Why have Western leaders and intellectuals gone soft on Russia's autocracy?
Lilia Shevtsova | Foreign Policy.com
At a recent meeting with Russian liberals in Moscow, a well-known European intellectual started trying to convince them that, as he put it, "Russia is not a dictatorship these days. [President Dmitry] Medvedev is trying to liberalize the system, and with time Russia will become a democracy. You shouldn't try to hurry things." Not surprisingly, this advice provoked consternation among an audience that had expected at least some encouragement from Continental liberals.
At a conference last month in Berlin, I witnessed another example of this divide. When I started to raise the question of democratic standards in Western-Russian relations, I was interrupted by another Western attendee. "You irritate us," he said. "International relations are not about values; they are about power!" If he is right, Russian liberals will have to reconsider their expectations about the Western opinion-leaders they have long counted on for moral support and understanding.
A consensus seems to be growing among Western policymakers and intellectuals that Russia is not ready for liberalism and that there are even certain advantages to dealing with the illiberal political order built by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. This may be why Western policy toward Russia has only served to shore up the Russian powers that are pursuing anti-Western interests. The results could be catastrophic -- not merely for the activists who are working to make Russia a free country, but for the moral authority of those in the West who preach liberty but practice something quite different.
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