In August 1991, addressing a mass rally in Moscow in the wake of the failed communist coup, I officially stated something that had been just an idea before: the United States and other Western democracies are as natural friends and eventual allies of the democratic Russia as they are foes of a totalitarian U.S.S.R.

Indeed, partnership is the best strategic choice for Russia and the United States. Rejection of it would mean the loss of a historic opportunity to facilitate the formation of a democratic, open Russian state and the transformation of an unstable, post-confrontational world into a stable and democratic one.

Achieving these goals is of vital importance to Russia and the United States, which now share common democratic values. The national and state interests of both countries no longer conflict but complement each other on most international issues. The stage is set, then, for Russia and the United States to influence positively the course of world affairs, not through a condominium or imposed superpower priorities, but catalytically through a constructive partnership.

Yet despite successes such as the second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the agreement to cease mutual targeting of nuclear weapons, and the cooperative approaches to several regional conflicts, partnership between Russia and the United States faces problems or fails altogether in some areas. In my view, this is due not to a wrong strategy, but to the fact that so far we have no strategy at all. While elements of cooperation exist on concrete issues, a mature strategic partnership has yet to emerge.

Partnership could run only against the interests of military-industrial groups and factions of government bureaucracies in both countries. These forces see themselves losing ground after the Cold War, and they are trying to survive by portraying their narrow group interests as national ones. They profit from the inertia of past confrontation and the inevitable difficulties of building a new Russian-American relationship.

The traditional American Sovietologists harp on the difficulties and unpredictability of Russia’s internal processes, which do not fit the usual Western criteria and stereotypes. Some analysts cannot accept the idea of a strong Russia, whether it be imperial or democratic. They propose that the West either take a wait-and-see approach or develop a new containment strategy.

Partnership opponents within Russia gather not so much under communism’s red flag as under the brown banner of ultranationalism. They reject cooperation with the West as inseparable from the democratizing of Russia, and view democratization itself as an obstacle to renewed authoritarianism and the forceful establishment of "order" within the territory of the former Soviet Union.

All the opponents of partnership, Russian and American, share the thesis that Russia is doomed to confrontation with the world around it and that East and West are fatally incompatible.


Under its totalitarian regime, Soviet foreign policy was made in deep secrecy by the Communist Party elite. No one in the Soviet Union had the right to discuss it openly, much less criticize it. Naive attempts by Western Kremlinologists to isolate "hawks" and encourage "doves" in the Politburo inevitably ended in failure.

Today in Russia a real public opinion is taking shape, which in its own way is no less sensitive to foreign policy issues than public opinion in the United States. Because public opinion is decisive in democracies, it has become the focus of struggle between democratic and nationalist forces within Russia. For the first time, the policies of Russian reformers and their friends abroad must be pursued taking into account how these policies are perceived inside Russia.

The majority of Russian political forces wants a strong, independent and prosperous Russia. From this fundamental fact it follows that the only policy with any chance of success is one that recognizes the equal rights and mutual benefit of partnership for both Russia and the West, as well as the status and significance of Russia as a world power. Russian foreign policy inevitably has to be of an independent and assertive nature. If Russian democrats fail to achieve it, they will be swept away by a wave of aggressive nationalism, which is now exploiting the need for national and state self-assertion.

This prospect was confirmed in the course of Russia’s first free parliamentary elections last December. Some Western observers rushed to use the election results as proof that an "imperial consciousness" is practically a national trait of the Russian people. However, as a successful candidate in the parliamentary election campaign, I learned that the Russian voters were not in fact interested in restoring the empire or militarily reaching "the warm seas," even though almost a third of them voted for the party advocating such policies, Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party. Rather, the voters in my Murmansk district of northern Russia were reacting against the unbearably high social price of market reforms, against the crime and corruption that has flourished on the remnants of the totalitarian state, against the clumsiness and smugness of some democratic politicians. The ambivalence of the election results was evidenced by the one-third who voted for my democratic candidacy for an individual seat and also voted on the party list for Zhirinovsky’s party, even though the ldp wants to dismiss me as foreign minister and charge me with criminal acts.

Early in the last century, the Russian poet Vassily Zhukovsky, who was entrusted with the education of the heir to the throne, taught the future reformer Alexander II that "the true power of a tsar is not in the number of his soldiers but in the well-being of his people." Russia’s tragedy is that this principle has been turned on its head throughout history. It is not the Russian people but the totalitarian communist regime that wasted the nation’s intellectual and spiritual powers in senseless arms races and military adventures in Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Afghanistan. And it was not the Russians but the communist system that lost the Cold War. But it was the people who destroyed the system, not a foreign savior. This is important to remember because it sets the collapse of Soviet communism apart from, say, the fall of German Nazism or Japanese militarism.

