Alexander Nikitin (NGO studies), 1992

Alexander Nikitin, Interview in Moscow, 1992.
Interviewer — Metta Spencer

Nikitin: About three years ago the Center for International and Political Studies was founded here in Moscow to be a non-governmental political consultant agency for the governmental and nongovernmental structures. We are at a period in the history of the Soviet Union where the old structures are not operative anymore. For example, the idea of “hearing” was foreign for the specialists in this country. It was considered to be a Western parliamentary technique … but when the parliament of Russia was reformed it appeared that there was a practical necessity for public control over the political decision-making process, and a necessity for expertise. Unfortunately, the deputies appeared to be absolutely unprepared, green in politics and economics. The head of the defence committee for Moldova is a literary critic by professional training. I can give you hundreds of examples. So people quickly realized that they need some experts around them, but they don’t have enough money to spend on expert centres and in some cases they hesitate to confess that they simply don’t know how to write a draft of a law or something. That is why the parliament quickly came to be surrounded by a network of foundations and consultants. Some of them want to be used by parliament. And this means that we started two years ago to establish a network of expert structures, which were previously … .

The centre which we created, was …

The initiative was strongly supported by Andrei Melville and Shakhnazarov. The centre was initially supported by the Soviet Political Science Association, which he headed. IMEMO. Professor Kislov and so on.

During these three years we did some projects that are really interesting from the point of view of civil society. The most risky project was the inter-republican (which became international when the USSR split up) consultations on defence and security. This started a year and a half ago. Practically not even a year and a half ago, Gorbachev was insisted that republics behave like republics and nothing more. The Baltic states were the first who started to demand to be treated as independent states. Moscow insisted on consultations. Then we initiated a nongovernmental centre and we intitiated nongovernmental negotiations with Estonia,, they met with the leaders, the commander of the Baltic fleet, etc. Then we did the next step. We brought thirty experts to Tallinn to spend five days with a large group of experts from the Estonian government. It was on all the baskets of the CSCE process. Lawyers, military people, etc. During these five days, … there was a breakthrough.

Then the whole draft of the agenda went simultaneously to the Gorbachev team and to the President of Estonia. The negotiations were the next stage. When we came back to Moscow we had trouble pushing through the ideas here. The Estonians were eager to be part of negotiations, but Moscow — the official delegation sent by Gorbachev — tried to maneouvre. One official told us: “frankly speaking, we have to waste as much time as possible until Gorbachev tells us to go ahead. ”

We were not working for the benefit of Russia or Estonia. The nongovernmental force was recognized as a mediator. Then we contacted Lithuania. The Minister of Defence of Lithuania came to this office. We were elaborating the idea of negotiating the withdrawal of the of the army from the Baltic states. Again, that was the time when this was considered a very problematic issue. Right here you see the volumes, thousands of pages of transcripts. Divided by republics. During 8 months, once a month we created a community of people from the different former republics, who knew each other personally, who knew each other’s phone and fax numbers, and who were responsible for resolving army and military disputes. That, we consider an achievement in itself because the relations between the former republics of the Soviet Union, we were ideologically concentrated. People were very ideological about the necessity of pushing for the interests of Ukraine or __, and in the international relations between Russia and America or Germany, everything is already — people are already quite practical about national interests. But here, there is not any concept of national interest, neither in Russia nor in the large states like Ukraine or Lithuania.

Spencer: Extraordinary. Can you explain?

