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Russia Sure Behaves Strangely for a Country Bent on Conquest

It is commonplace for Americans to portray Russia as a dangerous country with nearly unlimited territorial ambitions. But the facts simply do not support such an alarmist view. Instead, Russia’s behavior is more consistent with that of a beleaguered regional power trying to fend off hostile intrusions from an American-led NATO.

The self-serving myth of a malignantly aggressive Russia, however, continues to grow—with potentially dangerous consequences for European and global peace.

Assertions that Moscow’s behavior pose a serious, even an existential, threat to Europe and the entire democratic West surfaced even before Donald Trump became president. They flared up in 2008 when fighting erupted between Russia and neighboring Georgia—even though the latter country had initiated the aggression [1]. Senator John McCain asserted [2] that “it’s very clear that Russian ambitions are to restore the old Russian Empire.”

Such allegations became more pervasive when Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in 2014 following the Western-assisted Maidan revolution that overthrew Ukraine’s elected, pro-Russian government. Ultra-hawkish writer and media talking head Ralph Peters asserted that Putin had a detailed plan [3] for reclaiming the Russian empire. “Make no mistake,” Peters warned, “Putin truly believes he’s entitled to reclaim Ukraine and a great deal more. In his view, independent capitals from Warsaw (yes, Warsaw) to Bishkek [the Kyrgyz Republic’s capital] are integral and natural parts of the Russian imperium. He regards them as property stolen from its rightful owner: Moscow.” Hillary Clinton’s rhetoric was even more apocalyptic [4]: Putin’s actions, she contended, were “what Germany did back in the ‘30s.”

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Such hyperbole has continued and even increased over the past five years on both sides of the Atlantic. In a March 2017 interview, Dalia Grybauskaitė, president of Lithuania, stated bluntly [5]: “Russia is a threat not only to Lithuania but to the whole region and to all of Europe.” Poland’s foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, was equally alarmist, insisting [6] that Russia’s behavior posed an “existential threat” even greater than ISIS.

Russia’s conduct has been abrasive and aggressive at times, but there is no evidence that Moscow harbors expansionist ambitions remotely comparable to those of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Indeed, the Kremlin’s actions suggest a much more limited, perhaps even defensive, agenda. As professors Andrei Shleifer and Daniel Treisman observed [7] in Foreign Affairs, “To many in the West, Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia seemed to prove the Kremlin’s land hunger.” But such a conclusion reflects poor logic: “Kremlin leaders bent on expansion would surely have ordered troops all the way to Tbilisi to depose [Georgia President Mikheil] Saakashvili. At the least, Russian forces would have taken control of the oil and gas pipelines that cross Georgia. Instead, the Russians left those pipelines alone and quickly withdrew to the mountains.”

Shleifer and Treisman raise a very important point. If Putin is a rogue leader with massive expansionist objectives, why would he relinquish territory that Russian forces had occupied? Indeed, with very little additional effort, Russia could have captured Tbilisi and the rest of Georgia. Yet it did not attempt to do so. Hitler never willingly gave up any of his conquests, and until the collapse of the Eastern European satellite empire in 1989-1991, the USSR disgorged only one occupied area: the portion of Austria it controlled at the end of World War II. Even that modest retreat took place only after laborious negotiations for a treaty guaranteeing Austria’s strict neutrality. If Putin truly harbors malignantly expansionist ambitions comparable to those of Hitler and Stalin, declining to conquer and absorb all of Georgia when that achievement was easily within reach showed curious restraint. His decision merely to perpetuate and consolidate Moscow’s treatment of Georgia’s two secessionist regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as Russian protectorates suggests much more limited ambitions.

Another aspect of Russia’s behavior is decidedly inconsistent with a rogue expansionist power: its military spending is modest and declining, not robust and surging. True, Putin has sought to rebuild and modernize Russia’s military, and he has achieved some success [8] in doing so. Russia’s navy once again deploys modern vessels, and its air force is now flying modern, even cutting-edge aircraft. Putin’s regime has also focused on developing and deploying long-range, precision-guided weapons, and is pursuing military research and development efforts with respect to hypersonic aircraft and missiles.

