Why Russia Is Still A Threat

USSR cartoon propaganda
Ian Bremmer Eurasia Group
Ian Bremmer

Ian Bremmer, the president of Eurasia Group and a global research professor at New York University recently published an interesting opinion on the crisis around Ukraine in Time magazine.

Some of his conclusions are based on decades of academic research and look pretty fundamental to me. But some of the others are self-defensive and look strange from the Ukrainian perspective. Therefore I’d like to reply to NY professor via my blog.

An American political scientist says that there’s no worry about Russia:

The Russians are simply not that powerful. Over the last 25 years, Russia has been steadily declining—demographically, economically, diplomatically, geographically, and militarily. Growth is slow—they will be in a recession this year—and taking over a big part of Ukraine would prove even more expensive.

This is a repeat of the populist notion in circles of the Democratic Party that there’s no worry about Russia for the West. As we remember, the US President Barak Obama in his speech at the Democratic Convention 2012 actually laughed about the threat from Russia:

My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy, (LAUGHTER) (APPLAUSE) but from all that we’ve seen and heard, they want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly. After all, you don’t call Russia our number one enemy, not Al Qaeda, Russia, unless you’re still stuck in a Cold War mind warp. (APPLAUSE)

Such laughter at DNC 2012 shows how easy Americans forget the past, relying on the new leader’s vision due to lack of strong independent voices.

USSR cartoon propagandaI would be glad is there will be no Cold War again. But the crisis around Ukraine is in progress, it’s still unfolding; and it’s hard to predict the goals of the Kremlin ruler both towards Ukraine and the West. During the past few months I saw re-invention of many elements of the Cold War. They’re not visible from the American perspective, because the West got used to see it mostly as Communism and mass destruction arms’ race. Such perceptions of Westerners aren’t strange. Bad things are easily forgotten due to human nature; and generations changed because so much time has gone since the end of WW2 end collapse of the Soviet Union.

From my Ukrainian perspective, the Cold War environment means almost complete isolation from the rest of the world, deliberate brainwashing by the Kremlin-directed propaganda, no civil or political rights and freedoms, and pro-Kremlin internal policy on every level. I see how “new rulers” in the occupied Crimea work on bringing that past back, and activities of different separatists movements in the Eastern Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts consists of clear warnings of the same scenarios.

As people say, never believe in a weakened bear. Moscow is maybe looks weak globally, as professor Bremmer thinks. But Moscow is strong to destabilize its former neighboring territories, which now the sovereign countries hardly trying to live their own way. Moscow maybe couldn’t occupy or annex them in conventional ways, but it is able to transform Ukraine and other post-Soviet satellites into so-called “Russian world” kind of empire. We see how Moscow is able to brainwash Ukrainian people by its TV, radio, and online propaganda, pressure on local elites, sending terror groups for intimidation, and altering an effect of “failed state”.

Meanwhile, Ian Bremmer continues to decrease the threat from Russia in his article for Time:

Hilary Clinton and Prince Charles have drawn a comparison to Hitler and the Sudetenland—and that’s ludicrous. Putin might be a bad guy, and he might be doing things we don’t like, and he might disregard human rights. But he doesn’t have the capability to become Hitler. Economically, he can’t get it done.

The NY professor admits that Vladimir Putin can be a bad guy. Really, a good guy will not start a war against his neighbor! A good guy will not send undercover troops without insignia to grab neighboring territories and terrorize the other nation with the aim to convert them into “own, right people”. But Bremmer’s objection that Putin is not like Hitler are rather misleading than based on reality.

Putin Crimea annexation TV
Photo by Viktor Drachev/AFP/Getty Images

In 2014 Putin started to disregard human rights outside his territory. I mean at least three things which we have already seen: fake referendums under Kalashnikovs to join Russia, forceful conversion of Crimean citizens of Ukraine into citizens of the Russian Federation, and suppression of Crimean Tatars with banning their leader Moustafa Jemilev from his home. Plus, murders and kidnappings of civil activists, local politicians, journalists, priests, OSCE envoys, etc.

By supporting Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria (where the Russian naval base is located) and annexation of Crimean peninsula (hub of the Russian Black Sea fleet), Putin started to behave like Hitler, grabbing control over lands he thinks belong to the “Russian sphere of interests”.  Latest news that children in Syria will start studying Russian, and Crimean schools will be converted into the Russian-speaking prove that it isn’t the educational reform, but the long-range geopolitical plan.

Ian Bremmer probably don’t see that analogy of Putin’s style in the 21st century with Hitler’s style of the past century can’t be literal, like wearing uniforms, attacks with conventional troops, and declaring the war against the whole world. As for me, starting from 2000 Putin is gradually building up capabilities of Hitler, for example, upgrading army, supporting far-right movements, and transforming media into effective propaganda industry. We saw how Russian ultra-nationalists marched in Saint-Petersburg on Victory Day (for the 1st time after the WW2) and how freedom of press in Russia died almost completely. Deep analysis of present time fascism we can find in recent article of the US professor and historian Tymothy Snider “The battle in Ukraine means everything: Fascism returns to the continent it once destroyed”  in the New Republic, which I suggest to read.

The NY-based political scientist Ian Bremmer continues:

For crises like Ukraine—as well as the conflict in Syria, and others like them—there is no resolution coming. They just aren’t sufficiently vital to prompt a collaborative solution among major powers. 

As I think, the resolution for Ukraine crisis is coming first from the Ukrainian nation, which is rapidly awakening, getting united and matured.  The ability of Ukrainians to resist Kremlin’s plans to build empire for their cost is an optimistic surprise for hesitating Europe, as well as for worrying America. And this is a bad sign for Vladimir Putin and his ex-KGB friends.



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