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    Friday, February 8, 2008

    It's not always Russia's fault

    Here it is - that one one big issue on which I wholeheartedly agree with Vladimir Putin: there is a New Cold War, it didn't have to happen, and Russia didn't start it.

    There. I said it.

    Russia and the West are strategic adversaries again because:

    1) During the 1990s, the West treated Russia as a weakling (it was) whose interests it didn't need to pay attention to.

    2) Since 2000, the West has treated Russia like a hostile entity. It was a self-fulfilling prophesy.

    The second point is the one the New Cold Warriors in Washington and Brussels are most likely to take issue with. But the common Western narrative - that Putin is KGB to the soul and was always going to be hell-bent on avenging the collapse of the USSR - overlooks Putin's initial moves to befriend the West after taking office, particularly his overt willingness to help after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

    True, he was motivated by his own interests - getting the West to see his dirty war in Chechnya as part of a wider "war on terror" - but the steps he took were genuine. By easing the way for the U.S. to establish airbases in the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, he greenlighted the first-ever NATO military presence in an area that had been Russia's zone of influence since the time of the Tsars. Russia also offered to share its intelligence and advice on Afghanistan, something that perhaps should have been of more interest to the U.S. and its allies, since we now find ourselves just as bogged down there as the Red Army was in the 1980s.

    What did Russia get in return? American troops in Georgia. The eastward expansion of NATO all the way into the Baltic states, with talk of Ukraine being eventually added as well. The planned missile defense shield based in Poland and the Czech Republic.

    None of these moves is necessarily threatening until you combine them with the West's refusal to talk seriously about including Russia in NATO, or the White House's stubborn refusal to contemplate a missile shield based in Azerbaijan (the country closest to the alleged Iranian threat) instead of Eastern Europe.

    "It's not our fault, we didn't start … funnelling multi-billions of dollars into developing weapons systems," Putin said today in announcing that Russia would join what he defined as "a new arms race."

    He went on: "We drew down our bases in Cuba and in Vietnam. What did we get? New American bases in Romania, Bulgaria. A new third missile defence region in Poland." That's not just how the Kremlin and its ultranationalist friends view it - that's how most Russians see things.

    It's worth noting that as Putin gave his speech, NATO was meeting in Vilnius, the capital of ex-Soviet Lithuania. If NATO is not an anti-Russian alliance, why does it expand up to the Russian border without inviting Moscow to join? If the missile shield is not directed against Russia, why not base it in Azerbaijan?

    The West - after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism - laughed at its defeated adversary and ignored its concerns. Now that Russia is resurgent and has the funds to rejoin the fight, that arrogance comes home to roost. We treated it as an enemy until it became one.

    It didn't have to be this way.


    Anonymous said...

    You are absolutely right about the U.S. not respecting Russia's generosity and trust following 9/11. Putin's willingness to help should have been rewarded with some gestures other than the West kindly overlooking the genocide in Chechnya.

    It was probably the biggest missed opportunity in the Western relations with Russia.

    However I wouldn't necessarily take Putin's speech today at face value whatsoever. His comments were extremely provocative, bellicose, and inflammatory, and really not necessary for anything other pre-election nationalism.

    Sure, the United States has dropped the ball for sure, and contributed to the deterioration of the relationship, but that doesn't mean the Kremlin has a set path to follow toward confrontation. Blame both sides, but let's not manufacture excuses.

    Michael Averko said...

    "Blame both sides, but let's not manufacture excuses."


    Let's also not assume everything is equal.

    In the post-Soviet era, Russia hasn’t attacked any nations to the US attacking two states. The reasoning in both those instances being questionable (put mildly).

    Russian government funded orgs. didn't initiate geo-strategically motivated presidential campaigning in non-Russian parts of FSU and outside of that domain.

    Unlike official American policy, Russia doesn't take uneven stances on the disputed former Communist bloc territories.

    Michael Averko said...

    "In the post-Soviet era, Russia hasn’t attacked any nations to the US attacking two states. The reasoning in both those instances being questionable (put mildly)."


    The reasoning in both those latter two instances being questionable (put mildly).


    It's so easy to spin such issues. How many are consciously aware of this is another matter.

    Anonymous said...

    ''Unlike official American policy, Russia doesn't take uneven stances on the disputed former Communist bloc territories''

    No, it simply interferes wherever it suits it to, e.g. Abkhazia. Each independence case should be measured on its own merits, not a ridiculous blanket, cover-all approach. The PMR for example is a country run by gangsters with no historical basis for independence.

