Montag, September 08, 2008

History Repeating: Russian Paranoia...and Great Powers

Alexander Chramtschichin runs research for the Institute for Political and Military Analysis (IPMA) in Moscow. The IPMA was founded in 1996 and is basically a think-tank for the State Security Forces (aka KGB) and other government agencies.

In other words, it's basically the Russian equivalent of the Rand Corporation.

He's got an Op-Ed in today's Handelsblatt, the German equivalent of the Wall Street Journal (basically a purely financial newspaper). There's no easily found link, unfortunately.

Let me put what he says together and expand on it briefly with another quote from Medvedjev.

First Chramtschichin: the transliteration is mine, all errors mine as well...

After the end of the Cold War, the West presented Russia with a demonstrative rejection of international law and showed that it was intent on expansion of its are of influence at any cost: for the Kremlin the conclusion is that this is a very effective policy.

Russia is copying the West's behavior in Kosovo when we look at South Ossetia and Abchasia. For any objective commentator the West's arguments about the unique situation in Kosovo are absurd, since they were typical. And if you look at what NATO did in Yugoslavia in 1999, as well as what the US and its allies did in Iraq in 2003, you see classic examples of military aggression. Both Kosovo and the "colored revolutions" in the GIS countries is viewed by the Kremlin as simply the methods of the West in expanding its political sphere of influence at any cost.

We will admit that the revolutions in the Ukraine and Georgia has a serious inner social basis. That does not make them legitimate. They did not succeed without help from outside.

Russia's reaction to the eastwards extension of NATO and the stationing of elements of the American anti-ballistic missile system in eastern Europe are slightly paranoid. NATO's decline as a military power cannot be ignored, and not just because their military strength is weakening, but more importantly because virtually all Europeans simply don't want to go to war. Nonetheless, Russia sees the expansion of NATO into the East as a expansion of its sphere of influence.

The western story that the entry into NATO brings freedom and democracy is not taken seriously by Russia. The eastern Europe, for example, democracy came without NATO and the EU. Anyone considering Iraq and today's Kosovo to be democratic has lost their sense of reality. Even in the Ukraine, which is doubtless more democratized than Russia, many see democracy only as unlimited corruption and political chaos.

Convinced of its infallibility, the West is incapable of properly evaluating the situation in the post-soviet area. The western version of history, where in Russia and the former USSR the Russians were only viewed as dictators and occupiers, and eastern Europeans dreamed only of throwing off the heavy foot of Soviet domination, isn't always right. Abchasia and South Ossetia, for instance, sees Georgians as oppressors and Russians as liberators. The conflicts in the region weren't the result of Russian provocations, but rather came from Tiflis. Both Abchasia and South Ossetia categorically refuse to live under Georgian rule. If they were "truly" independent, Abchasia would chose independence, while South Ossetia would choose to join North Ossetia, a part of the Russian Federation.

Why does Georgia have the right to withdraw from the USSR, while Abchasia and South Ossetia do not have the right to withdraw from Georgia? What are the reasons to view the borders that the USSR drew - often arbitrarily - as sacred? Why must the Ossetians remain a divided people? The artificial borders of the Soviet period have created massive problems for the post-soviet period.

Moscow's policies today are not the result of some wide-reaching imperial plans. Russia, unfortunately, doesn't even have a strategy for its own development, neither domestic nor foreign. Today's policies are the result of reacting to events, doing what the West has done, recognizing that the West has no meaningful influence on Russia, and reflects the processes that are objectively developing in the post-soviet area. Russia is not driving the conflicts, since all of the post-soviet problems come from a time when Russia didn't exist in its current form.

The worst error of the West can make is to set Russia to be the same as the USSR and to see it as the country that lost the Cold War and hence has no right to pursue its legitimate interests. Modern Russia developed out of a rejection of the policies of the USSR: for that reason alone Russia is not the loser. Quite to the contrary: in the post-soviet area, it is the most important agent for stability. The West doesn't understand this: this is the reason for the strong reaction of Russia that contains significant soviet-era psychological and political elements. The West's policies will undoubtedly continue to be hypocritical, double-faced and incapable of understanding its opponents, but its political will to engage militarily is very weak, partially also due to a weak military. This is the reason that the political influence of the West is declining and why there is no reason to expect that the West will be able to influence Russian policies, let alone those of other stronger countries (China, India, Iran, etc).


Before analyzing what this means, the quote from Medwedjev:

I ask how the US would react if the Russian Navy were to provide help for the hurricane victims in the Caribbean?

