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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

He's a Yale Man, That Explains a Lot (Remember, Putin Soul-Gazer George Bush is Too)

The following opinion piece, written by a card-carrying AARP member named Paul Kennedy (the pathetic-looking loser shown above), identified as "the director of International Security Studies at Yale University," appeared recently in the International Herald Tribune and the Khaleej Times. Whose security, exactly, he's concerned with remains a mystery. Let's help him look foolish (not that he needs any), shall we? There's some hope to be found in the fact that his gibberish couldn't find publication in a more significant forum. When you look up the word "senile" in the dictionary, you should see an illustration of this fellow. Weirdly schizoid, the column actually starts to make some sense half way through -- but no thinking person would read that far after seeing so much gibberish that might as well have been written by the Kremlin at the start.

For the past several years, the Russia of Vladimir Putin has been sending very clear signals that it is no longer the weakened, troubled and Western-dependent state that it was following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia is once again a proud and assertive nation, increasingly recognizable by its actions to historians of its czarist and Communist predecessors. Many will say that its recovery is based on shallow foundations, in fact that it rests almost totally upon the high price of oil and gas - and Russia's fortunate possession of vast supplies of those vital commodities. That is true. But oil revenues, if invested wisely (as has been done by two countries as different as Norway and Dubai during the past decade), can enhance national infrastructure, industrial and technological developments, and military security.

LR: Note to Professor Kennedy. Norway and Dubai are tiny little countries with tiny little infrastructure costs and per capita revenues from oil that dwarf Russia's. Russia's is trying to build infrastructure in a country that covers eleven time zones, you totally helpless idiot! There is no comparison between Norway or Dubai and Russia. What's more, neither Norway or Dubai are trying to confront the entire world in a new cold war, now are they? Putin's policies are destroying Russia, not rebuilding it. It's rather ironic that, as shown in our first post above on the same day that Professor Kennedy's piece appears in the IHT, the New York Times, its sister paper, runs a major feature about the fact that in Russia's most advanced metropolis they still don't even have hot water in the summer time.

Not only is Putin's regime making smart strategic investments - in infrastructure, laboratories, a modernized military - its flow of energy wealth is giving the Kremlin the confidence to pursue assertive foreign policies, secure for the moment in a set of global circumstances that has hobbled the United States, turned the attention of China and India elsewhere (toward growth and internal modernization), and given all the world's oil-producing states immense leverage.

LR: Professor Kennedy doesn't give one single fact to show that Russia is making significant investments in infrastructure. To the contrary, Russia is hoarding its oil revenues as cash reserves, and spending them only on its military. But Russia still has one the lowest-paid, most poorly-equipped armies of any industrialized nation, a horrific problem of hazing and suicides therein, and it is non-competitive in any category with its chief rival the U.S. Oil didn't help Russia at the U.N. security council recently when the whole world sought to condemn it over it's attack on Georgia. Only Russia's veto, which it's had since Soviet times,did that.

Right now, the list of Moscow's unilateralist actions is probably only exceeded by those of the White House over the past six years. Take an obvious example: Russia uses its veto power on the UN Security Council to support Serbia and crush Kosovo's hopes of independence, just as the United States uses its privilege to protect Israel and block pro-Palestinian resolutions in the world organization. In a similar negative way, Russia controls what the Security Council may, or may not, do regarding actions against Iran and North Korea.

LR: The economy of the United States is more than twelve times larger than Russia's. America's population is twice that of Russia and growing strongly, while Russia's is shrinking violently. America has a host of powerful allies established by a formal treaty, while Russia stands utterly alone. All this means that America can afford to be aggressive -- Russia can't. For Russia to act like America is like Woody Allen acting like Mike Tyson. Only one thing can come of that -- failure. What's more, Russia has tried to criticize America for its unilateralism, meaning it's one of the great hypocrites in world history. Notice how Professor Kennedy doesn't notice that?

