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The New American Cold War

Contrary to established opinion, the gravest threats to America's national security are still in Russia. They derive from an unprecedented development that most US policy-makers have recklessly disregarded, as evidenced by the undeclared cold war Washington has waged, under both parties, against post-Communist Russia during the past fifteen years.

As a result of the Soviet breakup in 1991, Russia, a state bearing every nuclear and other device of mass destruction, virtually collapsed. During the 1990s its essential infrastructures--political, economic and social--disintegrated. Moscow's hold on its vast territories was weakened by separatism, official corruption and Mafia-like crime. The worst peacetime depression in modern history brought economic losses more than twice those suffered in World War II. GDP plummeted by nearly half and capital investment by 80 percent. Most Russians were thrown into poverty. Death rates soared and the population shrank. And in August 1998, the financial system imploded.

No one in authority anywhere had ever foreseen that one of the twentieth century's two superpowers would plunge, along with its arsenals of destruction, into such catastrophic circumstances. Even today, we cannot be sure what Russia's collapse might mean for the rest of the world.

Outwardly, the nation may now seem to have recovered. Its economy has grown on average by 6 to 7 percent annually since 1999, its stock-market index increased last year by 83 percent and its gold and foreign currency reserves are the world's fifth largest. Moscow is booming with new construction, frenzied consumption of Western luxury goods and fifty-six large casinos. Some of this wealth has trickled down to the provinces and middle and lower classes, whose income has been rising. But these advances, loudly touted by the Russian government and Western investment-fund promoters, are due largely to high world prices for the country's oil and gas and stand out only in comparison with the wasteland of 1998.

More fundamental realities indicate that Russia remains in an unprecedented state of peacetime demodernization and depopulation. Investment in the economy and other basic infrastructures remains barely a third of the 1990 level. Some two-thirds of Russians still live below or very near the poverty line, including 80 percent of families with two or more children, 60 percent of rural citizens and large segments of the educated and professional classes, among them teachers, doctors and military officers. The gap between the poor and the rich, Russian experts tell us, is becoming "explosive."

Most tragic and telling, the nation continues to suffer wartime death and birth rates, its population declining by 700,000 or more every year. Male life expectancy is barely 59 years and, at the other end of the life cycle, 2 to 3 million children are homeless. Old and new diseases, from tuberculosis to HIV infections, have grown into epidemics. Nationalists may exaggerate in charging that "the Motherland is dying," but even the head of Moscow's most pro-Western university warns that Russia remains in "extremely deep crisis."

The stability of the political regime atop this bleak post-Soviet landscape rests heavily, if not entirely, on the personal popularity and authority of one man, President Vladimir Putin, who admits the state "is not yet completely stable." While Putin's ratings are an extraordinary 70 to 75 percent positive, political institutions and would-be leaders below him have almost no public support.

The top business and administrative elites, having rapaciously "privatized" the Soviet state's richest assets in the 1990s, are particularly despised. Indeed, their possession of that property, because it lacks popular legitimacy, remains a time bomb embedded in the political and economic system. The huge military is equally unstable, its ranks torn by a lack of funds, abuses of authority and discontent. No wonder serious analysts worry that one or more sudden developments--a sharp fall in world oil prices, more major episodes of ethnic violence or terrorism, or Putin's disappearance--might plunge Russia into an even worse crisis. Pointing to the disorder spreading from Chechnya through the country's southern rim, for example, the eminent scholar Peter Reddaway even asks "whether Russia is stable enough to hold together."

As long as catastrophic possibilities exist in that nation, so do the unprecedented threats to US and international security. Experts differ as to which danger is the gravest--proliferation of Russia's enormous stockpile of nuclear, chemical and biological materials; ill-maintained nuclear reactors on land and on decommissioned submarines; an impaired early-warning system controlling missiles on hair-trigger alert; or the first-ever civil war in a shattered superpower, the terror-ridden Chechen conflict. But no one should doubt that together they constitute a much greater constant threat than any the United States faced during the Soviet era.

Nor is a catastrophe involving weapons of mass destruction the only danger in what remains the world's largest territorial country. Nearly a quarter of the planet's people live on Russia's borders, among them conflicting ethnic and religious groups. Any instability in Russia could easily spread to a crucial and exceedingly volatile part of the world.

There is another, perhaps more likely, possibility. Petrodollars may bring Russia long-term stability, but on the basis of growing authoritarianism and xenophobic nationalism. Those ominous factors derive primarily not from Russia's lost superpower status (or Putin's KGB background), as the US press regularly misinforms readers, but from so many lost and damaged lives at home since 1991. Often called the "Weimar scenario," this outcome probably would not be truly fascist, but it would be a Russia possessing weapons of mass destruction and large proportions of the world's oil and natural gas, even more hostile to the West than was its Soviet predecessor.

How has the US government responded to these unprecedented perils? It doesn't require a degree in international relations or media punditry to understand that the first principle of policy toward post-Communist Russia must follow the Hippocratic injunction: Do no harm! Do nothing to undermine its fragile stability, nothing to dissuade the Kremlin from giving first priority to repairing the nation's crumbling infrastructures, nothing to cause it to rely more heavily on its stockpiles of superpower weapons instead of reducing them, nothing to make Moscow uncooperative with the West in those joint pursuits. Everything else in that savaged country is of far less consequence.

Since the early 1990s Washington has simultaneously conducted, under Democrats and Republicans, two fundamentally different policies toward post-Soviet Russia--one decorative and outwardly reassuring, the other real and exceedingly reckless. The decorative policy, which has been taken at face value in the United States, at least until recently, professes to have replaced America's previous cold war intentions with a generous relationship of "strategic partnership and friendship." The public image of this approach has featured happy-talk meetings between American and Russian presidents, first "Bill and Boris" (Clinton and Yeltsin), then "George and Vladimir."