Even those developments must be put into perspective, however. The restoration and modernization follows a decade of military decline and decay during the 1990s under Boris Yeltsin. Moscow’s military budget is still a very modest $66.3 billion. Not only does the gargantuan U.S. budget of $716 billion dwarf that amount, it is far less than China’s $174.5 billion and only slightly more than the budgets of countries such as France and India [9]. Moreover, in contrast to the sizable annual increases in U.S. spending levels, Russia’s military spending is declining, not rising [10]. The 2017 budget was $69.2 billion, some $2.9 billion greater than the current budget. That is an odd trend for a government that supposedly harbors vast offensive ambitions.

The only undiminished source of Russian clout is Moscow’s large nuclear arsenal. But as various scholars have shown, while nuclear weapons may be the ultimate deterrent, they are not very useful for power projection or war fighting [11], except in the highly improbable event that a country’s political leadership is eager to risk national and personal suicide. And there is no evidence whatsoever that Putin and his oligarch backers are suicidal. Quite the contrary, they seem wedded to accumulating ever greater wealth and perks.

Too many Americans act as though we are still confronting the Soviet Union at the height of its power and ambitions. It will be the ultimate tragic irony if, having avoided war with a messianic, totalitarian global adversary, we now stumble into war because of an out-of-date image of, and policy toward, a conventional, regional power. Yet unless U.S. leaders change both their mindsets and their policies toward Russia, that outcome is a real danger.

Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow in security studies at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor at The American Conservative, is the author of 12 books and more than 750 articles on international affairs. His latest book is Gullible Superpower: U.S. Support for Bogus Foreign Democratic Movements (2019).

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45 Comments To "Russia Sure Behaves Strangely for a Country Bent on Conquest"

#1 Comment By N Smith On January 14, 2019 @ 10:09 pm

Well written piece deserves to be mainstream Thank you We are all hopefully getting smarter of reality Vs the Narration Thank you

#2 Comment By Tom S. On January 14, 2019 @ 10:20 pm

Straw man here. Putin does not want to conquer Western Europe. He does want to restore a semblance of what the former USSR controlled (called the Near Abroad). He has sought to do so by fostering economic and political ties as well as resorting to more violent and subversive measures (Ukraine, Georgia, Baltic States).

Another element of Putin’s desire to restore Russia is to weaken those whom he sees as rivals. Russia has carried out information operations explicitly designed to weaken NATO and the EU. Most agree that he did the same during the 2016 US election. The result is a weakened and divided united States, Trump’s claims and bloviations notwithstanding.

#3 Comment By LesB On January 14, 2019 @ 10:31 pm

“Russia’s behavior is more consistent with that of a beleaguered regional power trying to fend off hostile intrusions from an American-led NATO.” As to why Russia has not launched any military attacks on the West, it is because Putin knows that NATO is so much stronger.

Interesting that Carpenter does not mention any specific hostile intrusions by NATO. Does he really believe, for instance, that Obama was planing to invade Russia?

As for its military budget, you need to look at it in as a percentage of its gdp, and for that it is actually quite high.

Also, Carpenter leaves out Russia’s huge effort to undermine democratic government in the US and other Western democracies through hacking and social media disinformation campaigns.

Finally it is very disappointing that Carpenter, who is a libertarian, seems to be so approving of a highly corrupt, semi-facist authoritarian regime.

#4 Comment By Cas On January 14, 2019 @ 10:46 pm

“Russia’s conduct has been abrasive and aggressive at times, but there is no evidence that Moscow harbors expansionist ambitions remotely comparable to those of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Indeed, the Kremlin’s actions suggest a much more limited, perhaps even defensive, agenda.”

This is a seriously revisionist approach to Russian history. I am sure that Georgia and Ukraine feel exactly as you suggest… not. Not a single country in Eastern Europe subscribes to the view you espouse here. I wonder why that is? Possibly because it flies in the face of everything these countries know about historical Russian aggression. What is absent from your analysis is a comparison with the military budgets of the countries nervous about Soviet, ah, I mean, Russian strategic moves. What keeps Russia in check is the knowledge that there is a will to support countries Russia eyes hungrily. Perhaps Russia did not take over Georgia because it felt that the West would not tolerate it and had the will to resist an extension of Russian aggression. Remember, Western sanctions are having a major impact on Russia currently, as are weaker oil prices. That willingness to defend the East is based on an understanding of Russia’s historical proclivities and tendencies to autocracy. That Western will is being severely tested by the occupant of the White House at the moment.