Today Russia faces a historic choice, either proceed with the difficult task of continuing reforms or face the danger of slipping into one or another form of extremism. And it is now that Russia needs to be sure that the world needs it as a strong member in the family of free, law-based, democratic states and not as a "sick man" of Europe and Asia. Supportive policies are the best investments for the West, but they cannot be motivated by paternalism or an assumed inequality. Russia is predestined to be a great power. It remained as such for centuries in spite of repeated internal upheavals. What matters now is whether it is resurrected as a hostile nation under nationalist rule or as a peaceful and democratic one.

It is encouraging that this reality is well understood by some American analysts. According to Stephen Sestanovich of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, "Kozyrev’s nationalist rhetoric aims less at keeping him in parliament than at keeping Russia on its westward track. For the time being, the West has the luck of dealing with a nationalism whose very purpose is international partnership. When we face the alternative, we’ll know the difference."1

It also must be understood that a firm and sometimes aggressive policy of defending one’s national interests is not incompatible with partnership. Germany and France have shown that national interests can be pursued by cooperation instead of war. It would be naive to expect anything else when talking about great nations, especially unique ones, like Russia and the United States.

Of course, there is another path for the West: to leave things as they are, on the assumption that "we lived without Russia for 70 years and we can live another 70 years without it." Russians have that alternative, too. But that does not mean they will reject reform or an open foreign policy, since it is their choice, made in their own interests. It would mean that the path for achieving those goals will be longer and more painful for both Russia and the international community. Thus accelerating peace through mutual adjustment and cooperation is in everyone’s interest.


The Cold War era is past, but we still have only a vague picture of the international system in which we would live in the next century. The contemporary world is like a driver who knows his place of departure but has no definite destination, no map and no road signs. It is obvious, on the one hand, that there are enormous opportunities for the world to develop along the path of democracy and economic progress. But just as obvious is the danger of chaos and unpredictability in international affairs, and the emergence of new conflicts and schisms within and between states.

One thing is sufficiently clear: the international order in the 21st century will not be a Pax Americana or any other version of unipolar or bipolar dominance. The United States does not have the capability to rule alone. Russia, while in a period of transitional difficulties, retains the inherent characteristics of a great power (technology, resources, weaponry). And other rising centers of influence strive for a greater role in world affairs. The nature of modern international problems calls for solutions on a multilateral basis.

Do not misunderstand me. I am not talking about denying the United States, Russia or any other country its national goals in foreign policy or about turning them over to foreign or supranational "subcontractors." President Bill Clinton justly spoke against such an approach in his speech at the United Nations. The dilemma facing the international community lies elsewhere. If narrow-minded nationalism becomes the norm for international relations, the world will become a seething mass of competing national interests. The result could be an attempt to suppress disruptions and impose order through a new superpower balance of fear or a 1914-style balance of power. That is why Russia strongly advocates collective efforts to oppose aggressive nationalism, which has left a trail of bloody conflicts in Eurasia.

Nationalism today is no less a danger than nuclear conflict was yesterday. In the 1970s the struggle against totalitarianism went along with the affirmation of certain moral principles. The adherents of realpolitik then and now consider such exercises to be idealistic rhetoric. However, the tireless espousal of those principles turned out to be more dangerous to totalitarianism than all the nuclear power of the West.

Nevertheless, affirmation of democratic values will remain only on paper if it is not supported by practical cooperation. Moreover, we may end up overwhelmed by events if we react only to individual events or a dramatic episode televised on CNN rather than make decisions based on a long-range strategic vision. After World War II the West developed a unified joint strategy for addressing the main problems of the time. The Marshall Plan played a key role in the economic rebirth of Western Europe, and the concept of containment permitted an effective answer to the challenge of totalitarianism.

The adequate response to the present-day challenges should be the joint strategy of partnership between the democratic nations of East and West.


Above all, we should decide what we mean by partnership: close and sincere cooperation in world affairs or a lopsided relationship in which all rights are on one side and all obligations on the other?

Russia opts for a pragmatic approach. Partnership may be like variable geometry, that is, encompassing situations and issues on which our interests converge. However, if partnership means a full-scale scheme, and this is what Russia seeks, then it should be based on the following elements.

First, it should include mutual recognition as like-minded nations, committed to democracy, human rights and responsible international behavior.

Second, in practical terms, such a recognition implies closing institutional gaps between Russia and the West. For example, the Group of Seven (G-7) leading industrial nations, an important but not paramount organization, coordinates political and economic approaches first among its members and then with Russia. NATO acts similarly. The Atlantic alliance was created to block communist expansion. But now that institution, no matter how effective, is inadequate simply because NATO no longer has a military enemy and Russia is not a NATO member.

