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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Russia Explained

If every person is the hero of his own story, then every country is the center of the world. Geography is not fate, but it will often do until Fate comes a-knocking on the door, so what does Russia look like when the world is centered on it?



That's right. The Rodina is surrounded by unfriendlies. To the north (across the Pole) is  Canada backed by the US. To the east is the US (Alaska). To the south are Japan, China, the muslim world (esp. her ancient enemy, Turkey); to the west, the Europeans. All of them are to some degree hostile to Russia.

Worse, those neighbors keep shouldering in, like cowboys in a saloon. Muslims are moving into Russia from the south, esp. from the Caucasus. (And Russia was the traditional champion of orthodox Christians in the muslim world, esp. the Balkans.)

America is muscling in from the west, admitting all the countries on the border (the "Near Abroad") into NATO. Ostensibly, this is to guard against a Russian invasion of Europe, but from the Russian POV it is the West putting its military assets on her front doorstep.

When the Soviet Union was in business, this might have made sense, because Communism was an expansionist ideology with dreams of world domination. But since the collapse of the USSR, Russia has rejoined history. Yet without a European enemy, NATO would be obsolete, and so Russia becomes the Designated Enemy.
"Russia is an economically challenged nation of 145 million, less than half of Europe’s population and much less than half of America’s. Its economy is a small fraction of the combined economies of Europe and America." -- Fred on Everything
The notion that Russia is in any position to attack wealthy enemies collectively four times her size, casts Putin as a fool. He may be many things, but he is not a fool. Instead, the Russians have watched with unease as NATO creeps closer and closer to the Motherland. That may not be what it looks like to us, but this is about what the world looks like to Russia.

Traditionally, Russia has dealt with this encirclement by two means:
  1. Pushing the tripline as far forward as possible with a buffer zone. Anyone wanting to invade the old USSR would have had to go though East Germany and Poland first. 
  2. Seeking alliances with the countries on the far side of the enemy: India, Vietnam, Cuba, Ethiopia, et al. Anyone wanting to attack the Motherland would have to watch their backs.
With Eastern Europe having thrown off the Internationale, Russia has established a new Near Abroad: viz., Belarus and the Ukraine. This is unsatisfying, since both countries were traditionally part of the Russian State.
  • Belarus was at one time part of the Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania - and how's that for an unlikely imperial state!
  • The Ukraine was occupied successively by a number of nomad hordes until becoming part of Russia. The original Russian state, Kievan Rus, was linguisitcally Ukrainian.
This makes the the entry of Ukraine into the NATO alliance rather scary from the Russia POV. It's almost as if the US were trying to goad Russia into hostilities. That started with Albright's War to separate Kosovo from Serbia because the Serbian homeland had been swarmed by Albanians. This culminated in the encounter at the Pristina Airport. Later, when Mrs. Clinton became Secretary of State, there was a photo op of her and the Russian Ambassador pressing a toy plastic "reset" button to symbolize a "reset" of Russo-American relations. The Russian word on the button was spelled in Latin letters rather than Cyrilic, and actually meant "overloaded" or "overcharged" rather than "reset." This caused great amusement among the Russians, and not a little contempt. Fortunately, Mrs. Clinton was not Donald Trump, so no one made any comments about getting cozy with Putin or some such thing.

The 2014 regime change in the Ukraine further disturbed the Russians. The democratically-elected government in that country was overthrown in a US-sponsored coup. The new government, by wild coincidence, asked for admittance to NATO. The Russian Black Sea Fleet has been based in Svastopol in the Crimea since Tsarist days, but the post-coup government in the Ukraine was interfering in operation of the base and shipyard.

US plan for partition of Syria (Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten)
 
will lead to more ethnic cleansing and refugee flow.
Throw in the attempted regime change in Syria, in which the US was more focused on overthrowing Assad than with combating ISIS and in which the US became de facto allies with ISIS. Russia had been a long-time backer of the regime and was flying air strikes against ISIS and other revel strongholds, so Mrs. Clinton's proposal to impose a no-fly zone would risk a direct aerial confrontation with seriously ticked off Russians. (They had never regarded ISIS as the "junior varsity.")
  • Warning: Russia has nukes.

About that 145 million-and-declining population. Russians with enough fingers and toes can do population math and see a day when the Motherland's native population will implode because they are not reproducing themselves. There will be no Caliphate of Moscow -- but there may well be a Khanate of Moscow in the future. It's the Turks, not the Arabs that have bugged Russia since the days of the Golden Horde (and Turkey seems to be shrugging off its Kemelist secularism these days. They recently staged their own burning of the Reichstag event.)

So Russia needs Russians quick.

