Because it’s not in Russia’s best interests to do so, the Kremlin hasn’t sought an unnecessary confrontation with the West. The suggestion that some Russians live in a Cold War era mindset easily applies to the US military industrial complex reared folks, harping on the supposed threat posed by Moscow. Thinking along their lines, some other Americans are subconsciously duped by their reliance on the overall US mass media image of Russia.
We’re living in interesting times, which see the conservative leaning Fox News channel having on (albeit comparatively limited) reasonable left leaning observers like Glenn Greenwald and Stephen Cohen (individuals who second guess some of the negative claims against Russia), as the more left (to Fox News) MSNBC and CNN favor neocons like David Frum and Michael Weiss. Besides Cohen and Greenwald, there’re some conservative minded Americans second guessing the perceived Russian threat, contrasted with the US establishment left and right critics of Russia. There’re also the more eclectic types, who don’t neatly match either of the left and right categories. As is true with the left and right, this eclectic grouping is by no means monolithic.
From within and outside his party, Donald Trump continues to face lingering attempts to have him take a confrontational stance towards Russia. His recent comments indicate positive and not so positive stances towards the Kremlin. Meantime, others like the outgoing CIA Director John Brennan, openly take issue with Trump’s more upbeat approach towards Moscow.
The term “bad actor” has been used to characterize Russian President Vladimir Putin and some other world leaders. Brennan and Florida Senator Marco Rubio engage in bad acting, with their pious inaccuracies, that are very much coddled among a good number in US mass media.
Brennan’s use of “outrageous” towards Trump is chutzpah, given how the former has described Russian military action (as targeting civilians and non-military assets) to what the US has done (the opposite) – a matter refuted in my last Strategic Culture Foundation article of January 11. The legally educated Rubio scornfully addressed Rex Tillerson (Trump’s choice for secretary of state) for refusing to call Putin a “war criminal”, relative to Russian military actions and the deaths of individual Russians.
Following Rubio, Trump’s selection for UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, expressed the belief that Russia has committed war crimes in Syria. Haley had supported Rubio in his bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, while indirectly saying some sharp things against Trump. Unlike Tillerson’s role as secretary of state, Haley’s UN spot will (pretty much) be that of a communicator of US foreign policy, as opposed to someone developing strategy.
Tillerson said that the war criminal charge should’ve clear evidence. Rubio suggested the presence of dead bodies as proof. Rubio knows all too well that corpses alone don’t prove a guilty party. Over the decades, many civilians have died as a result of US and other non-Russian military actions. War can regretfully come to civilian areas, which in turn could lead to innocent deaths. The hypocrisy of selectively highlighting these situations is most disingenuous. The issue of murders in Russia don’t conclusively lead to the Russian government. As has been true in the US: post-Soviet Russia is faced with some people who take criminal action (murder and otherwise) on their own and not by a proven clandestine government effort.
Whether at Moscow State University, Russian newsstands and elsewhere, there’s noticeable opposition to Putin in Russia – leaving one to reasonably ask why the need for him to order the liquidation of Boris Nemtsov, Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko, when the numerous other critics of the Russian president continue on and without much (if any) fear? The murders of Nemtsov (with extremely limited popularity in Russia) and Politkovskaya (who had non-Russian government opponents) aren’t clear indications of Putin ordered hits.
Factually, it remains unclear who poisoned Litvinenko with Polonium – a rather expensive/cost ineffective way to kill someone over other means. A point that has led some to believe that he might’ve accidentally poisoned himself. Litvinenko reportedly became sympathetic to the Chechen separatist cause and sought to become a Muslim. His Italian Intel connected contact Mario Scaramella was arrested for illicit arms trafficking and violating his country’s state secrets – without the accusation of a Kremlin connection. Scaramella was infected with Polonium on the same day (November 1, 2006) that Litvinenko met Andrey Lugovoy. Without clear evidence, the former KGB bodyguard, Lugovoy has been accused of murdering Litvinenko. The ties between Litvinenko and Scaramella remain a comparatively (to Lugovoy) limited point of follow-up.
The belief that a Putin involved Russian government was behind a series of apartment bombings to gain public support for a war in Chechnya is along the lines of believing that the Bush administration was directly complicit in the 9/11 tragedy. The lawlessness which led to the second Chechen war of the 1990s was such that the Russian government didn’t need to create an excuse for military action in Chechnya. Given the nature of security operations, it’s understandable why Russian security forces don’t want their anti-terrorist training exercises in vacated buildings to be publicly detailed. The Moscow theater and Beslan school terrorist attacks underscore this reasoning.
As times passes, there has yet to be conclusive proof provided on the claim of a Russian government attempt to influence the 2016 US presidential election in favor of Trump. If true, any such activity didn’t appear to affect the result of that election.
