Anti-Americanism fading in new Russia

It’s difficult to find a genuine anti-American around here in Moscow these days. But I finally came across a good one. She is in her 70s. She has a strange, childish fascination with the moon. She blames the Jews for Russia’s present problems and “rotten capitalism” for the end of the good old days. Best of all, she wears red shoes and dreams of the day the red star atop her tower will glow again.

Fortunately, Nina Nikolaevna, Moscow University’s cartographer and witch-in-residence, has been safely sequestered, more or less, in her museum for the past 30 years.

It is difficult to comprehend the scope of changes in Russian attitudes toward America and the West. Radical economic and political reforms have been the stuff of everyday life ever since Mikhail Gorbachev’s Perestroika. But what is new in Russia since the Sept. 11 attack on America is a fundamentally pro-Western, pro-American foreign policy, designed to complete Russia’s transition from the Cold War world into the present post-post-Cold War world.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s last tour of Europe aimed to persuade European leaders that Russia belongs to the “European civilization.” Russian-American military cooperation in the war against Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda has silenced post-Cold War skeptics on both sides. And this weekend’s breakthrough in negotiations between President George W. Bush and Putin on missile defense and nuclear weapons reduction signifies the opening of a new strategic relationship between the two countries.

At the same time, Moscow University professors continue to lecture about the virtues of a liberal democracy, poking fun at topics ranging from Leninism to the 1991 Soviet campaign “Communists for Democracy.” American passports now get you preferential treatment from Moscow’s corrupt street cops, and get you into all the trendy clubs and bars. Needless to say, Polo, DKNY and Tommy Hilfiger seem to be currently in style.

Luckily for Russia and the world, Putin has no interest in mobilizing the support of people like Nina Nikolaevna. He realizes that the key to a successful future for Russia lies not in anti-Americanism but in Americanism. Strengthening of democratic institutions, reforming the legal system to root out corruption, and establishing property and taxation laws that safeguard the market economy will achieve this end. The government is also trying to design a smart fiscal policy that shifts government attention away from the military-industrial complex, and instead toward modernizing the industrial sector and social services.

Obstacles remain on the Russian path to complete integration with the West. Domestically, legal and economic reforms need to yield better results, and the Kremlin needs to find a way out of the Chechnya nightmare. Internationally, Russia still needs to establish the right relationship with its neighbors — from the Baltic to the Caucasus, from Central Asia to the Far East.

But despite these challenges, in the midst of a difficult war that today occupies the attention of the American public, a great realignment of powers on the international scene is under way. Russia is signaling that it is ready to join the West, and it is time for America’s response.

Those who propose that the United States not answer Russia’s banging at the door of the Western alliance also often advocate America’s general disengagement from the world. At this crucial time for America’s war on terrorism, Americans must not suffer from the condition of Nina Nikolaevna.



Milan Milenkovic ’01 is Yale’s Fox Fellow at Moscow State University. He is a former columnist and editorials editor at the Yale Daily News.

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