The list goes on. Putin's ministers are adept at using what has come to be called "pipeline diplomacy" to force neighbors like Belarus and Ukraine to bend to Moscow's will and recognize their dependence upon Russian energy supplies, and it is clear that this is intended to have a secondary intimidation effect upon the states of Western Europe as well. Estonia and Latvia are browbeaten over what are regarded as anti-Russian acts, such as the removal of Soviet war memorials or treatment of Russian-speaking citizens.

LR: It seems they are smoking some powerful weed up there at Yale these days. Ukraine bending to Moscow's will? Is that why they've elected Victor Yushchenko president, and are now holding snap elections despite Russian opposition? Is it a point of pride for Russia that it's able to dominate Belarus and Ukraine? If so, that's just about as pathetic as you can get.

Western oil companies are discovering that a contract for control of energy resources is not necessarily viewed by the Moscow government as a sacred legal obligation. Thus, massive international corporations such as BP and Exxon, long regarded as powerful independent actors, are now, literally, being put over the barrel, forced to recognize their weaker bargaining position. Many of their chief executives must have rubbed their eyes at the reports that Russia has just claimed extensive rights at the North Pole, with implications for rights to the exploitation of seabed energy resources. Moscow seems to be advancing its international claims with about the same speed that it denounces arms-control accords.

LR: It's a sign of Russian resurgence that it will flout the law and the basic concept of property ownership, alienating the entire world in the process? Some people (those with actual brains) might see that as a sign of self-destruction.

If all of this is unsettling, it is by no means unusual. Actually, Russia's actions are rather predictable. They are the steps taken by a traditional power elite that, having suffered defeat and humiliation, is now bent upon the recovery of its assets, its authority and its capacity to intimidate. There is nothing in the history of Russia since Ivan the Terrible to suggest that Putin is doing anything new. "Top-down" policies from the Kremlin have a thousand-year provenance. If they seem more noticeable at this moment in time, it may simply be because of two (possibly temporary) factors: the modern world's dependence upon petroleum, and the Bush administration's obsession with Iraq and terrorism. All Putin is doing is walking through an open gate - opened, by and large, by the West.

LR: And then suddenly, he starts talking sense. He concedes that Russia is a nation of barbarians that has been destroying itself by making the same mistakes over and over. And he seems to imply that we in the West are negligent in failing to resist it from the beginning, which is perfectly correct. Perhaps he's a true hater of Russia, who doesn't care whether Russians survive or not, or is even glad to see them go. That's even worse than a Russophile, as far as we're concerned. What he says next seems to confirm this.

So the reports from Russia that interest me most are not those concerning drone submarines under the Arctic icecap, or putting the screws upon Belarus to pay backdated oil charges. What intrigues me are the broader and more subtle measures being instituted by the Putin regime to enhance national - and, even more, nationalist - pride. They point to something much more purposeful, and potentially quite sinister. Two examples will have to suffice here: the creation of a patriotic youth movement, and the not-too-subtle rewriting of Russia's school history books. The youth movement called "Nashi" (it translates as "ours") is growing fast, encouraged by government agencies determined to instill the right virtues into the next generation and to use this cadre of ultra-Russianists to buttress Putin's regime against domestic critics.

LR: "Potentially" seems like a real "door-opening" word, doesn't it? "Quite sinister" has a nice ring to it, though, we must admit.

The policies that Nashi advocates are eclectic. Among the main features are reverence for the Fatherland, respect for the family, Russian traditions and marriage, and a detestation of foreigners; it is hard to tell whether American imperialists, Chechen terrorists, or Estonian ingrates are at the bottom of their list of those who threaten the Russian way of life. Right now, Nashi is training tens of thousands of young diligents; right now, they are in summer camps where they do mass aerobics, discuss "proper" and "corrupt" politics, and receive the necessary education for the struggles to come. Vast numbers have recently been mobilized to harass the British and Estonian ambassadors in Moscow, following Moscow's disputes with those two countries. According to The Financial Times, Nashi is training 60,000 "leaders" to monitor voting and conduct exit polls in elections this coming December and March. I find this all pretty creepy.

LR: It's horrifying. Too bad it's buried so deep in the piece, many people might not even read that far.

