Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party scored an overwhelming victory in the country’s parliamentary elections last Sunday, winning almost two-thirds of the vote and 315 of the 450 seats in the Duma. The election was widely seen as a referendum on the past seven years of Putin’s leadership, and he scored a resounding victory. He will step down as Russia’s president next spring confident that he will continue to be the key player in the country—in whatever formal guise—for many years to come. Barring an act of God, four years from now he’ll be back for two more terms as president.
Putin is the most popular leader in Russian history, with a personal approval rating in excess of 80 percent. He can afford to mock the orchestrated Russophobic hate-fest that is raging in the Western media and the political class. He ridiculed George W. Bush for trying to cast doubt on the regularity of Russia’s elections while failing to take note of far worse abuses by the “pro-Western, reformist” Mikhail Saakashvili in Georgia.
The State Department bureaucracy’s impotent sneers notwithstanding, Putin was justified in limiting the number of foreign observers of the election. How many Russian monitors are on hand to check pregnant chards in Florida and dead souls on electoral rolls in Chicago? Russia is neither a banana republic nor a Western colony—to the everlasting chagrin of Messrs Soros, Brzezinski and their ilk—and the very notion of “monitors” was presumptuous. In any event, the presence of Western observers guarantees nothing: they were curiously loath to take note of rampant irregularities under Boris Yeltsin. Washington did not mind the pliant drunkard’s illegal dissolution of the Congress of People’s Deputies in 1993 and his use of tanks and artillery against legally elected representatives.
Putin is hated by the Western, and especially American, elite class. He is not loathed because he is not a Western-style “democrat”: far more obvious failures of such American “friends and allies” as General Musharraf, President Mubarak, or Prime Minister Erdogan (let alone King Abdullah), are tolerated and politely glossed over. Putin is hated, in general, because he does not subscribe to the Weltanschauung of the Western elite class, and in particular because, under his guidance, Russia has ceased to be up for grabs . . . like it was in the dreadful decade of the 1990s. As Mike Whitney notes, Freud might call it petroleum envy, but it’s deeper than that:
Putin has charted a course for social change that conflicts with basic tenets of neo-liberalism, which are the principles which govern US foreign policy. He is not a member of the corporate-banking brotherhood which believes the wealth of the world should be divided among themselves regardless of the suffering or destruction it may cause. Putin’s primary focus is Russia; Russia’s welfare, Russia’s sovereignty and Russia’s place in the world. He is not a globalist. That is why the Bush administration has encircled Russia with military bases, toppled neighboring regimes with its color-coded revolutions . . . organized by US NGOs and intelligence services, intervened in Russian elections, and threatened to deploy an (allegedly defensive) nuclear weapons system in Eastern Europe.
Since Russia is seen as a potential rival to American imperial ambitions, she must be contained or subverted. And the mainstream media, unsurprisingly, performed on cue: Putin is easily the most popular leader of a major country in today’s world, but the MSM treat him like a tyrannical dictator. At the same time the media lovingly devote endless column-inches and air time to a former chess player, Gary Kasparov, who is as representative of the Russian people today as Angela Davis had been of the American people during the late Cold War.
Viewed in light of U.S.-Russian relations over the past decade and a half, the U.S. posture on such issues as Kosovo, antiballistic missiles, oil pipelines and drilling rights, further NATO expansion, the breakaway enclaves, Central Asia, the Ukraine, Georgia, “human-rights violations” and “backtracking on democracy,” etc. reveals a stunning reversal of the two countries’ geopolitical and ideological roles.
The Soviet Union came into being as a revolutionary state that challenged any given status quo in principle, starting with the Comintern and ending three generations later with Afghanistan. Some of its aggressive actions and hostile impulses could be explained in light of “traditional” Russian motives, such as the need for security; at root, however, there was always an ideology unlimited in ambition and global in scope.
