Reuters: The U.S. is now a threat to Russia. The Russian document itself says, “The strengthening of Russia happens against the background of new threats to the national security, which has complex and interrelated nature,…”
Simplicity is beguiling, but the best approach to interpretation of this complex and interrelated problem is roundabout. Eventually, this leads to Syria.
When Country A assesses the threat posed to it by Country B, the appraisal is always worse than what the presumed aggressor thinks. Unless disarmed by strong cultural bonds, there is always the hypothetical fear, verging on real fear, that one’s frenemy would like to do you in. There is one objective reason, and one subjective, why this is always the case.
- Objective: Risk of the unknown. Country A does not know the intimate thoughts of Country B. This is akin to the inability to truly know the mind of another, which is why when somebody flips out and murders somebody, his friends are so surprised.
- Subjective: Every country holds itself in higher regard than other countries do. So even if Country B poses a real threat to Country A, Country B may discount it, as incompatible with the True Virtue of Country B.
This is the U.S. and Russia since Yalta, with either country as A or B. Let’s not get sidetracked by Stalin’s genocides or Soviet repression. The actual moral qualities of the two societies are not part of this discussion. The facts of history, and that the Soviets nevertheless considered themselves our moral superiors, highlight the essentialness of a relative framework. For most of that time, the mostly identical policy of each side was MAD, Mutual Assured Destruction. This alone brings into question the sanity of human race, though more recently, MAD has been overshadowed by religious madness.
When Country A perceives a threatening action or policy of Country B, there are inevitably several explanations, which are not exclusive of each other:
- Country B would like to do in Country A.
- Country B would like to diminish Country A.
- Country A has a paranoia.
- It’s incidental to a policy with another motivation.
Since these factors occur in any strength of combination, op-eds that make the choice typically reveal more of the mind of the writer than the actual situation. In a piece for Reuters, John Lloyd, referring to Putin, writes “But tactics get you so far. He can certainly tweak the American nose, painfully. But what’s the strategy? “ The literary trope of giving the U.S. a nose is loaded with meaning that may be carelessly swallowed without tasting.
It’s not controversial to think that Putin would like to diminish the U.S. role in the world. Rivalry and apprehension have been the dominant sentiments of most of the post-war period. With Perestroika, they faded. They were primed for reappearance by the 2007-08 financial crisis, which extinguished the West as a beacon to Putin, the current author of modern Russia.
The Russians saw Western conspiracy in Euromaidan, which the West regard as an authentic popular movement. To the Russian inner circle, popular movements are anathema, justifying nothing. And so the sentiments came back to life in Russia. As the saying goes, it takes two to tangle. The Russian reaction was military, first with the annexation of Crimea, followed by thinly concealed efforts to peel off eastern Ukraine, mainly by private armies supported by Russia, but also with direct Russian involvement.
To the Russians, the first aggression was covert Western instigation. To the West, the first aggression was something we haven’t seen before, a “private brand” version of the Russian military. Past custom made “who started it” an important current and historical question, the thing everybody argued about incessantly. This time, it has faded. Buried by the modern op-ed blizzard, the fade makes this recapitulation actually useful and interesting.
It actually goes back even further. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russians expected a warm embrace. Russia is for the most part the estranged relative of Western civilization. But Russia was spurned, and unable to accept the reasons. In rule of law, commitment to democracy, and business practices, Russia was and is a big, dark, scary place. And although a multicultural country, it has a strong tinge of ethnocracy, giving herself the umbrella for Slavs beyond the borders of the state. The UN/NATO resolution of the Kosovo conflict, a product of Western multiculturalism, was interpreted as an ethnic war on Slavs.
And who can forget the Bush Administration’s Caspian Oil Pipeline? This is brought up strictly as a foreign policy gambit, without any suggestion of conflict of interest or impropriety in the Bush Administration. Bush and Cheney, both oilmen, understood that of all fungible commodities, oil is the most intertwined with foreign policy. They could not have excused themselves from playing the then-relevant version of the Great Game, which was to pipe oil around Russia, instead of through it. And Vladimir Putin, inspite of hotdogs at the Bush Ranch, could not have excused himself from noticing it. In American slang, he might have though Bush was trying to cut Russia off at the knees.
Russia is immeasurably better than it was, but not good enough for the West. But does it have to be? After the 2007 financial crisis, China’s version of Plato’s Republic replaced the West as the dream in the gleam of the Russian eye. This is why Putin mints billionaires, as a recapitulation of our own Robber Baron period. I doubt it will work, but it’s an improvement on the Ukraine Model, which should be called “Sticky Fingers.”
Socially, this is analogous to the unattractive bride and the exploitative suitor, doing what comes so naturally they don’t know they’re doing it.
To be continued shortly.