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The long insult to Russia



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

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August 29, 2008

LONDON - If America's former president, Richard Nixon, the erstwhile red baiter, wasn't safely in his grave, most probably he would be writing an op-ed in the New York Times this week to say that, "we are in danger of losing Russia". For all the bodies of the liberal /left in America, dispatched by him on the way to the pinnacle of power, he became as president the originator of detente with the Soviet Union and at the same a respecter of its history and Russia's massive contribution through the arts, its culture and its Orthodox religion to the great civilization we call the Western world.

In his own words Nixon was a Russophile. Once communism was defeated, he used to argue, Russia could assume its rightful place as a powerful European nation.

It seems that no one, neither in the U.S. nor in Europe, has the courage to stand up and say this, to educate the populace that the way things are with Russia we are falling back on our well-honed, over simplistic, reflexes of the Cold War.

The invasion of Georgia didn't just happen because of some Kremlin malevolence. It happened because of the West's ill thought out position on the independence on Kosovo, the self-defeating military support President George W. Bush provided for an unstable Georgian leader and, not least, because the West did not make full use of its opportunities to bring Russia into the fold after the death of the Soviet Leninist system.

This is not to exonerate Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for his continuous macho posturing and his disregard of the importance of building a nation not of men but of laws. Neither is it to exonerate Boris Yeltsin for his erratic presidency that allowed the deterioration of much of his country, the economy not least, and the rise of the robber barons.

But the West was the victorious party in the Cold War. The West was shining in its triumph. The West was economically healthy and politically robust. It had nothing to lose and everything to contribute to the new Russia. But it dragged its feet in the most appalling way. If it had been sensible it would have started to move off its haunches when Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev came to the London G8 and asked for financial aid for a careful but steady transition to a more open economy and more open and pro Western society. Despite all the warm words spoken about welcoming Perestroika, the West demurred from getting too involved. Nixon's plea for a much more positive response fell on deaf ears.

As Dimitri Simes, president of the Nixon Center, wrote in Foreign Affairs last year, "Washington's crucial error lay in its propensity to treat post-Soviet Russia as a defeated enemy." Washington's attitude was totally at variance with that of both Gorbachev and Yeltsin who expected to see developing a common strategic partnership. At the same time Washington missed the great opportunity offered for large scale nuclear disarmament and took the fatal step, mainly for electoral reasons at home, of expanding NATO up to Russia's doorstep, ignoring the pledge made to Gorbachev by the administration of George W. Bush Snr..

The Clinton Administration couldn't resist taking advantage of Russia's weakness, hoping to win a geo-political advantage that Russia never could unwind, even if one day it recovered its strength. It was even low down enough as to exploit Yeltsin's heavy drinking, extracting concessions when he was over the limit. Washington wanted Russia to have no independent foreign policy and to swallow economic reforms at such a speed they would have been instantly spat out in any self-respecting Western democracy. It failed to understand Moscow's reservations about going to war against Serbia without the necessary legal approval from the UN's Security Council.

Washington tolerated Yeltin's excesses, in particular his decision to literally go to war with Russia's parliament, the Duma, as long as these merciless "economic reforms" continued on track.

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Later, when Putin was in power, Washington blatantly ignored his offer to cooperate against al Qaeda and the Taliban, believing the U.S. could do the job unaided and preferred to annoy Moscow by concentrating on bringing ex-Soviet Muslim states under Washington's wing.

Even after September 11th 2001, when Putin went out of his way to aid Washington, allowing the U.S. overflying rights, endorsing the establishment of American bases in Central Asia and facilitating access to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, a Russian-trained military force, the U.S. continued to treat Russia as a country it could walk over.

The Kremlin side is by no means faultless, but Washington badly needs to look at the beam in its own eye.


Copyright © 2008 Jonathan Power


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Jonathan Power 2007 Book
Conundrums of Humanity
The Quest for Global Justice

“Conundrums of Humanity” poses eleven questions for our future progress, ranging from “Can we diminish War?” to “How far and fast can we push forward the frontiers of Human Rights?” to “Will China dominate the century?”
The answers to these questions, the author believes, growing out of his long experience as a foreign correspondent and columnist for the International Herald Tribune, are largely positive ones, despite the hurdles yet to be overcome. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, London, 2007.

William Pfaff, September 17, 2007
Jonathan Power's book "Conundrums" - A Review
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Jonathan Power's 2001 book

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