Freitag, Januar 23, 2009

Russians and Continuity...

This, hat tip to this chap, deserves a quick review and placing of it into perspective.

Vienna, January 21 – Having discovered that economic power does not immediately translate into political influence and may in fact alienate those it is supposed to attract, the Russian government needs to identify new ways to influence the West but finding that its options are not nearly as good as many in Moscow had thought, according to a Russian analyst.

Interesting way of putting it. While each and every country out there pursues its own national interest, it's the way this is formulated: to influence the West.

And the most effective way to do that, Andrey Pronin writes in an essay posted today on a Moscow State University portal that has often served as a source of foreign policy ideas for the Russian government, is for Russia to deploy what he calls its "soft force" against American "soft power".

This is what drove me to choose the title. This isn't anything new, but rather it is the continuation of what the Soviets did from the very start of the Soviet state, to influence their neighbors via indirect action. It's not so much that this isn't legitimate - it is - but rather it's the way the Soviets did this, not by having Soviet spokespersons talking and trying to influence public opinion, but rather by recruiting Soviet sympathizers and helping them into positions of influence - and power if possible - using all the tools of the trade - money, honey pots, even secret Soviet citizenship - to suborn the naive and corrupt the discussion. People who got involved in this because they believed the Soviet propaganda ended up active agents of influence, spreading not so much anything identifiable as the party line, but much more fomenting and supporting attacks on the West.

That will not be easy, he argues, because "at the present moment, Russia does not have those cultural forms which can be exported to the West and converted into political influence." As a result, Russia needs "a new national project," that that would promote Russia as an intellectual center where "new social initiatives and humanitarian technologies" are promoted.

Ouch. Back during the Soviet days this would have led the writer to a long term in the Gulag: it is a direct admittance that Russian society is, simply put, unattractive to the West, and that there are major intellectual deficits.

To that end, he argues, Russia should not try to match the Americans militarily – the U.S. is simply too strong in that sector – or make the mistake of focusing on keeping "in its orbit" the former Soviet states. Instead, Moscow must "focus on the United States" and deploy an ideological agenda that will undercut Washington's influence.

It's an interesting development: a recognition that there will never be a return to the conventional forces that the Soviets had, and that there is no chance to re-create the new Russian military in a form where there could be a challenge. That's realistic, especially when one considers the extensive combat experience the US armed forces now have, whereas the Russian military remains firmly entrenched in a transitionary period where Soviet influence remains dominant.

Further, the Russians here have recognized a truth - that in order to undercut any attempt to undermine the control it wants to have over the former Soviet states it must come up with an alternative - but also reveals a fundamental lack of understanding of why they have the problems they do with the Ukraine, the Baltic states and other former Soviet states. The Russians apparently sincerely believe that their former vassals would gladly be back in the fold if it weren't for foreign interference, instead of trying to understand how many sincerely want nothing to do with the Russians because of this blindness to the effects of Russian influence, such as corruption, crime and economic exploitation. Here is where the Russians show how much of Soviet behavior wasn't uniquely Soviet, but fundamentally Russian, and fail to understand that throwing off the Soviet veneer hasn't changed the fundamentally imperial nature of Russian society.

Russia should present the US with "an ideological challenge," by forming "a new international with the most educated groups in the West." Such an approach, Pronin says, would allow Russia to "repeat the success of the USSR which was able to ideologically split the West and find for itself numerous allies" within the latter.

In other words, a new Internationale. The Russians are looking to re-create the situation in the West during the 1920s and 1930s, where Soviet agents of influence either helped run countries in the West or were major cultural influences.

"In the 1940s and 1950s," the Moscow analyst continues, "a significant part of the most respectable Western intelligentsia held leftist views and openly sympathized with the USSR, and English aristocrats worked for Soviet intelligence services on the basis of their convictions in this regard."

See what I mean? This is, for the Russians, the ideal status of dealing with the West: infiltrate, seduce, suborn, and dominate, rather than have an open discussion of ideas.

Today, he says, Russia needs to find "allies interested in itself within America" and to "form a pro-Russian lobby, a circle of influential people who respect and support Russia and who will exert an ever greater pressure on the political establishment of the United States" on behalf of Moscow.