At first, the United States tried to appease and accommodate the Soviets (1943-1946), then moved to containment in 1947, and spent the next four decades building and maintaining essentially defensive mechanisms—such as NATO—designed to prevent any major change in the global balance. By the late 70’s, the system appeared to be faltering, especially in the Third World. And, as we know from his Diaries, only three years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Ronald Reagan was far from certain that Moscow’s expansionist days were over.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has been trying to articulate her goals and define her policies in terms of national interests: peace and prosperity at home, stable domestic institutions, secure borders, friendly neighbors. The old Soviet dual-track policy of having “normal” relations with America, on the one hand, while seeking to subvert her, on the other, gave way to naive attempts by Boris Yeltsin’s foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev to forge a “partnership” with the United States.
By contrast, the early 1990’s witnessed the beginning of America’s strident attempt to assert her status as the only global “hyperpower.” This ambition was inherently inimical to post-Soviet stabilization and kept Washington from entertaining the suggestion that Russia might, in fact, have legitimate interests in her own post-Soviet backyard. The justification for the project was as ideological, and the implications were as revolutionary, as anything concocted by Zinoviev or Trotsky in their heyday.
In essence, the United States adopted her own dual-track approach. When Mikhail Gorbachev’s agreement was needed for German reunification, President George H.W. Bush gave a firm and public promise that NATO wound not move eastward. Within years, however, Bill Clinton expanded NATO to include all the former Warsaw Pact countries of Central Europe. In The Russia Hand, Strobe Talbott chillingly summarized how Washington took advantage of Russia’s weakness. On a visit to Moscow in 1996, Clinton even wondered if he had gone too far, confiding to Talbot, “We keep telling Ol’ Boris, ‘Okay, now here’s what you’ve got to do next—here’s some more [sh-t] for your face.’” Another round of NATO expansion came under Bush II, when three former Soviet Baltic republics were admitted. The process is far from over: last April Mr. Bush signed the Orwellian-sounding NATO Freedom Consolidation Act of 2007, which extends U.S. military assistance to such aspiring NATO members as Georgia and the Ukraine.
The rationale for NATO’s continued existence after the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact and the collapse of the Soviet Union was found in the revolutionary concept of “humanitarian intervention” used against the Serbs in 1999 and in the self-awarded mandate to conduct “out-of-area operations.” In practice this means that NATO is the means of tightening a hostile noose around Russia. Further expansion, according to Zbigniew Brzezinski—an atavistic Russophobe par excellence—is “mandatory, historically mandatory, geopolitically desirable.”
In the wake of September 11, President Bush talked Russia into sanctioning the U.S. military’s presence in Central Asia and the Caucasus, but then, in the name of the “War on Terror,” tried to make that presence permanent. The following year, President Bush unilaterally abrogated the ABM Treaty. His goal was to push forward elements of the U.S. antiballistic missile system closer to Russia’s borders. His claim that radar stations in Poland or Bohemia will help save the West from ICBMs coming from Iran is ludicrous.
The collapse of Russia’s state institutions and social infrastructure under Yeltsin, accompanied by a hyperinflation that reduced the middle class and pensioners to penury, was a trauma of incomparably greater magnitude than the Great Depression. Yet its architects—Anatoly Chubais, Yegor Gaidar, Boris Nemtsov, Vladimir Ryzhkov—were hailed in Washington as “pro-Western reformers,” and their political factions and media outlets were duly supported by the U.S. taxpayers, by way of a network of quasi-NGOs, just as the terminally unpopular Kasparov is supported by the same cabal today.
The wholesale robbery of Russian resources by the Moscow oligarchs and the fire sale of drilling concessions to the oligarchs’ Western cohorts became a contentious issue in U.S.-Russian relations only a decade later, with the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Those spewing furious allegations of “Putin’s revenge” and “heavy-handedness” against the Yukos boss disregarded the fact that, quite apart from his political ambitions, Khodorkovsky was guilty of fraud and tax evasion on a massive scale.
Although there was not an iota of evidence that Anna Politkovskaya, a little-known and largely irrelevant “pro-Western” journalist, was killed on Putin’s orders, the U.S. media immediately jumped to that conclusion when she was shot in November 2006. By contrast, when a nationalist opposition leader was gunned down last May in “pro-Western” NATO candidate Georgia—the fiefdom of Mr. Bush’s good friend Mikhail Saakashvili—the event was ignored here and barely mentioned in Europe. When Mr. Saakashvili subsequently deployed baton-wielding riot police against his detractors, the ugly spectacle was glossed over or ignored.