The G-7 needs a two-stage transformation into a G-8. This process should start with political issues, where Russia is already an irreplaceable partner, and it can be completed as Russia enters the world economy. As for NATO, the "Partnership for Peace" proposal answers the need of bringing Russia closer to the alliance for now. But this program should not stimulate NATO-centrism among the alliance’s policymakers or NATO-mania among impatient candidates for membership. Both are ferreting for proof that the Russian government is allegedly changing its foreign policy to suit its nationalist opposition. In fact they play into the hands of the opposition they fear and, more important, they are being sidetracked from a serious analysis of the problems of European security and a dialogue with Moscow about solutions.

The creation of a unified, non-bloc Europe can best be pursued by upgrading the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe into a broader and more universal organization. After all, it was the democratic principles of the 56-member CSCE that won the Cold War, not the NATO military machine. The CSCE should have the central role in transforming the post-confrontational system of Euro-Atlantic cooperation into a truly stable, democratic regime.

Third, partnership, like all patterns of interaction, has its rules, the main one being mutual trust. Of late, suspicions toward Russia have been frequently expressed, along with calls for various tests of its good behavior. Western critics of Russian foreign policy are sometimes reminiscent of old-time Pravda columnists who always saw "imperial politics" in major U.S. foreign policy actions. One could also play on the historical suspicion of the United States within parts of public opinion in Russia and other countries. Rather than give in to such temptations, we repudiate any attempt to drive a wedge between Russia and the United States in order to exploit their differences, as many did during the Cold War in order to get as much as possible from both Moscow and Washington.

If a partnership is built on mutual trust, then it is natural to recognize other rules as well: the need not only to inform one another of decisions made, but also to agree on approaches beforehand. It would be hard to accept an interpretation of partnership in which one side demands that the other coordinate its every step with it while the former retains complete freedom for itself. Partners must have mutual respect for each other’s interests and concerns.

This is a key lesson from the decision-making process that led to the lifting of the siege of Sarajevo in February. NATO’s threat to bomb Bosnian Serb positions if the siege was not lifted by a certain date was made without Russian participation. It immediately became apparent that Russia could not and should not be excluded from the common efforts to regulate the conflict in the Balkans, a region where Russia has longtime interests and influence. Ultimately the advantages of partnership were illustrated when Russia and the West coordinated their efforts to persuade the warring parties to make peace. But the initial lack of consultation and coordination meant that first both sides had to run the risk of returning to the old benefactor-client relationship that had played such a pernicious role in the regional conflicts of the Cold War era.


Russia and the United States have strengthened global security through weapons reduction and missile de-targeting agreements. Now they must bolster the seriously faltering nonproliferation regime for nuclear arms, other weapons of mass destruction and missile technology. It is time to move from filling in the holes in that regime to complex measures that include tightening controls on the sale of dual-use technology and the more destructive forms of conventional weapons, especially in conflict zones.

Russia’s policy in the arms trade is no longer dictated by the support of ideological clients. But Russia remains a major arms producer. Its exports are vitally important to ensure economic stability and conversion. The Russian-U.S. partnership must be oriented toward keeping normal competition in this area from growing into political rivalry.

The new generation of regional conflicts has become an unprecedented challenge for the West and Russia. The example of Somalia is telling. The U.S. peacekeeping operation there, which seemed so hopeful at first, met with serious difficulties. It ended with Washington deciding to pull out. The easiest thing for Russia to do in this situation would have been to rub its hands gleefully and talk about the mistakes made by the military, much the same way some people in the West behaved about the Russian role in Abkhazia. But instead of lecturing on the failures of the Somali operation, we stressed the positive result: many people were saved from terror and starvation.

We understand the problems others face; we have similar problems, and even greater difficulties in our peacekeeping operations in the former Soviet Union. In many cases, we have had to hit the ground running. The Soviet army is still transforming itself into a Russian army, and diplomacy is mastering new and unfamiliar methods and giving up old ones. Therefore it is important for the West to show adequate understanding of our difficulties. The United States more than once had to deal with complex, ambiguous situations with its closest partners in Europe and Latin America. In some situations it had to take into account the immaturity of democratic processes and even obvious digressions from democracy.

The principal difference between Somalia and Abkhazia or Tajikistan is that Russia cannot pull out of the conflict areas of the former Soviet Union the way America did from Somalia. Moreover, it is unlikely that the United States would allow itself to do so if similar conflicts were taking place so close to its wide-open border. We know that the West is neither inclined nor able to solve our problems, and we are not asking the United States to take on peacekeeping operations in Tajikistan or Georgia. But we do want our Western partners to respond to our requests for support. For instance, in voting in the Security Council for the U.N. peacekeeping forces in Somalia we did not demand preliminary achievements in the political settlement. (There still are none.) Why then does the U.S. representative at the United Nations advocate such a condition for Abkhazia? Russia’s peacekeeping mission does not need carte blanche since it acts in complete accordance with the principles of international law and at the request of the states concerned. But the cooperation of the world community, including the use of international observers and material support, is of great value. There is a lot of room for improving the effectiveness of this peacekeeping effort and the partnership between Russia and the West.

