What do we know about Russia, right now… about Russia today? I mean, given all the hype and hyperventilating among our major news organizations, pronouncements from congress and their counsels, together with the constant whining of late night TV hosts day-after-day, hour-after-hour, what are we Americans supposed to believe about the great Russian Bear? Is everything we hear just ‘fake news’ or propaganda, as Trump would have us believe? Or is there even a scintilla of truth hidden here?
Having lived for more than ten years among the ‘unwashed masses’ in the heart of Russian Siberia, I propose to deconstruct some of our misconceptions, disambiguate some of the ambiguities, and perhaps help rehabilitate Russia’s honor.
Let us paraphrase a few of the more recent stories headlining US news and commentary: ‘Russia has hacked our government servers,’ ‘Putin rigged our elections,’ ‘Those sneaky Russians are keeping up their evil and relentless cyber attacks,’ ‘Putin supports North Korea,’ ‘He is conspiring against us with China and Iran,’ ‘Putin is still rearranging borders in South Osetia,’ or my favorite, ‘Putin protects a criminal regime in Syria.’ Simply put, our thinking has been infected with an anti-Russian virus, and we begin to conceive all Russians as commies, killers, fakers, and thieves.
It has become second nature now for our leaders (and for many of our citizens as well) to level the unsubstantiated charge that “Putin did it” against almost anything coming over the transom ~ election rigging and collusion only the most recent of unfounded allegations. What proof is there of such meddling by the Russian State? ‘Well,’ the press coyly peppers us, ‘don’t you know that Russian operatives actually bought Facebook ads to sway the voting public?’ These refrains are becoming comical already. And do you honestly believe that the USA has never tried to influence elections in other countries or to overthrow foreign regimes, including the Russian?
The other big claim, of course, is that Putin seeks to expand his empire, providing military support to Ukrainian separatists. ‘And just look at his illegal annexation of Crimea,’ the West cries foul yet again! But, in fact, Putin was not responsible for the overthrow of the democratically elected president in Ukraine. That was a specialty of the United States government, its capital infusions, and its hired fascist thugs. Remember how Victoria Nuland (then with the US Department of State) was touting the millions of dollars in US support for a ‘color revolution’ in Ukraine and the handing out of cookies and cash to protesters. Or, recall visits by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, their meetings with and verbal support of Ukrainian fascists in Kiev.
What we may fail to realize is that the annexation of Crimea was a natural response to a US-engineered coup, with Russia trying to protect its naval base there, coupled with a real desire (and electoral victory) of the largely Russian population in Crimea to return sovereignty to their homeland, Mother Russia.
But we wish to hear none of this. Instead we are reminded weekly that Putin was a KGB thug, and he will never be anything but a KGB thug — George H.W. Bush, the former US president and CIA director, notwithstanding. After all, Americans (even the CIA) apparently seek the good by nature, while Russians have only bad intentions lurking in their hearts.
The fact of the matter is that the Russians hold an unabashed love and respect for the American people, while also finding our self-righteousness rather alarming. They admire us, but see our overactive paranoia as silly. The Russians I met while living in the Altai region of Siberia were extremely hospitable, genuinely gracious, and extremely generous to me personally. However their graciousness is often tested by our hyper and hypocritical attacks on their political intentions.
In the meantime, those who claim to speak for us (think CNN), the American people, continue to engage in nearly ad hominem attacks on Russia and, specifically on President Putin. Yet, deep in the heart of Siberia, in some of the most sacred regions of the Russian countryside (itself occupied by various indigenous populations), we find the unrelenting barrage of American commercial interests, both undermining and replacing more traditional values and lifeways. We find McDonalds, Burger King, Subway Sandwiches, KFC, and Western-style shopping malls popping up, while local (open air) markets are closing down and more traditional choices are being run out of town by this mad dash towards Western post-modernity. But our constant cultural and economic invasion there goes relatively unchallenged.
Must we continue to demonize the Russians and Vladimir Putin, specifically? If so, to what end? Is it just some perverse self-justification seeking to paper-over our own moral lapses or illegal actions on a global scale, e.g., our military invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria, together with the so-called Color Revolutions that we championed, and the resulting carnage/devastation littered across the Middle East and Northern Africa? If we were to compare the USA and Russia on the sole basis of global aggression, we would win, hands down. Bush, Clinton, Obama, Trump… It doesn’t matter who’s sponsoring the race, America far outpaces any competition on invasions, coups, murders, mayhem and general death count globally!
Indeed, the unrelenting criticism of Russia and Putin seems to go hand-in-glove with a very peculiar, but fast-paced political and cultural dementia on our part. The further we lead or follow our elites into social and cultural degeneracy, the more vociferously do we lash-out, attacking not only the more traditional values of Russia, but the lifeways of other ‘less advanced’ and indigenous populations as well.
While we continue to force our woefully unexamined worldview (even through violent military misadventures), not just upon other modern states, but upon more traditional and even tribal cultures across MENA as well, we find ourselves increasingly ignorant of, and isolated from, the resulting realities that our actions further engender; quickening climate change, expanding global terror, and a host of other challenges to planetary and human survival. As we continue to insist on replacing kinship systems with political bureaucracies, sharing with selling, or giving with taking, we will continue to be fooled by consumption of our own propaganda. We will fail to see what the rest of the world is really like, what they worship, or what they need to survive.
In this respect at least, both Russia and Putin deserve to be held harmless until such a time as ‘We The People’ correct our own national psychosis. But that is highly unlikely at this particular juncture in our history. For, it really appears that this virus has begun attacking not only our extremities, but our core; and it may be too late now to stop it from spreading and consuming the corpse.