Johnson's Russia List 2007-#264 28 December 2007
From: Andrei Tsygankov
Subject: From Russia With No Love Left

In 2007, Russia made it clear that it seeks greater stakes in the international system and would no longer accept the status of a West’s junior partner it was during the 1990s. Beginning with Putin’s speech at the Munich Conference on Security Policy, Russia grew extremely critical of U.S. “unilateralism.” Russia’s president then accused the United States of "disdain for the basic principles of international law" and having "overstepped its national borders in . . . the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations."

Sharp emotional rebukes from Moscow continued throughout the year. In July Putin objected the American democracy promotion rhetoric that resembled to him the way colonialists had talked a hundred years earlier about how the white man needed to “civilize ‘primitive peoples’.” In his address on the anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany on May 9, 2007 president of Russia denounced "disrespect for human life, claims to global exclusiveness and dictate, just as it was in the time of the Third Reich." And in his recent interview to the Time magazine, Putin said “the United States only needs subjects who can be ordered around” and “that is the reason why we and everybody else are being told, No, they can be slapped and chided a bit because they are not quite civilized, they are a bit savage, they only came down from the trees a short while ago. So we should clean them up a bit, - they can't do it by themselves, - give them a shave, wash the dirt off them. That’s our civilising mission." Although some observers have interpreted Putin’s rhetoric as a pragmatic response to Russia’s nationalistic public, his feelings are genuine and deserve a close attention.

The Russia’s new assertive foreign policy stance is only partly driven by high energy prices and the country’s international behavior is unlikely to return to that of the 1990s, should the world experience a sudden drop in oil prices. More than anything, the new Kremlin’s emotional response is a product of the Washington global regime change policy and the interactive nature of the US-Russia relations. The United States’ typical emotions toward Russia are those of the world’s hegemon – impatience and frustration with the vassal’s “uncooperative” or “unhelpful” attitude toward various international issues, as well as lack of progress in building Western-style democratic institutions. The flip side of this frustration is fear that makes some American and European observers to interpret the Kremlin’s new foreign policy as a vindication of their old suspicions about Russia’s imperialist and anti-Western culture.

At this point, many Russians no longer care about not getting love from the West. They feel humiliated by the situation when Russia was ignored and had to swallow the war in the Balkans, two rounds of NATO expansion, the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty, U.S. military presence in Central Asia, the invasion of Iraq, plans to deploy elements of nuclear missile defense in Eastern Europe, as well as constant attempts by the media to implicate Russia as a potential enemy. The sense of humiliation and defiance is widely shared across the Russian society and the elites. Humiliation is a sensitive subject, and most face saving politicians prefer not to articulate their frustration with the United States in public. Still some do, as did leading Russian politician Vladimir Yakunin. Responding to the German magazine Der Spriegel’s question “What should the West do?”, Yakunin said: “It should not humiliate us. You can throw a bucket of cold water on Russians, and we can take it. But one shouldn't humiliate us! The political scientist Hans Morgenthau said that countries should not forget the national interests of other countries when defining their own. The current American government becomes irritated over every attempt on the part of a country to go its own way – especially when it is as big and wealthy as Russia. That's political arrogance.”

By now, it should be well understood that Russians are prepared to go far to change the situation of humiliation. For the third time during the last fifteen years, they feel betrayed by the West – first due to the broken promise given to Mikhail Gorbachev not to expand NATO, second being denied a greater integration into Western institutions under Boris Yeltsin, and now in response to breakup of the post-9/11 coalition. Although Russia was well-prepared to improve its ties with the United States and Europe during Putin’s first term, the Kremlin could not sacrifice Russia’s interests and great power status and its attitude soon toughened in response to behavior of the West. If Russia is not heard this time, its desperation may turn into a conscientious effort to sabotage the United States’ policies as a way to preserve a room to maneuver. As Max Weber said, “A nation forgives injury to its interests, but not injury to its honor.”