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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Foundation, Old Ideas

Last week, in the newly built, splendid mansion of the Gorbachev Foundation, a Russia-U.S. association to promote mutual friendship had its inaugural meeting. It was a grand event, chaired by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev himself and addressed by many dignitaries, past and present.

James Collins, the U.S. ambassador, said several pleasant encouraging words about a "new era in our relations" in heavily accented Russian, very reminiscent of the voice of U.S. President Bill Clinton’s puppet on "Kukly," the weekly political satire on NTV. Several Russian speakers agreed that now is the right time to foster Russia-U.S. relations and that Gorbachev should become president of the association. Gorbachev said that he has not yet decided, but that he will consider that possibility.

Several speakers quoted opinion polls that show the majority of Russia’s citizens are not in fact anti-American, so there are no reasons for Russia-U.S. relations to be strained in the future. But the chief of the main research institute of the Strategic Missile Forces, General Vladimir Dvorkin, did not agree: "In Russia’s military-political elite and in the State Duma anti-Americanism is widespread and very strong," he warned.

This warning was well-placed, as the Russia-U.S. friendship proceedings turned ugly as speaker after speaker attacked the West in terms that can hardly be considered politically correct.

Vladimir Lukin, a well-known Duma deputy from the liberal Yabloko faction, scolded the United States for trying to establish relations with the "leader of Tbilisi" against Russia. Lukin later explained that there is no such thing as a Georgian state — "it does not exist" — so he calls Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze the "leader of Tbilisi."

Academician Nodari Simonia from the Institute of International Economics and International Relations — a close associate of Gorbachev since the 1980s, and considered by many in the West to have been an "internal dissident inside the Soviet establishment" — announced that "the United States ignored corruption in Russia under former President [Boris] Yeltsin," but are now pronouncing Russia corrupt "because they [U.S. representatives] do not like Russia’s present political and national consolidation."

Nikolai Shmelev, deputy director of the Institute of Europe and a known "reformer" in the late 1980s, said, "We did not do anything anti-American; our dealings with bandits in Chechnya is our internal matter, but the West tricked us on NATO expansion. The bombing of Yugoslavia was also aimed at Russia. We are next in line; the U.S. wants to destroy Russia’s last trump card — the nuclear deterrent — and deal with us as with the Serbs."

Gorbachev himself did not sound very pro-Western or friendly. "If the United States rejects Russia, an anti-American alternative alliance backed by 90 percent of the Earth’s population may form. If China, India and Russia arise together, no one will be able to deal with them. The West cannot even deal with Kosovo," he added.

Gorbachev said that Russia’s future is great, that its scientific and technological potential is enormous. Then he lashed out: "Someone in the auditorium seems not to agree with me." (There were not many left listening, and any frown was easily visible.) "Aha, I believe it’s a journalist [Pavel Felgenhauer]. It’s you, journalists, who destroyed Russia; you smeared it with a layer of dirt and tar."

Gorbachev’s outburst sounds very familiar. Recently, after the sinking of the Kursk submarine, President Vladimir Putin declared, "There are people in television" that have destroyed Russia, its army and navy. It is hardly surprising that this week, after meeting Putin in the Kremlin, Gorbachev proclaimed that both of them hold similar views on press freedom. Of course they do; they both hate the idea, as true Soviet apparatchiks should.

In public, our statesmen try to pronounce buzzwords about "democracy," "freedom," of "being part of Western civilization." But in fact almost the entire elite of this nation — "reformist" and "conservative" alike — still dwells on delusions of past Soviet imperial glory. Moscow is still running old Soviet policies of trying to balance U.S. influence worldwide, of supporting anti-Western regimes in Iraq, Libya, Yugoslavia and elsewhere, policies that are counterproductive and self-defeating. The new Russia-U.S. forum exposed these delusions, but it’s hard to see how the proceedings in Gorbachev’s Foundation can cure them.

Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent, Moscow-based defense analyst.