    Michael Averko said...


    Russia doesn't take uneven stances on the disputed former Communist bloc territories like official US policy which supports Kosovo's independence, while not recognizing Pridnestrovie's greater right to that goal.

    Pridnestrovie's government is far more democratic, humane and multi-ethnically tolerant than the repackaged KLA regime in Kosovo. Historically, Pridnestrovie has the better independence claim.

    Moldova's government is a very problematical one.

    You're right that "each independence case should be measured on its own merits, not a ridiculous blanket, cover-all approach."

    It's therefore flawed to advocate Kosovo's independence and not Pridnestrovie's. Vice versa, the same isn't true.

    Michael Averko said...
    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
    Katie said...


    Hello, my name is Kathryn Grim. I'm a graduate student at Northwestern University in Chicago. I'm working on a blog about current events in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

    I check your blog every week, and I've linked to it in some of my entries. I especially enjoyed this post. I was in the Peace Corps in the Republic of Moldova and so have kind of a love/hate relationship with Russia myself.

    You can see my blog at

    I've added you to my blogroll, and I was wondering if you'd be interested in adding my blog to yours.

    Either way, thank you for helping me keep up with the news.

    take care,

    La Russophobe said...

    So, you're saying that the West is at fault for the Cold War because it didn't lie to Russia and pretend it was more important than it was?

    In 2000, George Bush looked into Vladimir Putin's eyes and said he was trustworthy. He then backed him in a number of significant ways. Did you forget about that?

    Didn't the West treat Hitler as a non "hostile entity" at first, only to be disappointed? Are you saying we should have tried that tact with Putin? And if you turned out to be wrong, what would your response be? "Oops, sorry about that folks, my bad"?

    How come you didn't have the courage to make this claim in your book? Was it because you felt it might undermine your sales?

    Don't you think it's a bit patronizing to Russians, even insulting, to suggest that their fundamental nature changes according to how the West interacts with them? You speak about Russians as if they are helpless children, while we in the West are the grownups. Aren't you being rather supremely arrogant in suggesting this? Surely Russia must have had at least some blame in starting the second cold war. Not even 1%, Mark?

    The Russians elected a proud KGB spy without any debates or any serious opposition candidate. Did they really think the result would be peace and friendship?

    You sound just like a fellow named Chamberlain. Ever see a movie called "Remains of the Day."

    Michael Averko said...


    "Peace in our time." How leading Western nations violated the territorial sovereignty of an established nation. That act led to more negative ones.

    In some instances, history has a way of unfortunately repeating itself.

    Quite mild for MM to say that it isn't always Russia's fault.

    Anonymous said...

    "Didn't the West treat Hitler as a non "hostile entity" at first, only to be disappointed?"

    Yes. Appeasing Brit Conservatives were very disappointed that Hitler signed a deal with Stalin:

    ""For all the other acts of brutality at home and aggression without, Herr Hitler had been able to offer an excuse, inadequate indeed, but not fantastic. The need for order and discipline in Europe, for strength at the centre to withstand the incessant infiltration of false and revolutionary ideas - this is certainly no more than the
    conventional excuse offered by every military dictator who has ever suppressed the liberties of his own people or advanced the conquest of his neighbors. Nevertheless, so long as the excuse was offered with sincerity, and in Hitler's case the appearance of sincerity were not lacking over a period of years, the world's judgement of the man
    remained more favorable than its judgement of his actions. The faint possibility of an ultimate settlement with Herr Hitler still, in these circumstances, remained, however abominable his methods, however deceitful his diplomacy, however intolerant he might show himself of the rights of other European peoples, he still claimed to stand ultimately for something which was a common European interest, and which therefore could conceivably provide some day a basis for understanding with other nations equally determined not to sacrifice their traditional instiitutions and habits on the bloodstained altars of the World Revolution

    The conclusion of the German-Soviet pact removed even this faint possibility of an honorable peace."

    Lord Lloyd of Dolobran "The British Case" Eyre & Spottiswoode Limited.
    London, 1939, pgs 54-5,

    In other parts, Lord Lloyd calls the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact "Hitler's final apostasy. It was a betrayal of Europe."

    And within six months of publishing this, the guy was in Churchill's cabinet. Blind Western hostility to Russia has a very long pedigree. Phoby is just the latest, and hardly the best writer.