The real US policy has been very different--a relentless, winner-take-all exploitation of Russia's post-1991 weakness. Accompanied by broken American promises, condescending lectures and demands for unilateral concessions, it has been even more aggressive and uncompromising than was Washington's approach to Soviet Communist Russia. Consider its defining elements as they have unfolded--with fulsome support in both American political parties, influential newspapers and policy think tanks--since the early 1990s:

§ A growing military encirclement of Russia, on and near its borders, by US and NATO bases, which are already ensconced or being planned in at least half the fourteen other former Soviet republics, from the Baltics and Ukraine to Georgia, Azerbaijan and the new states of Central Asia. The result is a US-built reverse iron curtain and the remilitarization of American-Russian relations.

§ A tacit (and closely related) US denial that Russia has any legitimate national interests outside its own territory, even in ethnically akin or contiguous former republics such as Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia. How else to explain, to take a bellwether example, the thinking of Richard Holbrooke, Democratic would-be Secretary of State? While roundly condemning the Kremlin for promoting a pro-Moscow government in neighboring Ukraine, where Russia has centuries of shared linguistic, marital, religious, economic and security ties, Holbrooke declares that far-away Slav nation part of "our core zone of security."

§ Even more, a presumption that Russia does not have full sovereignty within its own borders, as expressed by constant US interventions in Moscow's internal affairs since 1992. They have included an on-site crusade by swarms of American "advisers," particularly during the 1990s, to direct Russia's "transition" from Communism; endless missionary sermons from afar, often couched in threats, on how that nation should and should not organize its political and economic systems; and active support for Russian anti-Kremlin groups, some associated with hated Yeltsin-era oligarchs.

That interventionary impulse has now grown even into suggestions that Putin be overthrown by the kind of US-backed "color revolutions" carried out since 2003 in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, and attempted this year in Belarus. Thus, while mainstream editorial pages increasingly call the Russian president "thug," "fascist" and "Saddam Hussein," one of the Carnegie Endowment's several Washington crusaders assures us of "Putin's weakness" and vulnerability to "regime change." (Do proponents of "democratic regime change" in Russia care that it might mean destabilizing a nuclear state?)

§ Underpinning these components of the real US policy are familiar cold war double standards condemning Moscow for doing what Washington does--such as seeking allies and military bases in former Soviet republics, using its assets (oil and gas in Russia's case) as aid to friendly governments and regulating foreign money in its political life.

More broadly, when NATO expands to Russia's front and back doorsteps, gobbling up former Soviet-bloc members and republics, it is "fighting terrorism" and "protecting new states"; when Moscow protests, it is engaging in "cold war thinking." When Washington meddles in the politics of Georgia and Ukraine, it is "promoting democracy"; when the Kremlin does so, it is "neoimperialism." And not to forget the historical background: When in the 1990s the US-supported Yeltsin overthrew Russia's elected Parliament and Constitutional Court by force, gave its national wealth and television networks to Kremlin insiders, imposed a constitution without real constraints on executive power and rigged elections, it was "democratic reform"; when Putin continues that process, it is "authoritarianism."

§ Finally, the United States is attempting, by exploiting Russia's weakness, to acquire the nuclear superiority it could not achieve during the Soviet era. That is the essential meaning of two major steps taken by the Bush Administration in 2002, both against Moscow's strong wishes. One was the Administration's unilateral withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, freeing it to try to create a system capable of destroying incoming missiles and thereby the capacity to launch a nuclear first strike without fear of retaliation. The other was pressuring the Kremlin to sign an ultimately empty nuclear weapons reduction agreement requiring no actual destruction of weapons and indeed allowing development of new ones; providing for no verification; and permitting unilateral withdrawal before the specified reductions are required.

The extraordinarily anti-Russian nature of these policies casts serious doubt on two American official and media axioms: that the recent "chill" in US-Russian relations has been caused by Putin's behavior at home and abroad, and that the cold war ended fifteen years ago. The first axiom is false, the second only half true: The cold war ended in Moscow, but not in Washington, as is clear from a brief look back.

The last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, came to power in 1985 with heretical "New Thinking" that proposed not merely to ease but to actually abolish the decades-long cold war. His proposals triggered a fateful struggle in Washington (and Moscow) between policy-makers who wanted to seize the historic opportunity and those who did not. President Ronald Reagan decided to meet Gorbachev at least part of the way, as did his successor, the first President George Bush. As a result, in December 1989, at a historic summit meeting at Malta, Gorbachev and Bush declared the cold war over. (That extraordinary agreement evidently has been forgotten; thus we have the New York Times recently asserting that the US-Russian relationship today "is far better than it was 15 years ago.")

Declarations alone, however, could not terminate decades of warfare attitudes. Even when Bush was agreeing to end the cold war in 1989-91, many of his top advisers, like many members of the US political elite and media, strongly resisted. (I witnessed that rift on the eve of Malta, when I was asked to debate the issue in front of Bush and his divided foreign policy team.) Proof came with the Soviet breakup in December 1991: US officials and the media immediately presented the purported "end of the cold war" not as a mutual Soviet-American decision, which it certainly was, but as a great American victory and Russian defeat.

That (now standard) triumphalist narrative is the primary reason the cold war was quickly revived--not in Moscow a decade later by Putin but in Washington in the early 1990s, when the Clinton Administration made two epically unwise decisions. One was to treat post-Communist Russia as a defeated nation that was expected to replicate America's domestic practices and bow to its foreign policies. It required, behind the facade of the Clinton-Yeltsin "partnership and friendship" (as Clinton's top "Russia hand," Strobe Talbott, later confirmed), telling Yeltsin "here's some more shit for your face" and Moscow's "submissiveness." From that triumphalism grew the still-ongoing interventions in Moscow's internal affairs and the abiding notion that Russia has no autonomous rights at home or abroad.

Clinton's other unwise decision was to break the Bush Administration's promise to Soviet Russia in 1990-91 not to expand NATO "one inch to the east" and instead begin its expansion to Russia's borders. From that profound act of bad faith, followed by others, came the dangerously provocative military encirclement of Russia and growing Russian suspicions of US intentions. Thus, while American journalists and even scholars insist that "the cold war has indeed vanished" and that concerns about a new one are "silly," Russians across the political spectrum now believe that in Washington "the cold war did not end" and, still more, that "the US is imposing a new cold war on Russia."

