Question for Discussion: Is Russia an Adversary Nation?

Photo by Tom Hilton | CC BY 2.0

Question for discussion: When did Russia become a “hostile power” or “adversary nation”? Did we decide that? If so I wasn’t part of the discussion. Was there a law passed? Was it put on an official list?

Have I missed something? Did the Russians invade Alaska?

They interfered in our election, you say? Well then. Isn’t the very issue that a hostile power interfered, as opposed to, say, Israel or Britain or Germany or South Korea or Saudi Arabia? What did Russia do that was hostile and adversarial to the U.S. before this alleged interference?

Was it in 1999, when Moscow weakly protested the expansion of NATO and U.S. bombing of Serbia? In 2001, when Russia offered NATO a transport route into Afghanistan? In 2004, when it protested the massive sudden expansion of NATO (by seven nations) up to its own borders? In 2008, when it responded to a Georgian attack on South Ossetia’s capital of Tskhinvali by a brief punitive invasion of Georgia, whose president had been emboldened by expectations of NATO membership? In 2011, when having reluctantly agreed to the NATO-led attack on Libya, Russia started to complain that, hey, this is not a humanitarian campaign but a brutal regime-change operation? In 2014, when it responded to a U/S.-backed coup in Ukraine (designed to lead to Ukraine’s NATO membership and the expulsion of the Russian Black Sea Fleet from Crimea with what are obviously defensive geopolitical moves.)?

I’m not asking you to buy the Russian explanations for the actions in Georgia or Ukraine. I’m just saying they have to be understood in the context of an incessantly expanding NATO military alliance, whose very raison d’etre we should question. (What good does it do to keep barking at Germany, Increase your military budget to 2%! when the Germans have other priorities for their money and indeed the foreign minister is complaining about NATO exercises in Poland as unnecessary and provocative?)

It’s disturbing that people in this country should accept a narrative of relentless Russian expansion (supposedly in order to revive Putin’s person ambition to revive the tsarist empire or the USSR) in the wake of repeated U.S. assaults on and occupations of countries in this century. It’s disturbing that some can see the Russian air support in the liberation of Aleppo in Syria in December 2016 as something morally different from the U.S. air support in the liberation of Mosul in Iraq a few months later. (Both took high civilian tolls.) Or berate the Russians for supporting the legitimate, internationally recognized secular government in Syria while cluelessly lionizing the White Helmets.

Most disturbing is the tendency of liberal Democrats to—alongside their Republican fellow opportunists—embrace this Russophobia. It’s like they’re saying: Ok, I part from the right on social issues. I’m good because I’m against against racism, sexism, religious intolerance, growing income inequality, and Trump in general but I agree that Russia is an adversary.

That’s the principle uniting the entire political class and the mainstream media. You’d think that after the end of the Cold War (as I recall, in December 1991), a decade of abject Russian deference to the U.S. under that drunken buffoon Boris Yeltsin, and repeated Russian efforts to cooperate with the U.S. (on Syria, Iran, North Korea, etc.), that somehow the media would realize that Russia is not an adversary.

And so to say—if some Russians gained access to information about the Clinton campaign (the way the NSA gains access to your information, and to that of Russian politicians, surely) and maybe shared it with Trump’s circle—-this is especially wicked because Russians (not French people or Danes or Gambians) were involved is in my opinion stupid.

And when cable anchors dig into their bag of news-director approved talking points—about Putin killing off his rivals and critics, amassing billions, presiding over a corrupt oligarch-dominated economy, controlling the press, etc.—while avoiding any real analysis of the traumatic dissolution of the command economy in the 1990s and the widely appreciated revival that’s occurred under Putin, they feed the general perception that while the Soviet Union is gone and the ideological conflict over, Russia is somehow still the threatening evil Other.

Now the line is “They’re trying to undermine western democracies.” Supposedly by giving positive coverage (on RT) to right-wing parties in Europe. I personally think that RT coverage of European politics is much better than that on U.S. channels. Russia is part of Europe, after all; it’s natural for its press to spend more time on (say) the recent Italian elections than the U.S. media, preoccupied as the latter is with school shootings, the royal wedding and Trump issues. Russian media gives the time of day to Marie Le Pen not because Russia promotes neo-fascism but because it wants parties opposed to Russia sanctions and NATO expansion to increase their influence.

That is arguably more reasonable and positive than the U.S. desire to incorporate Ukraine and Georgia and maybe Kosovo and everywhere into its Truman-era anti-Soviet military alliance.

Have you noticed how some commentators keep referring to the Russians as “the Soviets”? Their minds are still back then. They want the Russians to be against us, so we can be against them, and in the present situation, berate the sitting president for his conspicuous failure to do the right thing and condemn Putin.

Watching AM Joy on MSNBC, I note the glaring consternated expression as she talks about Russia. I find it disturbing when the most reputedly progressive TV journalists, including African-American ones, indignantly join the world’s worst assholes in condemning Russia. It’s so politically safe and correct. Let’s all of us Americans unite against the adversary. Damn you Russians for denying Hillary her rightful place!

Bottom line is that the majority of people in the ruling class seem interested in displacing this clown. There are different ways to approach the mission. Get him on the sex stuff, cover-ups, tax and financial issues. Or get him on the issue of Russia “collusion,” very broadly defined, and obstruction of justice. Anyway as the process unfolds Russophobia is increasingly promoted as national doctrine. Bernie Sanders more or less embraces it. It’s supposed to unify us all against a Russia on the wrong side in the explosive conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, and on the wrong side in Iran. Because Moscow opposes U.S.-imposed regime changes and the expansion of U.S. empire, “the Russians” (all of them: business associates, friends, FSB agents, government officials, random “pro-Russian” Ukrainians, Russian-Americans, etc.) are suspect associates in any venture.

Why? What’s wrong with Russians? I confess I had one in my class last year. He was nice. I didn’t feel any adversarial vibes.

Most progressive people understand that all forms of racism, and misogyny, and homophobia, and Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism, are wrong. But Russophobia often gets a pass. It’s an easy form of bigotry, readily exploitable, still, almost three decades after the Soviet Union collapsed and Russia announced its embrace of a western-advised transition to full-blown capitalism (with horrible effects) before recovering under Putin. People who know little about the trajectory of Russian history in the last 25 years are snarling about how this country is our enemy. I disagree. I agree with Trump that it would be good to improve relations with Russia.

If his positive inclinations in that respect are prompted in part by concern that Putin will release a video of him pleasurably observing prostitutes urinating on his Moscow hotel bed, I can only applaud rational people using what Buddhists call “expedient means” to reduce tensions in the world. Yes, by all means. (Perhaps: You try to topple Assad, we show the tape on youtube.) The worst thing would have been war in Ukraine and/or Syria under a Hillary Clinton administration. As it is we have a monronic president whose sole virtue is his desire to avoid war with Russia. That sole virtue is used against him as his main and puzzling flaw.

Why does he not condemn Putin? they all ask, like the human default mode is to do so. Like Trump’s not doing his proper duty as a U.S. official.  It’s as Trump would say, “sad.” Sad to think that the likely removal of Trump will be accompanied by more revival of Cold War mentality.


Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: