Virtual Bourgeois

Just An Analog Guy Trying to Upgrade For a Digital World

Everything Old is New Again

Posted by Gerald on June 4, 2007

My theory is that the next big “unexpected” crisis that is going to slap us up alongside our collective heads is going to come from our good buddies in Russia.

It isn’t like this is coming out of nowhere.

The post-Soviet Russian governments have been riddled with corruption and are carrying a real legacy of Soviet-era paranoia and inefficiency.  Many scholars of political revolution argue that denied expectations are more likely to lead to revolution than out and out oppression.  A lot of Russians do not see that the end of the Soviet Union has brought them much except even less security and a decline of national prestige.  Nationalist politicians, some sincerely and some opportunistically, have blamed outside forces, especially the United States, for many of these problems.  The rise of Russian nationalism has had a number of side-effects, not the least of which has been the severe limitations placed on foreign NGOs working inside Russia.

Add to this the situation with NATO.  The Soviets always saw NATO as an anti-Soviet alliance… mostly because it was an anti-Soviet alliance.  Neither Yeltsin or Putin have been real happy with the expansion of NATO membership since 1990.  Many Russians still see NATO as a predominantly anti-Russian entity.  There is no getting around the fact that many of the eastern European states that have joined NATO have done so to help protect themselves from a resurgence of Russian power.  NATO has engaged in military operations against a Russian ally, Serbia, and in Afghanistan, close to Russia’s borders.  It takes even less institutional paranoia than was demonstrated during the Kursk incident to see a pattern here.

Now we’ve got two looming issues.  The first is that ridiculous missile-defense boondoggle that leaders of both parties have been trying to ram down everyone’s throats since Reagan.  Outside of costing money that could be providing health-care to Americans and helping with the ongoing deterioration of our relationships with Germany and France, this thing has been bugging the Russians from day one.

To even begin deploying this thing we had to let a major treaty from the era of detenté, the ABM Treaty, lapse.  The Russians wanted the treaty renewed.  We refused.  It really doesn’t take a doctorate in studying the Russians to anticipate that they were going to see this as provocative, did it Doctor, I mean Secretary Rice?

This thing is supposed to be deployed in eastern Europe.  We tell the Russians it is intended to protect our friends (most of whom do not want it) from Iranian missiles.  Iran has no missiles capable of hitting western Europe.  Russia still has lots of missiles.  If we are the Russians, what are we more likely to believe, that this is a “shield” intended to protect against missiles that don’t exist, or that it is really intended to protect against the missiles that do exist.

The second issue is Kosovo.  The Russians have been pals with the Serbs for a long time.  They are both Slavic-speaking and Orthodox Christian.  The Russians were the protectors of the fledgling Kingdom of Serbia in the 19th century.  They fought a little conflict called World War I to protect Serbia from Austria-Hungary.  The nationalist press in Russia and Serbia usethe terms “Big Brothers” and “Little Brothers” to refer to one another’s countries.  The US and NATO have been moving toward a solution to the Kosovo situation that the Serbs will not accept.  Russia is backing the Serbs.

All of this is why Russia launched a test of a new class of ICBMs last week.  Vladimir Putin used the terms “imperialism and diktat” to describe the US policies in eastern Europe.  They have rejected a draft UN proposal for Kosovo and have hinted that they are prepared to use their veto on the Security Council to block these plans.

So, is everybody ready for Cold War 2.0?

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2 Responses to “Everything Old is New Again”

  1. Steve said

    I could be oversimplifying this, but I see all of this as a problem of ideology– or rather, a misunderstanding of ideology. It’s my response to all the problems we’re having in Iraq, too.

    As an undergrad, I took Russian. I spent two years under the tutelage of an Odessan expatriate. He was an interesting man who was rumored to drink a shot of vodka with breakfast. He was also prone to talking more than teaching. A great, intelligent man with very little patience. It’s not surprising that I remember very little of the language…

    He told this very intriguing story about Stalin: When he was a kid, he drew a picture of Stalin and was so proud of it, as was his family. They hung it on the window facing the street– so all the neighbors could see it as they walked by. Such was the people’s love of Stalin– the hero; god worship. It wasn’t until he was an adult that he realized the truth about the man… the horror about the man.

    I should also mention that this man was a Russian Jew. I went to see “Schindler’s List” and ran into him on the way out of the theater. I asked him if he liked the film and he said, “It’s not a question of liked…” He had a habit of trailing off with the phrase, “It was like… God…”

    Anyway, all of this points to some observations I made about him and “Russians”:

    “They ain’t right in the head.”

    That’s an American observation of Russian mentality. There is a significant ideological difference that typically translates into that statement… “They ain’t right in the head.”

    There’s something very mystifying about Russian behavior that I don’t think Americans understand– and won’t understand unless they study and delve into the culture and language.

    Going in a completely different (and borderline racist…) direction, I’d liken it to our perception of Transylvania: We see Dracula. Entertaining, yes. Ethnocentric… yes. When we think of Eastern Europeans, we see Dracula and gypsies. (It’s only fair, then, that when they think of Americans, they see George W. Bush…)

    Anyway, back to the matter at hand: It’s all a matter of temperament and ideology. I saw the same thing when I was in Italy. There was something about living under an active volcano that really made Neopolitans think and act differently…

    The same could be said about living on the edge of a cold wilderness.

    We cannot comprehend the “Russians” because we don’t understand the intricacies of their culture. And, frankly, the reverse could be said as well…

    What was I saying?

  2. Gerald said

    I agree, although I think I’d say culture rather than ideology. There seems to be a tradition of authoritarianism and paranoia at work.

    Now that isn’t to suggest the Dubya’s foreign policy doesn’t make the problems even worse.

    The thing about pointing missiles at Europe just points out this whole thing. As they pointed out in The Economist, no matter how bad things have gotten between the US and France in recent years, neither ex-President Chirac or soon-to-be-ex-President Bush (oh, I just get chills at the thought) ever threatened to point missiles at each other’s country.

    I’m just afraid that everyone has gotten so used to this kind of Russian bluster that they don’t take it seriously – which just provokes the Russians even further. These guys do still have the capacity to wipe out all life on the planet.

    And so do we.

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