That ominous view is being greatly exacerbated by Washington's ever-growing "anti-Russian fatwa," as a former Reagan appointee terms it. This year it includes a torrent of official and media statements denouncing Russia's domestic and foreign policies, vowing to bring more of its neighbors into NATO and urging Bush to boycott the G-8 summit to be chaired by Putin in St. Petersburg in July; a call by would-be Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain for "very harsh" measures against Moscow; Congress's pointed refusal to repeal a Soviet-era restriction on trade with Russia; the Pentagon's revival of old rumors that Russian intelligence gave Saddam Hussein information endangering US troops; and comments by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, echoing the regime-changers, urging Russians, "if necessary, to change their government."

For its part, the White House deleted from its 2006 National Security Strategy the long-professed US-Russian partnership, backtracked on agreements to help Moscow join the World Trade Organization and adopted sanctions against Belarus, the Slav former republic most culturally akin to Russia and with whom the Kremlin is negotiating a new union state. Most significant, in May it dispatched Vice President Cheney to an anti-Russian conference in former Soviet Lithuania, now a NATO member, to denounce the Kremlin and make clear it is not "a strategic partner and a trusted friend," thereby ending fifteen years of official pretense.

More astonishing is a Council on Foreign Relations "task force report" on Russia, co-chaired by Democratic presidential aspirant John Edwards, issued in March. The "nonpartisan" council's reputed moderation and balance are nowhere in evidence. An unrelenting exercise in double standards, the report blames all the "disappointments" in US-Russian relations solely on "Russia's wrong direction" under Putin--from meddling in the former Soviet republics and backing Iran to conflicts over NATO, energy politics and the "rollback of Russian democracy."

Strongly implying that Bush has been too soft on Putin, the council report flatly rejects partnership with Moscow as "not a realistic prospect." It calls instead for "selective cooperation" and "selective opposition," depending on which suits US interests, and, in effect, Soviet-era containment. Urging more Western intervention in Moscow's political affairs, the report even reserves for Washington the right to reject Russia's future elections and leaders as "illegitimate." An article in the council's influential journal Foreign Affairs menacingly adds that the United States is quickly "attaining nuclear primacy" and the ability "to destroy the long-range nuclear arsenals of Russia or China with a first strike."

Every consequence of this bipartisan American cold war against post-Communist Russia has exacerbated the dangers inherent in the Soviet breakup mentioned above. The crusade to transform Russia during the 1990s, with its disastrous "shock therapy" economic measures and resulting antidemocratic acts, further destabilized the country, fostering an oligarchical system that plundered the state's wealth, deprived essential infrastructures of investment, impoverished the people and nurtured dangerous corruption. In the process, it discredited Western-style reform, generated mass anti-Americanism where there had been almost none--only 5 percent of Russians surveyed in May thought the United States was a "friend"--and eviscerated the once-influential pro-American faction in Kremlin and electoral politics.

Military encirclement, the Bush Administration's striving for nuclear supremacy and today's renewed US intrusions into Russian politics are having even worse consequences. They have provoked the Kremlin into undertaking its own conventional and nuclear buildup, relying more rather than less on compromised mechanisms of control and maintenance, while continuing to invest miserly sums in the country's decaying economic base and human resources. The same American policies have also caused Moscow to cooperate less rather than more in existing US-funded programs to reduce the multiple risks represented by Russia's materials of mass destruction and to prevent accidental nuclear war. More generally, they have inspired a new Kremlin ideology of "emphasizing our sovereignty" that is increasingly nationalistic, intolerant of foreign-funded NGOs as "fifth columns" and reliant on anti-Western views of the "patriotic" Russian intelligentsia and the Orthodox Church.

Moscow's responses abroad have also been the opposite of what Washington policy-makers should want. Interpreting US-backed "color revolutions" as a quest for military outposts on Russia's borders, the Kremlin now opposes pro-democracy movements in former Soviet republics more than ever, while supporting the most authoritarian regimes in the region, from Belarus to Uzbekistan. Meanwhile, Moscow is forming a political, economic and military "strategic partnership" with China, lending support to Iran and other anti-American governments in the Middle East and already putting surface-to-air missiles back in Belarus, in effect Russia's western border with NATO.

If American policy and Russia's predictable countermeasures continue to develop into a full-scale cold war, several new factors could make it even more dangerous than was its predecessor. Above all, the growing presence of Western bases and US-backed governments in the former Soviet republics has moved the "front lines" of the conflict, in the alarmed words of a Moscow newspaper, from Germany to Russia's "near abroad." As a "hostile ring tightens around the Motherland," in the view of former Prime Minister Evgeny Primakov, many different Russians see a mortal threat. Putin's chief political deputy, Vladislav Surkov, for example, sees the "enemy...at the gates," and the novelist and Soviet-era dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn sees the "complete encirclement of Russia and then the loss of its sovereignty." The risks of direct military conflict could therefore be greater than ever. Protesting overflights by NATO aircraft, a Russian general has already warned, "If they violate our borders, they should be shot down."

Worsening the geopolitical factor are radically different American and Russian self-perceptions. By the mid-1960s the US-Soviet cold war relationship had acquired a significant degree of stability because the two superpowers, perceiving a stalemate, began to settle for political and military "parity." Today, however, the United States, the self-proclaimed "only superpower," has a far more expansive view of its international entitlements and possibilities. Moscow, on the other hand, feels weaker and more vulnerable than it did before 1991. And in that asymmetry lies the potential for a less predictable cold war relationship between the two still fully armed nuclear states.

There is also a new psychological factor. Because the unfolding cold war is undeclared, it is already laden with feelings of betrayal and mistrust on both sides. Having welcomed Putin as Yeltsin's chosen successor and offered him its conception of "partnership and friendship," Washington now feels deceived by Putin's policies. According to two characteristic commentaries in the Washington Post, Bush had a "well-intentioned Russian policy," but "a Russian autocrat...betrayed the American's faith." Putin's Kremlin, however, has been reacting largely to a decade of broken US promises and Yeltsin's boozy compliance. Thus Putin's declaration four years ago, paraphrased on Russian radio: "The era of Russian geopolitical concessions [is] coming to an end." (Looking back, he remarked bitterly that Russia has been "constantly deceived.")