#5 Comment By LesB On January 14, 2019 @ 10:58 pm

On military spending, check out this table

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#6 Comment By cka2nd On January 14, 2019 @ 11:29 pm

What looks like expansionism on the part of the Soviet Union to Mr. Carpenter appears to look like the standard Russian policy for defending its heartland, going all the way back to Peter the Great, to the author of the piece he links to at the National interest on Russia’s modernization of its military. I’m no fan of Stalin, and it was obviously not “fair” to the Eastern European countries involved (unless, of course, they had themselves participated in the Nazi invasion of the USSR), but the occupation of Eastern Europe and Stalin’s turning them into client/puppet states seems to me to have been less about some undefined, but sort of Nazi-lite, expansionism and more about creating yet another buffer zone after suffering three invasions via Central and Eastern Europe over the previous 133 years. As that author noted, Russia’s frontier is now the closest it had been to Moscow since 1650.

One can wish that the Soviets had withdrawn from the Baltic states and Eastern Europe from the Baltic to the Black Sea or not, but let’s at least be honest about why they were there, and why they stayed. Marxist messianism had little to do with it.

#7 Comment By Taras 77 On January 14, 2019 @ 11:38 pm

I would apply the harsh and abrasive characterization to US conduct, no question!

I would apply assertive and confident to Russian conduct-I would certainly disagree that the conduct has been expansionist.

Critics such as peters and clinton have no credibility! Peters is just a neo con talking bomb thrower while clinton, well …..

#8 Comment By Karl On January 15, 2019 @ 2:34 am

“Russia Sure Behaves Strangely for a Country Bent on Conquest
Its conduct has been abrasive and aggressive, but there’s no evidence that Moscow harbors expansionist ambitions.”

Ahem, evidently TAC and the author have never heard of the annexation of Crimea and the attacks on Ukraine.

Sheesh… you can’t make this stuff up. We’ve truly entered the world of alternate bizarro universes.

#9 Comment By Dan Green On January 15, 2019 @ 7:15 am

Nato could be compared to the ill conceived Treaty of Versailles. The Brits and the French drummed up a document to corral the Germans. Nato presented the Russians a set of circumstances, they were expected to abide by. Who in their right mind ever believed Russia and China would practice our messy type of Democracy? With populism having raised its ugly head in Western Democracies both Russia and China are watching it awe. Mueller’s marathon, has been a gift to Putin, he is on the world stage as never before. You would think if President Trump is guilty of Treason we would know by now.

#10 Comment By Michael Kenny On January 15, 2019 @ 8:24 am

If Putin doesn’t have “expansionist ambitions”, what’s he doing in Ukraine?

#11 Comment By TomG On January 15, 2019 @ 8:24 am

Excellent post. If only Americans would read it and politicians and the (pathetic) news brokers would be instructed by it.

#12 Comment By Tom Welsh On January 15, 2019 @ 9:00 am

The obvious reason why the US “defense” budget is more than ten times that of Russia, and rapidly expanding, while Russia’s is declining, is very simple. As the article points out, Russia’s armed forces – like China’s – have the sole mission of protecting the nation and its allies. This is very much easier than the USA’s self-appointed mission of controlling the entire world, and being able to kill – at a few hours’ notice – anyone, anywhere who resists its will.

Incidentally, Lawrence Korb’s article “Congress Punts on Reforming the Pentagon Budget—Again” (American Conservative, October 28, 2018) asserts that the defense budget is actually over $1 trillion.

#13 Comment By John Strange On January 15, 2019 @ 9:38 am

You say in the subhead that there’s no evidence that Russia has ambitions for territorial expansion and then in the fourth paragraph you talk about the Russian annexation of Crimea. Is actual territorial expansion—the first annexation of territory in Europe since the 1940s—not territorial expansion? The case of Russia is not identical, but has similar origins to Germany’s, which began its expansion as a crusade to reunify territory lost to the Treaty of Versailles and then ploughed on when no one stopped them. “Reunification” is actually the word in Russian they use to describe the annexation of Crimea.

Is action not proof of ambition and intention? Have you forgotten Georgia, the test case for Ukraine, where they carved up a country and supported the “independence” of regions with whom Russia shares a border? There is plenty of evidence of Russia’s intentions.

No one serious is saying we should treat Russia like the Soviet Union, but to argue that Russia is happy with the territorial status quo is fatuous and absurd. The apologia for Russia’s disruptive worldview and policies looks ugly on TAC.

