Daily Archives: April 29, 2006

Cold Wars II: The Russophile Menace

In Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail” he wrote:

I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disapointed by the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that that Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride towards freedom is not the White Citizens Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with the goals you seek but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom. Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunder- standing from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Barry Goldwater put it more succinctly: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”

The Russophile and the “white moderate” are the same. In our more modern times, we have the convenient word “enabler” to refer to both of them, or the perhaps more accurate term “collaborator.” The Russophile paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for the Russian man’s freedom, and can by doing so preserve “order” while simply delaying justice. Does that mean the actual Russians hate the Russophiles even more than they do they Russophobes. Yes, my child, indeed it is so. Ironic, isn’t it?

For the Russophile, Vladimir Putin is a mere “transitional figure,” a “strong leader” whose “occasional rough tactics” are necessary to ward of the advances of Russia’s “oligarchs,” the mafia elite. Just as King was told by the white moderates that he needed to bide his time, the Russophile assures us that just as it “took time” for democracy to develop in America and Europe, so too time is all that is needed in Russia.

When reminded that Russia has already existed as a nation twice as long as America, the excuses, rationalizations and justifications begin, the same ones that Dr. King found “more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding.” The main items on the list are:

1. Russia is surrounded by enemies while America is surrounded by oceans.

2. Russia is victimized by poor climate while America is a vacation playground.

3. Russia has been repeatedly decimated by scourges internal and external, America has never known that pain.

There are two obvious faults with this line of “reasoning.”

First, these Russophiles are never willing to specify any kind of timetable for Russia, but simply keep moving the goal posts further down the field as time drags on. The Russophile will never answer the question: “What would have to happen in Russia to make you change your mind?” That is the bare essence of propaganda.

Second, the excuses simply don’t hold water. As much as oceans provide protection they also guarantee isolation. Americans overcame the “Lord of the Flies” syndrome. Russia’s cold weather has protected it on more than one occasion from foreign enemies. And Amercia has faced many scourges, including the Great Depression and the Civil War, which killed more Americans than all other wars the country has ever fought combined.

During the Civil War, America conducted contested election the like of which Russia has never once seen even in peacetime. Four different American presidents, in the span of just over 200 years, have been shot and killed while in office, but dicatorship did not result. Franklin Roosevelt broke George Washington’s tradition and grabbed four terms in office, tried to pack the Supreme Court with sycophants, lied brazenly about his medical condition and built concentration camps for Japanese Americans; yet, the public did not allow him to become a dictator. As soon as his rule ended, radical changes were made to the Constitution so that the two-term presidency became mandatory.

Does anyone believe that when (if?) Vladimir Putin leaves office, radical legal changes will be demanded to block the worst of his excesss?

Indeed, can any Russophile answer this question: “If Boris Yeltsin was so bad, and Russians hated him so much, why did they, like lemmings, anoint the chosen successor Yeltsin named?”

To bring this issues closer to La Russophobe‘s home, this blog used to contain three strong compliments of Russia. First it directed readers to a museum of Russian art in Manhattan. Then it praised Russian literature to the sky. Finally, it offered a translation of a Russian poem for the reader’s enjoyment.

The careful reader will notice that all these compliments have now been removed. Why? The Russophile menance. It was not, of course, suprising — in fact, very desireable and hoped-for — that Russophiles would attack the russophobic comments of La Russophobe. But if Russophiles were really “more reasonable” or “more intelligent” than La Russophobe they would have complimented the compliments too, wouldn’t they? Because if they didn’t, they’d be “just as bad” as “terrible” La Russophobe, wouldn’t they?

But they didn’t. They just swarmed over the criticism like flies on a ribroast and ignored the compliments entirely.

C’est la vie dans la Russie. So, dear reader, off we go to Cold Wars II.

Europe Calls on US to Rally Against Russian Imperialism

So much for Russia being an ally of Europe against the U.S.! Russia alienates countries from Kazakhstan to Denmark. The Washington Post reports:

RUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union urged the United States on Saturday to join it in pressing for open energy markets and more democracy in Russia when the world’s leading industrial powers meet in St Petersburg in July.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told a transatlantic conference that the 25-nation EU and Washington should press Moscow to create free market conditions and legal certainty to guarantee predictable energy supplies.

Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried said Washington was ready to work with Europe to promote an open, commercially based and non-political energy regime.

“We need to enhance our external cooperation and create the necessary market conditions and legal framework in those producers or transit countries on which the world economies count for their energy supply,” Barroso told the Brussels Forum.

“We can no longer afford, nor should we accept, the unpredictability of the energy market,” he said. Moscow’s abrupt cut in supplies to and through Ukraine in January over a pricing dispute sparked alarm across Europe. His comments capped a week in which Russia has threatened to divert gas supplies from Europe to Asia if EU countries shut its giant monopoly supplier Gazprom out of their retail markets.

Fried told a news conference: “We want to work with Europe to advance our common interest in an energy regime in Eurasia which is open, which is commercially based, not politically based, which is allows for multiple sources of energy, so there is no one single source in one party’s hands.”


Republican Senator John McCain, a possible presidential contender, said Washington should be tougher on what he called President Vladimir Putin’s autocratic rule and “some perverted vision of a restoration of the Soviet empire.”

“In all the days of the Soviet Union, Russia never turned off the spigot of gas. Putin did,” McCain told an International Republican Institute lunch attended by Barroso.

The EU Commission president said Moscow had been a reliable energy supplier in the past and had an interest in secure demand from the EU and also in European investment, technology and know-how to get oil and gas out of the ground.

He criticized Moscow for refusing to ratify an international energy charter treaty that would force it to open its pipeline network to third-party suppliers.

Russia and League of Extraordinary Dictators

Writing in the Washington Post, columnist Robert Kagan says the following about Russia’s support of dictatorship throughout the world, characterizing Russia as perhaps as great a threat to liberal values as Al-Quaeda:

Ever since liberalism emerged in the 18th century, its inevitable conflict with autocracy has helped shape international politics. What James Madison called “the great struggle of the epoch between liberty and despotism” dominated much of the 19th century and most of the 20th, when liberal powers lined up against various forms of autocracy in wars both hot and cold.

Many believed this struggle ended after 1989 with the collapse of communism, the last claimant to “legitimate” autocracy, and was supplanted as the main source of global conflict by ancient religious, ethnic and cultural antipathies, a view seemingly confirmed by Sept. 11, 2001, and the rise of Islamic radicalism.

But the present era may be shaping up as, among other things, yet another round in the conflict between liberalism and autocracy. The main protagonists on the side of autocracy will not be the petty dictatorships of the Middle East theoretically targeted by the Bush doctrine. They will be the two great autocratic powers, China and Russia, which pose an old challenge not envisioned within the new “war on terror” paradigm.

If this seems surprising, it is because neither power took the course most observers predicted. In the late 1990s, despite the failures of Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s political and international trajectory seemed roughly to be in a Western, liberal direction. China was, as recently as 2002, assumed to be heading toward greater political liberalization at home and greater integration with the liberal world. Sinologists and policymakers argued that whether Beijing’s rulers liked it or not, this was the inescapable requirement for transforming China into a successful market economy.

Today these assumptions look questionable even to their authors. Talk of Russia’s impending democratization has faded, as has talk of integration. As Dmitri Trenin recently put it, Moscow has “left the Western orbit and set out in ‘free flight.’ ” China continues to integrate itself in the global economic order, but few observers talk about the inevitability of its political liberalization. Its economy booms even as its leadership firmly maintains one-party rule, so people now talk of a “Chinese model” in which political autocracy and economic growth go hand in hand. Russia’s leaders like this model, too, though in their case, economic growth rests on seemingly limitless oil and gas reserves.

Until now the liberal West’s strategy has been to try to integrate these two powers into the international liberal order, to tame them and make them safe for liberalism. But that strategy rested on an expectation of their gradual, steady transformation into liberal societies. If, instead, China and Russia are going to be sturdy pillars of autocracy over the coming decades, enduring and perhaps even prospering, then they cannot be expected to embrace the West’s vision of humanity’s inexorable evolution toward democracy and the end of autocratic rule. Rather, they can be expected to do what autocracies have always done: resist the encroachments of liberalism in the interest of their own long-term survival.