Still worse, the emerging cold war lacks the substantive negotiations and cooperation, known as détente, that constrained the previous one. Behind the lingering facade, a well-informed Russian tells us, "dialogue is almost nonexistent." It is especially true in regard to nuclear weapons. The Bush Administration's abandonment of the ABM treaty and real reductions, its decision to build an antimissile shield, and talk of pre-emptive war and nuclear strikes have all but abolished long-established US-Soviet agreements that have kept the nuclear peace for nearly fifty years. Indeed, according to a report, Bush's National Security Council is contemptuous of arms control as "baggage from the cold war." In short, as dangers posed by nuclear weapons have grown and a new arms race unfolds, efforts to curtail or even discuss them have ended.

Finally, anti-cold war forces that once played an important role in the United States no longer exist. Cold war lobbies, old and new ones, therefore operate virtually unopposed, some of them funded by anti-Kremlin Russian oligarchs in exile. At high political levels, the new American cold war has been, and remains, fully bipartisan, from Clinton to Bush, Madeleine Albright to Rice, Edwards to McCain. At lower levels, once robust pro-détente public groups, particularly anti-arms-race movements, have been largely demobilized by official, media and academic myths that "the cold war is over" and we have been "liberated" from nuclear and other dangers in Russia.

Also absent (or silent) are the kinds of American scholars who protested cold war excesses in the past. Meanwhile, a legion of new intellectual cold warriors has emerged, particularly in Washington, media favorites whose crusading anti-Putin zeal goes largely unchallenged. (Typically, one inveterate missionary constantly charges Moscow with "not delivering" on US interests, while another now calls for a surreal crusade, "backed by international donors," to correct young Russians' thinking about Stalin.) There are a few notable exceptions--also bipartisan, from former Reaganites to Nation contributors--but "anathematizing Russia," as Gorbachev recently put it, is so consensual that even an outspoken critic of US policy inexplicably ends an article, "Of course, Russia has been largely to blame."

Making these political factors worse has been the "pluralist" US mainstream media. In the past, opinion page editors and television producers regularly solicited voices to challenge cold war zealots, but today such dissenters, and thus the vigorous public debate of the past, are almost entirely missing. Instead, influential editorial pages are dominated by resurgent cold war orthodoxies, led by the Post, whose incessant demonization of Putin's "autocracy" and "crude neoimperialism" reads like a bygone Pravda on the Potomac. On the conservative New York Sun's front page, US-Russian relations today are presented as "a duel to the death--perhaps literally."

The Kremlin's strong preference "not to return to the cold war era," as Putin stated May 13 in response to Cheney's inflammatory charges, has been mainly responsible for preventing such fantasies from becoming reality. "Someone is still fighting the cold war," a British academic recently wrote, "but it isn't Russia." A fateful struggle over this issue, however, is now under way in Moscow, with the "pro-Western" Putin resisting demands for a "more hard line" course and, closely related, favoring larger FDR-style investments in the people (and the country's stability). Unless US policy, which is abetting the hard-liners in that struggle, changes fundamentally, the symbiotic axis between American and Russian cold warriors that drove the last conflict will re-emerge. If so, the Kremlin, whether under Putin or a successor, will fight the new one--with all the unprecedented dangers that would entail.

Given different principles and determined leadership, it is still not too late for a new US policy toward post-Soviet Russia. Its components would include full cooperation in securing Moscow's materials of mass destruction; radically reducing nuclear weapons on both sides while banning the development of new ones and taking all warheads off hair-trigger alert; dissuading other states from acquiring those weapons; countering terrorist activities and drug-trafficking near Russia; and augmenting energy supplies to the West.

None of those programs are possible without abandoning the warped priorities and fallacies that have shaped US policy since 1991. National security requires identifying and pursuing essential priorities, but US policy-makers have done neither consistently. The only truly vital American interest in Russia today is preventing its stockpiles of mass destruction from endangering the world, whether through Russia's destabilization or hostility to the West.

All of the dangerous fallacies underlying US policy are expressions of unbridled triumphalism. The decision to treat post-Soviet Russia as a vanquished nation, analogous to postwar Germany and Japan (but without the funding), squandered a historic opportunity for a real partnership and established the bipartisan premise that Moscow's "direction" at home and abroad should be determined by the United States. Applied to a country with Russia's size and long history as a world power, and that had not been militarily defeated, the premise was inherently self-defeating and certain to provoke a resentful backlash.

That folly produced two others. One was the assumption that the United States had the right, wisdom and power to remake post-Communist Russia into a political and economic replica of America. A conceit as vast as its ignorance of Russia's historical traditions and contemporary realities, it led to the counterproductive crusade of the 1990s, which continues in various ways today. The other was the presumption that Russia should be America's junior partner in foreign policy with no interests except those of the United States. By disregarding Russia's history, different geopolitical realities and vital interests, this presumption has also been senseless.

As a Eurasian state with 20-25 million Muslim citizens of its own and with Iran one of its few neighbors not being recruited by NATO, for example, Russia can ill afford to be drawn into Washington's expanding conflict with the Islamic world, whether in Iran or Iraq. Similarly, by demanding that Moscow vacate its traditional political and military positions in former Soviet republics so the United States and NATO can occupy them--and even subsidize Ukraine's defection with cheap gas--Washington is saying that Russia not only has no Monroe Doctrine-like rights in its own neighborhood but no legitimate security rights at all. Not surprisingly, such flagrant double standards have convinced the Kremlin that Washington has become more belligerent since Yeltsin's departure simply "because Russian policy has become more pro-Russian."

Nor was American triumphalism a fleeting reaction to 1991. A decade later, the tragedy of September 11 gave Washington a second chance for a real partnership with Russia. At a meeting on June 16, 2001, President Bush sensed in Putin's "soul" a partner for America. And so it seemed after September 11, when Putin's Kremlin did more than any NATO government to assist the US war effort in Afghanistan, giving it valuable intelligence, a Moscow-trained Afghan combat force and easy access to crucial air bases in former Soviet Central Asia.

The Kremlin understandably believed that in return Washington would give it an equitable relationship. Instead, it got US withdrawal from the ABM treaty, Washington's claim to permanent bases in Central Asia (as well as Georgia) and independent access to Caspian oil and gas, a second round of NATO expansion taking in several former Soviet republics and bloc members, and a still-growing indictment of its domestic and foreign conduct. Astonishingly, not even September 11 was enough to end Washington's winner-take-all principles.