Nikitin: It is simple. The problem is that national interest means knowing what would be the action or the policy which would fulfill the needs of the country. To fulfill the needs of the country you need to try to divide the country from the surrounding, because even if you talk about the economic needs of Ukraine, you never tried that Ukraine would be separate from the Soviet Union. For example, in the sphere of defence, what do you mean about the security of your country which never had a military. Parliamentarians like to force to get closer to the defence situation, it takes months and years. And when time is pressing and you are creating an economy, a defence, etc. nobody has time to sit for months to do normal public hearings and a lot of papers to clarify what will be the necessary financial situation of Russia, etc. Not enough information, not enough initial expertise on the definition of the national interest. This is not because people don’t want it but because large nations, such as the United States, spend decades defining and elaborating their interests, and their relations toward NaTO, for example. The same here. I am sure that 5-7 years from now the national interest of Ukraine will be defined much more clearly than now. As for Russia, until now its national interests have been defined as the national interests of the Soviet Union. It was never such a body as the Russian republic. Even in the United Nations, Russia never had a seat. The Soviet Union was Russia. I frankly see attempts to elaborate the national intersts of Russia as an artificial event. I don’t believe Russia is a separate body. A lot of effort should be made now to cut the corpse of Russia out of the bigger corpse of the Soviet Union, and this is done quite violently. For example, the creation of the defence ministry of Russia was done by a group of military who were in competition with the old ministry of the Soviet Union. There was no necessity in creating the Russian army, and Yeltsin gave his word to the international community that this will be the last resort when we create the Russian army. But he violated his own words several months later, and definitely not at the point of last resort. Simply when (General Lubinov came?) and wanted nominations, and he said okay, why don’t we sign the decreee?

And coming back to the international negotiations, the minister of defence of Moldova, etc. this is the building where these people could meet and discuss on these very painful matters. We used the nongovernmental status and this turned out to be a key.

Spencer: I discussed a few weeks ago with Lindsay Mattison in Washington, who had worked wtih the Soviet Political Science association before. I think he was involved in many of the negotiations with Afghanistan. He made many of the same points.

Nikitin: But non-governmental only became non-governmental about two years ago because before all the agencies were controlled by the central committee of the communist party. It was a strong mechanism for such control. I give you another example. Two years ago we organized several rounds of negotiations between emerging political parties of this country. This was a previous project of mine. Leaders of Christian Democrats, Kadets, Radicals, Anarchists. They met six times in this building, discussing economcis, human rights, and so forth. This is in many cases the only place where they could meet. This is a tremendous ideological issue for the Christian Democrats to go into the territory of the Communists, or vice versa. That is why this was better as a neutral area. That was not easy. First of all, the communist Party was trying to slow the process down. I was called and during three hours, persons were trying to do a brainwash and say that we don’t need to do this.

On my own computer I made labels to put all the parties around the table, but for the speaker for the CP it was a huge problem to decide whether he could speak for the Party because…. The person from the Central Committee maybe was a sub-member. .. … For someone to speak for the party, all of them are members, so that was a challenge.

Spencer: Were you a consultant for the Russian government?

Nikitin: Until recently, it was cheap because everything was cheap in this country. We spent some money from the peace fund. We published something. The last brochure is on democratic Russia. This kind of result. All of this is not tremendously expensive. We use the foundations.

Spencer: Tell me a little about Breakthrough.

Nikitin: Hundreds of people participated in it. Initially it started with a phone call from the _____ Hotel in Washington which I did to California. We called, with my colleague Kortunov, and we called our colleagues at Beyond War American non-governmental organization and said, why don’t we start working on the _____ published in both countries? The newness of the idea was not only this. … Bring together a team of people who participated in ___ the nuclear weapons from both sides of the plants of the political and legal decisions from the American and Russian side. Thus we appraoched people who had been in charge of Amnerican nuclear missiles — Thayler. Theodore Thaylor. Not Taylor but Thaylor. (or Saylor) and Academician (Roschenbosch??) from the Russian side who was one of the designers of the navigating device for the Soviet nuclear missiles. We brought them together, with Gromyko, son of the foreign minister, and Americans who were with the State department like Bill ____ and others in Moscow and in America. Which means that Americans come for a couple of weeks and communicated directly to the other authors, worked out the ideas for each chpater. It was a complicated forces, which was administered in a new way for us. I appreciate extremely the efforts of Americans who used the American methods of processing knowledge for this project. Americans brought some management skills to the project. They created the computer system, which did editing, translation of Russian and English. And then we established the computerized satellite lines beween Moscow and California. We sent through many texts; this was only because of the computers and satellites that we acconplished the book in such a short time because we did the editing of approximately twenty articles at the same time, each of them in two languages, which gave us the texts on which approximately forty people worked. We had good coordination like in the army. I mean, there were special chiefs and …

The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books