Is confrontation with Russia inevitable?

Looking at this record, the historian Anne Applebaum has argued, also in the Washington Post, that the West fundamentally misunderstood Russia. It saw the place as a quasi-Western land – think of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky – a Western country in the making if only we had put forward the right policies. In fact, she argues, Russia derives its identity from being a non-Western country, perhaps even from being an anti-Western country, in the sense that it is distinct and different from the West.

Perhaps the West could have done more to help Russia. But it does appear to me, looking back, that the Russia of the late 1980s and early 1990s – of Gorbachev and Yeltsin – may have been a special conciliatory moment in its history, a time when Russia was weak, its leadership enlightened, and its populace worn out by decades of communist failure. The mood of that country changed quickly after that, as oil prices rose in the 1990’s, the Russian economy grew, and the Russian state reasserted itself.

In Russia, there has always been a great debate, at least since the 1840s, between “Westernizers” and “Slavophiles.” The Westernizers wanted Russia to become Western, while the Slavophiles felt its destiny lay in its distinctive Slavic civilization that was different from the West.

Today, at least, it looks like the Slavophiles were right.