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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Group Bush Should Meet

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Among all the bad news pouring out of Russia Ч from heightened military rhetoric and the adoption of the Soviet-style state program for patriotic education to the appointment of notorious former Primorye Governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko as Russia's new chief fisherman (the market price of the position Ч head of the State Fisheries Committee Ч is estimated from $1 million to as much as $10 million) and the anticipated major reshuffling of the federal government Ч there is little in the way of good news. But there is some, and it is especially worth noting in view of mounting anti-Russian rhetoric coming out of the new administration in Washington.

The good news is that Club 2015, which I called a club of "concerned businessmen" in this column about a year ago, continues to work and has even produced some valuable products. Among these I would list a study of bureaucratic pressure exercised on small and medium-sized businesses that was conducted by the club's newly established think tank, National Project. This study shows that every 10th ruble generated by consumer businesses must be used to break down bureaucratic barriers: That is, 10 percent of business earnings go into the pockets of officials rather than being reinvested or being used to reduce consumer costs.

Second, Club 2015 has created its own committee on international relations devoted to promoting nongovernmental diplomacy based on its own understanding of Russia's national interests.

Further, at the club's gathering last weekend, Pavel Teplukhin, club co-chairman and president of the Troika Dialog brokerage Asset Management, presented a detailed analysis of what he sees as the upcoming economic crisis in Russia. The club then proceeded to draft a new project aimed to meet this crisis and even, perhaps, avoid it.

Unlike the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, Club 2015 sprang from Russia's weak civic society and remains oriented toward developing it. Of course, cynics can argue that they do this merely because they have been excluded from the inner circles of power, but whatever their motivation, the point is that club members seem to understand that maximizing their profits over the long term depends on the creation of a healthy surrounding environment. Thus, they have taken up a niche that was empty before them: They neither came out in open opposition to the authorities nor entered into a love affair with them.

Unfortunately, much of the rhetoric that we are hearing out of Washington lately does little to help establish organizations like Club 2015. On the contrary, it helps the Kremlin revive the old image of America as the enemy bent on destroying a weak Russia. This enemy then serves as the pretext for clamping down on domestic organizations and redirecting resources toward the resurrection of Russia's military machine.

Listening to this talk, one gets the impression that the new administration is staffed by people who know Russia primarily from the books of old Sovietologists. They don't seem to understand that for some time now Russia has been not one, but several different countries.

One of the faces of Russia is seen in Club 2015. This face is not pro-Western or pro-Soviet. It reflects the interests of Russia's emerging middle class. So far the club tries to avoid politics while moving between the Scylla of the state and the Charybdis of the oligarchs. But it is upon the survival of this Russia that the development of a peaceful democratic society here depends.

Strange as it may seem, the Bush administration is just repeating the mistakes of the Clinton administration. Both oriented themselves exclusively on the Russian elite, which makes up less than 2 percent of the population. While Clinton's Washington uncritically endorsed everything that the Russian elite did, the Bush administration seems bent on criticizing everything.

It is certain that an exclusive orientation on the elite Ч ignoring the other Russia Ч led to mistaken judgments and bad policies in the past and will do so again in the future. I think that the new administration, the U.S. Congress and their counterparts across Europe would benefit greatly from getting to know organizations like Club 2015 a lot better. At the very least, they should try to figure out what this Russia Ч which they currently don't seem to know at all Ч is thinking, what it needs and where it wants to go.

Yevgenia Albats is an independent, Moscow-based journalist.