There is a new optimism about Russia. Douglas Hurd, who here recalls his meetings with Gorbachev and Yeltsin, says it is justified. Even the prospect of a populist president should not alarm the westby Douglas Hurd / August 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
The past few months have seen a marked increase in confidence in the west about Russia. This is true among politicians on both sides of the Atlantic; but they are naturally optimistic, otherwise they would not enter that profession. Diplomats, who have a cooler temperament but are still paid to be positive, have also registered this up-turn. So have investors; and even among the more serious journalists there has been a marked rise in expectations.
Two factors have contributed to this development. One is the improved health of the Russian president. Not many of us expected a few months ago to see Yeltsin bounding about the world with that definiteness we used to associate with him. Second, now restored to health, Yeltsin also appears to have taken important decisions. In the economic sphere, he has chosen two reformers: Anatoly Chubais and Boris Nemtsov. In the diplomatic sphere, he took the difficult decision to make the best of the western decision to enlarge Nato.
The fundamentals also are changing slowly for the better. The combination of huge natural resources and a highly educated people is the foundation of economic hopes for Russia. But the proverbial patience of the Russian people has also been crucial in the past few years. (Compare, for example, the impatience constantly shown by the French electorate in much less formidable circumstances.) That patience has been a necessary condition of the political and economic revolution that has been taking place-three steps forward, two steps back.
Democracy comes in different shapes and sizes. There is the democracy to which we are accustomed, based on a parliamentary system and political parties. But there is another type of democracy which, if you are being rude, you call Bonapartist and if you are being polite, you call Gaullist. This model, which places a strong emphasis on the elected president, forms the basis of the Russian constitution, as Yeltsin knows well. We can conceive of circumstances in which, under the next president (whether Lebed or someone like him), the Bonapartist/Gaullist route is taken. It would not have to be a military tyrant, or someone who is going to resurrect the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, but an elected, populist president-a first consul rather than an emperor. I can imagine such a president emerging in Russia and that should not necessarily cause us to despair.
On the economic side, what is lacking…