#14 Comment By Solon On January 15, 2019 @ 9:55 am

A well reasoned and sensible article, supported by facts and data, written by a calm thinking person. I fully expect the author to be investigated by the FBI, then indicted by the Mueller inquisition because he refused to lie as the Deep State desires.

#15 Comment By Cornel Lencar On January 15, 2019 @ 11:51 am

While the article makes some reasonable points, it is still not balanced and the bloggers pointing at Ukraine and Crimea probably never have looked at a map in their life, nor have any knowledge of history.

While it is true that Russia expanded east against very unorganized territories, similar with US westward expansion, was pretty much a reactive state when it comes to what lies west of it. And they are pretty traumatized people, something Americans for that matter don’t and cannot fathom.

So yes, for security reasons they need a buffer of at least neutral states. The Poles and Ukrainians, forgetting that they are doomed by geography, are choosing to antagonize with Russia, thinking that the US will really, really protect them. That is not going to happen. And Russia will not relinquish its economy to Wall Street.

Now in terms of expansionism, this is just projection that happens. U.S. behaves as its borders end 12 nautical miles from China, Russia, and it has military bases all over the world and the ability to move missiles very close to those borders now (see AEGIS in Romania and Poland for instance). Basically U.S. is saying that they want the liberty to bomb whomever they want, whenever they want, if their will is not obeyed. Freedom and democracy is all for internal consumption…

However, U.S. failed to let its population now that Putin also declared that Russia will retaliate swiftly and lethally against anywhere in the U.S. with its newly developed weapons if Russia is attacked. And the media refused to give the measure of the gravity of the situation to the public. As with the Jupiter missiles in Turkey, Russia counter-attacked, but the lesson that the US high command took is, don’t create panic because will have to move back a step and keep pushing and they will crack. I am positive that will not happen. It is not Putin, it is Russians, or let’s say, human nature. The Vietnamese didn’t crack, the Koreans didn’t crack, hell, the Talibans, the Iraqis, the Syrians didn’t crack.

Germans and Japanese did because the whole world was against them at that point, which is really not happening now. And Russians not only have a coalition of the willing across Asia, but Europeans are quite divided now and U.K. is getting out. So yes, Americans are not controlling the narrative any longer.

#16 Comment By b. On January 15, 2019 @ 1:31 pm

2008 was clear Russian messaging in response to the precedents Clinton and Kohl set in the Balkans over Russia’s and China’s explicit warnings about the implications.

Russia is indeed a clear existential threat to the US, and unlike the others – climate change, the end of affordable fossil fuel, and elective stupidity on a national scale – this is an imminent existential threat. It mirrors the existential threat that the US nuclear arsenal, esp. its land-based ICBMs and the current “Launch On Warning” policy represent to Russia and the rest of the world. That The People see fit to back the incumbents of the biparty establishment and that empty shirt of a “Trumpopulesident” twit despite the existential risk their Great Gambles foreign and domestic are running defies reason.

#17 Comment By Fayez Abedaziz On January 15, 2019 @ 1:34 pm

That’s it?
That Russia has problems with events along it’s own border and reacts?
Along it’s border I said.
Russia is invading… like oh…why, nowhere!
NATO and the US? Yeah, illegally invading and bombing nations again and again and having military bases and that’s not enough for them. The war mongers like seriously deranged Bolton and his backers want to go and kill more people with bombings and to dictate what governments a people can have in their own nations? What’s the matter with you neocon supporters,does morality and logic escape you?

#18 Comment By Sid On January 15, 2019 @ 1:57 pm

Crimea has been Russian since before there was a US. They liberated it from the Mongols and fought the Turks to keep it. The fact that Khrushchev, who assumed it would always be part of the Soviet Union, turned it over to Ukraine to govern, doesn’t change reality. And the fact that NATO wants it only hardens their resolve to keep it. Crimea will be Russian as long as Boston is American. We pick some dumb fights as we blunder around the globe; this is one of the dumbest.

#19 Comment By Fred Bowman On January 15, 2019 @ 1:59 pm

NATO just another way of saying Need America to Take Over. And exactly what has that accomplished. Seem to me an American Empire well on it’s way to bankruptcy. In the meantime the Republic suffers.

#20 Comment By Fran Macadam On January 15, 2019 @ 2:05 pm

The Big Lie technique still works, as per the delusions of some commenters.

It’s kind of like how The Alamo and The Battle of the Little Bighorn loom so psychologically prominent in the history of the United States. They were defeats that were exceptions to their rule, so that the conquerors could pretend for all time to be victims just defending themselves, as they seized an entire continent for themselves by force.