Why have Democratic and Republican administrations believed they could act in such relentlessly anti-Russian ways without endangering US national security? The answer is another fallacy--the belief that Russia, diminished and weakened by its loss of the Soviet Union, had no choice but to bend to America's will. Even apart from the continued presence of Soviet-era weapons in Russia, it was a grave misconception. Because of its extraordinary material and human attributes, Russia, as its intellectuals say, has always been "destined to be a great power." This was still true after 1991.

Even before world energy prices refilled its coffers, the Kremlin had ready alternatives to the humiliating role scripted by Washington. Above all, Russia could forge strategic alliances with eager anti-US and non-NATO governments in the East and elsewhere, becoming an arsenal of conventional weapons and nuclear knowledge for states from China and India to Iran and Venezuela. Moscow has already begun that turning away from the West, and it could move much further in that direction.

Still more, even today's diminished Russia can fight, perhaps win, a cold war on its new front lines across the vast former Soviet territories. It has the advantages of geographic proximity, essential markets, energy pipelines and corporate ownership, along with kinship and language and common experiences. They give Moscow an array of soft and hard power to use, if it chooses, against neighboring governments considering a new patron in faraway Washington.

Economically, the Kremlin could cripple nearly destitute Georgia and Moldova by banning their products and otherwise unemployed migrant workers from Russia and by charging Georgia and Ukraine full "free-market" prices for essential energy. Politically, Moscow could truncate tiny Georgia and Moldova, and big Ukraine, by welcoming their large, pro-Russian territories into the Russian Federation or supporting their demands for independent statehood (as the West has been doing for Kosovo and Montenegro in Serbia). Militarily, Moscow could take further steps toward turning the Shanghai Cooperation Organization--now composed of Russia, China and four Central Asian states, with Iran and India possible members--into an anti-NATO defensive alliance, an "OPEC with nuclear weapons," a Western analyst warned.

That is not all. In the US-Russian struggle in Central Asia over Caspian oil and gas, Washington, as even the triumphalist Thomas Friedman admits, "is at a severe disadvantage." The United States has already lost its military base in Uzbekistan and may soon lose the only remaining one in the region, in Kyrgyzstan; the new pipeline it backed to bypass Russia runs through Georgia, whose stability depends considerably on Moscow; Washington's new friend in oil-rich Azerbaijan is an anachronistic dynastic ruler; and Kazakhstan, whose enormous energy reserves make it a particular US target, has its own large Russian population and is moving back toward Moscow.

Nor is the Kremlin powerless in direct dealings with the West. It can mount more than enough warheads to defeat any missile shield and illusion of "nuclear primacy." It can shut US businesses out of multibillion-dollar deals in Russia and, as it recently reminded the European Union, which gets 25 percent of its gas from Russia, "redirect supplies" to hungry markets in the East. And Moscow could deploy its resources, connections and UN Security Council veto against US interests involving, for instance, nuclear proliferation, Iran, Afghanistan and possibly even Iraq.

Contrary to exaggerated US accusations, the Kremlin has not yet resorted to such retaliatory measures in any significant way. But unless Washington stops abasing and encroaching on Russia, there is no "sovereign" reason why it should not do so. Certainly, nothing Moscow has gotten from Washington since 1992, a Western security specialist emphasizes, "compensates for the geopolitical harm the United States is doing to Russia."

American crusaders insist it is worth the risk in order to democratize Russia and other former Soviet republics. In reality, their campaigns since 1992 have only discredited that cause in Russia. Praising the despised Yeltsin and endorsing other unpopular figures as Russia's "democrats," while denouncing the popular Putin, has associated democracy with the social pain, chaos and humiliation of the 1990s. Ostracizing Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko while embracing tyrants in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan has related it to the thirst for oil. Linking "democratic revolutions" in Ukraine and Georgia to NATO membership has equated them with US expansionism. Focusing on the victimization of billionaire Mikhail Khodorkhovsky and not on Russian poverty or ongoing mass protests against social injustices has suggested democracy is only for oligarchs. And by insisting on their indispensable role, US crusaders have all but said (wrongly) that Russians are incapable of democracy or resisting abuses of power on their own.

The result is dark Russian suspicions of American intentions ignored by US policy-makers and media alike. They include the belief that Washington's real purpose is to take control of the country's energy resources and nuclear weapons and use encircling NATO satellite states to "de-sovereignize" Russia, turning it into a "vassal of the West." More generally, US policy has fostered the belief that the American cold war was never really aimed at Soviet Communism but always at Russia, a suspicion given credence by Post and Times columnists who characterize Russia even after Communism as an inherently "autocratic state" with "brutish instincts."

To overcome those towering obstacles to a new relationship, Washington has to abandon the triumphalist conceits primarily responsible for the revived cold war and its growing dangers. It means respecting Russia's sovereign right to determine its course at home (including disposal of its energy resources). As the record plainly shows, interfering in Moscow's internal affairs, whether on-site or from afar, only harms the chances for political liberties and economic prosperity that still exist in that tormented nation.

It also means acknowledging Russia's legitimate security interests, especially in its own "near abroad." In particular, the planned third expansion of NATO, intended to include Ukraine, must not take place. Extending NATO to Russia's doorsteps has already brought relations near the breaking point (without actually benefiting any nation's security); absorbing Ukraine, which Moscow regards as essential to its Slavic identity and its military defense, may be the point of no return, as even pro-US Russians anxiously warn. Nor would it be democratic, since nearly two-thirds of Ukrainians are opposed. The explosive possibilities were adumbrated in late May and early June when local citizens in ethnic Russian Crimea blockaded a port and roads where a US naval ship and contingent of Marines suddenly appeared, provoking resolutions declaring the region "anti-NATO territory" and threats of "a new Vietnam."

