Politics Foreign Affairs Culture

The Russians Living In Our Heads

We're obsessed with them. They're obsessed with us too.

The US today handed down indictments of 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking the DNC.  Good. If the Russians did it, then make them pay.

Generally, though, I side with Michael Brendan Dougherty, re-upped this morning his March column declaring that we Americans, to our detriment, cannot seem to regard Russia as if it were a normal country. MBD writes about the bad things Russia has done recently, but adds this second narrative:

Russia withdrew peacefully from 700,000 square miles of Europe and Eurasia at the end of the Cold War. Boris Yeltsin’s government, claiming to act on the advice of Western policymakers who counseled “shock therapy,” sold the assets of the Russian economy to a series of Communist apparatchiks and gangsters. This was deeply unpopular in Russia but his reelection was secured by direct American meddling, including “emergency infusions” of billions of dollars of Western money, a phalanx of American political consultants, and a play-scripted “confrontation” with Bill Clinton. Under Yeltsin’s rule, economic and social trends culminated in a major decrease in Russian life expectancy. George W. Bush empowered revolutions in the former Soviet sphere. His administration empowered men, such as Mikhail Saakashvili in Georgia, who proceeded to make war on Russia. During just President Obama’s second term, the United States backed a putsch in Ukraine and a series of Islamist-tinged rebels in Syria, two countries that happen to host major Russian naval installations. In both these cases, Russia intervened militarily.

Both narratives are true. More:

Some day we might learn again that Russia is simply a nation-state with its own enduring interests. We may one day accept, or at least understand, that its ugly political culture is informed by an unhappy history and unlucky geography. We may even recognize our own blunders in our relationship. Right now we are too wrapped up in our own factional domestic disputes, and too haunted by our own feeling that we lack leadership and policy wisdom, our own fear that we lack the will to maintain our way of life or the ability to change it.

Russia is the same way about us, by the way. It’s not new. The West Vs. Russia is an old theme in Russian thought. Think about the militant Westernizing tsar Peter the Great. Think about the 19th century Slavophile movement. We live deeply in their heads, and they live in ours.



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