When the United States fomented the Maidan revolution in the Ukraine, overthrowing the democratically elected government that didn’t do what the Wall Street bankers wanted, investing five billion of U.S. taxpayers money in the effort, the State Department’s Victoria Nuland-Kagan was caught determining who the new leaders would be, even if it meant “to Hell with the E.U.” The important Russian military base at Sevastopol, maintained for centuries, was to be replaced by an American one. The mostly ethnic Russian population of Crimea, along with the eastern Ukrainian regions, had their language outlawed overnight by the unelected coup government. The Crimeans held a transparent election in which they rejected the coup government and voted to return to association with Russia instead. So when people resist aggression in their own defense, they are suddenly aggressors? Unlike the Maidan revolution, no shots were fired and no one was killed fighting in the peaceful political event.

I’m as patriotic as any sane person, which means I’m loyal to the folks in this country, rather than the globalists who find a far flung empire of far more importance and profit to themselves, than using our tax dollars and massive debt for taking care of the interests of the folks right here at home.

Those treasonous to the genuine populist interests of the American people, go abroad in search of monsters to create, so that they can make money pretending to destroy them.

#21 Comment By Sid Finster On January 15, 2019 @ 2:41 pm

Others have made the point better than I can as regards Crimea, but as regards Georgian aggression against South Ossetia and Abkhazia – no territory changed hands after the Georgians were tossed out.

Strange, if Russia were so intent on territorial expansion, you’d think they’d, you know, seize territory.

Just as how the citizens of eastern Ukraine have begged to be made a part of Russia, but have been rebuffed so far.

#22 Comment By Sid Finster On January 15, 2019 @ 2:45 pm

I would also suggest that Michael Kenney examine a map of the Russian-Ukrainian border, you know showing some 600 km of open frontier with no alleged invasion.

To believe the allegations that Michael Kenney and others like him regularly spout, one has to believe that Russia has soldiers, tanks, etc. that are not only invisible, they also cannot be detected by satellite reconnaissance and apparently are even immune to capture by Ukrainian Nazis, but at the same time these Russian supermen cannot interpret a simple map showing the borders of their own country.

#23 Comment By One Guy On January 15, 2019 @ 4:54 pm

So all our intelligence agencies are wrong, and Russia didn’t interfere in our 2016 election? They are simply misunderstood?

#24 Comment By VikingLS On January 15, 2019 @ 8:02 pm

“If Putin doesn’t have “expansionist ambitions”, what’s he doing in Ukraine?”

Supporting a secessionist movement at least as legitimate as that of Kosovo.

#25 Comment By Sid Finster On January 15, 2019 @ 8:14 pm

@One Guy: did you learn nothing from the run-up to the war on Iraq?

The intelligence agencies described the Iraqi WMD program as a “slam dunk”.

#26 Comment By Scott Buchanan On January 15, 2019 @ 8:35 pm

LesB:

“Also, Carpenter leaves out Russia’s huge effort to undermine democratic government in the US and other Western democracies through hacking and social media disinformation campaigns.

Finally it is very disappointing that Carpenter, who is a libertarian, seems to be so approving of a highly corrupt, semi-facist [sic] authoritarian regime”.

Calling Russia’s effort to undermine democratic government in the US “huge” (assuming the government is directly responsible) is a vast — and frankly, absurd — overstatement of reality.

And I’m not sure what article you were reading, but I didn’t detect approval of the Russian regime from Carpenter. Denying that Russia has expansionist aims does not imply endorsement of the regime. Time to take a logic course.

#27 Comment By Cornel C Lencar On January 15, 2019 @ 8:47 pm

To One Guy:

Yes, pretty much wrong, but by commission:

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#28 Comment By Mark Krvavica On January 15, 2019 @ 9:02 pm

I would like to tell Washington City that the Cold War is over, I have no nostalgia for that relic NATO. The Central North American Empire (formerly known as the U.S.) will have to deal with the fact that it can’t police the World anymore.

#29 Comment By Those who live in glass houses…. On January 15, 2019 @ 9:15 pm

“So all our intelligence agencies are wrong, and Russia didn’t interfere in our 2016 election? They are simply misunderstood?”

And what did they say when pressed as exactly HOW? “Well we’re pretty sure they posted mean things about Hillary on Facebook. The had the means and the motive to leak Democrat emails, but we have no proof.”