There are a lot of Russians in the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine. This region was hacked off the RSFSR (Russia-in-the-Soviet Union) by the Georgian tyrant Stalin in an effort to denationalize the Soviet republics.Borders were moved; whole peoples relocated.


15 comments:

  1. A small quibble: it seems to have been Khrushchev, rather than Stalin, who transferred the Crimea from Russia to the Ukraine in 1954, Stalin having died in 1953:

    https://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/why-did-russia-give-away-crimea-sixty-years-ago

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  2. For more on elite Russians' view of Russia's proper place in the world, see

    Russian National Identity and Foreign Policy

    Report: https://www.csis.org/analysis/russian-national-identity-and-foreign-policy

    Launch event video and audio: https://www.csis.org/events/russian-national-identity-and-foreign-policy

    [quote]
    In 2016, [Russian Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov put his signature under the most unusual article ever attributed to a Russian foreign minister titled “Russia’s Foreign Policy: Historical Background.”31 It provides an excellent glimpse into the framework of current Russian foreign policy, its philosophical foundations, and general worldview of the Russian elite. It does not matter if individual members of the Russian officialdom sincerely believe in concrete postulates of this philosophy. What matters is that they feel obliged to develop and implement their policies in a way that would not contradict the main narrative.

    Relying on intellectual legacy of the most conservative Russian thinkers of the nineteenth century, including the Slavophiles, Konstantin Leontiev and Nikolay Danilevsky, and adding questionable terminology, Lavrov argues that Russia is fundamentally different from the West. According to Lavrov, “Russian people possessed a cultural matrix of their own and an original type of spirituality and never merged with the West.”32 Developing Putin’s argument about an existential threat of losing Russian national identity, Lavrov points to the source of this threat, the European West that has attempted “to put Russian lands under full control and to deprive Russians of their identity.” 33 Lavrov praises Russia’s centuries-old resistance to these attempts invoking, once again, an extremely controversial concept: “I am confident that this wise and forward-looking policy is in our genes.”
    [end quote]

    Lavrov's article is available, both in the original Russian and in English translation, at


    http://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/2124391

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  3. "Russia is never as strong as she looks, nor as weak as she looks."

    I forgot the source on the quote.

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  4. Maybe if the Russians dumped Putin, and tried to become a normal country, they would have fewer enemies?

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  5. "The 2014 regime change in the Ukraine further disturbed the Russians. The democratically-elected government in that country was overthrown in a US-sponsored coup. The new government, by wild coincidence, asked for admittance to NATO. The Russian Black Sea Fleet has been based in Svastopol in the Crimea since Tsarist days, but the post-coup government in the Ukraine was interfering in operation of the base and shipyard."

    wow... my bullshit-o-meter is going crazy on these lines...

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    Replies
    1. Keep in mind that the OP was an attempt to look at the world from the Russian point of view. It's not an assertion that the Russian view is correct.

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    2. "Fortunately, Mrs. Clinton was not Donald Trump, so no one made any comments about getting cozy with Putin or some such thing."
      American partisan political sarcasm from the Russian point of view?

      Delete
  6. Since it's kind of rude just to call out "bullshit" and disappear, I would like to elaborate here a little bit and explain my point. You see, it's the amount of false statements and lack of details that made my good old "bullshit-o-meter" go bananas. We can literally take this piece of text apart and comment on each sentence.

    "The 2014 regime change in the Ukraine further disturbed the Russians."

    Oh but of course it did, was the second time in the last 10 years as Russia risked losing political control of Ukraine.

    "The democratically-elected government in that country was overthrown in a US-sponsored coup."

    First, that so called "democratically elected" government have changed Constitution illegally (literally, overcoming existing legislative procedures) giving back more power to President. That along with the latest censorship laws was posing a huge risk of dictatorship. Second, there is no single evidence of US directly involved or "sponsored" the events. There are a number of US-financed NGOs and funds which were operating in Ukraine for ages but it's not the same as "sponsoring coup". And yet you present it as a proven fact.

    "The new government, by wild coincidence, asked for admittance to NATO"

    We really have to work on the cause-consequence relation here. That "wild coincidence" is caused by territory annexation and thread of direct invasion from Russia. And I'm not exaggerating, ask Georgians. The Ukraine-to-NATO question have not just popped into existence then, it was discussed for years already with several partnership programs going on (btw, same with NATO-Russia), but all previous polls were showing that not more than 30-40% of population was supporting the idea of Ukraine joining NATO. Obviously situation changed lately but only after Crimea annexion and war in Donbass.

