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View Diary: So. What to do with Russia? (271 comments)

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  •  We need to talk Russia (37+ / 0-)

    in off the ledge, basically.  I think it is difficult for them to have their own national conversation about what constitutes Russian national interests when the West basically treats them like the Cold War never ended.  When they were weak, we sh!t all over them, and when they are strong we act like they are planning to take over the World.  Recent history looks very different through their eyes, and I think we need to at least acknowledge this.  

    I think it's sort of tack to repost a previous comment, but I sort of tried to imagine how the post-Soviet era looked from their side a few days ago.  I've since tilted back to being more neutral RE the latest conflict, but I do think it's important to try to understand their POV.  The sort of tough talk Rice and Bush and McCain have been slinging seems ill considered to allow the Russian leadership to compromise without losing face.  

    We need to create some daylight between the Russian people and their leadership, and I believe that should be the focus of our public diplomacy.  Russians don't want war, they want to sell energy and buy nice western things with their income.

    Russia has been repeatedly poked in the eye by Western governments and interests.  I despise Putin and after a few drinks I've been known to comment favorably on the low Russian birth rate, especially after what they did in Chechniya, but I'm a little stunned at how one sided the narrative created by the press is.  This isn't good for anyone.  Misunderstandings this fundamental can lead to a wider conflict or even more dangerous Russian revanchism.  

    The Russians aren't evil, they're pissed off.  You don't have to be Henry Kissenger to see that nations have certain immutable characteristics regardless of the form of government.  Regardless of the validity of their feelings, Russians are prone to see themselves as victims of the West, and this leads to a frequently remarked upon paranoia and conspiracy mindedness.  

    For the average Russian, the years after the fall of the Soviet Union were a period when they were treated as a defeated enemy, despite the fact that they themselves largely brought down their government, not unlike the color revolutions we celebrate in the West.  Western neo-liberals, enabled by the disgraceful Yeltsin, almost destroyed the economic basis of the country while gangsters stole everything not nailed down.  Not surprisingly, many Russians regard this as a deliberate effort by the West to punish their country.  Even liberal Russians regard the 1990's as a humiliating era.  

    We see Putin as a sinister figure, and frankly he is, but he is associated in the Russian mind with increased prosperity conspicuously not based on neo-liberal principles and, probably more importantly, with a resoration of Russian honor and might in a way that resonates with "normal" Russian patriotism.  Russians fiercely resent what they see as a double standard applied to themselves and their friends and there is some merit to this view.  We see Serbs as the remorseless butchers of Croats and Muslims in the '90's, Russians see Serbs as historical victims of Nazi-allied Croats and Turkish invaders.  We see recognizing Kosovo as "the right thing to do," they see Western regimes violating international law when they want to at the expense of their friends.  We see clumsy Russian brutality in Chechniya, they see themselves as defending themselves from failed states filled with terrorists plotting to kill Russians and wonder why they aren't accorded the same sort of deference the US claims for itself.  We see Russian "meddling" beyond their recent and arbitrary "borders" (am I the only one who noted that the recently bombed Gori is the hometown of Joseph Stalin, the imfamous "Russian" dictator?), they see themselves as assuming the just and traditional mantle of defender of the Slavic peoples and the Great Power of Central Asia, not so unlike our Monroe Doctrine regarding Latin America.  We see former satellites yearning to breathe free, they see dangerous revanchist regimes being armed and egged on by the West.  During the last eight years they watched a US government abrogate an arms control treaty in order to build a missile defense which, if it worked, would neutralize their one remaining claim to being a superpower: the nuclear weapons legacy of the USSR.  As citizens of the West, we see this as largely inconsequential except for the boondoggle it really is, they see it as one more attempt to encircle and contain them, though in their minds they have done nothing to provoke the US or Western European nations.  A couple months ago, US and Georgian troops were conducting war games on the frontier of South Ossetia and then finally, last week, US trained forces with US supplied or subsidized weapons attacked Russian "peacekeepers" and "citizens," and one of the first acts of this same American government was to emergency airlift fresh forces into the theater on behalf of what they regard as a rogue state.  Now, I ask you, how many "civilized" nations would accept this, let alone a country with the history and mindset of Russia?  Would we stop at some sacrosanct "border" if Cuba attacked US forces?  Or Iran attacked our troops in Iraq?  Of course not, and they see this as unmitigated hypocrisy.

