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East/West: British Analyst Calls On Europe To Engage Russia

  • Ben Partridge

A spirited debate in international policy circles began a few months ago when journalist and analyst John Lloyd wrote an article in "The New York Times" that looked at the question, "Who Lost Russia?" Now Lloyd continues his theme, saying the West must engage Russia more closely.

London, 30 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A leading British commentator on Russia says European policy-makers must try to engage the country more closely.

John Lloyd wrote a provocative article published in "The New York Times" in August that detailed the debate over the perceived Western failure to help Russia's economic transition. Lloyd, a former Moscow correspondent for Britain's "Financial Times," elaborated on those same themes recently at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.

Lloyd says the Chechen war shows that "the gap between Russia and the West is now very wide." This wide gap has been taken as evidence by critics in the U.S. and Western Europe that Western policy toward Russia has failed.

Critics in the U.S. Republican Party, Lloyd says, blame the Democratic administration of President Bill Clinton for turning Russia, which in the early 1990s was pro-Western, into what is now almost a hostile country. Clinton's political opponents say his administration was responsible for pushing an inappropriate policy on Russia as it sought to move to a market economy and democracy.

The policy, known as "shock therapy," rested on the assumption that Russia would move to free markets most effectively if the reform process were as fast as possible. Critics now say the emphasis on speed was a mistake. But Lloyd says it was the Russians themselves who embraced the idea of rapid reform -- particularly Yegor Gaidar and Anatoly Chubais.

"It was they who were -- especially Gaidar and, initially Chubais -- who were constantly advocating a speeding up, let's go faster and faster and faster, almost in a return to the early Bolshevik days, when what was needed was more socialism, or more communism. What [they said] was needed in these days was more capitalism, more markets, and a tougher attack on the vested interests of the state and the vested interests of the Communist Party."

The privatization of state assets ranging from corner shops to large enterprises was pushed through with great speed and energy. It was only later that doubts surfaced.

Earlier this year, Joseph Stiglitz, the U.S. chief economist of the World Bank who has just resigned (amid reports he was fired), criticized Western policy toward Russia. He had harsh words for the set of economic prescriptions known as the "Washington consensus," which includes rapid privatization and trade liberalization. Stiglitz said reformers should have focused first on building up a civil society, and has called the approach to Russian privatization "an enormous mistake."

But was that the case? Lloyd outlined the West's defense against this charge. First, he said, it is absurd to say Russia has been "lost" because it is still trying to find itself and, anyway, Russia is "not ours to lose." Second, it was the Russian reformers themselves -- young and brilliant people around President Boris Yeltsin -- who chose to embark on a rapid reform course.

Third, what the Russians are trying to do -- to build a market economy after nearly a century of communism and centuries of Tsarist autocracy -- is unprecedented. The challenge is greater than Spain's transition from authoritarianism in the 1970s, or Chile's progress to the market and democracy after the upheavals of the Pinochet era. In these circumstances, asks Lloyd, who could be surprised that mistakes were made, by the Russians themselves and by Western advisers? Lloyd says it is clear that the transition process in Russia and the whole region will take much longer than originally predicted.

"It is going to be a lot longer than we thought, not just in Russia, but in Poland, the Czech Republic -- where it hasn't done very well, really, given that it did so well relatively under communism -- even in Hungary. And, of course, in societies like Romania and Bulgaria, to say nothing of Albania, in the other former Soviet states -- with the powerful exception of the Baltics, which are doing rather well, but are tiny, and have been, as it were, adopted by the Scandinavian countries -- the time taken to go through a process of coming into the modern world [will be a lot longer], of coping with globalization, which, after all, we [in the West] are just coping with."

Lloyd also says that the European countries must play a larger role in engaging Russia in the years ahead. He says his visits to conferences in Prague and Budapest in the past fortnight have showed him that the Central European countries are particularly concerned about the potential dangers of a hostile Russia.

"It is important that Europe, both through the European Union, and through the major states, must play a much larger role. If in the first eight or nine years of an independent Russia, the American policy has failed, and for whatever reason, or series [of reasons] or not, it has failed, then we have to start again with a new [Russian] president, who presumably will be elected in the middle of next year. Something else has to happen. I think Europe must be more involved, if for no better reason than Mikhail Gorbachev used to say: Europe is our common home. We stand to be more affected by a crumbling or aggressive Russia."

Lloyd also says that calls for U.S. disengagement from Russia by some in the Republican Party must be treated with caution. He says more, not less engagement, is the way forward.