    "The Russian Black Sea Fleet has been based in Svastopol in the Crimea since Tsarist days"

    And again, this "since Tsarist days" might sound like "for ages", almost "forever", which is misleading. Let's put it to historical perspective. Let's fast forward the first 25 centuries starting from around 1200 BC: Cimmerians, Scythians, Greeks, Romans, Goths, Huns, Byzantines, Pechenegs, Kipchaks etc. So, after it was finally conquered by Golden Horde in 13-th century and ruled by them for 2 centuries, Crimean Khanate (later a vassal state of Osman Empire) for 3 centuries it finally lands in Russia’s hands. Oh wait, but there is more, it was Russian Empire, a state that disappeared from the world map in less than 1.5 centuries. The successor Crimean Peoples Republic didn't live long either, and after the next 3 bloody years the peninsula ends up as a part of Soviet Union. It stays there until 1991 when USSR collapses. After a painful negotiations Crimea becomes an "autonomous republic" within independent state of Ukraine. So yeah, when I hear something like "Sevastopol is a Russian city which had Black Sea fleet since bla-bla-bla" I would argue "no, Sevastopol is a Russian name for a Crimean city originally named Aqyar (or Achtyar) that had Osman fleet there for a much-much longer time".


    "the post-coup government in the Ukraine was interfering in operation of the base and shipyard."

    I don't even know what you are talking about here or at least what events are you referring to. After annexing Crimea from Ukraine, Russia seized all of Ukraine's Black Sea fleet, which was... well as you can guess the only fleet Ukraine have had, and I'm talking about 50 ships here.

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    Replies
    1. Curly --

      Do you understand the concepts of hypobole and irony in rhetoric?

      Would you recognize them if one struck you with a clue-by-four between your eyes?

      As in, perhaps, someone writing from the thesis initially posited POV of a paranoid Russia surrounded by adversaries?

      Does the preceding aid your analysis of the essay?

      JJB

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    2. that so called "democratically elected" government have changed Constitution illegally

      Same thing happened in Spain in the 1930s, leading to Franco's revolt.

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    3. @jjbrannon: If Curly is Ukrainian, or even knows Ukraine's history, then he is probably so incensed because Russia having any complaints about Ukraine is exactly as disgusting as when German politicians compare the Israelis to Nazis. The Ukrainians destroyed their Soviet nukes rather than using them to do to Russia what Russians did to them: they have fulfilled all obligations of human decency, Russia can go ask the Devil in Hell if they want anything else.

      If an essay tried to show the worldview of unrepentant Nazis—and Russia killed twice as many people as the Nazis, and committed more of every war-crime than all the Axis combined—it would be met with similar hostility. And while it is indeed a hypothetical, "just showing you how they view it", the "they" is still damned Nazis; some people reacting with anger is just to be expected.

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    4. @jjbrannon,
      but wasn't the whole point of hypobole rhetoric of presenting the opposing side's arguments only to refute them showing how ridiculous they are? I must admit though you are right, my reaction was a bit too over agitated.

      as @Sophia's Favorite correctly assumed, I am Ukrainian, I hope that both explains my anger and provides some excuse for emotions.

      @TheOFloinn, not sure how to draw a parallel between Franco's Regime and events in Ukraine. I mean at the end of the day Franco got to power as the result of civil war, whereas Yanukovich got legally elected in 2010 only

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    5. @Sophia's Favorite --

      My cousins are Letts whose patriarch Boris Janakeis came to this country after WWII to build a new life in freedom from Russian tyranny and helped smuggle Bibles into that Baltic soviet before its liberation again as an independent nation so I can understand reflexive outrage sparked by our host's exceedingly dry humor approach to laying open geopolitical conflict rather than conducting a snore-fest.

      It certainly has provoked edifying, if emotional, reaction. I am learning quite a bit from the exchange.

      My aim was to blunt any misperceived hostility, however.

      JJB

      Delete
  7. TOF wrote: "If every person is the hero of his own story, then every country is the center of the world."

    That's a disanalogy par excellence, even if we allow the state to be the individual writ large (per Socrates).

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  8. Kievan Rus, was linguisitcally Ukrainian.

    No. The Ukrainian language is a Polish-Russian patois that emerged somewhere after the 14th century, well after the Kievan Rus imploded. Kievan Rus itself was a state ruled by a mixed Scandinavian-Slavic dynasty from Novgorod.

    ...see a day when the Motherland's native population will implode because they are not reproducing themselves.

    Russia has a higher birth rate than China or practically any European country bar France and the UK. Moreover, Russia's birth rate is going up, not down. So no, the population will not implode any time soon.

    This region was hacked off the RSFSR (Russia-in-the-Soviet Union) by the Georgian tyrant Stalin in an effort to denationalize the Soviet republics

    Khruschev, not Stalin. The 'hacking off' was also technically illegal under Soviet law, which is why Ukraine had a tenuous grasp on the territory in the first place.


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