Time for a new US policy is running out, but there is no hint of one in official or unofficial circles. Denouncing the Kremlin in May, Cheney spoke "like a triumphant cold warrior," a Times correspondent reported. A top State Department official has already announced the "next great mission" in and around Russia. In the same unreconstructed spirit, Rice has demanded Russians "recognize that we have legitimate interests...in their neighborhood," without a word about Moscow's interests; and a former Clinton official has held the Kremlin "accountable for the ominous security threats...developing between NATO's eastern border and Russia." Meanwhile, the Bush Administration is playing Russian roulette with Moscow's control of its nuclear weapons. Its missile shield project having already provoked a destabilizing Russian buildup, the Administration now proposes to further confuse Moscow's early-warning system, risking an accidental launch, by putting conventional warheads on long-range missiles for the first time.

In a democracy we might expect alternative policy proposals from would-be leaders. But there are none in either party, only demands for a more anti-Russian course, or silence. We should not be surprised. Acquiescence in Bush's monstrous war in Iraq has amply demonstrated the political elite's limited capacity for introspection, independent thought and civic courage. (It prefers to falsely blame the American people, as the managing editor of Foreign Affairs recently did, for craving "ideological red meat.") It may also be intimidated by another revived cold war practice--personal defamation. The Post and The New Yorker have already labeled critics of their Russia policy "Putin apologists" and charged them with "appeasement" and "again taking the Russian side of the Cold War."

The vision and courage of heresy will therefore be needed to escape today's new cold war orthodoxies and dangers, but it is hard to imagine a US politician answering the call. There is, however, a not-too-distant precedent. Twenty years ago, when the world faced exceedingly grave cold war perils, Gorbachev unexpectedly emerged from the orthodox and repressive Soviet political class to offer a heretical way out. Is there an American leader today ready to retrieve that missed opportunity?

by STEPHEN F. COHEN (The Nation)



Your comments:

#1 Tom (USA) at 2007-06-07
There was a time when the collapse of Russia's finacial system seemed to be impending, but not yet occurred, that I myself wondered, with Russia having basically undergone something similar to a color revolution itself at the time, why the USA wasn't finding beneficial ways to pump hundreds of billions of dollars into Russia to better insure a strong transition to democracy and capitalism. I about would like to personally apologize that we didn't, as basically, as a nation, we didn't put our money where our mouth was. Even though there was a time that Germany and Japan were economically giving the U.S. a run for its money, economically speaking, and arguable today both have higher standards of living than U.S. citizens enjoy, and in Japan, they currently have clearly longer lifespans, other than just the fact that they were out-competing us there was no real complaint from Americans. There was no regret that the US had supported the rebuilding of those two economies after World War II, setting them into a course to economically challenge us so much. There was no feeling that this constituted an increased threat to our national security, quite the contrary. Why should we have feared a powerful, capitalist and democatic Russia? No matter how rich the Japanese may become selling America fuel effecient cars, better this, that a relatively larger sum of money go to a country in the global club of stable capitalistic democracies, than say a few more bucks for gas to some ruthless dictatorial or Jihad regime selling oil. At least this is keeping the money in the family, so to speak. So, why did the USA just stand by, hear the warnings, and do nothing but let capitalism and democracy fail in Russia, and fail a people who seemed to be in good faith actually trying to make a transition from an authoritarian communist system to a democratic capitalist system? Just for a few monied interests to take take advantage of the chaos for corporate profit? I wouldn't put this below America, and it's right for the world to ge on guard against American empirialism. I didn't get it then, and I still can't explain it now. I can only pray that it isn't too late for Russia. I still believe they are very democratic by comparison to the Soviet days. And certainly a lot more capitalistic. But the perception, particularly with respect to free speech and a free press, does seem to be concerning. Yet even now, Russia is still quite open, compared to its Soviet days.

The Oligarchs, well, Russia probably would have been better off just auctioning off rights to an international market than just letting certain prefered citizens just take those rights. An American politician and former candidate for the U.S. presidency, Jesse Jackson, remarking on things like corporate loan forgiveness and the like in America, often seen by many citizens here as having been a period of corporate exploitation, to explain how he would pay for his proposed social programs, said, "The money will come from where it went." I can't say I totally disagree with Putin's tactic of taking back what was basically stolen, to strenghten and fund the Russian government.

Although respect should be given to foriegn investment that was fair and not taking advantage of a crisis of events to exploit those resources. And I'm sure this is a very debatable subject. But if Shell Oil or such forked out to explore and develop, then regulatory strong-arm taking control might be tantamount to bascially stealing. Yet certainly, there is a state's right to tax or benefit from its resources.

America has had the habit of even letting foriegn interests basically rape us of domestic resources, and when the U.S. was the leading exporter of oil, we basically let a competitive market pump and sell it for closer to the price of water than what today's oil exporters are often attempting to extract by means other than natural laissez-faire economics. Perhaps America's rape and be rape attitude towards world resouces is something Americans never question much, because it's always worked for us. And certainly does promote globalization and international economic advancement. But again, any nation's attempt to profit from it resources, to some extent at least, if not meant or done in a manner to hurt the world market, and as part of a policy of regulating the depletion of a non-renewable resource, then extracting some funding for much needed domestic social programs or infrastructure developement, is more laudable then wrong. Again, with the obvious measure of whether the benefit of such policy is to the people of such a nation and sustainable peaceful system, rather than say, an autocratic cleptocracy, non-sustainable or destructive form of government.

As an American, I think I'd like to see a free and fair democratic election in Russia, leading to Putin's successor. But I can't say that in Putin's shoes, I would have done much different than he has. I honestly think he is a person with Russia's interest at heart. Then again, I honestly believe that Fidel Castro has always been for the Cubans, with results much more for the worse than better. But Putin is much more adept. He undoubtedly has be in effect, slowly saving Russia from a finacial collapse.

The question of succession is tough. In a free and fair election, can Russian come up with as good a leader? I'd hope so, but I don't know so. If Putin were, by means of amended constitution, be elected again and again, would this be any more undemocratic than FDR's four terms in office in the U.S.? Would democratic succession finally succeed, after his however many terms?

As for a lack of enlightenned leadership in Washington, well, there's plenty of Americans constantly ready to agree to that. And fair enough, in America citizens seem to be free enough to say this all they want to, just as many do and constantly have said. Although the press does seem to be more controlled here than it used to be. And has always had its isolated slant, from what I can see.

