s chances fluctuate day by day. If we were faced with a communist or nationalist president of Russia, media-led opinion in the west might panic, as if the clock were whirring back to the 1970s. Whoever the president of Russia, the relationship between Russia and the Atlantic alliance is the greatest single diplomatic and security problem for both, so this is a good time to re-view the prospects.
Progress towards political and economic freedom in Russia has probably reached the point of no return. Many Russians must look with envy at the Chinese system of economic liberalism combined with political authoritarianism. But the Chinese system cannot continue indefinitely in its present form. In any case the Chinese option is no longer open to a Russian president. It is one thing to control your press and imprison dissidents if neither has known anything else. But in Russia-whatever the grumbles-it is hard to imagine a return to political repression or a command economy. Ye…