Wow.

Americans, PARTICULARLY our wildly incompetent and “Intelligence services” complaining about Russians interfering in our elections by using social media and maybe hacking some emails is like listening to Jesse James complain about jaywalkers.

#30 Comment By Iohan On January 16, 2019 @ 3:47 am

Michael Kenny, but what doing the USA in this countries? Helps to building the democracy?)))
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#31 Comment By Charron On January 16, 2019 @ 8:17 am

Russia has been invaded 3 times from the West, Napoleon, War I and Germany who killed some 20 million Russians.

The idea that Trump, as bad as he is and that is very bad, is a Russian asset which is being insinuated by these nitwits and their galaxy of pretty young things on the major news is a disgrace. They are as bad as Trump.

#32 Comment By John Douglas On January 16, 2019 @ 8:42 am

I’m convinced that the ‘RUSSIA! RUSSIA! RUSSIA! is the enemy’ narrative is a ‘Oh look, a squirrel’ diversion to divert attention away from our real military and economic enemy…CHINA…by members of our government.

Interesting article at Breitbart:
“Mitch McConnell’s Family Fortune Dependent on Chinese Government’s ‘Good Graces’”

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#33 Comment By Kessler On January 16, 2019 @ 11:25 am

Russia can’t afford territorial expansion – it has serious economic issues. I think it’s goverment is far more concerned about making certain there is no unrest, as social spending and pensions keep getting cut, while standards of living are slipping.

#34 Comment By Fran Macadam On January 16, 2019 @ 12:08 pm

“So all our intelligence agencies are wrong, and Russia didn’t interfere in our 2016 election? They are simply misunderstood?”

That clever Saddam outsmarted us all so well, that despite our intelligence agencies’ clear findings to us, his nuclear weapons are still cleverly concealed to this day.

#35 Comment By Neil McGowan On January 16, 2019 @ 12:22 pm

@Michael Kenny

Putin’s not doing *anything* in Ukraine. Or do you have more fake-news ‘photos’ of the Russian army in Ukraine? You need to stop believing every little sqeal your leader Shillary utters.

For the record, what YOUR allies are doing in Ukraine is shelling civilian settlements in Donetsk and Lugansk. Kids are cowering in the basements of their own homes, while President Pastrychef struts around in his bogus military uniform, ordering the massacre of non-combatant pensioners? Your pal Michael Weiss didn’t report that, did he?? He must have been too busy lacing his jackboots. Where are you going to get your Russia Lies from, now the Weakly Standard’s gone bust??

Love from Moscow. Post some more, Michael -make an ASS of yourself again!

#36 Comment By WorkingClass On January 16, 2019 @ 12:29 pm

“It is commonplace for Americans to portray Russia as a dangerous country with nearly unlimited territorial ambitions.”

Where do you suppose they got such an idea?

Fake news?

#37 Comment By djrichard On January 16, 2019 @ 12:37 pm

Does it really matter? Russia is whatever we want them to be. And right now, we need them to be our trumped-up (no pun intended) enemy in our continued war on evil doers. Because now the evil doers aren’t simply in the middle east. Now they’re in middle america and other populations that we could take for granted: the deplorables, the brexiteers, the yellow vests. It seems they want to regime change us. The very thought! If we’re going to defeat these enemies of global capitalism we’re going to need all the weapons of propaganda that we can muster, in particular helping the population understand that their only path to redemption is through us. They need to recognize our virtue and renounce their populism.
After this internal divisiveness is put to rest, we’ll jointly cast out our sins. By taking them out on the party that caused “us” to sin (it’s collective guilt once we’re unified) to begin with: Russia. Regime change should be in order for Russia if not something more significant.

#38 Comment By CLW On January 16, 2019 @ 1:10 pm

Russia’s territorial ambitions likely are limited to reactionary, ad-hoc interventions in adjacent countries such as Ukraine which appear (from Moscow’s perspective) to be under undue Western influence. But this piece completely overlooks, to its detriment, the very significant threat Russia poses to international stability by conducting misinformation campaigns on social media, tampering with elections, assassinating regime opponents and dissidents, and seeking every opportunity to undermine the international conventions, treaties, organizations, and institutions it loathes as a despotic kleptocracy. Russia does not pose an imminent or existential threat to the U.S., but it must be taken serious as a meddlesome, problematic country whose primary ambitions are regime survival and promoting anti-internationalism. Conspiracy theorists and Trump apologists (often the same people) will refuse to acknowledge this, much to Moscow’s delight.

