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Russia: Analysis From Washington -- Is The Cold War Really Over?

  • Paul Goble

Washington, 11 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A leading Russian foreign policy analyst has suggested that the Cold War is not yet over, an argument that not only challenges most assumptions about that conflict but also underscores the difficulties its participants may have in cooperating in the future.

Writing in the current issue of the Russian foreign policy journal "International Affairs," Sergei Kortunov argues that the Cold War has not been about ideology or the containment of the Soviet Union, as Western writers claim, but rather represents the West's "total rejection" of "the legitimacy and legality of historical Russia."

Kortunov, who is the vice president of the Russian Foreign Policy Association, makes a number of points in support of this position: He says that Moscow won World War II "as Great Russia not as a Red Empire." He insists that neither the Soviet Union nor Stalin had any ambitions after 1945, that the West rejected all of Moscow's efforts to ease conflict.

And he argues that the West not only continued but expanded upon the Nazi approach to Russia by promoting the idea of "mythical" states to dismember the Russian heartland. Indeed, he says, "the world anti-Russian center moved from Berlin to Washington" following the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Consequently, no right-thinking Russian, Kortunov adds, can accept the "rightness" of the West in the Cold War because that would mean not simply "the renunciation of Communism" but the acceptance of "the fallacy of the entire Russian historical idea -- of the entire Russian Orthodox idea in history."

And that in turn, he says, would mean accepting what he suggests is the Western view of Russia as an evil empire or even -- and here he quotes former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski's words -- "a redundant country."

Unfortunately, Kortunov goes on, some in Russia -- "the most radical part of domestic democrats" -- do not deny Russia's "defeat" in the Cold War or conceal their "joy" over it or even their role in bringing it about.

And he cites with approval the observation of one Russian analyst that "it is much more convenient for the 'democrats' to pretend that the West has never carried on an unrelenting struggle against our former motherland, Russia-USSR and that it was only by our own efforts that we destroyed the 'evil empire.'"

Kortunov argues that any fair-minded assessment will show that "strictly speaking, the Russian Federation was 'fighting' against the USSR on the side of the West," and that only after the 1991 breakup have some Russians begun to recognize that they have been helping the West to pursue an anti-Russian rather than anti-Soviet strategy.

On the one hand, Kortunov's article represents nothing new. All his arguments have been made by Soviet ideologues in the past and by Russian nationalist writers in more recent times. And all of his positions have been dismissed by most serious scholars in both Russia and the West.

But on the other hand, Kortunov's argument is striking both substantively and politically.

Substantively, his suggestion that the Cold War is not over and will continue unless and until the West accepts Russia's legitimacy and even moral equivalence highlights the deep suspicion many Russians now have about the West.

Politically, the appearance of this article in Russia's premier foreign policy journal, one addressed not only to its own diplomats but also to the West, indicates that ever more people in the Russian political elite share Kortunov's anti-Western positions.

And by providing ideological justification for those in Moscow who want to adopt a tougher line against the West, Kortunov's argument may become a self-fulfilling prophecy, exacerbating tensions between East and West to such an extent that he and others will be justified when they claim that the Cold War is not yet over.