Saturday, April 23, 2016

Former Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev on "Where is Russia Headed"

Kozyrev image from

On April 20, 12:00 noon -1:30 pm, I attended a presentation at the Atlantic Council by former Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev. Over one hundred persons were in attendance. Some of the main points made by Kozyrev during his brief opening remarks and in answer to questions from the audience:

--Russia today has a quasi-market economy large parts of which are controlled by the state and its bureaucracy. Property rights are shaky and entrepreneurs must keep their activities "under the radar." Russians "know" the limits of what they can and cannot do under the current economic/political system.

--The problems with the Russian economy are structural and the drop in oil prices is not the major cause of its difficulties.

--As was the case with the Soviet Union, there exists in Russia today an non-official, underground economy that manages, in its rough-and-ready way, to provide needed goods and services.

--In international affairs, what is occurring today is not a "new Cold War," but a return to the old Cold War; Russian foreign policy under Yeltsin was a partial success but did not live up to its promise. Russia today is a continuation of the Soviet Union.

--Putin's Russia is involved in "foreign adventures" that could lead the international situation to deteriorate even further.

--Ukrainians "are our brothers."

--The West should make clear to Russia how it will react to Russian actions outside its territory.

--The U.S. cannot do for Russia "what we must do ourselves."

--Putin deserves praise for his handling of Russian-Chinese border issues and not turning the relations between the two countries into an alliance against other nations.

--Polls in Russia are not a reliable measurement of popular feeling about the current government.There is no free press, so how can people know what is going on? And if polls are taken by telephone calls, who's really calling?

--There are many "patriotic Russians" in the bureaucracy, the military, the security services who are concerned about the status quo.

--If there is chaos in Russia, "everything is possible" there.

JB note: Oddly, there were no questions, so far as I could tell, about the impact of sanctions on Russia.
See: Andrei V. Kozyrev, "Russia’s Coming Regime Change," (New York Times, July 20, 2015)

An Optimist’s View of Russia
By Carol Giacomo June 17, 2015 3:16 pm, New York Times

With his invasion of Crimea, deployment of troops and weapons
to eastern Ukraine and ruthless oppression at home, President Vladimir Putin
of Russia has steered his country far off the democratic track. The promise of
the early 1990s, when the collapse of the Soviet Union seemed to usher in a
new era of rights and freedoms, is over.

Or is it? Andrei Kozyrev, the first foreign minister [JB - is this meant to be a bad pun?] of post-­communist Russia under President Boris Yeltsin, has a more optimistic view. He thinks it is inevitable that Russia “will come back to democracy” — just don’t expect it any time soon.

Since leaving the Russian government – he was forced out as foreign
minister in 1996 by opponents who found him too Western – Mr. Kozyrev, 64,
has been involved in business, public speaking and writing his memoirs and a
novel. Tanned, he now lives in Miami [JB -- thank you JM] where he devours tomes about democratic change around the world. “The more I read, the less explanation there is” for why and when that change happens, he told me last week during an hour­-long conversation in Washington, where he was the guest of the American Foreign Policy Council, a think tank.

Even so, the one­-time wunderkind, who became foreign minister at the
age of 39, is convinced that the authoritarian, anti-­Western system Mr. Putin
has re-­imposed will not prevail. Mr. Kozyrev argues that most people are
innately drawn to democracy, including Russians who made Mr. Yeltsin their
first elected president in 1991. More than that, he contends that “Russians are
Europeans” who have an affinity for the continent’s dominant religion
(Christianity), culture and democratic traditions.

He recalls his own conversion from communism to democratic capitalism
clearly. His family escaped village life, and benefited under the Soviet system,
in part because his father, an engineer, worked and traveled for the Ministry of
Foreign Trade, while two uncles served as colonels in the Soviet army.

After graduating from the Moscow State Institute of International
Relations with a Ph.D. in history, Mr. Kozyrev joined the Soviet Ministry of
Foreign Affairs in 1974 and eventually made his first trip to New York as a
junior member of his country’s delegation to the United Nations General
Assembly. The experience shook his communist economic beliefs when he
realized that ordinary Americans, not just fat cat capitalists, owned cars and
shopped in well-­stocked supermarkets and that his somewhat privileged
Soviet family lived a life that was actually more akin to that of lower middle-class Americans. He came to understand why Boris Pasternak’s writings were
banned in the Soviet Union after spending a day reading “Dr. Zhivago” on a
Central Park bench: Rather than an anti­-Soviet diatribe it offered something
infinitely more threatening, a character who exercised free will.

Mr. Kozyrev does not seem discouraged that opinion polls show strong
Russian support for Mr. Putin, his bullying ways and his efforts to destabilize
Ukraine. He notes that before taking advantage of Soviet leader Mikhail
Gorbachev’s “glasnost” opening of limited freedom of expression in 1989 to
publish an article that repudiated Lenin’s concept of international struggle, “I
was keeping my mouth shut” along with most other Russians.

“I was never the hero” like Andrei Sakharov, Mr. Kozyrev says of the
iconic human rights campaigner whom the Soviets put under house arrest in
Gorky and branded a traitor – until communism crumbled and thousands of
Russians stood in his funeral line to pay tribute. “Unfortunately, not everyone
is a hero but one day a combination of things comes about which makes it
possible for more and more people to speak out and do something,” Mr.
Kozyrev said.

He insists that as in Soviet days, “underneath the façade lots of things are
going on even today” in Russia and that in time Mr. Putin will be gone and the
corrupt system will change quickly, although “when and how is a little bit of a
mystery.” Until then, he advises, the West must stand up to Mr. Putin while
also leaving room for compromise

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