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Russian Pessimism

Pessimism, it seems, is blind to partisan differences in Russia.  This is from an interesting column by Andrei Kortunov in the Moscow Times.

It is interesting that Russia’s conservative “patriots” and the diametrically opposed liberals are in many respects equally pessimistic. The patriots hold that it is naive to think there could be a new detente with the United States, because those in Washington’s ruling circles always have been and always will be antagonistic toward Russia — no matter who occupies the White House. They believe that Russophobia is deeply ingrained in the American psyche. This explains, for example, why the U.S. media is full of articles, editorials and opinion pieces that are biased against Russia and, more specifically, why NATO military exercises are being held on Russia’s border in Georgia.

The liberals are pessimistic for a completely differentreason. They have no faith in the sincerity of the Kremlin leadership.In their opinion, the country’s political elite is simply not ready fora serious dialogue with the United States because it has a vestedinterest in portraying the United States as an enemy, in encouraginganti-U.S. sentiment and maintaining the “besieged fortress” mentality.

Thespecter of hostile enemies surrounding Russia has traditionally made itpossible to divert attention from domestic problems, give legitimacy tothose in authority and provide cover for their mistakes and abuses ofpower. That is why, according to liberals, Russia will continue toprovide support to enemies of the United States, from VenezuelanPresident Hugo Chavez to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It alsoexplains why the Kremlin hawks will fight to control what they considertheir “zone of privileged interests” in the former Soviet republics anddo everything in their power to drive a wedge between the United Statesand European countries.

There is an element of truth to both theliberal and patriotic positions. Without going into detail, it is safeto say that there is a tremendous amount of inertia that guaranteesthat U.S.-Russian relations remain strained, despite brief respites ofoptimism. The worsening of relations has a history dating back yearsbefore the fallout over the Georgia war in August. The breaking pointmight have been NATO’s war in Yugoslavia in the late 1990s, the war inIraq or the Kremlin’s bankruptcy of Yukos and the criminal case againstthe company’s former CEO, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.