Although I don't think it's a big slant of press to say that post World War II, Stalin's Russia was much more of an occupier than liberator of the countries it took control over, compared to the Americans, who obviously from time to time have wondered why we ever let the French have back control of their country at all! Although historically, the concept of what America is, was largely invented in France, and France's at least partial instigation and private support followed by full support of the American revolution was essential for the birth of the American nation as it is. So, the French obviously still think we owe them! And given Lafeyette's training of American troops and his provision of intelligence and logistical support of George Washington and his troops, I suppose we always will, as long as they are democratic and freedom loving. And America in no way regrets their intervention into our internal affairs or their support of the Washington revolutionary regime against our then British governement!

As an American who attended a session at a college in Spain in the early 1980's, just a few years post Franco's fascist state, I read and heard a great protest about America and witnessed the activities of a much opposition then to the idea of Spain joining N.A.T.O. Only then to come back to America, and read and listen to a press that told me that everybody in the world loved America and Ronald Reagan, the total respect that America had from everybody around the world and the great job he was doing as president. Certainly, some of that had to do with the political control and manipulation of the press. Yet, Russians should consider this: Americans have the same feeling of greatness and history that the Russians have. But, when it comes to somehow being isolated, imagine if beyond Russia's borders, whether Georgia, Uzbekistan, the Ukraine, where-ever, imgane if between Russia and them, first lay some ocean or another, that put them all at least 5,000 kilometers away. Unless you count Canada, a somewhat relative twin sister of America, or the much smaller Mexico to the south, there really isn't much to prevent us from having such an isolated view as a populace. And historically speaking, to some extent at least, as voters at least, the more we have ignored the world and tried to mind our own business from this great distance from the rest of the world, the faster that things like Pearl Harbor or 9-11 happen to us. And if you live here and travel the world, it's not hard to convince an American that there is something about our way of doing things, that has lead to having great personal freedom, economic prosperity and in most places here, an extremely great domestic tranquility and peace, from generation to generation. To an extent generally unimaginable to many people around the globe. Until they see or experience it themselves, I imgane it's hard for them to even imagine, so money is usually what they come to understand about America, even though there are citizens elsewhere who are richer. It's hard to convince an American that some war-torn, economically impoverished, under-educated or religiously theocratic society has got a better idea of how to do things. Or even Russia, whether it is the throws of converting an entire society from communism to democracy and capitalism, and certainly, Stalin's Soviet Union was nothing for any American to envy. Many an America tourist, by far most, actually, no matter where they travel, are generally thrilled and happy to be back home again. There is a big difference, and it's actually kind of nice how hard it even hits an American who has spent a few weeks away when they come back home, even when they've lived here their whole lives, coming back from a vacation to anywhere, only makes it that much more obvious! I might be the exception to this rule, but I have to come back. I need the money.

Still, I often wonder if Russia just has an inferiority complex. This just isn't needed. Their greatest days, undoubtedly, if they just don't goof things up, are ahead of them. A european socialistic model probably is better for Russia. America has had no problem letting some of its citizens, families even, live in cars or cardboard boxes. Sweden, doesn't. Norway, doesn't. Germany, doesn't. France, doesn't. And so on. But I would hope that even Putin, would see the wisdom in insuring a relatively capitalistic and a democratic future for Russia. I really don't understand the need to clamp down on the press. Even if the Russian constitution was amended to permit Putin more terms, I'm not sure this would mean the end of democracy in Russia. But, from what I understand and read, to control the press in Russia seems ridiculous and dangerous, especially considering the fact that even with a totally free press, fair elections, and as many NGO's as could fit into Russia, if Putin constitionally could and did run again, who could beat him? So, why the press clamp down? The same paranoia and inferiority complex that Russia itself has developed? Just be a free democracy and capitalistic society, and the future is Russia's. So what a rough beginning, and a U.S.A. that really didn't do its part when times were tough and the most messed up, and we really should have been there. Hey, at the time I was mad about what what we were not doing when the time was right, but I'm just one voter here, and and I'm sure most voters at the time didn't notice or care about the catastrophy, because they were being led into being concerned about getting a tax credit for something or the other or getting prayer in public schools or getting the law to obey the fundementalist Christian or Catholic Church's policay against birth control and abortion to worry about things like global democracy successful capitalism in Russia or avoiding nuclear holocaust or complicated philoshophical issues like that! They were going to maybe have condoms available at some public school or public college's clinic, so we really didn't have the time or newsprint available to care about whether capitalism and democracy was going to succeed or fail in Russia, so why should we be upset now if a Putin is becoming a Stalin when a few years ago it was more important to our citizens to argue about how God wasn't right with the idea of taxpayer's money going to a university that had a health clinic giving out free condoms! Forget nuclear holocaust, this was about the unborn and their rights!

Russia has its greatness to draw on, even though America's unenlightened leadership seems to have failed to grasp the magnitude of events and possibilities, having seemingly seen little outside of some age old empirialistic mindset, blind to the importance of then supporting Russia as an emerging and transitioning democracy in distress. And probably with a leadership more concerned about getting oil rights for American big oil companies than the future and safety of the Russian people in a stable capitalistic democracy. Very short sighted but very old school conservative politics, nonetheless.

I'd like to scream, "Russia, get and keep your democratic and capitalistic act together, and eventually, economically punch the guts out of America several times greater than the Japanese did in the 1980's." Do that, and trust me, Americans will only blame themselves and their government. And win as you may and certainly can, given your resources and the strength of your population, we won't be aiming missles at each other. Americans blame Russia for its occuptions of various nations, and rightfully so, but at the same time, Americans forget that on the eastern of Germany in World War II, Russia gave and lost the most of any country fighting Nazi Germany. America might have won the Pacific theater pretty much by themselves, but the European theater was a joint venture, and Russia was THE heavyweight in that fight, fighting alone on Germany's eastern front, and lost a lot of lives and paid a heavy price for their battles. And as wrong and Stalin's Soviet union might have been in occupying, rather than liberating various countries, Americans today are unaware that in so many of those countries, there today do exists people who are ethnic Russians, not just those who moved there, but who were born there. Perhaps the same as many children born and raised in Miami or Puerto Rico who speak Spanish but no English are somehow culturally more Latin than American, even thought they are Americans by birth, there are people in such various countries who culturally identify with Russia, and speak Russian, but not the language of the country they were born in. And yet, they exist, they are there. And it's not so empiralistic for Russia to be concerned with their well-being, to not be an oppressed minority in what is to them a new society, with new political systems and new democratic majorities. And yes, perhaps in recent history Latvia has been a better example of how to be diplomatically delicate and careful about issues like this than Estonia has, without overlooking the fact that the Soviet empire was an occupier much more than a liberator.

