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Nobody Knows the Trouble They'll See : RUSSIA 2010: And What It Means for the World, By Daniel Yergin & Thane Gustafson (Random House: $23; 320 pp.)

January 09, 1994|A. Craig Copetas | A. Craig Copetas, winner of the 1990 Olive Branch Award for his work as Moscow correspondent for Regardie's Magazine, is the author of "Bear Hunting With the Politburo" and a former visiting scholar at the Harriman Institute of Advanced Soviet Study at Columbia University

I am perhaps not alone in thinking a Cold War needs to be declared on books filled with motivational anecdotes that offer American and Russian leaders inspiration. Once an author gets anywhere near to mentioning streamlined nuclear deterrent strategies, or divulging on the dust cover that my $23 will buy a read which "grew out of a confidential study developed for a select group of international companies by a leading international consulting firm," it's time to sound a Red Alert.

'Russia 2010" is yet another foundation-grant spinner in the perpetual motion of Russia/ex-USSR books. Its tragedy is twofold: It misses a huge and untouched constituency of book-buyers who, though curious about Russia, are anesthetized by tautological surveys; and, perhaps more consequential, this type of hyped discourse mugs State Department analysts (who blundered in predicting Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, the 1991 putsch, and the 1993 artillery barrage) into conceiving what-it-means-for-the-world Russian strategies like medieval monks locked in a cloister.

Co-authors Daniel Yergin, a 1992 Pulitzer Prize winner for his book "The Prize," and Thane Gustafson, a Georgetown University professor and former think-tanker at the Rand Corp., seem to enjoy drowning in the Russia chaos they want so hard to save us from. After balling together enough Russian yarns to stuff a bear, they unwind these wet narratives around projected events to create four possible life forms to inhabit Future Russia. The technique is called "scenario planning," a drill developed at Shell Oil in the early 1970s and now popular among consulting firms and military forecasters to calculate "a structured, disciplined method for thinking about the future."

So what's new in "2010"? Not much, especially for those who've taken the time to be haunted by Brian Cox's recent "Salem to Moscow," or mesmerized by the prescience in any of W. Bruce Lincoln's histories of the early days of Bolshevism. Indeed, the MTV crowd would learn more by spending a couple of bucks for the late Frank Zappa's 1989 Financial News Network reports on how to develop trade with the USSR.

The four "scenarios" are imaginative graduate-school exercises, but alongside the elegant calisthenics of "Rethinking the Soviet Experience" by Stephen Cohen, "Russia 2010" has as much original power and fury as "The Little Engine That Could."

What's angering about "Russia 2010" is that Yergin and Gustafson have all the professional gear to be the Lewis & Clarke of the new Russia, yet they wade around in Russia's entrails, sometimes divining prophecy like guest experts on McNeil/Lehrer, at other times sounding like the holiday tourist who acquires expertise through a long night drinking with apparatchiks aboard the Red Arrow train between Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The authors maintain, for example, that whatever precise form Russian capitalism takes, by 2010 it will be a force to be reckoned with in the world economy. "Increasingly, Russian will be a language heard in the financial district, the industrial fairs, the business hotels, and the ski slopes and beaches of the world." Such declarative wisdom, especially from a Pulitzer Prize winner, is an intellectual misdemeanor. In discussing Russia's prime movers, the term used in scenario development for the actors able to alter the game, they go for the felony: "As powerful as organized crime has become in Russia the last few years, it is not a prime mover in the fate of Russia and will not become one." This kind of announcement is rooted in the disingenuous belief made popular during the Industrial Revolution that society needs a few crooks to amass wealth so that later generations can afford to grow into law-abiding capitalists.

Each Future Russia scenario is written in Milton-Bradley prose, game boards included. Muddling Down, in which Russia disintegrates, is Chutes & Ladders; Two-Headed Eagle, in which Russia becomes a militaristic plutocracy, is Stratego; Time of Troubles is Risk for real; and Chudo (Russian for miracle) is a convincing Candyland. Players in each game are required to accept such basic instructions as, "The core of the Soviet system has been obliterated. The Communist ideology and its center of power, the apparatus of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, have been destroyed." This might float in an oil company think tank, but anyone who's done hard time in Russia will smile at such a notion.

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