    Putin of course is very successful at capitalizing on these not unnatural feelings of the the average Russian to promote his own undemocratic and vaguely fascistic plans for Russia, but I worry that by ignoring or remaining ignorant of these feelings we run the risk of alienating the Russians irretrievably.  Who cares, one might say, but unfortunately we have to care because of the afore mentioned nukes, the energy resources we are addicted to, and, of course, the ability of Russians to either help or hinder our other pressing international objectives.  As many have pointed out here in a parallel case, bellicosity toward Iran enables the mullahs against their liberal critics, and the Russians are no less proud and nationalistic than the Iranians.  

    No one likes armed missionaries. -- Robespierre.

    by Gator Keyfitz on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 01:54:33 PM PDT

      •  Why hasn't Russia built any pipelines to China? (0+ / 0-)

        Sorry maybe this was addressed downthread but it seems that it would be in both China's and Russia's interest, it would give Russia another buyer and China another supplier. Is it simply a case of logistics, Siberia isn't that far from China, is it?

        •  Because it's very expensive (0+ / 0-)

          and because China has not been willing, so far, to pay the market price for gas (given that it has access to cheaper (on purely monetary terms) coal) for the duration that would be needed to repay the initial investment.

          These pipelines will most likely happen at some point, but they are still several years off (and in any case they will tap gas from reserves that will never go to Europe, so there will be no competition for the gas going to Europe anyway).

    •  Muy Inteligente (4+ / 0-)

      I also think it's fair to wonder what the answer is when the Russians ask themselves who needs whom more, us or the West?

      We are not exempt from history.

      by MrJayTee on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 02:20:00 PM PDT

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      •  We need them to see, (10+ / 0-)

        and have reason to believe, that they and the West are not enemies, that we in fact have similar interests (beyond maintaining open season on Muslim peoples).  When the Neocons declared an end to caring what anyone else thought about us, I think the Russians took it pretty bad.  The French and Germans knew we'd be back, that is was a family quarrel, but Russians were left stranded without a guide.  No longer an enemy, but clearly not a friend or full partner any longer in building the post-Cold War World.  Their interests are not being served by maintaining vast tank armies to overrun Central Asia and instill fear in theor neighbors, but we haven't helped them develop any competing narrative about what modern Russian nationhood should look like.  Putin steps into this vacuum and is reinvigorating pre-modern definitions of greatness.  But the most successful societies today are not necessarily the ones with the most real estate.

        I think what Russia really needs is someone like DeGaulle in his second term.  Despite an association with the nationalist right, it was DeGaulle who helped the French transition into the post-colonial period.  Forget Algeria, he said, the future of France is found in Europe.  The Russians need someone to tell them that they no longer need to view themselves as a Eurasian Colossus, but rather that closer integration with Western Europe is the key to greater prosperity.  

        And someone on our side needs to point out to us that a NATO that includes Georgia is absurd.  

        No one likes armed missionaries. -- Robespierre.

        by Gator Keyfitz on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 02:43:51 PM PDT

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    •  Best Comment I've Read on This Subject (9+ / 0-)

      Possibly because it's theme agrees with my own comment made elsewhere?

      More seriously, the too often overlooked, no disregarded, factor in creating and maintaining long term advantageous and peaceful relations with other countries is to listen to their wants.

      By doing that simple thing, one can negotiate from a position of intelligence.  It is when the "wants" of opposing parties coincide that reaching agreement between adversaries is easiest.

      It is in having the intelligence to determine the least harmful concessions one needs to make in order to negotiate a satisfactory settlement to a disagreement that one exhibits the greatest and most powerful diplomatic skill.  And one is most likely to gain the greatest advantage.

      Russia's "Georgia gambit" is a preliminary test of what may be a unilateral change in its geo-political direction -- it is redirecting its attention to its post-Yeltsin  borders.  It is not only signaling the West; it is signaling the Ukraine:

      "Georgia's pro-Western bent and its aspiration to join two Western institutions, NATO and the European Union is, literally, a casus belli."

      Russian policy has changed with regard to the permanence of borders. That seemed to be what Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was hinting yesterday when he said, "You can forget about any discussion of Georgia's territorial integrity." He ridiculed "the logic of forcing South Ossetia and Abkhazia to return to being part of the Georgian state."

      In the face of decreasing influence, Putin may be rethinking his commitment to zapadnichestvo, or its "western vocation."  Saakasvili was a target of convenience, an opportunity to literally fire a warning shot across the bows of what Russia perceives as aggressive posturing on its borders.

      Associating Russia more robustly with NATO and its aims, providing assurances in terms of economic aid and dealings, and changing the American administration so that its successor president works even hand-in-handedly with Russia in soothing international sore points whether Russia's or farther afield would do a lot to alleviate Russia of its deeply rooted and profound fear of threats from the West.

