Russia’s modern incarnation does not warrant its outsized role in the politics of the free world. Although the world’s largest country, it is not the fearsome force of yesteryear that saved us all from the Nazis. It’s a regional power with limited force projection that relies on hybrid wars. Because real ones are too expensive and make little sense. China also wants half of its territory.
Don’t be fooled by simple current events masquerading as big Russian wins. Rigging sympathetic elections in the United States, UK, Serbia, and Moldova, or financing the rise of nationalist, populist, and pro-Russia politics in the Netherlands, France, Slovakia, and Hungary would be truly great coups indeed. And of course it’s in Russia’s own self-interest to promote the false narrative that they are a great power competing with the United States and NATO allies to manipulate world events. But this is not a serious opinion.
The Western investor-political class has schemed and fever dreamed Russia’s catastrophic meltdown for 100 years. No other country has been so gleefully sidelined, marginalized, neutered, hobbled, and insulted. Russians were slaves for 800 years in their own nation. Then the West excluded them from alliances, trading blocs, and international agreements for much of a century. They have been sanctioned, blockaded, and embargoed throughout.
Their national character is defined by slights, indignities, and victimhood, both real and imagined. They neither share Western human rights traditions, nor the same value of the individual in society. And militarily, if Russia truly sits on the brink of systemic collapse, then far-flung, revanchist misadventures to redraw old frontiers across now sovereign states would be a fatal step.
Failing states have enough troubles of their own to not seek out new ones in the primitive physical occupation of vast, densely and diversely populated, almost ungovernable neighbors. Yet to counter this obsolete, last-century threat, NATO creates multinational infantry units in former Warsaw Pact states. This is preposterous and needlessly provocative. It doesn’t matter if these countries invite us. George Bush and Secretary of State James Baker promised Gorbachev we wouldn’t go.
It’s their border, their near abroad, their sphere of influence. Counterintuitively imagine Russian radars in Juarez, or spetsnaz trainers in Saskatchewan. But lo and behold, NATO already has equivalent equipment and forces emplaced in both Poland and Ukraine. Both are a slap in the face to Russia. Ukraine isn’t even in NATO. And Poland is where ze Germans come from.
Russians were the first socialist state, first army in Berlin, and first nation in space. Yet they have always been last in developed world standards of living. A position they ignobly continue occupying to this very day. There are few free world migrants to Russia. And it’s not at the top of most bucket lists.
Not to rub it in their faces, but artless reasons abound to not have a crisis of confidence about Russia jeopardizing Western cultural-military hegemony. No need to hyperventilate over Kremlin puppet masters, or keeping up with the Russian joneses. They do not pose a clear and present danger. And Red October 2017 will mark an even hundred years of their whipping boy status.
This minor league challenger to the new world order does not threaten euroatlantic voters. The only threat posed is to the defense industry’s bottom line and our ruling class. Both of which rely heavily on perpetuating the image of smirking villain Vladimir Putin. Mercilessly crushing opposition and terrorizing the population. His impatient finger never far from the red button…
But it’s absurd to presume their reach rivals our own. And Putin’s Russia, in particular, does not merit the hysteria with which the West’s indistinguishable neolibercon establishment reflexively greets it. Reconjuring the ancestral cold war enemy and imbuing them with magic powers of preeminent influence is self-disempowering and discredits the euroatlantic quality of life.
The United States remains the world’s lone indispensable nation, valiantly defending human rights and democracy at the end of history. Economically, culturally, and militarily omnipresent, Team USA dominates. Commoditizing and selling our culture far and wide to billions of satisfied customers, the world prefers ours to theirs. And life is better here. Refugees and migrants overwhelmingly come west, rather than go east. Despite all the haters and critics, America remains everyone’s destination of choice.
And, Russia is also a natural ally in the global war on terror. The West has much more in common with them than with sandy extremists. Lest we forget, Russia was steadfastly fighting the Afghan War 20 years before we adopted it, under similar circumstances and for similar reasons.
They’ve actually amassed a respectable body of work kicking Muslim ass that should by all rights inform current euroatlantic misadventures in the Islamic world. After all, Russia has been ruthlessly repressing bearded militants for 200 years.
Come to think of it, we’re a perfect match. Both countries prone to dramatic, breathless commentary about the other’s unprecedented interference in sovereign third party affairs, and united by mutual disregard for the World Court. Both also feature huge permanent underclasses, aggressively export their values, and boast impressive tallies of 20th century military interventions. Team Russia: around 50. Team USA: almost 90!
Our similarities do not end at Middle East convergences, either. For hundreds of years, Russian serfs were slaves. And they bore the indignities of slavery at the hands of their own race. In 1861, the czar finally freed them. Two years later, President Lincoln emancipated America’s.
Imagine, a whole country of slaves. Not just one race, but everyone a potential rape or murder victim. Legal protections to assault most people encountered during the day. This white slavery context looms large over Russia’s repeated 20th century embarrassments. Few other ethnic groups have been so humiliated. First by their own countrymen, then by the world.
Russia’s 1% fought bitterly for 60 years to preserve their class hierarchy. Repressing the proletariat until 1917, when the workers finally prevailed in the last in a chain of revolutions. Shortly thereafter, Western industrialists allied to czarist Russia’s deposed landlord class invaded the nascent communist state. It has been intermittently beleaguered by sanctions, blockades, embargoes, and travel restrictions ever since.
