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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Enough Talk About a New Soviet Union

At the G-7 summit in Naples this weekend, President Boris Yeltsin will remind the West of his demand for Russia to be given a place at the world's high table, enabling it to play what he sees as its rightful role in international economic and political decision-making. For the most part, the West is ready to give him a sympathetic hearing. Russia's enhanced role in the G-7, its new relationship with NATO under the Partnership for Peace, and the ties established with the European Union and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development all point to an acceptance of Russia's right to join Western institutions. But at times Russia's would-be allies are left confused and disturbed. At his talks in Riga with the leaders of the three Baltic states Wednesday, U.S. President Bill Clinton heard a chorus of complaint about Russia's expansionist ambitions and apparent reluctance to pull its remaining troops out of the region. Admittedly, the complaints go the other way too. Russia is understandably concerned about proposed new citizenship laws that would restrict the rights of Russian-speaking minorities in Latvia and Estonia -- a matter raised by Yeltsin in a telephone conversation with Clinton ahead of the visit. But the Big Brother image, developed through seven decades of Soviet power, is too strong -- and too recent -- to set aside. Matters are scarcely improved by the antics of the ultranationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who used the occasion of a parliamentary gathering in Vienna this week to rant about redividing Europe and Russia's capacity to win a third world war. Zhirinovsky is generally dismissed abroad as a dangerous clown. Still more confusion is created when a politician of the stature of Mikhail Gorbachev, so revered in the West as the man who changed the face of Europe and ended the Cold War, calls for the restoration of the Soviet Union. The fact that Gorbachev shared a platform with some of the very people who plotted his downfall in August 1991 only goes to show how strong are his feelings on the issue. In this context it is some consolation that Gorbachev has virtually no influence in his own country, while those who are now in power have -- to date at least -- made a clear distinction between restoring the former Soviet Union and strengthening the Commonwealth of Independent States. This is a critical distinction. Further voluntary economic integration and political cooperation among members of the CIS is both reasonable and good. But when Russia's leaders extend their ambitions into the Baltics and to the borders of the former Soviet empire in general, they give cause for us all to be concerned.