While never missing an opportunity to hector Russia on democracy and criticize her human-rights record, the United States has been notably silent on the discriminatory treatment of large Russian minorities in the former Soviet republics. In Latvia and Estonia, the Russians are subjected to arguably the worst treatment of any minority group by a member of the European Union or (with the exception of Turkey) of NATO. The demonstrations in Estonia against the government’s provocative removal of a Russian World War II memorial from Tallinn were but a symptom of a deeper malaise. Latvia and Estonia have been allowed by the West flagrantly to break promises made to their Russian citizens before independence.
Absurdly yet persistently Washington continues to view Russia as a temporary state with limited sovereignty even within her post-Soviet borders. Chechnya is the obvious example: The White House routinely condemned Russian “violations” while demanding “dialogue” and studiously refrained from designating the Chechen child-slayers as “terrorists”; but no other aspect of Russia’s domestic policies, from education (“ethnocentric”) and immigration (“restrictive”) to homosexual rights (“appalling”) and jurisprudence (“corrupt”), has escaped scathing criticism. On the eve of his G-8 meeting with Putin last May, Mr. Bush declared that “reforms that were once promised to empower citizens have been derailed, with troubling implications for democratic development.” The theme was subsequently developed into a veritable Agitprop ritual that starts on NPR in the morning and ends on Fox News in the evening.
Both sides of the American duopoly agree that a “democratic” Russia is by definition the one completely subservient, domestically as well as externally, to U.S. demands. George Soros warns that “a strong central government in Russia cannot be democratic” by definition and further says that “Russia’s general public must accept the ideology of an open society.” The neocons agree. Of course, “democracy” thus defined has more to do with one’s status in the ideological pecking order than with the expressed will of one’s electorate—which meshes nicely with the Leninist dictum that the moral value of any action is determined by its contribution to the march of history. To wit, Putin’s approval rating of 80 percent is the “proof” of his populist demagoguery.
On current form things will remain the same, or become worse, whoever comes to the White House in January 2009. All leading candidates advocate “firmness” of some kind or another with Moscow. There’s nothing to choose between Rudy Giuliani and the insane John McCain, who’d try to force Putin to surrender to Chechen jihadists by threatening U.S. sanctions. Richard Holbrooke, the Democrats’ perennial Secretary of State-designate, wants a firm response to “a series of Russian challenges to the stability of Europe,” such as the refusal to accept Kosovo’s independence. He decries Putin’s “increasingly authoritarian, often brutal, policies” and cautions that, “until President Bush weighs in strongly with Putin (as President Bill Clinton did a decade ago with Boris Yeltsin), there is a serious risk Moscow will not get the message.”
Moscow does get the message all right. It has countered American scheming in the Caspian region with the summit in Tehran last October that drastically reduced Bush’s ability to wage a new war. Russia is developing a new gas alliance with Central Asian producers. It has successfully tested a new nuclear missile. It will veto Kosovo’s illegal and illegitimate independence, today and always—and the responsibility for any violent fallout will be with those who had promised the Albanians that which is not theirs to give.
On current form Russia will be developing gigantic new oil fields in the Arctic when Americans start paying ten dollars—the equivalent of three or four Euros—per gallon at the pump. And, in the end, Russia will survive, says Anthony T. Salvia, a former senior official in the Reagan administration. This former proud Cold Warrior now sees that Russia has no choice but to stand up to America:
Sooner or later, U.S. foreign policy will collide with reality—it may already have done so in Iraq—and Washington, shorn of its ideological blinkers, will finally embrace the foreign policy imperative of the 21st century: Solidarity and strategic cooperation between the United States, Europe and Russia on the basis of their shared Christian moral, intellectual and cultural traditions. This is the way forward in the face of profound challenges from a rising China and resurgent Islam.
Or, as I’ve been saying ever since September 11, it’s time for a true Northern Alliance that can defeat the menace of global jihad once and for all. But before that becomes possible we’ll need a revolution to sweep away the Comrades from the Kremlin on the Potomac.
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