June 1, 2010｜Russia
Senior Research Fellow, The National Institute for Defense Studies
The United States and Britain’s view of Russia, dragging with it the baggage of the ideological confrontation of the Cold War, is generally negative, and the typical “Russia as bad guy doctrine” is still deep-seated. Germany and France, with their deep affinity both historically and economically, treat Russia with a certain degree of understanding. In China’s case—sharing a long border with Russia—while keeping one eye on Russia from the links of socialist times, it would occasionally peep at Russia in mutual distrust. Although Japan’s view of Russia, with a territorial dispute, is also a particular one, Japan is unusual as a country that has been disinterested to date in a neighboring country with which it has to live. If you change the country, the view of Russia also varies.
Using the universal yardstick of “democratization”, Russia, which prioritizes the stability of the nation and development over democracy, is often criticized for its democracy being lacking. Why are they, on top of that, so hard only on Russia? Because in system terms it has adopted direct elections, Russia must be more democratic than China. Twenty years have not yet passed since the Russian Federation came into being, and it appears somewhat childish, in the way that a mature adult would look down on a minor. Russia is still a developing country.
Comparing Russia’s national strength with that of the former Soviet Union and today’s United States, there are many opinions that hold that it will never be any good. Superimposing Russia on top of the residual image of the Soviet Union, it will forever seek in the United States a pole for comparison. Russia is the successor state to the Soviet Union, but its area, population and system all differ from the latter. With the mental habit of thinking it was a superpower on a par with the United States, the Cold-War thinking of US–Russia confrontation has probably not gone away. I think it is better to plainly evaluate Russia as it is.
The steps toward national development form not a straight line, but a zigzag, with one step forward and two steps back. Russia lost its footing in the global financial crisis, but such a thing was not limited to Russia. In the proportion of national debt in gross domestic product (GDP), Russia is by far the healthier compared to Japan. Nevertheless Japan’s position on Russia has always been a “viewpoint from above”. Russia still has lots of room for development, yet there is the situation of decline relative to both Japan and the United States. What about observing Russia in the long term?
As for what kind of view of Russia to have, I think it is a problem lying in the area of facing Russia rather than of calling Russia itself the problem. Put simply, a subjective view meshes together, formed from prejudice, preconceptions, assumptions, and mental images. It is possible to create a point of view of any kind whatsoever. This is probably the same as for people, and not only for countries. The state of the insight and mindset on the observing side is to be questioned.
In those cases that have discussed Russia from such perspectives as politics, economics and diplomacy, revisionism on Russia is noticeable, including the decline in democratization, a distorted economic structure, and resource diplomacy. Meanwhile, in the cases that have viewed Russia from aspects such as literature, music, ballet, and sport, people have been charmed by Russia’s artistry. Depending on the viewing angle, it is Russia which changes its true face. If looking from the right, then view from the left. If looking from above, then view from below. Observe Russia from every angle. That is a multifaceted view of Russia. Whatever view of Russia it be, it is nothing more than the aspect seen from a given angle. Caution is required regarding the views of Russia often seen in the media which are of a cut-and-dried form concluding that “This is how Russia is”.