The Russian Bear.
Cold War-like feelings and attitudes are
still alive and well in some quarters 25 years after the demise of the Soviet
Union. Contrary to what one would have expected, these feelings run deeper in
Washington than in Moscow
In fact, politicians, the media and
think-tanks in the American capital act like they have seen red when the talk
is about Russia. Although this attitude was intensified after Crimea’s return
to the Russian fold, it predates the Ukrainian crisis.
With Donald Trump’s election victory and
his imminent inauguration, the debate about Russia reached hysterical heights.
What’s worse is that the ferociously anti-Russian stance is by no means
justified by or founded on sound strategic or political grounds. It is more
about plain hatred.
Congress, the media, the Pentagon, the
moribund administration, several intelligence agencies all want(ed) more
sanctions, more punishment against Russia. They all revile Vladimir Putin as if
he were the devil’s incarnation. All of them point fingers at Russian
authoritarianism and poor human rights record. And finally, they all abhor the
prospect of a thaw in Russian-American relations and a rapprochement that could
lead to a more cooperative and eventually more productive relationship.
Furthermore, Trump and any member of his cabinet who has ever established some
kind of rapport with Russia is labelled as someone untrustworthy, maybe even
suspected of treason.
these are the same people who are shocked at the prospect of a tougher stance
towards China, as if she was not a dictatorship with an established record of
repression and a real geopolitical
threat to US interests in East Asia.
many of these people hailed the rapprochement with Iran, despite her record of
sowing mischief across the Middle East, being a leading sponsor of terrorism,
not to mention her pursuit of nuclear weapons. And the pacification of US-Iran
relations came at the cost of a lousy deal that will open a fast-track to a
nuclear-armed Iran by the mid-2020’s.
many of these people support a strong and close relationship with Saudi Arabia
who is very, very far from being a democratic, human-rights-abiding nation and
who also happens to have a record of fomenting a radical vision of Islam.
One could go on pointing to the
normalising ties with repressive Cuba, to increasingly authoritarian Turkey and
Thailand who seemingly continue to enjoy Washington’s support and understanding,
or even to those defending a constructive dialogue with the unblemished government of North Korea.
Russia was pushed and shoved, treated with
neglect at best, with contempt at worst during the 1990’s. In this century
Moscow gradually started to push back and to be more assertive (cf. the war
with Georgia in 2008). Today, Russia’s
strategic priority is to retain a sphere of influence that will guarantee her
security. Russia’s political priority
is to guarantee a seat at the table along with the other great powers, i.e.,
recognition of her own status as a great
power. This was one of the reasons for Russia’s intervention in the Syrian
War and it paid off.
One may dislike the “sphere of influence”
concept, but the truth is that neither of these goals is preposterous, nor are
they harmful to fundamental American interests. Unlike US Joint Chiefs of Staff
Chairman, General Joseph Dunford’s statement, Russia is not the United States’
number 1 geopolitical or national security threat and she will not be so unless
cornered, or if one is thinking of a nuclear confrontation.
So, the remaining plausible explanation for this
phenomenon is…Russophobia. There seems to be an ingrained hatred towards Russia
in a substantial share of the foreign, defence and security policy
establishment in Washington who cannot get over the fact that Russia, despite
her many problems, is not the post-Cold War weakling anymore. And the more capable,
assertive and cunning Russia becomes, the more intense the Russophobia strain
in Washington gets.