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Chechnya: War May Have Long-Lasting Impact On U.S.-Russian Ties

  • Michael Lelyveld

Some Russia experts see long-lasting effects of Chechnya war on relations with the United States. RFE/RL correspondent Michael Lelyveld reports on a debate on the issues that took place this week among Russian and American scholars at a business school in Massachusetts.

Boston, 10 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- A leading American analyst and expert on Russian affairs says the war in Chechnya may have an effect on U.S.-Russian relations long after it is over.

The question of Russia's future after Chechnya was debated this week by American and Russian scholars at a program organized by Babson College, an American business school in Wellesley, in the eastern state of Massachusetts.

Marshall Goldman, associate director of Harvard University's Davis Center for Russian Studies, addressed the topic of whether Russia will survive through its difficult period of economic crises and war.

"The first question is not whether Russia will survive. It will survive. The question is, will it survive in a way that will be healthy? Chechnya to me illustrates the fact that it won't be healthy, that it will have a different standard," Goldman said.

Goldman, who has written numerous books on Russia, believes that U.S.-Russian relations will continue despite differences over the war and the direction taken by Acting President Vladimir Putin. But the effects may be felt in subtle ways, including the impact on Russia's ability to integrate its economy and do business with the West.

"There will always be in the back of our minds, I'm afraid -- and in the back of Russian minds -- that they're different, that their standards are different," said Goldman.

A recent poll in Russia found that public support for the war remains strong and may actually be growing, despite negative images and protests in the West. But Chechnya may be only one reason for divergence with the United States.

Speaking to an audience at Babson's Glavin Center for Global Entrepreneurial Leadership, Goldman pointed to rising U.S. concern that the Putin era may be one of fewer freedoms and less dissent. New limits may accompany a crackdown on corruption. Goldman noted the withdrawal of some candidates from Russia's presidential race and Putin's recent comment that "democracy is the dictatorship of law."

"I can tell you now there is indeed an atmosphere in Moscow that is very threatening," said Goldman, a frequent visitor to Russia. "There's a greater sense of fear and intimidation in Russia than any time I've felt since early Gorbachev."

Balancing Goldman's admitted pessimism was Dmitry Evstafiev, an associate professor of St. Petersburg State University, who also teaches at Babson. Evstafiev pointed to the growing entrepreneurship among the new generation in Russia. He compared the country's reform progress to the process of educating the young people themselves. Russia is learning, he said, and education takes time.

Evstafiev believes that in five years, Russian companies will begin to be seen as potential competitors to their counterparts in the United States. He said Russian potential will continue to grow. "In 2025, we will be the principle competitors to you on the global markets," Evstafiev predicted.

But a third panelist was less hopeful. Michael Bruner, an associate professor of history and society at Babson, traced Russia's recent course to former President Boris Yeltsin and his constitutional confrontation with the State Duma in 1993.

Western nations were willing to back Yeltsin when he disbanded the elected parliament and attacked the parliament building, believing that a new constitution would guarantee economic reforms. But Yeltsin used the process to rule by decree, fostering disrespect for law, Bruner said. Violence has only led to more violence. The result now is the popularity of Putin and his call for order and a strong state, he said.

Neither Russia nor the United States are happy with the current state of affairs. "In a country where lawlessness generally prevails, the market economy tends to become a fairly ugly thing," Bruner said. But he questioned whether more authoritarianism would solve Russia's problems or win U.S. support.

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