The recent conflict between Russia and Georgia has brought to the surface a latent conflict among conservatives in the West, one which has proven surprisingly bitter and acrimonious, and which often verges on the irrational.
I am neither a Russophile nor a Russophobe, so I have tried to stay out of the fight. Anything I say that fails to condemn the rampaging Slavic bear gets me flamed by the Russophobes. Anytime I point out the corrupt and violent behavior of the Russian state, or the risks it poses to Europe, I catch it from the Russophiles.
So I can’t possibly win. Better to avoid the topic altogether.
However, there is another way to view the situation. Russia is a nation with its own history and culture. Like any other nation it is neither uniformly bad nor uniformly good. A Russian leader who truly represents the people of his country will do what is in their interests, which will not necessarily accord with those of the USA or the UN or the EU.
Russian patriotism has the potential to be dangerous outside the country’s borders, depending on the circumstances, but that does not make the country or the regime evil. Prudent statecraft recognizes these facts, and includes them in its strategic planning.
With these ideas in mind, consider the contributions made by Russkiy, a new Russian commenter at Gates of Vienna. In a recent thread he summed up the current situation in his country in straightforward and sensible fashion. I can’t find anything to argue with in what he said (edited slightly for clarity):
A lot of criticism has been leveled against the current “regime” in the Russian Federation. Given the topic of this thread I would like to comment that the current regime managed to:
1. Bring Orthodox Christianity into the public discourse (by making it the official religion of the state) after decades of militant atheism, 2. Restore pride in the Russian people (the importance of the ethnic pride factor is constantly discussed on this forum), 3. Increase birth rates by promoting so-called “conception days” and sponsoring families with many children, 4. Attempt to reduce the problem of alcoholism that shortens the life expectancy of many men, 5. Be prepared to act decisively against “restive” minorities; however, sufficient multiculturalism is allowed to various ethnicities in Russia, as long as they don’t try to push anything unsavory from their culture into the mainstream.
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As a conclusion I would like to say that I still have hope for my country, if economic growth continues and the right political institutions develop. Some corruption will exist, but it does also in countries like France and Italy, where people are more social then Germanic/Anglo-Saxon people, and more susceptible to corruption.
And later on:
The Russian role in the current “clash of civilizations” is not clear yet. What is definite is that Russians have a deeply seated dislike, bordering on hatred, towards Islam.
This feeling arises from Russia being colonized and subjugated by the Mongols who in later times became Muslim Tatars. Later on Moscow expanded and the Tatars were subjugated; every Russian has in his mind that territories like Kazan are now Russian. Do you know that there are two types of Orthodox Crosses? One is a cross with a second diagonal line underneath the large horizontal line, and the other with crescent under the main cross, which symbolizes the victory of Christianity over Islam.
I know Russia is assisting Iran. I really hate that, but to be honest Russians know well enough what they are playing with; they don’t really want a strong Iran. They wouldn’t mind America going at it, but it [Iran] is a useful ally when Russia’s own interests are threatened by Western powers.
Russkiy illustrates quite clearly what so many people have said here in recent comment threads: the West and Russia have a natural common interest in containing Islam. Russia has an even more immediate problem in that regard, and — in a rational world — would be a natural ally.
However, the world is not rational. We have a hard job ahead of us undoing the damage done by paranoids, would-be hegemons, misguided idealists, and Cold War nostalgists.
Working with Russia definitely involves making sausages, and the fastidious would need to avert their eyes. Yes, it might be necessary to concede Russia’s paramount interest in the Caucasus, and then look the other way when circumstances require it. But a succession of US administrations managed to do just that with China over Tiananmen Square, and that was in the service of mere commercial deals. Why is it so hard to do the same with Russia when our actual national security is the issue?
In a similar vein, it would be prudent to revisit the Balkans and recognize our policy failures there concerning Serbia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. But don’t hold your breath.
Common sense would tell the West to sit down at the table with the Bear and cut a deal, but common sense is sorely lacking these days.