November 3, 2014

The Simplicity of Turning Black into White (And Vice Versa)

Reuters/Scanpix
Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks at a news conference at the end of the G20 summit in Brisbane November 16, 2014. Putin said on Sunday that there is a "good chance of resolution" in the Ukraine conflict, contradicting Western concerns over an escalation in fighting in the southeast of the country.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks at a news conference at the end of the G20 summit in Brisbane November 16, 2014. Putin said on Sunday that there is a "good chance of resolution" in the Ukraine conflict, contradicting Western concerns over an escalation in fighting in the southeast of the country.

The confrontation between Russia and the Western world seems not to be on the path to de-escalation. Russia’s rhetoric and behavior has increased anxieties and posed serious question marks in Europe, North America, and beyond. Some Western politicians and political analysts tend to believe that this is – once again – just a temporary turbulence, and that soon enough we’ll enjoy more or less blue skies. Others argue that Russia will not be a true partner of the West – if it ever was – for a very long time, because Russian-Western contradictions are much deeper than mere disagreements over conflicting political or business interests. The Russian mainstream mindset appears now to be more distant from, and antagonistic to the values and ideals of the transatlantic community than it has ever been before. Therefore, in assessing the likely effectiveness at deescalating the present situation of certain political and economic agreements with Russia, one should clearly bear in mind that Putinism has created a new reality in Russia that is vastly incompatible with ours. President Putin’s main political goals seem to be not only to “fight American hegemony,” but also to undermine the very foundations of Western liberal democracy.

The confrontation between Russia and the Western world seems not to be on the path to de-escalation. Russia’s rhetoric and behavior has increased anxieties and posed serious question marks in Europe, North America, and beyond. Some Western politicians and political analysts tend to believe that this is – once again – just a temporary turbulence, and that soon enough we’ll enjoy more or less blue skies. Others argue that Russia will not be a true partner of the West – if it ever was – for a very long time, because Russian-Western contradictions are much deeper than mere disagreements over conflicting political or business interests. The Russian mainstream mindset appears now to be more distant from, and antagonistic to the values and ideals of the transatlantic community than it has ever been before. Therefore, in assessing the likely effectiveness at deescalating the present situation of certain political and economic agreements with Russia, one should clearly bear in mind that Putinism has created a new reality in Russia that is vastly incompatible with ours. President Putin’s main political goals seem to be not only to “fight American hegemony,” but also to undermine the very foundations of Western liberal democracy.

The former spy chief and present Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev gave an interview to Rossiyskaya Gazeta on October 15, in which he outlines in a very eloquent manner Russian “historical truth” as it was engineered by the Kremlin in Soviet times and later reinvented and even perfected by Vladimir Putin and his supporters. Some months before, the Crimean Anschluss speech by Putin on March 18 presented us a particularly grim political perspective. Putin’s comments at the Valdai Club on October 24 exceeded in their anti-Americanism even the most “revolutionary” speeches of Fidel Castro. Russia’s official narrative, which effectively distorts hundreds of years of history, not only forms the very basis of the country’s political rhetoric and state-run propaganda, but is also deemed to eliminate any other alternative view to history and politics. Even the about 14 million children in Russia’s schools may now study almost exclusively from textbooks produced by a single publisher that has somehow acquired monopoly status and that belongs to Arkady Rotenberg, a good friend and former judo sparring partner of Vladimir Putin. In this light, the content and ideological emphasis of history textbooks in Russian schools should contain no surprises.

A Russian anecdote from the Brezhnev era stated that the United States was then Soviet Union’s main enemy because it “interfered all around the world in Russian internal affairs.” The US continues to do so, according to Putin and Patrushev, most notably in Ukraine, but also elsewhere in the former Soviet empire, as well as in Syria, etc. At Valdai, Putin blamed the US for undermining global stability and for being the instigator of almost all of the world’s major conflicts. He warned that “the world will face new wars if Washington does not respect the interests of other nations.” In addition, Patrushev concluded that “the US created the conditions and pretexts for the colour revolutions (Georgia, Ukraine, Middle East, North Africa) and financed them lavishly.” According to Patrushev, the US has spent billions of dollars over twenty years in Ukraine so that “a whole generation (in Ukraine) was brought up to hate Russia and believe in the mythology of European values,” even though “these values, even if they are given a positive spin, are not, in fact, meant for Ukrainians.” For Putin, Patrushev, and the like, Ukrainians – and of course Georgians and many others, as well – are obviously incapable of deciding themselves without guidance from the Kremlin which values and policies should be adopted in their societies and respective countries. The collapse of the USSR was – according to Putin – the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [21st] century.” This was engineered, according to Patrushev, by the CIA, which realized that the Soviet Union’s weakest point was its economy. The same CIA that Putin has blamed for having invented the subversive weapon called the Internet. The worst American “anti-Soviet doctrine,” for Patrushev, was proposed as early as the 1970s by “the American political scientist and statesman of Polish extraction, Zbigniew Brzezinski” – “the crux of this doctrine lay in identifying the weaknesses of a potential adversary and turning them into serious problems.” Patrushev clearly implies that the US is even now still using the “Brzezinski Doctrine” in the form of economic sanctions and political subversion against Russia.

Russia’s hurray-patriotism and mass psychosis has been greatly influenced by Kremlin’s anti-Western mythology concerning WWII, the Soviet “liberation” of Central and Eastern Europe, the establishment of NATO (in the words of Patrushev, created so that America could “pre-empt the emergence in Western Europe of an independent group of states that could have competed with the US”), the “unjust” and “anti-Russian” Cold War etc. Instead of elaborating at length on these topics, I would rather summarize the subject of this article by making some important conclusions.
 First, Western political and diplomatic initiatives to deescalate conflict with Russia most likely will not work. President Obama’s Reset Policy was clearly taken by the Kremlin as a sign of weakness. For more than twenty years, Russia has missed many great opportunities to become a full-fledged and trustworthy member of the Western world. We cannot succeed to make Russia become like us, whatever we do, if Russia herself does not wish to become a Western-like nation that pursues prosperity and liberty instead of contemplating a lost empire and waging wars of aggression to restore it.

Secondly, Putin will not hesitate – if he thinks that he has a good opportunity, or in case his own situation becomes desperate – to amplify the ideological, political, economic, and even military confrontation with the West. The next twelve months or so may be crucial in this respect. Within this timeframe the Western sanctions might very seriously affect the Russian economy, whereas the security and the defense of NATO allies in the vicinity of Russia will be significantly strengthened. Putin might not have a better chance.

Lastly, under Putin – using Patrushev’s words – a whole generation of young Russians will be taught to hate the Western world and its values. This sets the stage for a sharp ideological confrontation over many years to come, one that represents a constant threat to Europe, especially to the countries geographically most exposed to Russian expansionism.

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