I've been to Russia. I like Russia and I like the Russians I encountered. It's just as easy for us in America to be isolated and as paranoid as Russians are. I'd really like to see more tourists, back and forth, both ways, because from what I see, we have a lot in common and as people, easily like each other. And this might not be an approved comment in the press of either country, but we really should, as people, try to get along and know each other. Because if we just depend on the idea of just trusting our leaders in Washington and Moscow, then we might as well pray that God have mercy on all our souls! Because governments, in all forms, seem to have the habit of goofing things up, again and again, about any way they can!

As for things like the political control and manipulation of the press, the battle isn't even over here yet, and never will be.

I'd just really like for Russia to be a great country, to see both capitalism and democracy succeed there, and for the Russian people to be safe, secure and happy.

And don't let that last word, happy, throw you. It might not be in America's constitution, but it is in that document that took us to war for our independence, and is something that we as a people once seemed to take so seriously as to war over in our battle for indepedence. The inalienable human right to try and get happy.

Getting happy! This is not to be underestimated as a political goal. Seriously, let's get happy! How can we better get happy? Because if getting happy isn't part of the goal, then what is the point? Then we are right back to the angry cold war rhetoric of our great leaders around the world, or the blah blah blah of jihad of this or that. What does Putin need to get happy? As for intellegence, Putin has got a lot more intelligence than our president in the U.S. has, this seems to be the universal opinion. Trying to test Putin's intelligence against George Bush's, most Americans would agree, would be like trying to compare a chimpanzee's intelligence to a block of wood! So, what really would Putin need to get happy? What does anybody need to get happy? Isn't that what this site is about, people trying to get happy, and any two people so far apart physically right now, seeking to get happy together, this is downright glorious, isn't it? And all the more reason even a question like this, on a site like this, is fair game and fine by me. A little off the point, of course, but why not? Getting happy starts with one person, then two, then a family perhaps, then a community, eventually the whole world. It's always something to strive and work for, all around, right? So, why not?

Anyway, I just loved the article I just read. And it might as well be here, because trust me, nothing like that is going to be on tommorrow's commentary page in my hometown newspaper here in the U.S.A. So, it might as well be here! I've read nothing even close to this article in the papers here, and I read a lot of papers and magazines sold around here. Like the article might have hinted at, I only get the so-called American empirialistic propaganda slant around here! You know, Go Bush and Team USA!!! That sort of thing. I found it a refreshingly different and educational viewpoint, and might even pass it on to an American friend of mine who has now lived in Moscow for 11 years, just to see what the thinks of it. Because I kind of liked it.

What was the lyrics of that one song at the beginning of some old American 1960's TV series, "come on world there is a song we're a singing...everybody get happy!" Something like that.

Well, everybody strive to be happy at least. Let's all hope we are all free enough to keep doing that!
#2 Paul S (USA) at 2007-05-31
While I didn't agree with the article entirely it definitely captures the single sidedness of US policy. An example is the US governments protest over the Elections in the Ukraine a couple years back. Based on what? Exit poles not matching the 'counted' votes. Exit poles are historically the most accurate auditing system for elections and I'm glad they were overturned. But, guess what? The exit poles didn't match up in our presidential election and look what happened, nothing!
Okay, ranting aside. Fortunately California is (in my opinion) the most removed from Washington policy and I'm real glad I live here. But even if I didn't, this site is about people yea? Individuals.
Cultural education is a good thing but that article painted a very different image of Russia than I had read anywhere else and maybe painted a different picture of Americans than someone else had read.
Bottom line I guess you'd have to believe that this article does anything to positively affect people from different cultures. I don't think it does any of that and it more like a lashing.

It's your website. What's your goal?
Author's answer: Dear Paul,

Thanks for your comments to the article. It is your right to agree or not with the author’s opinion.

May be he really describes the one side and this article does not affect positively, but we do not have a purpose to publish only cheerful articles but to show all sides positive and negative ones.
#3 Pauly (U.S.A.) at 2007-03-02
My first thoughts are why are there world politics on this wonderful website that brings men and woman together...why?
Second,I'm an American and I can tell you that who cares what
Richard Holbrooke the Democrat or John McCain has to say..who
cares. Holbrooke's lost without Clinton and John McCain lost in
the last Presidential election.Both loosers so, who care's, what that got to do with this web sight?
And finally,so Russia lost some countries that wanted to go there
own way..so what? That's millions less that Moscow has to pay for.
The kids have grown up and moved away. I say remove the politics from this site....if you want to be a Capitalist good for you.If you want to go the other way.....thats your business,but
what does it have to do with this dating site?


Author's answer: Dear Pauly,

Thanks for your comments. Frankly speaking all people are different and as many people as many opinions. We try to make our web site more informative in order people can find a lot of information there and I am sure some one may find this article interesting to read. We live in this World and it’s important to know political situation between countries, especially if relations between your country and the country of your potential wife.
#4 Mike (USA) at 2006-10-17
I try to keep an open mind but he misses the point that the countries in east europe want to join NATO because they are afraid that russian is going to invade them. Only crazy people seek nuclear war. It is a war nobody wins. I can't believe that I've spent this much time reading these lies.
Author's answer: Dear Mike,

Thanks for your comments. The article was written by STEPHEN F. COHEN (The Nation) and he gave his view on the situation in the World and particularly between Russia and other countries. He expressed
his opinion. Some people can agree some not. Frankly speaking I don't think East Europe is afraid of Russia to invade them (but it's also my personal opinion) Anyway if you reply it means the article
made you think over this problem too and it's the main aim of the article. Don't you think so?



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