My generation grew up thinking of Russian/Soviet behavior and motives as reflections of an ideological commitment to communism. With acceptance within Russia and most of the rest of the world that communism and economic central planning are deeply flawed and failed systems, we looked forward to better relations with a better behaved Russia that could finally take its proper place in the world commensurate with the highly respected cultural contributions of its people. Thus Russia’s behavior in recent years is a deep disappointment.
In reality, Russia’s international behavior has always tended to reflect admiration of “the West” and a strong desire to participate in and be respected by the West, despite the continuation of repressive feudal social structures within Russia. This contradiction aggravated an inferiority complex Russia seemed predisposed to anyway. These forces fed Russia’s century’s old impetus toward geographical expansion as the solution to its insecurities with regard to its “near abroad.”
Scott Thompson relates that “In 1980 just after Ronald Reagan’s election, a think tank in Philadelphia held a semi-official meeting with Moscow’s foreign policy elite, starting with Yuri Arbatov, the head of the USA Institute. Mr. Arbatov responded to our challenge—that Moscow was acquiring a vastly greater strategic military force than what America possessed—by saying that Moscow faced hostility along all its borders. China bristled with might along that border, all the European states disliked it, and on its southern border there were hostile regimes. He contrasted this with the unarmed and peaceful boundaries the USA had with Canada on its north and Mexico on its south. One of us responded, ‘if you treated your neighbors the way we do, you wouldn’t be facing enemies on your borders.’”
With its outrageous attack on Georgia last month, Russia has reverted to earlier form. Tragically, it seems not to understand how respect in the West is earned, starting with the rule of law. One of the speakers at the Mont Pelerin Society meetings I am attending in Tokyo, Andrei Illarionov, chronicled for us Russia’s multi-year preparations for this invasion. Andrei was the chief economic adviser of then Russian President Vladimir Putin from 2000 to December 2005. At lunch he told me that the U.S. invasion of Iraq provided Putin with the example of how great nations behave and he emulated it. Russia’s behavior cannot be easily explained he said. “Putin and his advisors are acting like confused teenagers wanting to be treated like adults. Who can understand it or make sense of it. It makes no sense either economically or politically.”
When Russia sends its fleet into the Caribbean to visit Venezuela’s President Chavez, it will see itself as following the example of the United States Navy steaming into the Black Sea to the coast of Georgia. In many respects they are the same. A Russian visit to our near abroad is no more threatening to our security than our fleet’s visit to the Black Sea and the ports of Georgia is to Russia’s. Yet we are sensitive to such demonstrations, as are they. We should try to understand and respect Russia’s demand for greater influence in its own back yard, but we should insist that it behave in a civilized manner if it wishes to be apart of the civilized world. I would not support going to war to defend Georgia, but I do believe we need to strongly express our strong support of its democratically elected government and its right to its sovereignty and to raise the price to Russia or any other nation that violates broadly accepted international norms of behavior for such behavior. We also need to insure that we observe those norms ourselves.
 Other speakers included Vaclav Klaus, President of the Czech Republic, Edward Lazear, Chairman of the U.S. President’s Council of Economic Advisers, Myron Scholes, Nobel Prize in Economics recipient in 1997, Gary Becker, Nobel Prize in Economics recipient in 1992, Junichi Ujiie, Chairman of Nomura Holdings, and William Niskanen, Chairman of the Cato Institute.