with American and Russian Experts
Photo by Kavkaz-Center
Interview with Edward Lozansky, President of the World Russian Forum
(and Senior Fellow of the Real Russia Project).
Originally published in Washington Profile on April 18, 2008
Q.: The month of May is not far off, and in that month Washington will host the next World Russian Forum, a traditional event on Capitol Hill. Incidentally, what number will it be?
Lozansky: The twenty-seventh. The first one took place in May 1981, and ever since U.S. Congress generously provides one of its best auditoriums for this event. This is despite the fact that Russia is portrayed by the media as a very bad boy these days. Needless to say that we are extremely grateful to Congress for doing this.
Click on the extended post to read the rest of the interview.
John McCain, the U.S. Republican Presidential candidate and senior Senator from Arizona, has repeatedly called for Russia to be kicked out of the G-8. This week McCain condemned Russia for allegedly supporting separatists in the former Soviet republic of Georgia
Q.: Is that what it was called in the Soviet era as well?
Lozansky: No, of course not. At the time it was known as the Tribute to Andrei Sakharov. At those hearings the attendees discussed the Soviet Union's domestic and foreign policy and how the West should adequately react. Incidentally, the main reason why our Forums are held in May is that Sakharov's birthday falls on May 21. In 1981 Sakharov turned 60. At the time we saw the Forum as a sort of festival to celebrate his birthday.
Q.: Would it be correct to say that in the past the Forums were anti-Soviet, while now they are pro-Russian?
Lozansky: Basically, yes, but both then and now the Forum has always served the interests of America and Russia alike. I stress the word Russia, not the Soviet Union, of course, which was a sworn enemy of the United States and the entire free world. Communist dictatorship oppressed its own people and was in the business of expanding its ideology. This expansion was not just a battle of ideas, it was also backed by the mammoth military machine that the better half of the country's economy was working for. Fighting that enemy required the Pentagon hardware, Star Wars scare, NATO, and obviously also what is called soft power, i.e. the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, the Kontinent magazine, and other underground literature, Sakharov forums, etc.
That fight ended in victory, but not of the West over Russia, as is frequently assumed, but of all of us, including the Russians, over communism. Once it collapsed, it was necessary to make a Herculean effort to incorporate Russia into the Western world. Unfortunately, America has made lots of tragic mistakes, and on this road we have wasted almost 20 years.
Q.: What were America's worst mistakes, in your view?
Lozansky: First and foremost, Russia should have been offered considerable economic assistance to ensure as painless a transition as possible from a centrally planned to a market economy.
Next it was necessary to draw up a road map for Russia joining NATO, or else for transforming NATO into a different organization, given the new geopolitical situation. An organization with the new set of aims and tasks that would include Russia.
Last but not least, it was necessary to devise a new strategy for U.S. and European security, something that George Bush Sr. used to talk about: security from Vancouver to Vladivostok. Alas, it never went beyond verbiage, and the same can be said of Bush's solemn promise to Gorbachev not to expand NATO.
Regrettably, not only abovementioned ideas were not implemented, worse, what has been actually done is almost the exact opposite.
Q.: Is this a reference to the desire of Bush Jr. to admit Ukraine and Georgia into NATO?
Lozansky: That too, and also to his decision to deploy Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) elements in Poland and Czechoslovakia -- without consulting Russia or even United States' own allies in NATO. The BMD idea as such is quite attractive, provided that its systems are developed and deployed with the U.S., Russia and NATO working closely together.
As for Ukraine and Georgia joining NATO, they are certainly entitled to do so as free and independent nations, and Russia has no right to veto the process. However, it is common knowledge that the majority of Ukrainians reject this idea, while Georgia is embroiled in territorial conflicts. Georgia's accession to NATO is not only a violation of that organization's charter, but it is a sure way to a military collision with Russia over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Are we ready for this? As for Ukraine it would also make a joke of the current U.S. president's fundamental concept.
Q.: What exactly are you referring to?