So, too, are the reports that Putin has personally complimented the authors of a new manual for high school history teachers that seeks to instill a renewed pride in teenagers of their country's past and encourage national solidarity. As a historian, I always shrink from the idea that education ministries should approve some sort of official view of the national past, although I know that bureaucrats from Japan to France do precisely that, that Beijing's leadership would get highly upset if it learned that schools in China could choose their own textbooks, and that American fundamentalists try to put their own clumsy footprint on what children should actually be exposed to.

LR: Are "American fundamentalists" really the same as Chinese bureaucrats? Seems like this old fogey's true colors are shining through, aren't they? What kind of historian is unaware of the fact that neither Japan nor France have recent histories of being ruled by maniacal regimes dominated by the secret police which wiped out millions of citizens for expressing political dissent? Aren't Japan and France both flourishing democracies with standards of living far above that of Russia? If the KGB were responding to criticism of Russia, the first thing they'd do would be to start talking about other countries. Hmmm . . . coincidence?

But it is one thing for French kids to be told about Joan of Arc's heroism or American kids about Paul Revere's midnight ride; everyone is entitled to a Robin Hood or William Tell or two. It's a bit more disturbing to learn that the new Russian history manual teaches that "entry into the club of democratic nations involves surrendering part of your national sovereignty to the U.S." and other such choice contemporary lessons that suggest to Russian teenagers that they face dark forces abroad.

LR: Only "a bit more disturbing"? Gosh, wonder what sort of genocide it would take to provoke this fossil into actual outrage? How many people would have to lose their lives?

What does this all mean? Should oil prices collapse - should pigs fly - then Putin's efforts at a Russian nationalistic renaissance might also tumble. But there is no doubt about the coherence of this plan to rebuild Russian pride and strength from the top down and the bottom up. Over the longer run, the current street agitation against Britain's ambassador and the tearing down of the Estonian flag by Nashi extremists may be obscure footnotes to history. By contrast, the deliberate campaigns to indoctrinate Russian youth and to rewrite the history of the great though terribly disturbed nation that they are inheriting might be much more significant for the unfolding of our 21st century.

LR: Do you notice that he doesn't have one single practical suggestion as to how we can respond to these outrageous actions he is documenting? He calls Russia "great" but doesn't mention one single act of "greatness" Russia has ever undertaken. Maybe he thinks the murder of millions of innocent Russians by Stalin or hundreds of thousands by Peter I was great? If so, what could possibly make him hate Russia so much?


Franjo said...

This is a comment on the blog in general, rather than this particular article. So please bear with me.

I am a huge fan of this blog and applaud your dedication to warning us of the Neo-Soviet threat and your courage in pointing out the Russian people's culpability for what is going on n their country.

One area, however, which I wish received more attention in this blog is how our own behavior enables tin pot dictators like Putin, Ahmedinijad and Chavez. This blog has repeatedly pointed out that the Neosoviet threat is fueled by high energy prices.

We need to do more as a society to reduce our dependence on foreign energy. The technologies to do so (Biofuels, Hybrid engines, renewable energy sources) are already in place. But all too often we are letting special interests liek Oil companies dicate our policy in these areas to the detriment of our national security.

Check out the Rocky Mountain Institute Web site for more details on how we can cut our dependence on foreign oil:

This is not to diminish the ultimate culpability of the Russian people for their choice of imperialism and chauvinism over democracy and liberalism. Nor am I saying that we don't need to stand up to these threats, militarily if need be. But national security begins at home. If we really want to stop Putin and Co. the first step will be for us to change our own behavior. If we don't we may find ourselves paying a very high price for our own complacency in the future.

I look forward to reading more of the blog. Keep up the good work!

La Russophobe said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comment and the compliments! You are absolutely right that seeking energy independence is our mightiest weapon against Russia and could be decisive, to say nothing of being of great benefit to us without reference to Russia.

We're glad you enjoy the blog and hope you continue to do so. If you see articles of interest please to refer them by e-mail, and if you'd like to write up your views on this or some other topic, feel free to do so and submit.