Wolf vs Bear

opinion.jpgDemonizing NATO is a favorite Kremlin pastime, Michael Bohm says in an op-ed in the the Moscow Times today.  Taking Medvedev’s questionable assertion that there are NATO missiles in Europe, pointing at Russia, as a recent case in point – he traces the history of Russian NATO bashing.

There is a rich Soviet history of crude anti-NATO propaganda. Old copies of Krokodil magazine, for example, contain plenty of grotesque caricatures filled with the bloody hands of rapacious Uncle Sam-like figures representing NATO, craving to take over the world. Two generations of Russians grew up reading Krokodil as well as Sergei Mikhalkov, who, in addition to writing several versions of the Soviet anthem, wrote popular, highly politicized fables such as “The Wolf-Diplomat” with direct references to NATO as the predatory wolf that gobbles up innocent hares. Even today, the sound of the word “NATO” invariably evokes a knee-jerk negative response among many Russians, even among the intelligentsia who understand perfectly well that NATO’s military capability and its relationship to Russia are completely different now than they were during the Cold War.

Given the degree to which NATO has disarmed over the past 18 years, it is ridiculous, of course, to speak seriously about a NATO military threat to Russia. (The alliance’s “political threat” to Russia should not be confused with a military threat.)

But the spirit of Krokodil and Mikhalkov continues to thisday, particularly among the conservative journalists and politicalanalysts like Mikhail Leontyev, Alexei Pushkov and Alexander Prokhanov.One popular radio and television host recently described NATO on EkhoMoskvy radio as “the iron leviathan that crushes all humanity.”Granted, many Russians to this day find it hard to forgive NATO for itsmilitary campaign in the former Yugoslavia, and true, we hear plenty ofinflammatory Russia-bashing from Poland and the Baltic states. Butisn’t “iron leviathan that crushes all humanity” a bit of anoverstatement to describe NATO?

This overblown rhetoric can be heard on a regular basis in the Russianmass media, particularly on government-controlled television. It wouldbe nice if this could be dismissed as harmless bluster — or evenencouraged as diversity of opinion, if such pluralism, in fact,existed. But the problem is that anti-NATO and anti-U.S. propaganda bythe country’s conservative journalists and analysts dominates the massmedia, and it has a direct impact on the public. Opinion polls,including the most current ones, confirm that anti-NATOism andanti-Americanism have stayed at the same levels as during the Bush era,despite Obama’s clearly new approach to Russia. Some polls indicatethat negative feelings toward NATO and the United States have actuallyincreased since Obama became president. This results in aself-perpetuating vicious circle: the more anti-NATOism increases, themore the politicians and journalists want to cater to this publicopinion, fueling anti-NATOism even more. This can hardly help “reset”U.S.-Russian relations.

The anti-NATO rhetoric looks particularly primitive and obsolete afterRussia agreed in July to provide the United States and other NATOcountries with an air corridor for military shipments. In addition, newNATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has made a commitment toimprove NATO-Russian relations, and this offers a lot of hope. 

Read the whole article here.