Lozansky: The Bush legacy. The philosophical pivot of his legacy is the messianic idea of spreading democracy throughout the world. One may accept or reject the idea itself, but Bush, as a deeply religious person, does indeed believe that all or at least most of the global problems can be solved by democracy. Yet, what triumph of democracy can we talk about if Ukraine is being dragged into NATO against the will of its own people?
Q.: You've talked of America's mistakes. Did Russia do everything just right?
Lozansky: Of course it didn't. I can give you a long list of Russia's mistakes too. But Russia was then and still is a young, inexperienced apprentice in democracy, while America is a renowned professor on this subject and should be judged as such.
Where Russia went wrong in a big way was its failure to condemn clearly and unequivocally the crimes of the communist regime against Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, Western Ukraine, the so-called captive nations. Russia acted somewhat unwisely, but generously and nobly, when it acknowledged the Soviet Union's entire financial debts. Now, while it was at it, it should have clearly stated that it was not responsible for the empire's moral debts, itself being simply another victim and one of the countries enslaved by communism. In terms of facts and figures, Russia was the country worst hit by communist terror.
Some statements to this effect have been made by Yeltsin and Putin, but they were not nearly coherent and convincing enough. Meanwhile, that would have radically improved Russia's relations with the former captive nations, and with Europe and America too for that matter. Moreover, it would also help Russians themselves to overcome the nostalgia over the loss of the empire and move them closer to the West.
Q.: What's on this year's Forum's agenda?
Lozansky: Mostly issues of Russian-U.S. cooperation in economics and security. The economic panel is being assembled by Ruslan Grinberg, director of the Economics Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences; the security panel, by General Vladimir Dvorkin, senior research fellow at the International Economics and World Politics Institute, also of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Both panels will include leading U.S. experts, among them General Henry Obering, director of the Missile Defense Agency.
Naturally, certain broader aspects of U.S. - Russian will also be discussed, including business, science, education, and cultural cooperation, the role of Russian Diaspora in U.S., etc.
Besides, we intend to present two new Russian NGOs about to open their offices in the United States -- the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation headed by Professor Andranik Migranyan of the Moscow International Relations Institute, and the International Institute of Research into Comparative Political Cultures, founded by Mikhail Gorbachev and Alexander Lebedev.
Q.: Could you sum up the Forum's principal goals and objectives?
Lozansky: They have remained unchanged throughout the 27 years of its existence. We would like to achieve close cooperation between a free, democratic, thriving Russia and the West, in addressing the 21st century's global problems. This may sound a bit too grand, but it's hard to find a different formula.
A few days ago I took part in a function honoring Zbigniew Brzezinski, attended by virtually the entire Who's Who in U.S. foreign policy, including Henry Kissinger. Practically all of the speakers said that world's global problems could not be solved without Russia's cooperation. Even Brzezinski himself, a person often viewed in Russia as an evil genius, talked of the need to bring Russia to the West.
Against this backdrop, statements by Republican presidential nominee John McCain to the effect that Russia had to be excluded from G-8, isolated and contained, surely jar on one's ear. As for the two Democratic candidates-- well, frankly, so far, they are making some unintelligible noises on this issue. In the circumstances, the voice of the public appears all the more important.
Q.: Did you invite the presidential candidates to attend the Forum?
Lozansky: We certainly did. We have sent invitations to McCain and Obama as the more likely candidates for the two parties. Obama's people promptly sent back a polite reply saying that he would be engaged elsewhere on that day. As for the McCain office, it is still keeping silent. This is a good sign, for it implies that he and his advisors are thinking the matter over. The Forum will take place at the Hart Senate Office Building, practically next door to McCain's office, so he will not have to go too far. We have assembled quite an impressive group of U.S. and Russian experts ready to have an honest and earnest talk with McCain if he shows up, of course. McCain proved to be a good soldier on the battlefield. Let us see how he does in the battle of ideas.
For further details of the Forum and registration of participants see www.russiahouse.org/wrf