Thirty years ago, on December 26, 1991, the Soviet Union disintegrated. How is this event viewed today among the people of Russia? Is the US walking down the same path as the former Soviet Union? Russian scholar Mikhail Chelnokov (Chelnokov) discusses these issues in an interview with Global Times (GT) reporter Xia Wenxin. Chelnokov served as the People's Deputy of Russia from 1990 to 1993. He is also a member of the Union of Russian Writers and a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences.
GT: In your opinion, what is the collective feeling in today's Russian society about the disintegration of the Soviet Union?
Chelnokov: This year marks the 30th anniversary of the disintegration of the Soviet Union. This collapse is inseparable from the collapse of the socialist system in the Soviet Union. In my view, both events are perceived differently in Russian society depending on the ages of the people. The younger generation knows very little about these events, and they are indifferent to them.
The older generation has already accepted the disintegration of the Soviet Union as a historical fact. They feel disappointed about it but it is not appropriate to say if they have a positive or negative opinion on the event.
I would say that people of the older generation pay more attention to the changes in the socio-political and economic system in Russia. And in this regard, there are both positive and negative aspects.
On the positive side, there is no shortage of food and goods in the country today. The endless queues in front of the stores have disappeared, the so-called Iron Curtain has fallen and people are free to travel around the world.
On the negative side, Russia accepted not only the reasonable features of capitalism but also all the negative repercussions connected with this system.
First, the total power of the financial tycoons goes beyond literally every aspect of life. And this fantastic exaggeration of the value of money has led to a hypertrophied distortion of all human life. The financial sphere of the economy is not a real sector of the economy. There is absolutely nothing substantial produced in the financial system.
All the various facets of the financial system, including the stock market, pyramid schemes and various speculative operations, are all a meaningless and empty children's game. But this game is very expensive for mankind. It has led and will repeatedly lead to severe crises which, by the way, have already happened several times in the modern history of Russia.
Second, of course, today people evaluate the collapse of socialism and the Soviet Union by the consequences of these events and, above all, by today's living standard in Russia. This assessment is very pessimistic and gloomy. According to various estimates, Russia today is close to the 70th place in the world ranking of living standards. At the end of 2020, 17.8 million people in Russia, about 12 percent of the population, were living below the poverty line. The problem of social stratification is very serious and all of this happens in one of the richest countries in the world in terms of natural resources.
Third, today in Russia we honor our victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 by holding commemorative events, such as the march of the "Immortal Regiment." But this, unfortunately, is the only bright spot and the only exception against the backdrop of spiritual impoverishment that reigns in the country today.
[Note: the term "Great Patriotic War" refers to the confrontation between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in the Eastern Front of World War II.]
Ideas and concepts, including conscience, honor, patriotism, desire for creativity, and scientific work, have practically disappeared from the media's field of vision. And perhaps most frightening of all is how young people grow up in such an environment and what kind of goals they set for themselves.
GT: In general, relations between Russia and the West have not improved since the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The US and the West continue to view Russia as a "threat" and an adversary. What do you think of the continued hostile attitude of the US and the West toward Russia?
Chelnokov: I believe that the hostile attitude of the US and the West in general toward Russia exists due to several reasons. On one hand, this is the way things have developed historically. On the other hand, Russia is the richest country in the world in terms of natural resources. And thus, some countries feel envious and believe that these resources should belong to the whole world, not just to one country.
Moreover, it is very convenient to divert people's attention from the internal problems of the US and Western countries and shift the blame onto an "external enemy." So, focusing on an "external enemy" is the usual policy of leaders who are not very strong and smart. There has not been any strong leader in the Western world in recent decades like former US president Franklin Roosevelt or former French leader Charles de Gaulle. Also, having an "external enemy" is profitable for the military organizations and the military-industrial complex because they will be well financed. In fact, they live off it.
GT: Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the US is following the path of the Soviet Union, TASS reported in June. What's your take? Is the fate of the Soviet Union a lesson for the US?
Chelnokov: It is true that the US today has come closer to a deadlock but this is an entirely different situation from the one that the Soviet Union faced at the end of the last century.
The US believes it has the right to rule the world, impose its will on other countries and be the hegemon. Yes, the Soviet Union lost the Cold War to the US but the world has changed and the world does not want to be a colony of the US. Incidentally, the 9/11 attacks in 2001 showed that the US is not as invincible and strong as it would like to be. The US cannot offer its ideals as a model to the world today as it does not follow these ideals itself.
However, today the enmity between black and white people in the US is becoming increasingly acute and there is no end in sight to this problem. It destabilizes the whole situation, leads to numerous conflicts and brings the country to a dead end.
The US considers itself a model of democracy. But democracy, in other words, the power of the people, is exercised through elections. And the result of these elections in the US is really determined not only by the will of the people, but probably to a much greater extent, by the electoral system itself.
So, in this sense, US elections are a terrible travesty of democracy. The president of the US is chosen not by the people of the country, but by an electoral college. The whole world has been laughing at this system for quite a long time and many Americans have been demanding changes, but the US government does not want to. Why not? The answer is very simple. In this system, it is very convenient to manipulate the results of the election to the advantage of the incumbent government.
But in addition to the votes and the electoral system, there is a third factor that determines the outcome of the elections. This factor is probably the most important and decisive one. It is the financial support of the election campaign.
The financial cost of the presidential campaign in the US is so high that not even the wealthiest people of the country can cover it personally. It is known, for example, that US President Joe Biden spent about $1 billion on campaigning alone. And such huge funds come from the contributions of various sponsors. But sponsors do not invest their money altruistically. They make these investments only when they are very sure that they will be repaid in the near future.
Under such a policy, political figures think about the interests of their sponsors in the first place instead of the interests of the country and people. What democracy, what power of the people, are we talking about here?
GT: Many people compare the current competition between China and the US to the rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War era. What do you think of the rivalry between China and the US? How will it end?
Chelnokov: I think that such a comparison is quite appropriate. The rivalry between the US and China today increasingly impacts the whole world. China, in my opinion, is on the rise. It is on the path toward progress and the US, on the contrary, is in a stage of regression but it has not realized it. As far as I understand, the tension in relations between the two countries comes from the US, a country that continues to strive for hegemony in the world.
China is gaining more and more power, politically, economically and militarily. Hopefully, China can encourage the US to remain rational. However, I think now it is still impossible to predict how this rivalry will end.