In small but revealing ways this is what Russia and China are doing, in places such as Sudan and Iran, where they are making common cause to block the liberal West’s efforts to impose sanctions, and in Belarus, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe and Burma, where they have embraced various dictators in defiance of the global liberal consensus. All these actions can be explained away as simply serving narrow material interests. China needs Sudanese and Iranian oil; Russia wants the hundreds of millions of dollars that come from the sale of weapons and nuclear reactors. But there is more than narrow self-interest involved in their decisions. Defending these governments against the pressures of the liberal West reflects their fundamental interests as autocracies.

Those interests are easy enough to understand. Consider the question of sanctions. As China’s U.N. ambassador explains, “As a general principle, we always have difficulty with sanctions, whether it is this case [Sudan] or other cases.” And well they might, since they continue to suffer under sanctions imposed by the liberal world 17 years ago. China would like to get the international community out of the sanctions business altogether. So would Russia. Its opposition to sanctions against Sudan “isn’t really about Sudan,” notes Pavel Baev. It “is taking a line against sanctions . . . to reduce the usability of this whole instrument of the U.N. to the absolute minimum.”

Nor do Russia and China welcome the liberal West’s efforts to promote liberal politics around the globe, least of all in regions of strategic importance to them. Their reactions to the “color revolutions” in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan were hostile and suspicious, and understandably so. Western liberals see political upheaval in these countries as part of a natural if uneven evolution toward liberalism and democracy. But the Russians and Chinese see nothing natural in these occurrences, only Western-backed coups designed to advance Western influence in strategically vital parts of the world.

Are they so wrong? Might not the successful liberalization of Ukraine, urged and supported by the Western democracies, be but the prelude to the incorporation of that nation into NATO and the European Union — in short, the expansion of Western liberal hegemony? As Trenin notes, the “Kremlin is getting ready for the ‘battle for Ukraine’ in all seriousness,” and it understands, too, that the departure of Alexander Lukashenko from power in Belarus could well “push Minsk onto the Ukrainian-Euro-Atlantic path.”

As usual in eras of conflict between liberalism and autocracy, perceived strategic and ideological interests tend to merge on both sides. Thus the Chinese understandably worry about preserving access to oil in the event of a confrontation with the United States. So they seek improved relations with the governments of Sudan and Angola, both out of favor with the liberal West; with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela; and with the government of Burma in exchange for access to port facilities. They are in a constant struggle for votes at the United Nations to strengthen their hand against Taiwan and Japan, so they court leaders such as Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, another autocrat loathed by the liberal West. Although European liberal interventionists such as Mark Leonard criticize China’s willingness to offer “unconditional political support, economic aid and weapons to autocratic regimes that might otherwise . . . be susceptible to international pressure,” one wonders why in the world the Chinese should do otherwise. Does one autocracy sacrifice its interests to join the West’s condemnation of another autocracy?

An irony that Europeans should appreciate is that China and Russia are faithfully upholding one cardinal principle of the international liberal order — insisting that all international actions be authorized by the U.N. Security Council — in order to undermine the other principal aim of international liberalism, which is to advance the individual rights of all human beings, sometimes against the governments that oppress them. So while Americans and Europeans have labored over the past two decades to establish new liberal “norms” to permit interventions in places such as Kosovo, Rwanda and Sudan, Russia and China have used their veto power to prevent such an “evolution” of norms. The future is likely to hold more such conflicts.

The world is a complicated place and is not about to divide into a simple Manichean struggle between liberalism and autocracy. Russia and China are not natural allies. Both need access to the markets of the liberal West. And both share interests with the Western liberal powers. But as autocracies they do have important interests in common, both with each other and with other autocracies. All are under siege in an era when liberalism does seem to be expanding. No one should be surprised if, in response, an informal league of dictators has emerged, sustained and protected by Moscow and Beijing as best they can. The question will be what the United States and Europe decide to do in response. Unfortunately, al-Qaeda may not be the only challenge liberalism faces today, or even the greatest.

Robert Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund, writes a monthly column for The Post.