Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Coming Revanche

From a review of Robert Kagan's new book:

In his recent speech before an adoring crowd in Berlin, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama implored leaders in the United States and Western Europe to “reject the Cold War mindset of the past” in their dealings with Russia. This was an implicit rebuke to his Republican opponent, John McCain, who has talked tough on Russia, going so far as to raise the possibility of kicking it out of the G-8 for its domestically illiberal and externally aggressive behavior. Kagan, an informal advisor to McCain, even compares “the mood of recrimination in Russia today” to German anger after the supposed humiliations of the Versailles Treaty—and we’re all familiar with what followed after the signing of that punitive accord. Vladimir Putin’s authoritarianism, no doubt to be continued by his handpicked successor, Dmitri Medvedev, has been buttressed by the country’s astounding economic growth under his leadership: between 1998 and 2006, Kagan writes, the Russian economy has grown by more than 50 percent. Remember all the stories about Russian decline, the endless reports of soaring alcoholism rates and grinding poverty? They’ve gone the way of Boris Yeltsin, along with whatever hopes there were of Russian liberalism.

From Solzhenitsyn's last interview:

Q: Recently, relations between Russia and the West have got somewhat colder. What is the reason? What are the West's difficulties in understanding modern Russia?

Solzhenitsyn: The most interesting [reasons] are psychological, ie, the clash of illusory hopes against reality. This happened both in Russia and in West. When I returned to Russia in 1994, the Western world and its states were practically being worshipped. This was caused not so much by real knowledge or a conscious choice, but by disgust with the Bolshevik regime and its anti-Western propaganda.

This mood started changing with the cruel Nato bombings of Serbia. All layers of Russian society were deeply and indelibly shocked by those bombings. The situation then became worse when Nato started to spread its influence and draw the ex-Soviet republics into its structure. This was especially painful in the case of Ukraine, a country whose closeness to Russia is defined by millions of family ties among our peoples, relatives living on different sides of the national border. At one stroke, these families could be torn apart by a new dividing line, the border of a military bloc.

So, the perception of the West as mostly a "knight of democracy" has been replaced with the disappointed belief that pragmatism, often cynical and selfish, lies at the core of Western policies. For many Russians it was a grave disillusion, a crushing of ideals. At the same time, the West was enjoying its victory after the Cold War, and observing the 15-year-long anarchy under Gorbachev and Yeltsin. It was easy to get accustomed to the idea that Russia had become almost a third world country and would remain so. When Russia started to regain some of its strength, the West's reaction – perhaps subconscious, based on erstwhile fears – was panic.

Aren't they describing the same thing, taking into account that they stand on opposite sides of it?

In the 1990s when Russia was down I longed for the West to give it a hand up, because it was the most self-interested thing we could have done. The Marshall Plan for a new millennium. Instead, the people I knew only salivated over a "peace dividend" they never saw anyhow.