In other words, create a Fifth Column. I'm sure that MoveOn is available. Woops, they're probably already in their pocket.

In Soviet times, Moscow allied itself with the West's "outsiders." But now, Pronin suggests, Russia must take advantage of the opportunity it has to "form a union with the most educated part of Western society, the scientific and artistic avant garde of America" and thus to promote "a reformation of the United States."

In other words: infiltrate, seduce, suborn and dominate.

That won't be accomplished simply by media programs directed at Western and especially American audiences, Pronin says. It will occur only if the Russian Federation can transform itself into a center of innovation where scholars can share ideas on how to "humanize" globalization and satisfy the very real but currently unsatisfied spiritual strivings of Western intellectuals.

In other words, don't seduce them, steal their souls. I fear that the Russians here are projecting their own domestic problems.

Given the problems the West is now experiencing – and Pronin argues that "the US today in many ways recalls the USSR of the period of Brezhnev's stagnation – Russia has "a chance to do so by providing a "new global project in place of neo-liberal globalization which has discredited itself."

Interesting that they see their opportunities only as zero-sum games, i.e. they can provide an alternative only when the West weakens. Does not speak well for Russian society. Further, they continue to apparently see the world as a reflection of their own history, as the fairly absurd comparison with the stagnation under Brehznev shows.

If Russia is able to promote such an agenda, he continues, Moscow "can win the sympathy of American intellectuals" and thus advance its political agenda by recruiting them as allies. But unfortunately, "contemporary Russia does not have sufficient possibilities for the realization of this project" on its own.

Heck, if anyone comes up with an alternative to capitalism, they'll be the darlings of not only American, but all western intellectuals, everyone in the intellectual world who doesn't really want to work for a living. It's not so much that contemporary Russia doesn't have the resources to do this on its own, it's that there simply isn't any alternative.

Moscow needs allies, and the two most obvious ones are India and China, neither of whom Pronin suggests is comfortable with American-style globalization. If such a "union of the three giants" is formed, he concludes, Russia will occupy the leading role of a scientific and innovative center and the developer of humanitarian technologies and standards."

Again, projection: this is more wishful thinking that anything else. We know the long history of conflict between Russia and China - which will increase as the Russians decline in number and Siberia starts looking better and better to the Chinese - and it has been long a Soviet fantasy to turn India into a Russian vassal state. What Pronin is describing is exactly the view that the Soviet elite held: the Soviet Union as the leader in science and innovation, the center of humanitarian development, blah blah. Reality intruded, but that doesn't mean the dream is dead.

But it does show the great continuity between Soviet and Russian goals.

Both the sources of Pronin's argument – the past of the Soviet Union – and the problems with it – Russia is unlikely to be able to present itself in the way that he advocates or gain the allies he hopes for – are obvious. But that such arguments are being offered and in such a respectable place suggests that at least some in the Russian government may be listening to them.

Um, I think that this article didn't appear by accident or by happenstance, but rather is deliberate and a clear statement of intent by the current Russian government that they will be returning to the old days of the KGB.

If they are and if some Russian officials do in fact try to act as Pronin suggests, that could pose serious challenges for the United States in particular and the West more generally, especially if most commentators in the West assume that what he is saying is not only absurd but completely impossible.

I belong to that latter group: but rather than dismiss this out of hand - otherwise I wouldn't be writing this - I'd say instead that we will face a resurrected and revitalized KGB campaign of infiltration, seduction and suborning of people of influence. This will, in my judgement, primarily take place in the disaffected of the Democratic Party, who after successfully electing Obama in the hope of some magic progressive transformation will see him turn, basically, into Bush III. Disillusion is the first necessary step for the future agent of influence and spy, driven by disappointment that the world can't be as one wishes it to be, that realpolitik is sometimes unpleasant, that innocents die when people make mistakes, that American interests may handle local interests roughly, and that you won't become rich merely on your merits, but instead have to work unreasonably hard. These are the core characteristics that have driven Americans, for instance, to become spies for the Soviets back during the Cold War, rather than "merely" disaffected.

Who knows what mischief the Russians are planning. But here is great continuity between the Soviets and Russians, more than most believe possible. Putin is, after all, a stone cold KGB man.

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