#39 Comment By Eileen Kuch On January 16, 2019 @ 6:05 pm

Tell it, Neil McGowan! Tell it! The true aggressors in this world are the US/UK/NATO. It was the Obama administration that launched the illegal coup d’etat that overthrew the duly elected gov’t of Viktor Yanukovych, which sent Crimea back into the arms of Mother Russia and the Donbass secession.
The Ukrainian forces are shelling civilian areas in both Lugansk and Donetsk, and kids are hiding in basements, while (I love this one) President Pastrychef prances around in his bogus uniform, ordering the massacre of non-combatant pensioners. Luckily, the Donbass paramilitary forces are keeping their Ukrainian counterparts far enough from these settlements with artillery barrages of their own.
There’s an election coming up soon in Kiev – in March – and President Pastrychef hasn’t a chance of winning, either.

#40 Comment By TR On January 16, 2019 @ 6:30 pm

I’m of the school that says Russia is always concerned with threats to its borders, and it was idiotic for Dick Cheney to go to Ukraine and urge that country to join NATO.

But what I want to note here, for all critics of “leftist” media, is that the”ultra-liberal” Nation on-line this week –has an article ridiculing all those who think the latest Trump-Putin conspiracy theory is a “smoking gun.” I post this for all those who think MSM never disagree with each other.

#41 Comment By Quartermaster On January 17, 2019 @ 4:28 pm

“He has sought to do so by fostering economic and political ties as well as resorting to more violent and subversive measures (Ukraine, Georgia, Baltic States).”

In short, Putin has an expansionist agenda and means to bring the “near abroad” back under the thumb of Moscow. The best that can be said for you, Mr. Carpenter, is you’re naive.

#42 Comment By Quartermaster On January 17, 2019 @ 4:46 pm

@Neil McGowan

Your naivete and ignorance are truly beyond breath taking.

While Russia had troops in Crimea as a result of the treaty Russia had with Ukraine, Putin sent in thousands more to cement the theft of Crimea and sent troops into the Donbas to steal more to get a land bridge to Crimea. Russian troops were captured, and paraded on Ukrainian television, with the military IDs and internal passports, proving beyond doubt that Putin had ordered an invasion. I realize such things are in convenient to the Russian troll brigade, but there it is.

Russian forces have routinely violated the agreements Russia has negotiated, and has killed more than 10,000 people in the Donbas to carry out Putin’s imperial ambitions. Russian forces routinely shell Ukrainians and commit false flag operations to blame on the Ukrainians.

Not to put too fine a point on things, but Putin is a liar and a thief. Crimea and Donbas are both Ukraine, and Putin twice recognized Crimea as Ukrainian before he made the decision to steal it.

#43 Comment By robcrawford On January 18, 2019 @ 8:25 am

It’s self-serving for conservatives to characterize “the left” as arguing that Russia is “bent on unlimited territorial conquest” or expansionism of some sort. The reality is more subtle: Russia has lost a lot of power, so it is attempting to disrupt its adversaries internally and split their alliances. That is a cost-efficient way to wield influence that has nothing to do with territorial acquisition. What Trump-supporting conservatives are doing is helping to cover up Trump’s acquiescence, and perhaps outright support for, such a policy of disruption.

#44 Comment By Tom S. On January 18, 2019 @ 6:10 pm

Unfortunately for Putin’s apologists, the collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in former SSRs becoming sovereign countries, with all the rights that sovereign countries have to make decisions for the benefit of their citizens. This includes membership in international organizations that are not in the Russian orbit.

While I believe it would be a mistake to allow Ukraine and particularly Georgia into NATO, they may certainly apply. Ukraine was working toward membership in the EU, which it was certainly entitled to do.

Sovereign countries can do that, and those who attempt to prevent it through overt and covert military means are aggressors. If they attempt to carve off territory and unilaterally recognize breakaway regions, one could also call it expansion at the expense of the targeted sovereign country.

#45 Comment By John2o2o On January 24, 2019 @ 6:34 pm

An astonishing piece of writing in an American media publication. Congratulations.

It’s interesting (and very sad) to read many comments by who are unaware that they have been thoroughly brainwashed by the likes of Maddow into believing that Russia is some sort of evil empire bent on controlling the whole world. Psychologists call that projection.