The foreign interference in another country’s election is a slippery slope, which I don’t support. According to a Carnegie Mellon based study, the US is ahead of Russia, when it comes to election interference in other countries. If the claim of Russian government meddling in the last US election is true (once again noting the lack of disclosed supporting evidence), it was done (as claimed) to prefer Trump over his main rival Hillary Clinton, who was the preferred candidate of the anti-Russian neocons. Hence, the unproven Russian government interference was (if true) motivated by the preference for improved US-Russian relations.
On the geopolitical front, the claim of a threatening Russia is quite weak to reasonably substantiate. The faulty divisiveness include Barack Obama’s overly simplistic depiction of a game involving Putin who is on a different team – the suggestion being that Americans differing with that perception are traitors. CNN’s Jim Sciutto serves as another example, when he depicted a clear (in his mind and that of some others) Russian adversary with the examples of Crimea and US warships getting buzzed by Russian fighter jets as examples.
Crimea isn’t in the US national interest. Sciutto doesn’t have a good comeback to the hypocritical hoopla over Crimea versus the northern Cyprus and Kosovo situations. The pro-Russian majority in Crimea clearly and understandably prefer Russia over Kiev regime controlled Ukraine.
The aforementioned buzzing of US warships is something short of war and the result of increased tensions that see a US military buildup near Russia. Consider the buzzing of Soviet military assets in the Caribbean during the Cuban missile crisis. Only this time around, post-Soviet Russia isn’t ideologically driven to act well beyond its boundaries.
Russian activity in Syria seeks to prevent an increased Muslim fundamentalist/anti-Russian advocacy with terrorism. What happens in Russia’s “near abroad” (the non-Russian former Soviet republics) isn’t a simple matter of Russia always being wrong. Why do the Abkhaz and Ossetians seem to prefer Russia over Georgia? Why hasn’t Pridnestrovie jumped on the opportunity to join pro-EU forces in Moldova? Noting that Moldova doesn’t fully buy into the Russian threat mantra.
The talk of a possible Russian takeover of the Baltics is dubious. These former Soviet republics are NATO members. They’d have to do something extremely provocative to warrant the Kremlin to consider an attack on them. Are any or all of the Baltics likely to have political turmoil, which lead to a regime or regimes that increase hostility towards Russia and Russian speaking Baltic residents? If so, this is something that responsible observers in the West should warn against.
In Russia, there doesn’t seem to be much of an inclination to attack the Baltics. At the same time, there’s understandable Russian discontent with the anti-Russian posturing of some key Baltic officials. Comparatively speaking, that manner is relatively on par with how some past and present Latin American politicians have been aghast at the Gringo’s domineering role in the Western Hemisphere. Keeping in mind that the Baltics have been used as an invasion route against Russia in some major conflicts that brought considerable suffering to that nation.
The Russian view of NATO has been misrepresented. As the Soviet Union was breaking up and for a short period thereafter, Russia openly inquired about possibly joining that organization. That expression was met with astonishment. Shortly afterwards, NATO expansion for some non-Russian states was enthusiastically supported, along with anti-Russian rhetoric portraying an inherently evil Russia that needed to be contained – adding that Russia should never be considered as a NATO member. The bombing of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) in 1999 by (the Clinton administration influenced) NATO targeted a pro-Russian entity. The basis for that attack was hypocritical. Turkey and Israel could’ve been bombed on the same questionable human rights basis. The faultiness concerns siding with one party in a situation with embattled sides each having valid and not so valid points.
Russia’s military capability has decreased the chance of it being bombed like Yugoslavia. Indeed, some have suggested that Russia could’ve been bombed over Chechnya for the same reason that Yugoslavia was attacked in reply to the upheaval in Kosovo. The 1999 NATO bombing campaign nurtured the idea of might making right and how pro-Russian advocacy hasn’t received a fair hearing. Despite this occurrence, Russia has continued to seek improved ties with the West.
In actuality, US-Russian relations haven’t been inherently adversarial towards each other. Compare Russia’s stance during America’s revolution, war of 1812 and civil war to Britain. Contrast the stances of Russia with Germany during two world wars. The present targeting of nuclear weapons between the US and Russia is an unfortunate Cold War relic, that shouldn’t be used as a talking point to oppose better Washington-Moscow relations. This improved relationship can serve to decrease the desire for nuclear weapons.
The Russian consensus of welcoming a US president who seeks better relations with Russia, along with the Kremlin being the first government to console the US in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy aren’t indicative of threatening behavior. The incessant Putin and Russia bashing in neolib, neocon and flat out Russia hating circles are justifiably opposed by pro-Russian realists desiring improved Russia-West ties.
Michael Averko is a New York based independent foreign policy analyst and media critic. A closely related version of this article initially appeared at the Strategic Culture Foundation’s website on January 20.