      It's easy for the US to give Russia meaningful assurance.  All this country needs is a president whose foreign policy assumes a listening stance and abandons a unilateral hegemonist posture.

      They burn our children in their wars and grow rich beyond the dreams of avarice.

      by Limelite on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 02:20:07 PM PDT

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      •  Oversight (0+ / 0-)

        They burn our children in their wars and grow rich beyond the dreams of avarice.

        by Limelite on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 02:29:27 PM PDT

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      •  Yes! Strongly agreed (4+ / 0-)

        Just because Americans tend to be geographically ignorant and uninformed about what other countries think of us doesn't mean that holds true for everyone.  Russians, at least the urban populations, are very aware of what the rest of the world is saying, via the internet and travel.  

        The message should be something like: "We respect the Russian people.  We reject all attempts to impose a military solution in the Caucuses from whichever side they come.  We recognize that Russia has an understandable historical fear of being surrounded by hostile regimes, and we commit ourselves to developing secutiy arrangements in cooperation with Russia that will protect the interests of all the states involved.  We believe that the interests of Russia are served by joining with other advanced nations to ensure our mutual prosperity, not turning to the past in fear of new ideas and possibilities."  Of course, we'd have to mean it.  

        No one likes armed missionaries. -- Robespierre.

        by Gator Keyfitz on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 03:11:38 PM PDT

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    •  But our media has already been given their (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ORDem, Jerome a Paris, danger durden

      talking points.

    •  In some ways (0+ / 0-)

      that seems a curiously static view of Russia. The Russian state has undergone huge changes over the last 20 years. Our thinking has not really adjusted to the fact that Russia has abandoned any pretense to being a liberal democracy. One man rules Russia today. The West has to catch up to this reality. We are not dealing with a western democracy but with a KGB officer who is determined to put Russia back in the front rank of world power, to regain the "lost glory" of the past. The West may have contributed to it very significantly but we must at least see what it is that we are dealing with today as opposed to a decade ago.

      •  Whatever the form of government (6+ / 0-)

        I see little evidence that Putinism is regarded as illegitimate by the great majority of the Russian people.  That's the problem.  I think it an equal or greater mistake to regard Russia as a dictatorship and conclude that there is no point in continuing a dialogue with the Russian people.  It was after all they who toppled the Soviet Union, and they could do the same with Putin if he ceased to serve their interests.  

        What other choice do we have?

        No one likes armed missionaries. -- Robespierre.

        by Gator Keyfitz on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 02:53:32 PM PDT

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      •  I disagree... (6+ / 0-)

           It is not always about expansion of borders. That is an American concept. For centuries Russia has wanted to maintain a border from Europe and China. Even though Russia has adopted many western ideas and corruptions over the last 30 years, their desire/need to look at the border around them to provide security is paramount. Look at the actions of the US after 1990. We have squeezed their border, dangling military training, money, NATO, and the EU. America is seen as a cunning monster just as deadly as Hitler. We often refer to our history of WWII and how it has effected our visions of the world. Look at it through the eyes of the Russians and read about the damage to their pyshe from Hitler. Now multiply this by 10 because they have had over the centuries that much damage to their nation.

        Eisenhower- "We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage."

        by NC Dem on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 02:59:33 PM PDT

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        •  For most of the 19th Century Russia was an (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Jerome a Paris, soonergrunt

          Imperial power that extended its western borders from the Caucasus to China. It absorbed the Khanates of Central Asia, established control of the Caspian Sea and encroached into what today is western China. As with all empire, disaster struck at the turn of the Century, losing a war with Japan and the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, even so, much of empire remained and was taken up as a continued expansion under the banner of Marxism.

          The internal purges during the 30's were as much responsible for the psyche damage rather than the invasion of World War II (Napolean got farther), including the establishment of the Gulag Archipelago, where the twenty million lost during WWII pales in significance. As with all land invansions, with perhaps the exception of Ghengis Khan, Russians have proved invincible as much a fact of geography as a tribute to the people.

          Fact is they have sufferred aggregiously at the hands of their own in comparison to anything done by any other power, again excepting the Mongols, who they eventually pacified. And remain a stoic folk with a strong sense of nationalism.

          The current affair has little to do with any percieved threat by the Russian people to an encirclement. It's more a continuation of the Imperial game played out again in the 21st century, where economic factors have always been the casus belli.

