Thursday, July 06, 2006

Who Lost Russia?

A rhetorical question. America has made a rival out of Russia the same way it's made a rival out of China - vague threats, insistence on recognizing America's suzerainty, a refusal to recognize any legitimate security concerns that Russian leaders may have in their global neighbourhood, and undermining the legitimacy of the Russian government. This, unfortunately, has been a bipartisan policy. Stephen Cohen has an excellent essay in The Nation about America's efforts to start a new Cold War. I think Cohen's wrong about the terminology, if nothing else: Official Washington never wanted a new Cold War - what they wanted was subservience, and they expected it in the post-Cold War (I?) afterglow. Of course, asking a massive nation with nuclear weapons to bend over and obey is not guaranteed to produce results.

Cohen's article is longer, and excellent, but the nub is basically these paragraphs:
As a Eurasian state with 20-25 million Muslim citizens of its own and with Iran one of its few neighbors not being recruited by NATO, for example, Russia can ill afford to be drawn into Washington's expanding conflict with the Islamic world, whether in Iran or Iraq. Similarly, by demanding that Moscow vacate its traditional political and military positions in former Soviet republics so the United States and NATO can occupy them--and even subsidize Ukraine's defection with cheap gas--Washington is saying that Russia not only has no Monroe Doctrine-like rights in its own neighborhood but no legitimate security rights at all. Not surprisingly, such flagrant double standards have convinced the Kremlin that Washington has become more belligerent since Yeltsin's departure simply "because Russian policy has become more pro-Russian."...

Contrary to exaggerated US accusations, the Kremlin has not yet resorted to such retaliatory measures [energy games, UN vetoes] in any significant way. But unless Washington stops abasing and encroaching on Russia, there is no "sovereign" reason why it should not do so. Certainly, nothing Moscow has gotten from Washington since 1992, a Western security specialist emphasizes, "compensates for the geopolitical harm the United States is doing to Russia."

American crusaders insist it is worth the risk in order to democratize Russia and other former Soviet republics. In reality, their campaigns since 1992 have only discredited that cause in Russia. Praising the despised Yeltsin and endorsing other unpopular figures as Russia's "democrats," while denouncing the popular Putin, has associated democracy with the social pain, chaos and humiliation of the 1990s. Ostracizing Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko while embracing tyrants in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan has related it to the thirst for oil. Linking "democratic revolutions" in Ukraine and Georgia to NATO membership has equated them with US expansionism. Focusing on the victimization of billionaire Mikhail Khodorkhovsky and not on Russian poverty or ongoing mass protests against social injustices has suggested democracy is only for oligarchs. And by insisting on their indispensable role, US crusaders have all but said (wrongly) that Russians are incapable of democracy or resisting abuses of power on their own.
More than China, more than Iraq, I'm beginning to suspect that the Clinton-Bush policies towards Russia will be seen in the future as one of the greatest foreign policy failures of the late 20th century. This is, lest we forget, a country that (despite its poverty) still retains an impressive military-industrial complex of its own. Indeed, Russia is the only country on the planet that exports affordable weaponry that is within the same league as American equipment. China and India have both relied heavily on Russian weaponry, and as Russia's energy resources peak and eventually decline, we can expect Russia to try and replace those petrorubles with other exports, and weaponry is going to by necessity be at the top of the list.

Russia was, is, and will remain for the forseeable future the only nation or group that poses a threat to America's very existence, and America's leaders have treated it like it was Poland, but bigger. The magnitude of this error really boggles the mind.

And, to be a bit academically bitchy: If a Putinist Russia and a Republican America went to war, which power would "Democratic Peace" theorists claim wasn't really a democracy after all?

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