West Mistakenly Thinks Russia In Terminal Decline, While Moscow Elites Wrongly Believe They Can Restore Its Superpower Status – OpEd


Many of the mistakes Western elites have made about Russia and that Moscow elites have made about their own county arise from misconceptions each has about Russia’s future, Vladimir Pastukhov says. The West has mistakenly assumed Russia is in terminal decline while Moscow elites think they can restore the country’s superpower status.

Since 1991, the London-based Russian analyst says, the West has viewed Russia as being in decline and acted accordingly, failing to see that what has been taking place is not so much the demise of Russia but rather its return to a more natural position from its status after World War II (t.me/s/v_pastukhov reposted at publizist.ru/blogs/33/47981/-).

Pastukhov stresses that the West’s view of a declining Russia “does not mean that the Wet has dreamed of ‘dismembering Russia,’ as Putin lies to say. On the contrary, the collapse of Russia was and remains a nightmare for American and European political elites. But they did believe that Russia would never be able … to break the rules of the game they’d established.”

As a result,  he says, “no one [in the West] was prepared for Russia’s return to the big game either physically or psychological” as the leaders of the West failed to see that even though it had lost superpower status, this fall did not put Russia into “an uncontrollable tailspin from which Russia would never emerge.”

“Even now,” Pastukhov continues, “when Russia makes one loop after another in the sky, its antics continue to be viewed with amazement rather than fear” despite the fact that “not flying and flying in the wrong direction are two very different things.” Russia is clearly flying in the wrong direction – but it is still flying and that must be taken into account.

The heights Russia occupied between 1945 and 1991 is viewed by many in the West as “the basic point of historical reference,” but in fact, it was not the norm “but an exception.” And thus, “the loss of this height should be understood as a return to earlier historical norms rather than as a civilizational catastrophe.”

With only a few brief intervals as exceptions, Russia was “an influential ‘supporting actor’ in world politics” rather than a dominant one. But at the same time, until recently, no one thought decisions could be made in Europe without reference to the existence of Russia and that Russia as such would disappear from the stage altogether.

That Western misconception about what 1991 meant lies behind “today’s crisis … and the fact that Putin is talking about this to justify his aggression against Ukraine does not mean that the policies [which arose from this mistaken view] was not erroneous and that we cannot criticize it.”

Related to this, Pastukhov says, the West allowed Russian elites to corrupt themselves “uncontrollably” and then assumed that the interests of the corrupt Russian elites were the same thing as the interests of Russia because “Western elites had no time” to see that the two things were in fact very different.

But at the same time, he continues, “Russian elites themselves made an even bigger mistake. Instead of accepting the collapse of the USSR as a normal and natural outcome, as a result of which Russia now occupies its usual level, they threw all their strengths into seeking a return to the geopolitical stratosphere at any cost.”

Tragically, Pastukhov concludes, “the West’s underestimation of Russia has been linked to Russia’s inflated expectations of itself and generating the sparks of war. To avoid that, the West must understand that Russia is still far from disappearing, and Russia needs to learn how to live without making claims to being a superpower.”

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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