Right up until the last moments of the totalitarian regime, the West was against the collapse of the Soviet Union, showing a willingness to accept even a "socialist choice" by the Soviet leadership. No wonder the West’s support of Russia in August 1991 came as a surprise for coup leaders. Just as shortsightedly, the West insisted on preserving the unity of the former Yugoslavia. And the signal sent to Belgrade was just as misleading: the Yugoslav army tried to achieve the goal by force.

Russia did not fall into a Yugoslav-type trap only because there were Russian democrats in the Kremlin headed by the freely elected president, Boris Yeltsin. Instead of using force to reintegrate the republics within post-Soviet territory, Russia chose to reform on a new, voluntary basis through the Commonwealth of Independent States. The very name contains two intertwined principal elements of our policy. On one hand, a recognition of sovereignty and independence of the former Soviet republics, including the republics of Central Asia, which was expressed, particularly, in Russia’s active support for their admission to the United Nations and the CSCE. On the other hand, the no less important recognition of the need for closer cooperation among the countries of the C.I.S., bearing in mind their economic, political, cultural and human interdependence. Ignoring either of these elements would inevitably lead to a repeat of the Yugoslav scenario.

At first, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the West openly recognized the role of Russia as the stabilizing factor and engine of economic reform in the former Soviet Union. We never refused that role, even though it costs us billions of dollars. What is wrong with Russia announcing as its goal the gradual reintegration, primarily economic reintegration, of the post-Soviet space on a voluntary and equal basis? The situation is similar to that of the European Union, where the economic leadership of the larger states like France and Germany is recognized. In the C.I.S., however, even a large and economically developed state like Ukraine cannot manage without close ties to Russia. Is there an alternative? Is the West prepared, for example, to pay for the oil and gas delivered to Ukraine, Georgia and the C.I.S. states from Russia or to take on the payment to Russia of the billion-dollar Ukrainian debt? That is why Russia’s special role and responsibility within the former Soviet Union must be borne in mind by its Western partners and given support.

Ten years ago, if a pollster asked people on the streets of Moscow what the West wanted from the Soviet Union, most people would have answered, the respect of human rights. But today, after the democratic revolution, when there is freedom of information in Russia and every Western newspaper is on sale in Moscow, I am certain that no one would give the same answer. Yet the problem of the rights of fellow Russians in the "near abroad" is a real issue. Almost everyone has relatives and friends who are suffering from one form or another of discrimination or who have become refugees. But no one hears the voice of the West raised in their defense. Meanwhile, extremist nationalists are exploiting that fact.

One cannot ignore the fundamental difference between the position of the Russian government and that of the partisans of imperial policies. The latter view the Russian-language population of the former Soviet republics as a kind of fifth column in the new independent states, following essentially the same logic as Hitler in relation to the Sudeten Germans. The Russian democrats want something completely different, not privileges, but normal citizenship and equality for Russians in those states. It took Russia a lot of effort to ensure establishment of the CSCE post of High Commissioner for Ethnic Minorities. However, his recommendations to the Latvian and Estonian authorities are not being implemented, while the West stands idle. Here we also have the right to expect understanding and support.

Russia’s progress toward a market economy, despite difficulties, is continuing. But it must be kept in mind that the old economic system, created by the command method and often through direct coercion, is not capable of self-renewal. Therefore, it should be replaced by political means. A properly organized political partnership between Russia and the West can greatly contribute to ensuring the success of Russian economic reform, especially through integrating Russia into the world economy. Russia needs early admission into international trade organizations, as well as nondiscriminatory access to European and world markets for its goods and technologies.


The prospects and benefits of partnership are real. They are worthy goals, and neither we nor the West need rose-colored glasses to justify the effort. We do not hide our difficulties and certainly do not expect the United States to applaud our every step. Differing evaluations are natural and normal. Undoubtedly, problems may arise between our nations in the future that will require frank and sometimes unpleasant dialogue. The question is this: How do we approach these problems, with trust or with suspicion, with a wait-and-see attitude or with the spirit of cooperation? American foreign policy is often accused of idealistic optimism. But that is its strength rather than its weakness. In the past, the United States has shown its ability to see beyond narrowly perceived national interests for the sake of major strategic goals. Now is the time for America to show this ability in fostering the transition from the Cold War to a secure democratic peace.


1 Stephen Sestanovich, "Andrei the Giant," The New Republic, April 11, 1994, p. 27.

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  • Andrei Kozyrev is Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. This article was translated by Antonina W. Bouis.
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