Then until 1945, the Slavic bloodlands experienced death and destruction on an industrial scale unmatched in all of history; this is where the Holocaust happened. And for the next 50 years, Eastern Europe endured a series of brutal police state dictators, notably featuring one of the 20th century’s most celebrated mass killers, Josef Stalin.
Churchill embodied the prevailing wisdom of the age best: “The strangling of Bolshevism at its birth would have been an untold blessing to the human race.” Well, the human race did its best to correct that oversight in Bolshevik infancy and adolescence. By the time it reached adulthood, Bolshevism never stood a chance.
Three to five million Russians were killed in World War I. Another five to seven million in the ensuing chaos of revolution, civil war, blockades, famine, and purges. An additional 30–35 million in World War II. And at least several million more in the gulag. Conservatively, 50 million dead before the century was even half over.
This is no mere historical footnote. For most Russians, today’s youth included, this is literally dead serious. Whole families died for a state that’s been failing them for 100 years. And what do they have to show for it? Brain drain, rampant synthetic drug use, and nonstop human rights violations. Russian national pride might be undeniable, but it is also incomprehensible.
The Soviet Union’s victory over the Nazis came at high cost, but was victory nonetheless. The most significant in history. And Allied thanklessness for Slavs bearing the brunt of this epic struggle is an enormous grievance that the West has never redressed. Even disingenuously mischaracterizing or minimizing Russia’s predominant key role in defeating Hitler.
Instead of thanking them for their indisputable role in European victory, we dropped atomic bombs in their Pacific path. Just days before they planned to invade Japan and open a second front to lend us a hand. Presumably until this point the Red Army expected a joint, conventional effort with allies. Similar to what they’d accomplished together in Germany.
But U.S. leaders like Truman and Secretary of State James Byrnes scorned and mocked Soviet counterparts at the conferences that ended the war and began the UN. Resignations of the last reasonable voices like Henry Stimson, Henry Wallace, and George Marshall stopped constructive dialogue, and cleared the way for the future: Russia as the permanent, forever aggressor.
Following the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union under the weight of unrelenting international economic pressures, neolibercon euroatlantic reformers swooped in to privateer this new emerging market. Amuck the subsequent public infrastructure sack and loot, a cabal of former party officials emerged from the ruins of the bureaucracy, restyled themselves oligarchs, and privatized enormous wealth cannibalized from the public sector.
Then, they installed KGB assassin Vladimir Putin on a shiny, new democratic throne. Now, all signs indicate that they murder activists, journalists, and opposition leaders. Russians are conspiracy-minded for good reason.
Soviet nostalgia is understandable from this perspective, because the relative stability and low body count of the postwar era are the pinnacle of Russian civilization and self-esteem. Slavery is over. And they beat the Nazis.
For the free world, the USSR evokes dark thoughts of a single party secret police state. But for most Russians, they never had it better, nor ever will.
The men behind the curtain
A singular characteristic also unites both cultures: our shared enthusiasm for conspiracies and a naive willingness to believe in the men behind the curtain. But if the reds are menacing Florida voting machines, we should pause to remember the already sorry state of voting in Florida 15 years ago. Back when the internet was still incubating in Al Gore’s mind. And the Bush dynasty got the Supreme Court to steal the election constitutionally.
If Russian spies suddenly have some diabolical master plan to disrupt elections and undermine faith in the rule of law, they’re about 20 years late to the game. American democracy sabotaged itself long ago. Russia need not augment the vile legacy left by domestic assassinations, Operations Phoenix and Condor, Nixon, the Secret War, the October Surprise, Iran-Contra, and the School of the Americas.
Kill and let kill
Russia also hasn’t done a thing the U.S.A. and its allies haven’t done ourselves dozens of times. Georgia and Ukraine are Russia’s near abroad. Their Mexico and Canada. Moscow has much more invested in these complex, low intensity wars than we do, everyone knows it, and local drunks are more than happy to man the frontlines until the West loses interest and moves on to its next democracy building reform experiment.
And barring a titanic ground war somewhere in the great Eurasian fastness, team USA will continue to dominate. Everything. Everywhere. All the time. We are colossus. A regime change machine.
Despite the tyranny of distance, following authorization for use of military force, America can strike anywhere in less than a day. Airstrikes, drones, and quick reaction or rapid deployment forces in hours. The full might of an invasion within a couple of days.
Siberian hinterlands might provide the world’s best natural defense against prompt global strikes, but they are also already well within conventional range. The same cannot be said of Idaho. Russia does not have the strategic upper hand. We are capable of much, much more. And we prove it all the time.
The U.S. military’s unparalleled reach from some 660 known global bases imbues America with absurd self-righteousness. We’ve established some dangerous international precedents by honoring agreements only when convenient and regularly resorting to unilateral military action. So it shouldn’t be surprising to see other powerful states take advantage of obvious double standards that empower U.S.-led regime changes, while condemning others’.
We’ve almost ringed Russia with bases, yet disingenuously characterize them as the aggressor. Russian power is not ascendant; it’s in decline. The Western military-industrial-intelligence complex just needs a convenient foil to justify its continuing bloated existence.