          In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted. Bertrand Russell

          by cmorrison on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 03:32:07 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Respectfully disagree (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Jerome a Paris, corvo

            I won't dispute your contention that the Russian people can be persuaded to support plain old imperialism under the guise of self-defense, but I think you overstate your case by suggesting that fear of foreign invasion is just a red herring.  I must strongly disagree.  The folk memories and official mythology of what they call the Great Patriotic War frankly dwarf even our own mania regarding the Greatest Generation.  Think how we continue to dwell on the catastrophe of Pearl Harbor where we lost a few thousand military personnel and some great ships of dubious military value and how that continues to nourish the agenda of military preparedness, early intervention in far flung places and world policing.  Now compare that to losing 20 MILLIONS, most of the arable farmland, most of the cities; compare it to racially exterminationist policies applied to civilians, to war deaths that touched literally every family in the entire nation, to a large percentage of the remaining population living in caves and bunkers, starving, amidst the rubble for years on end.  And this in still living memory.  I think you are just wrong to suggest that this didn't leave a few marks on the Russian view of the world.    

            No one likes armed missionaries. -- Robespierre.

            by Gator Keyfitz on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 03:56:42 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  The Russians are no doubt a fascinating study (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Jerome a Paris

              that provokes divergent opinion on whatever the current national malaise might be. Stalin remains a popular mythological figure to date, which seems inexplicable considering the internal terrorism that racked the country under his era. Your comparison of the two national paranoias is apt enough, but I personally do not think the Russian volk consider the events in Georgia a threat to the motherland.

              The borders were delineated in the 1991 dissolution. As someone pointed out these are the same people who embraced glasnost and some of Western culture for over a decade. There is a large immigration density to the West.

              The ideological axe of the cold war is buried, the wall has come down, the curtain ripped from the mooring. What remains is  global markets and their unrecogniable serpentine connections, in my humble view. And this to me is the lesson of history, because on a lesser scale, the economics of the Caucasus have been struggled over before.

              And on a grand scale, I do not see the Russian people's paranoia over the ghosts of Mongol horseman, Napolean or the tanks of Guderian.

              In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted. Bertrand Russell

              by cmorrison on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 04:45:30 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  No, I agree that it would be simplistic (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Jerome a Paris, pacplate

                to anthropomorphize Russia and say Russia is scared of attack from the West and that explains everything.  But in terms of creating consent for Putinism, for lack of a better term, that history (by conflating Mongols and Nazis you make both seem ancient, but that's misleading, IMO), is extremely relevant.  The idea that Russians are paranoid is so common as to be banal, but banal doesn't mean wrong.    

                You're right, the Russians are not afraid of Georgia per se, but they are afraid of being attacked by bigger powers like the US or China or a mutated German-led Europe via client states on their doorstep.  They don't see Georgia as Nazi Germany, they see Georgia as 1940's-era Romania, a vassal state of Nazi Germany.  Whether any of this is likely or realistic isn't the point, but then why are we acting as if that is what we mean to do?  And that gives Putin greater leeway to suppress domestic critics in the name of security.    

                Maybe an example of something I experienced might help you see why I am arguing this.  When I was a teenager, I often spoke with my grandmother about her life.  She was a great person, open to discussion, even disagreement.  It helped make me who I am today.  She spent WWII working in a munitions factory when she was about my age then.  Coworkers died in accidents.  Her High School Class President died in the first months of the war, as did many other people she personally knew.  My grandfather was a marine in the Pacific, invalided back to hospital in the States where he met my grandmother.  Despite being unwell, he was reassigned to a combat unit for the expected assault on Japan proper.  Imagine her anxiety as a young woman, making bombs six days a week and unsure if she'd ever see her husband again.  I'm not even dwelling on the rationing, the material privation, etc.  You would never convince her that the A bomb attack was unjustified.  

                She was a lifelong right-wing Republican who believed strenuously in a strong national defense and the communist menace.  Her experiences undoubtedly shaped her views, and though I went a different direction politically, I continue to respect her memory.  Through a million conversations and as many unspoken assumptions the experiences of that generation became accepted wisdom for the US.  Who would have thought the television drugged Americans of the '90's obsessing over Brittany's navel or OJ would have suddenly rediscoverd a cult of WWII in the wake of 9/11?  It was in our DNA to some extent, I would argue.    

                It is no different for the Russians except that their experiences at the time were a thousand times worse.  They almost universally saw dead bodies in the street, ate unwholesome food if that, dodged bombs, mourned family members, worked inhuman hours to support the war effort on pain of death.  These experiences were real and recent.  How can you so blithely dismiss all this as somehow quaint or irrelevant or just a cyncial cover for depredation?  This is their received wisdom.  And, to answer your question, that is why Stalin is still "celebrated" among elderly Russians: he was the Terrible Czar who did what was needed to be done to drive the Germans out.

                No one likes armed missionaries. -- Robespierre.

                by Gator Keyfitz on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 05:42:44 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

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