Michael McFaul, who until recently was the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, published an op-ed in The New York Times last Sunday, “Confronting Putin’s Russia,” which rues how Vladimir Putin’s recent aggression in Crimea is upending the post-Cold War European order. In a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger mode, reflecting that Amb. McFaul is an academic, not the reincarnation of George Patton, the op-ed goes through the sad chain of events that has led Europe to the sorry situation it now finds itself in, thanks to the Kremlin’s opting for the sword.
Despite this mildly scolding tone, McFaul’s writing clearly upset Moscow, as it has spurred a forthright rebuttal that has appeared in Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the Kremlin’s official newspaper. Authored by the foreign policy analyst and Duma member Vyacheslav Nikonov – the grandson and namesake of Vyacheslav Molotov, the prominent Bolshevik and Soviet foreign minister who signed the non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany in 1939 – this essay is as aggressive and biting as McFaul’s was measured and tactful.
Mincing no words, at the outset Nikonov, who also serves as chairman of the board of the Russkiy Mir Foundation, the Kremlin’s overseas propaganda arm, accuses McFaul of channeling George Kennan, the American diplomat who foresaw the Cold War in 1946: this despite the fact that the ambassador never mentioned Kennan in his piece. Hints of sinister Western aggression are thrown about like stale zakuski, leading Nikonov to point out, in language virtually indistinguishable from Glenn Greenwald’s, just who the real aggressor is:
One wonders, what did Russia do that was so monstrous that it must be contained by the whole world? Maybe it bombed Yugoslavia on its own initiative, supporting an internationally recognized terrorist organization — the Kosovo Liberation Army? Maybe it has been waging a war in Afghanistan for twelve years where the death toll is already in the hundreds of thousands? Maybe it occupied Iraq without any kind of mandate, leading to a million deaths? Maybe it uses drones to kill thousands in Pakistan? Maybe it arms al-Qa’ida and other terrorist groups fighting against the legitimate government in Syria? Maybe it bombed Libya into the Stone Age, turning it into a paradise for bandits? Maybe it possesses dozens of secret prisons where people are tortured without trial or investigation? Maybe it has sited some 800 military bases and facilities in 128 countries around the world? Maybe it works on the overthrow of legitimate governments in not very friendly states? Maybe it sites its troops and military infrastructure in other hemispheres? Maybe it organized the illegal surveillance of all humankind, including heads of state and government? No, it was not Russia that did all this. Its monstrous crime is that, without a single casualty, it ensured the free and democratic expression of will by the population of Crimea, who saw a threat to themselves in the new nationalist “authorities” in Kyiv, installed by our Western friends.
Not content to stop there, Nikonov then mocks Western sanctions, noting that all the cool kids in Moscow are competing to get on the U.S. and EU no-entry list: “Among the Russian elite it is unfashionable not to be on the list of those who are denied entry.” Economics, he explains, have changed since the Soviet era, and now a self-sufficient Russia can easily weather the storms caused by Western efforts to punish Putin; indeed, it is the West and especially the United States that is really vulnerable. At this point, the author decides to channel Ron Paul:
Enormous budget and trade deficits, enormous amounts of government debt, and the intolerable burden of already accumulated social commitments are making the Western economies much more vulnerable than others, including Russia’s. At the moment they are holding on through the endless outflows of dollars and euros, which at the moment are being used as the main currency reserves, and purchases of government bonds by developing economies with large budget surpluses. But this also will not continue forever, particularly when the example of economic sanctions against Russia is making everyone consider how safe an investment is offered by American securities and gold and currency reserves held in the U.S. Federal Reserve System. Losing its economic, moral, and geopolitical influence, the West, or rather the Anglo-Saxon part of it, is hurrying by any available means (preferably cheap, in view of the great financial situation) to change the world in its own favor.
Nikonov also points out that Russia is just fine because pretty much everybody outside the West thinks the Kremlin is great while they really hate America:
Democracy is when politics is based on the will of one’s own people, not foreign intelligence services and their clients. Argentine President Cristina Kirchner once answered the question: “Why will there be no coup d’état in the United States?” Because there is no American Embassy there. And so we ourselves will determine our own fate.
He then takes a messianic turn and notes that Russia today is less powerful than the Soviet Union yet more motivated and cohesive; moreover, anyone in Russia who dissents from the regime, taking the side of “fascists,” is obviously a “national traitor,” to use Putin’s approved term:
Russia is relatively weaker than the USSR. But it is much more monolithic in its understanding of its own nature, of good and evil, not distorted by Communist or pseudo-democratic dogma. There is no need to summon people to rallies in support of Crimea, they will come of their own accord. There is no need to explain to people the nature of Nazism, which is currently flourishing luxuriantly in Ukraine with Western support, or why it is dangerous. The force of spirit and truth is stronger than the force of evil and lies. You will have to confront not “Putin’s Russia,” but Russia. More than ninety percent of Russian citizens supported reunification with Crimea. Those “brave freedom fighters” who McFaul talks about with indrawn breath and with hope have in recent days, by marching with placards saying “The annexation of Crimea is Russia’s shame,” deprived themselves of a political future for a very long time, if not forever.
Nikonov then observes that Russia is not intimidated by American military might, it can take care of itself fine, and most of the world is behind it anyway:
Russia has far more allies than some people like to think. There are the members of the Customs Union, the Eurasian Economic Union, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (these five alone account for forth-three percent of humanity). Russia has no image problems among the majority of countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. And even in the West, Russia has a great many friends.
Moreover, even if Russia does have to go it alone, that’s fine too, according to Nikonov, because that’s just how the Kremlin has always rolled. Employing a barrel of cliches, he again asks who’s really the isolated country in decline, while adding a novel theory, a kind of Russian Dolchstosslegende, of how the Cold War ended:
But one thing on which one can agree with McFaul is that America’s moral authority is indeed at rock bottom today. In every corner of the globe one can hear approximately the same thing: “We are sick of the Americans!” According to global polls by America’s Gallup, people worldwide consider the main threat to peace to be the United States, by a wide margin, and not Russia….But what if Russia really did not have any allies? It has previously found itself alone or almost alone against the forces of the united West. In 1812, the Grande Armee brought Napoleon to Russia. In 1941 Hitler did the same. You know the outcome. Let’s observe that in all these cases it was Russia that turned out to be on the right side of history. The West did not beat us in the Cold War. The USSR stopped it itself unilaterally, and it was the inadequacy of the then Soviet elite that led to the breakup of the Soviet Union. Today, reading the writings of American leaders and analysts, you come to the conclusion that in terms of the degree of inadequacy of their understanding of the world they are not far behind the Soviet elite in the years of its decline.
To conclude his diatribe, Nikonov adds a chest-thumping flourish that is equal parts taunting and mocking towards the West:
Russia has already won. And not only because it has regained Crimea forever. It has conquered the paralysis of will. It has conquered political apathy. It has conquered the sense of humiliation. It has seen clearly who its friends are and where its enemies are. And it will not allow itself to be drawn into the confrontation that the ex-ambassador is calling for. If you want containment, then do it. Did you think we had been doing anything else until now!? But at least, don’t strain yourself.
As Russian forces marshal on the border of Ukraine – whether to invade the country or merely to cow Kyiv into submission we will know soon enough – it’s more than disconcerting to hear such aggressive verbiage from the Kremlin. They are itching for a fight. Does anybody in the West care to notice?