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Russia: Soviet Negotiating Style Survives

  • Charles Fenyvesi



Washington, 9 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A new book suggests that Americans are likely to find that negotiating with Russians today may be even more difficult than talking to Soviet officials was in the past.

Not only has the once familiar Soviet negotiating style survived in many cases, Jerrold Schecter argues in his book "Russian Negotiating Behavior," but the impact of the collapse of the USSR has intensified many of these patterns.

A former Moscow bureau chief for the American magazine Time and U.S. National Security Council staff member, Schecter says the operational code of the Soviet leadership, first described by American sociologist Nathan Leites in the 1950s, remains in force.

That code specifies that all politics is a zero-sum game, one in which the winner takes all and the loser gets nothing. And it calls for the use of force and rudeness to force a negotiating partner to make concessions.

Underlying all of this, Schecter notes, is the conviction that no opponent will ever be willing to accept the Russian position on the basis of rational argument.

In support of this point, Schecter cites former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's observation that the Russians in Soviet times were always "too unsure of their moral claims to admit the possibility of error." As a result, Schecter cites Kissinger as saying that Russian negotiators almost always moved "from infallible dogma to unchangeable positions."

According to Schecter, Russians continue to behave this way when they talk to foreigners, including Americans. And he argues that the collapse of the Soviet system has made this pattern more complicated.

Not only did the end of the USSR lead to bureaucratic chaos, a situation many Russians find unsettling, but it has led to even more corruption, to a concern with maximizing personal return regardless of what happens to the broader interests involved.

Some have argued that this new Russian interest in wealth provides a lever that Americans and others can use to get their way, but Schecter suggests that money alone will rarely allow outsiders to overcome the operational code that most Russians continue to follow.

In all these respects, the Russian approach is very different from the American. Consequently, Schecter says, Americans talking to Russians should first of all understand these differences if they are to achieve their goals.

And Schecter provides a list of basic rules for American negotiators to follow: be sensitive to Russian problems, treat Russian negotiators with respect but do not give in on all points, insist on carefully defined rules and verification procedures, and set up penalties if either side fails to perform.

Such rules, Schecter says, will not guarantee success, but they will help Americans to negotiate better and Russians to learn the democratic rules of the game.

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