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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Long March to Win/Win

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In his recent and spellbinding book "Across the Moscow River," former British Ambassador Sir Rodric Braithwaite warns of the perils of judging Russia. Pushkin's friend Prince Vyazemsky (Braithwaite recalls) remarked that if you want a foreigner to make a fool of himself, just ask him to make a judgment about Russia.

Russia loves to be mysterious. Russia is unique. Russia, as Russians love to say, has its own "spetsifika," its own rules. However, after centuries of mostly standing apart, Russia has now made the choice to join the world. A recent opinion poll showed that a remarkable 52 percent thought Russia should seek admission to the European Union, with only 18 percent opposed. The decision to integrate is warmly supported by Russia's friends and partners. But implementing it, getting from here to there, requires us to get better at talking to each other, and trusting each other.

We are in the midst of a flurry of summit meetings, which demonstrates how dramatically Russia's place in the world has changed in a few years. From being part of the problem to being part of the solution. From being a country in economic distress to one which is reversing capital flight and attracting investment -- a country whose relative stability and economic growth (although not as fast as it would like) compare favorably with the volatility in many other emerging markets.

The language of partnership is now commonplace. "We are partners and we will cooperate to advance stability, security and economic integration, and to jointly counter global challenges and to help resolve regional conflicts," said Presidents Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush on May 24. They committed themselves to "a relationship based on friendship, cooperation, common values, trust, openness and predictability."

These are sentiments to which any of Russia's Western partners would subscribe. Is this just words, another "detente," a Potemkin village of international diplomacy? Self-evidently not. Russia and Western countries, with others, are working in unprecedented ways to counter terrorism. In sharp contrast to days gone by, Russia and the West find themselves on broadly the same side on the world's major issues -- for example, on Afghanistan and the Middle East; in working to reduce tension in South Asia; in opposing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the spread of the drugs trade, and threats to the environment; and in seeking freer trade.

So our interests now align, we sit at the same tables (from the G-8 to the NATO-Russia Council and in due course the WTO), we cooperate. Russia wants to integrate. The West wants to integrate. What's still to be done?

The answer, I think, is not what we expected to find. It is communication and culture (with a small "c"). In the Cold War, Russia and Western Europe had opposing political and economic systems, but thought they shared the same European cultural tradition. Now the burial of our political and economic differences has exposed a wider gap than we appreciated in our mindset and behavior, in our cultures -- not in the sense of Shakespeare and Chekhov or Repin and Rembrandt, but in our ways of relating to each other and of doing business.

In his book, Braithwaite comments on some of these differences. "Human relationships in Russia," he writes, "have an intensity which they lack in the more orderly West. Foreigners can be admitted at least in part to these relationships: Russians are embarrassingly generous with their time and their few possessions, in a way which is wholly uncharacteristic in the West."

We may live inescapably in the world of global economics, but no sane person wants to homogenize culture and lose the richness of national traditions. However, for our partnership to succeed, we need to play the same game by the same rules on the famous "level playing field."

Let me illustrate this in two areas -- business and foreign policy. A U.S. businessman said to me the other day that, in order to succeed in Russia, he had had to unlearn everything he had learned in America. Sergei Witte, Russia's prime minister just over a hundred years ago, expressed a similar thought: "I am not in the least afraid of foreign capital, since I consider it is in the interests of our country. What I am afraid of is just the opposite, that our way of doing things has such specific characteristics, so different from the way things are done in civilized countries, that not many foreigners will want to do business with us."

We are now in an age when foreigners clearly do want to do business with Russia, and Russians with foreigners, but they are still having to learn how to do so. Sometimes to their cost, foreigners have to learn that in Russia trust is based, as Braithwaite suggests, on the human relationship -- on knowing the individual, not relying on paper information. Russian companies that seek foreign investment or go to the stock market in London or New York have to learn the opposite: They are required to disclose information, and produce track records of audited accounts, in a manner alien to the tradition of guarding information closely for fear of what an opponent might do with it.

Attitudes to the rule book contrast. The capitalist free market, with all its imperfections, only works if most of the people abide voluntarily by most of the rules most of the time. "Voluntarily" is the key word. As the stock market turmoil triggered by Enron shows, the system runs into trouble when companies play fast and loose. Russia is still building up the sets of rules and regulation to govern the market that elsewhere have been developed over a hundred years or more. The habits of voluntarily paying taxes, or respecting the rights of shareholders, or separating business from government, are having to be grafted in. Communism developed in Russians a genius for finding ways around the rules of an oppressive state. Restraining the instinct to take advantage of a loophole or an illicit opportunity comes hard. In Pushkin's words, "bylo by koryto, a svinyi naidutsya" -- when there's free food around, the snouts will find the trough. This shows in the paradox that Russia is a country of exceptional personal honesty that nevertheless has acquired an international reputation for the exact opposite in business deals. Banks and institutions that grant personal loans, mortgages and consumer credit to individual Russians report a default rate far lower than in the West -- indeed close to zero; but charts like Transparency International's "Corruption Perceptions Index" put Russia down near the bottom. There is a clear trend toward better corporate governance. Carrying this through will be a vital ingredient for Russia's success.

One other area seems to me to hold the key to Russia's future competitiveness: her ability to liberate the talent and initiative of the rising generation. The next generation needs to be encouraged to believe in Russia's future, and to take the initiative to shape it. Initiative is developed by giving people responsibility. A belief in strong leadership is common to the business cultures of Russia and the West; but the idea of delegating responsibility is not, yet.

Business partnerships are gathering speed. How about the partnership in foreign policy?

Russian students of international affairs love to quote Lord Palmerston's dictum that countries don't have permanent friends, only permanent interests. I am wont to respond with the anecdote of Prince Metternich's reaction, at the 1815 Congress of Vienna, to the death of the Russian ambassador: "I wonder what his motives were."

If we are confident, as I am, that our interests lie in the same direction, we need to shake off the habit of nervousness about each other's motives.

A lasting business partnership has to be based, not on "zero/sum," but "win/win." The same is true in international relations. The mentality of the Cold War was, necessarily at the time, zero/sum. This led to aggressive and hugely wasteful competition between East and West around the globe -- in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, Asia; and, above all, in an unsustainable arms race.

The competition has gone, but the mentality lingers on. One sees this when people argue "concessions" must be matched and traded -- the language of opponents rather than partners. Or when forces are maintained against threats that no longer exist. Or, especially, in the addiction which some still have in both West and East to the outdated concept of "zones of influence": the language of Yalta, 1944, not of 2002.

The threats and challenges we now face -- whether international terrorism; or weapons proliferation; or organized crime, the drugs trade, epidemics, migration flows, barriers to trade; let alone environmental degradation and global warming -- transcend zones and do not respect national boundaries. The majority of the world's conflicts are within states, not between states.

The world has moved on. What matters now, not only here but in the West, is making a success of Russia's redevelopment over the next generation as a prosperous, competitive, secure democracy, integrated into the global economy. In 1914, Russia -- industrializing rapidly, and groping towards parliamentary government -- had the world's fourth largest economy. A Russia using her human and natural potential to move again toward that position will be a huge benefit to her partners in Western Europe and elsewhere: win/win.

Sir Roderic Lyne is the British ambassador to Russia. This comment, contributed to The Moscow Times, is based on lectures given in a personal capacity to the Moscow Higher School of Social and Economic Studies and the Moscow School of Political Studies.