Russia: Rebuilding the Iron Curtain

As an eternal optimist, I have for decades been one of those who believed that Russia could make the transition from communism to democracy, a development which in turn would help to integrate Russia into to the West. In the long run, I am still certain of this eventual outcome. In the short run, however, it is obvious that President Putin is building a more autocratic regime, an internal process that in turn has strained Russia's relations with the West.

The appropriate policy response to these new developments is not a return to containment or isolation of Russia. Rather, a more substantial agenda between the Russian and American governments would create more permissive conditions for democratic renewal inside Russia. A new American policy towards Russia must pursue both a more ambitious bilateral relationship and in parallel a more long-term strategy for strengthening Russian civil, political, and economic societies, which ultimately will be critical forces that push Russia back onto a democratizing path. As the Bush and Putin administrations wind down, grand new initiatives in U.S.-Russia relations are unlikely to unfold in the next two years. New leadership in both countries in 2008 will open a new window of opportunity to reorient the bilateral relationship along a more constructive path, which in turn will provide a more conducive environment for fostering democratic development inside Russia.

To make the case for this dual track approach for dealing with Russia, my written testimony proceeds in four parts.

  • Section one describes the erosion of democracy under Putin.
  • Section two explains why this more autocratic regime in Russia has not caused economic growth, produced a more effective state, or made Russian citizens more content.
  • Section three outlines three false assumptions made by the Bush Administration about Russia which have impeded the emergence of a more effective U.S. policy towards Russia.
  • Section four offers several concrete policy recommendations for changing the troubled bilateral relationship.