WASHINGTON, Sept 20—Instead of denouncing Russia as a failed experiment in democracy, the West should adopt smarter diplomacy and take advantage of the country’s capitalist evolution as the groundwork for real democratic development, argues Dmitri Trenin in a new book Getting Russia Right. Trenin contends that despite its evident authoritarianism, which stunts its development, Russia’s modernization represents a “New West”—opting for a capitalist path, which in due course can lay the groundwork for democracy, but rejecting overdependence on Europe or the U.S.

Key Conclusions:

  • Three developments have set Russia on a course toward potential democratic transformation:
      • The emergence of a capitalist economy with concepts of private property;
      • The opening of Russia to the outside world;
      • And with the end of the Russian empire, the emergence of Russia as a modern nation state.
  • The United States and Europe still see Russia in terms of a 1990s experiment in democracy promotion, which undermines positive working relations with Russia.  Instead, western nations should concentrate on liberalization and modernization, which may not lead directly to democracy, but could promote the rule of law and constitutional government.
  • A Russia motivated by economic and political self-interest is likely to cooperate in addressing pressing global issues such as terrorism, global warming, proliferation of WMD, and energy security. However, cooperation is contingent on the United States and Europe taking into consideration Russia’s interests and status as a major power, particularly in institutions such as the G8 and United Nations, as much as their own.  
  • While promoting liberalism and modernization in Russia, the United States and Europe should at the same time hold Russia accountable for its actions in institutions, such as the WTO of the Council of Europe, where its membership requires behavior consistent with internationally defined norms.

“America and Europe need to look at Russia as an emerging capitalist society rather than a failed democratic polity.  They would understand Russia better if they used the vocabulary of practical economics rather than of political science,” writes Trenin.  “They would have no more sincere friends in Russia than people wishing to do business with the West….This won’t make dealing with Russia always a pleasure, but it will make for a much more predictable and productive future.”



  • Visit www.carnegieendowment.org/publications for ordering information.
    September 2007, 132 pp.
    Paper: 0-87003-234-9, $19.95
    Cloth: 0-87003-235-6, $49.95

  • Dmitri Trenin is a senior associate and the deputy director of the Carnegie Moscow Center.  He retired from the Russian Army after a military career that included participation in the Geneva strategic arms control negotiations.

  • The Carnegie Russia and Eurasia Program has been a leader in its field since the end of the Cold War. The senior research team comprises an unparalleled group of experts in the United States and Russia on Eurasian security and development, economic and social issues, governance and the rule of law, as well as security issues such as strategic nuclear weapons and nuclear nonproliferation. The Program has adapted to changing policy priorities during the region’s dramatic evolution in the past fourteen years—from the collapse of the Soviet Union, through the early phase of post-Communist transitions, into the post-9/11 era, and the current period under President Putin.

  • The Carnegie Moscow Center was established in 1993 and accommodates foreign and Russian researchers collaborating with Carnegie’s global network of scholars on a variety of topical areas and policy-relevant projects. Carnegie Moscow Center Associates work independently on their own research in areas covering a broad range of contemporary policy issues—military, political, and economic.