There is a growing understanding in present-day Russia that the upcoming presidential elections will not only ratify a change of the guard an act of routine political succession from the old leader to the new one but also mark a clear watershed dividing the different historical epochs. In their search for an ideological framework for the future, many in Russia are looking to the past.
A large number of political observers in Moscow now view the Yeltsin epoch as a botched capitalist revolution a missed opportunity that failed to create a stable and prosperous Russia. Indeed, some analysts have expressed concern about potential damage done to Russian statehood. The philosopher Leonid Ionin, writing recently in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, suggested the chief aspect of Yeltsin's legacy might turn out to be "disillusionment in democracy, in freedom, in civilization, in partners, in those who seemed to be friends."
Thus, the chief challenge facing Russia seems to be quickly redefining the country's development priorities. Many feel that, in searching for this identity, Russia ought to look to its own indigenous historical tradition as it shapes its peculiar political culture and state institutions.
These ideological motifs can be easily discerned, for instance, in the programmatic article Vladimir Putin posted on Russian government web site one day before he was officially named Boris Yeltsin's heir. [Click here for the Russian government's official website] Over the last three months, the idea that the new regime's political philosophy will be rooted firmly in tradition has come to be regarded as axiomatic by Russia's elite.
At a March 24 meeting of the Security Council, Putin reiterated the need to move urgently to realign Russia's foreign policy priorities. ""We should have a clear understanding of what guides our foreign policy in this changing world," the Interfax news agency quoted Putin as saying at the meeting. The state should "be more attentive, balanced and persistent in defending the interests of both its compatriots living in Russia and of those who chose CIS countries
Igor Torbakov is a freelance journalist who specializes in CIS political affairs. He holds a MA in History from the Moscow University and PhD from the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences; Regional Exchange Scholar at the Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington DC, 1995; Research Scholar at the Institute of Russian History, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, 1988-1997; Kiev correpsondent for the Paris-based Russkaya mysl weekly, 1998-2000; currently a Visiting Fulbright Scholar at the Harriman Institute, Columbia University.