To answer this: the US would be happy to see the Russian Navy providing humanitarian help. No problem whatsoever. That the Russian Navy is completely incapable of doing so, well that's another story (and a typical disinformation activity).

Let's go back to Chramtschichin.

What is this man telling us?

Well, first of all, that the pundits in the West are criminally stupid of they think that post-Soviet Russia has abandoned Great Power thinking. If anything they use Great Power thinking - of a world divided into power blocs and areas of influence, where the military power of the state determines the political power, where the world is indeed a zero-sum game.

Contrast that to the political theorists of today in the West who think that "soft power" is vastly better than traditional military power (and thence preferable, as if the two were interchangeable) and seem to believe that winning the Cold War meant that there was going to be a peace dividend and that there was no longer any need for large standing forces. That everyone would love democracy (the people do: it's the elites that hate it) and that a new, enlightened era would mean that the power would come from doing good things with the right intentions and didn't need a military at all; that persuasion and dialog were what ended the Cold War, not military service and capabilities and the steadfast commitment to countering subversion; that what the world needed was a single power that wouldn't actually do anything, since it would be restrained by peace-loving policies developed by people who fundamentally didn't have a fucking clue what Great Power politics is all about, who are constitutionally incapable of understanding why people can't just all get along if everyone's interests are included, as long as there is no violence.

Or at least none that anyone sees.

What we in the West have, to paraphrase a great movie line, is a fundamental inability to communicate. Thanks to this article by Chramtschichin, we know now what is driving Russian foreign policy: Great Power politics. Nothing else: the Russians have, after initial chaos and weakness, reverted to norm. They've been playing this game for centuries, literally, and are entirely predictable in this.

The Russians have seen that the West is all bluster without any commitment. Those in the West who believe that this is mistaken are wrong: it is what the Russians believe. Whether this is mistaken is irrelevant: it is what the Russians believe. It makes no difference that it is wrong: it is what the Russians believe.

Either the West disabuses Russia of this notion, or it will expand and continue to dominate Russian foreign policy, and the Russians - no strangers they to Great Power policies - will most certainly entertain teaching this to whoever the Russians want to influence: as the man says, China, India, Iran, anyone who wants to be a Great Power as well. That means Venezuela as well.

Why is this happening?

Plain and simple. The US has failed to be the Great Power that those who believe in Great Power politics believe it should be: the Penultimate Great Power. In their eyes the US should have used its military power to intimidate and force politics: Hussein in Iraq shouldn't have been toppled, but rather tamed; that Iran should be used as a regional power to intimidate the others while in turn being given clear borders and a defined role in international politics (of energy supplier); that China be given its spheres of influence and left alone; that the US act as the Greatest of the Great Powers, using its military abilities to enforce its policies, raining death and destruction when appropriate and yielding the weapons of diplomacy - sanctions, memberships, etc. - when appropriate.

But that's not the game the US is playing, insist the post-Cold War theorists.

They don't understand that for 90% of the world, that is the game. The ca 1bn people of the "enlightened West" - the US, Canada, western Europe, Japan and Australia - live in a world that the other 5 bn cannot comprehend: a life of wealth without power; a life of non-zero sum games in a world that understands only zero-sum games; of concern about others who deserve contempt, rather than pity; who continue to believe that human rights trumps hunger and poverty; who continue to believe that their actions are without consequences.

It's gonna be a hard time persuading the rest of the world that they are wrong. Winning the Cold War didn't mean that the thought patterns of the losers were gonna change (especially without a desovietization along the lines of denazification), and indeed they haven't. By not understanding what it meant to be the winners of the Cold War, the US and the West have let the fruits of victory ... disappear.

The next 20 years is going to be a long process where the US will have to lose its innocence, or, more exactly, the liberal theories of the West will have to be discarded and fundamentally rejected. There is nothing the liberals can do to change this: it is the moral dilemma of the pacifist when confronted by real, actual bad people and there is no Sheriff in town.

"Do not forsake me, Oh my Darling" indeed.

And understand Medwedjev's quote: he cannot understand that the US would welcome the Russian Navy out on a humanitarian mission. He cannot understand it.

But we must understand that they think so. And if the US wants peace, it must be willing to enforce it.

Otherwise history will repeat itself: the tragedy of the Great Powers was the slaughterhouse of The Great War, WW1. After that there weren't supposed to be any other wars.

History is repeating, and as we know, it is a tragedy once, but a farce the second time. This is all avoidable, but millions will now be sacrificed on the altar of mistaken policies and a refusal to understand that the world works differently than one thinks it does (or, more exactly, should).

History is repeating, and it's not going to be nice.

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