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START and Slavophiles

But the current fierce jockeying within the Kremlin suggests otherwise. If so, then the 2012 election is shaping up as another instalment of the age-old struggle for Russia between Westernisers and Slavophiles. ~Rupert Cornwell

Much of the rest of Cornwell’s article makes sense, and I agree that there will be political consequences inside Russia if the treaty is shelved or defeated here, but I do have to object to the Westernizer/Slavophile opposition he uses. This lends cultural or ideological significance to a rivalry, such as it is, between two camps within the ruling establishment. If it has been silly to claim that Medvedev is nothing more than Putin’s place-holder until after 2012, it is also an exaggeration to say that any rivalry between the two represents a clash between two divergent visions for Russia’s future. It reminds me of the limited vocabulary people seem to have for discussing Turkish politics. If the AKP is Islamist, it must therefore be oriented towards the East and away from the West, because someone has decided that Kemalism must be “pro-Western” because it is Westernizing. Because Kemalism was initially hostile to many aspects of the Ottoman legacy, the AKP must actually be “neo-Ottoman” in fact and not just as a matter of posturing and rhetoric. It’s almost as if we can’t grasp that nationalists in these other countries can be Westernizers without being slavishly “pro-Western” in their policy orientation, and that there can be more than one faction of Westernizers competing against others.

As for Slavophiles, the actual Slavophile intellectuals of the 19th century were conservative romantics who looked to pre-Petrine Russia and Orthodoxy as their ideals. Needless to say, they had relatively little impact on actual Russian policy, which combined conservative Russian nationalism with emergent Pan-Slavism. This had nothing to do with what Khomyakov hoped for. Indeed, Khomyakov and his circle were regarded poorly by the authorities because they were critical of the post-Petrine absolute monarchy and preferred an order dominated by the aristocracy as represented in the zemskii sobor. Several waves of Westernization and modernization separate anyone in the Kremlin from the Slavophiles.

Having said all that, Cornwell is correct that the failure of START ratification here will have adverse effects on Medvedev’s standing in Russia. To the extent that he represents integration with Europe, modernization and political reform, all those things will suffer setbacks if one of his main diplomatic intiatives stalls.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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