From Russia with Regrets

Most of us have a record that provides opportunities to pen apologies. Even so, most of us, including your correspondent, have little practice in mumbling regrets. Thus, what follows, might be a bit clumsy.

Writing essays involves perils. Expected is a bit of originality, a dose of perspective, and a tad of wisdom, generated by the knowledge of a specific subject. Occasionally, during its fifteen years, “Duly Noted” might have scored by that standard. In doing so, it intended to avoid the safe political correctness to present points that evolved as forecast. Regardless of the dictate of fully justified modesty, this might have often been the case until recently. Then the jug, that went to the well too often, broke. It happened on June 29, in a piece titled “The Russian Matter”.

There the writer pleaded for an enhanced American-Russian rapprochement thought to be an expression of the multiple compatible interests of both parties. Leaders with a will to use power to achieve ends that conform to a realistic reading of the national interest seemed to constitute a supportive factor.

In the months that passed, events have taken an unexpected turn. With the Korea-crisis as the catalyst, the project seems to be postponed, if not crushed. Therefore, honesty toward the reader demands to admit an error of judgment. While the plea for cooperation had a rational basis not in terms of general expectations and by the norm of national interest, the failure is obvious. What is to be blamed? On the part of the writer, the factor of desirability and hope might have made him miss a reality that is now asserting itself. On the level of policymaking, forces had emerged that blocked the way to a constructive consensus that would have been of greater benefit than corrosive confrontation.

What happened? The facts are told by the headlines. Let us begin with President Trump. He came to power representing a break with conventional politicking. That resulted in unorthodox goals, a new beginning with Russia being one of them. His ability to act on that was curtailed from the outset by making any overture to Russia into an indicator of political impropriety. This forced him to harden his stance. His flagellation must have been decoded as an indication that, POTUS has no full control over his anti-Russian land. Ergo, he might be unable to deliver on his promises indicating that, the US is not a sufficiently stable partner to implement a grand bargain.

Now to Putin and Russia. For one thing, inculcated “Soviet” perceptions imply the presence of a recalcitrant element in the state machine. It is blinded by the earlier culture of antagonism and by the tendency to fear or to despise everything new and foreign –and the enemy that happens to be the cold war victor.

The skewed discernment, apparently at least partially shared by Putin, has produced a number of habit-shaped confrontations with the USA.

In the case of Turkey, that country’s apparent difficulties with the EU and the US have, as a Pavlovian reflex, regardless of its growing Islamist inclination, brought Russian support. Moscow assumes that Islamization can remain moderate and without a metastatic reaction within Russia’s sphere. Ultimately, not everything that is anti-Western is pro-Russian.

Then there is Syria and Iran. Here, too, Russia’s support reflects the old automatism that, whatever weakens the West weakens the enemy. The ultimate consequence for Russia of the highly toxic Islamist creed with a political agenda is ignored. Equally overlooked is the radical nature of the political systems that might, very much to Russia’s disadvantage, achieve dominance over a world region.

Lastly, the list’s main item, which is Korea. Kim has Moscow’s –and Peking’s- rather shortsighted support. That is because of the damage caused to the US and its allies. Briefly put, nuclear anarchy by a rogue state cannot serve the interests of an established power as its effect reduces predictability and diminishes its security. What are these consequences? First, an unpredictable player who doggedly ignores the rules is let on the field. Ultimately, he will want to “score” against both sides. Second, if nuclear blackmail is allowed to work now, since whatever pays is repeated, there will be more of the same and the new contestants will find new targets.

Putin and his advisers must feel that the continuation of anti-westernism and of the anti-Americanism of Soviet times is in the national interest. The case can be made that this course is in Russia’s interest. However, it is bad chess to think of the next move only. In this case, the Xth move after the present one could be costly.

Instinctive anti-Americanism and the traditional fear of the West represented by Napoleon and Hitler are often used as explanations for trying to destroy a competitor instead of cohabiting to mutual benefit. Napoleon and Hitler, despite the significance attributed to them, are anachronisms that have passed the “expiration date”. So is the idea that the safety coming from dominance is preferable to consensual security. Compromise is not surrender. Equally outdated –regardless of past precedents- is the fear that a powerful but sharing global neighbor will be unable to resist the temptation to damage Russia.

If anyone of the foregoing fits the case, then Russia’s (legitimate) national interest is, because of the old ghosts that cloud visions, confined into a “box” built out of unimaginative narrow perceptions.

The real threat to Russia, and therefore to the global community, is not that America that might prevail over a disturber of world peace. The real hazard is nuke-enhanced North Korea. Moscow’s present shield will not buy future friendship. That follows from the nature of the Pyongyang regime. Regardless of her debt, North Korea will not be a guidable instrument of the Kremlin because it is a misprogrammed blind robot of demolition that is propelled by institutionalized insanity.

 

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