After visiting Russia recently, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger recommended that Ukraine‘s membership in NATO be postponed so as not to impede the evolution of Russian democracy.
However, Mr. Kissinger’s analysis overlooks certain fundamentals of Russia’s evolutionary process and Russian-Ukrainian relations.
After the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia has developed a successor to communism as its ideology in the form of culturology. In effect, it is a revival of Slavophile teachings, dating to the early 19th century.
Like the Slavophiles, culturology rejects Western universalism, believes in the superiority of Russian culture, insists on Russia’s messianic destiny and views Russia as “a world apart.” Taught in the former departments of Marxism-Leninism, it is compulsory in primary and secondary schools and nearly always a required course in the first year of the university.
Culturology is an instrument of power of the Russian authoritarian regime to help control its population, but the principal instrument of its power at this point is oil. Besides using oil as an instrument of political power with regard to the “near abroad” and Western Europe, Russia is converting its oil power into military power. Russia is significantly expanding its navy, which expects to build five to six nuclear carriers.
The evolutionary process is not bypassing Russia, but it must come from society itself. Moreover, in a world characterized by interdependence, societal evolution in Russia has to come from both internal and external forces.
Craving for freedom is a powerful internal societal mover in the evolution toward democracy; it produced peaceful “color revolutions” in three former Soviet republics - Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan.
However, in Russia it is laced with a historical baggage: hundred of years of autocracy. Many Russians feel more comfortable when decisions are made for them, when there is a “batyushka” (father) to give them order and security. Autocracy almost has become a part of the value system of many Russians, just as historical expansionism has become a part of mentality of many in the Russian elite. Russian society, thus, needs more external help than others.
The West must develop policies to unleash the craving for freedom among the Russians. Such policies might include greater efforts to increase personal contacts of the Russians with Westerners. Travel and educational exchanges could be increased. Activities that would, directly and indirectly, stimulate the development of civil society in Russia need to be supported since such a society creates a fertile ground for freedom.
Only when strong preconditions for democracy develop in society and become compelling would the Russian authoritarian government move in the direction of reforms.
The principal reason Russia is strenuously opposed to Ukraine’s joining NATO is not national security but the concern of Russia that, if Ukraine becomes a member of NATO, Russia will lose forever the chance that Ukraine, with its very substantial economic and technological resources, will become its vassal, if not a full-fledged member of the Russian Federation. Moreover, there are strong socio-political reasons for such objections.
For hundreds of years, Russian children have been taught in schools that “Kiev is the mother of Russian cities.” It is difficult for their parents to explain why Kiev is abroad and is not even connected with Russia. It is equally difficult for many patriotic Russians to accept that Russia’s history starts in 14th century, with the then barbaric principality of Muscovy, and not with Kiev, which three centuries earlier, under Prince Yaroslav the Wise, was already the capital of a major, economically and culturally flourishing European country.
The influence of Russia in Ukraine is strong, and Ukraine is in a precarious position politically. At present, the Party of the Regions, headed by the pro-Russian former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, is the largest party in Ukraine and holds a plurality in the Ukrainian Parliament. The present democratic government of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is barely surviving.
It would be in the best interest of America’s national security to expedite the process of Ukraine’s becoming a member of NATO, not to postpone it. As things stand, it will take Ukraine years to join the Alliance. If the process is shortened, it will reduce the period of time that Ukraine is a bone of contention and a source of friction between the West and Russia.
As a member of NATO, Ukraine will be more free of the influence of pro-Russian forces and will develop more rapidly into a mature, vibrant democracy. Given historical, economic and close cultural ties with Russia, Ukraine could become an important catalyst in the evolution of democracy in Russia.
• Victor Basiuk is a consultant in national security policy in the Washington area, author of “Technology, World Politics, and American Policy” and is writing a book titled “After World Dominance, Whither America?”