Do you wake up in the middle of the night, drenched in a cold sweat? Does your television turn on and off for no apparent reason? Does your pet dog begin howling like a coyote at midnight? There is one overall explanation to account for all of these terrifying events – the Russians are responsible.
The Russians did it!
2018 is drawing to a close, but Russophobia has escalated, more paranoid and ridiculous than ever before. Your car won’t start? The Russians sabotaged it. You have an upset stomach? The Russians poisoned your meal. Your favourite football team lost the game? The Russians fixed the match.
While the tone of the above is facetious, there is nothing even remotely amusing about the current round of anti-Russia hysteria. The accusation of Russian interference has become the default explanation for any and every kind of problem in the US and Britain. This Russophobic mode of thinking disables our critical thinking faculties, blinds us to the myriad causes of social and economic problems in our own society, and serves the definite political purposes of the US and English ruling classes. The Russophobic mindset takes a paranoid, downward spiral, seeing malignant Russian/Soviet influence here, there and everywhere.
The portrayal of Russia as some sort of Machiavellian monster-superpower pervading every aspect of American life is preposterous, but it does fulfill political functions. Originating in the ruling circles of Washington and London, this anti-Russia paranoia has eerie similarities to the anti-Communist McCarthyite witch hunts of the 1950s and 60s.
Specifically, opposition to Trump, built up by the Democratic party and their supporters in the US military-intelligence community, is based on the absurd accusation that Trump is a Kremlin stooge, or at least owes his election victory in 2016 to Russian meddling.
This line of opposition ignores the very real reasons to oppose the racist Right – anti-immigration attacks, privatisation of public services, pushing down workers – and misdirects political opposition along “Trump is a foreign stooge” lines. Foreign powers are assigned responsibility for America’s problems, and the American capitalist system goes unexamined. We must fight back not only against Trump and his racist supporters, but against the economic system that produced him and made his ascent possible.
What is the purpose of this vocational demonisation of Russia, and in particular its president, Vladimir Putin? We can start examining this question by recalling the wise words of emeritus Professor Stephen Cohen, a scholar and expert commentator on Soviet and Russian history and politics – the Cold War ended in Moscow, but not in Washington.
With that concise and accurate observation, we can begin to understand that Cold War thinking still dominates policymakers in Washington and London as well. Russia under President Putin has reasserted itself, and this pushback has set off alarm bells in Washington’s ruling circles. Not only has President Putin avoided the attempts by the Western powers to isolate Russia, he stopped the Jamaicanisation of the Russian economy, restoring its fundamentals and asserting Russian capitalism on the international stage. This hardly makes Russia an enormous superpower, or a mythical resurrection of the Soviet Union, but a serious competitor to the other capitalist nations.
Birtherism and Russophobia
Birtherism – the racist conspiracy theories about former President Obama’s citizenship and birth – alleged that he was a secret Muslim, and a puppet of a foreign power. Denounced as disloyal and a traitor, the ludicrous assertion that Obama was controlled by a foreign state was used by Trump and the racist right to divert opposition to Obama’s policies. No mention was made of Obama’s escalation of drone strikes, letting Wall Street banks and financial institutions off the hook for their criminality, or continuing privatisation of public assets.
The anti-Russia hysteria is a xenophobic realignment of the birtherism paranoia. The “Trump is a Kremlin stooge” allegation may not be openly racist, but it is equally xenophobic as the birtherism attacks against Obama. Attacking and smearing opponents, particularly left-wing alternatives, to the Democratic party in the US as stooges of Communist/Soviet/Russian influence has a long and sordid history.
Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, and other opposition candidates have faced scurrilous accusations of Russian influence. Interestingly, it was the Republican party, during its failed 1992 campaign for the presidency, that accused the eventual winner, Bill Clinton, of being ‘soft’ on Russia.
Russophobia is back in fashion in Washington, and in Canberra for that matter. There are a whole host of reasons to oppose Trump. Being an agent of a foreign power is not one of them. It is easy to blame outsiders for your own domestic problems. While Russia is no longer a Communist country, its allegedly perfidious activities are normally ascribed to underlying Communist-Marxist influence in the Kremlin. After all, Putin himself is an ex-KGB agent, is he not? Those pesky Commies still manage to come back.
Putin and George H W Bush
It is interesting to note that Putin’s background as a KGB operative is frequently cited to denote Russia’s supposedly authoritarian character since he took office in 1999-2000. However, the late George Bush’s background as head of the CIA made little if any impact on the American system of government.
Even though Bush, in the 1980s, was responsible for constructing a shadowy criminal-business network outside the scrutiny of the US congress in carrying out the Iran-Contra affair. Bush became a traitor to the very constitution he swore to uphold, circumventing it and its laws to continue supplying the murderous Nicaraguan contras.
All forms of dissent in the United States, from Black Lives Matter to Wikileaks, are routinely smeared in the corporate media as Russian stooges or agents influenced by the Kremlin. The sinister effectiveness of this tactic is quite astounding- dismiss your opponents as foreign agents actively discourages any discussion about the serious and legitimate reasons for political dissent. Rather than have a substantive discussion about the ongoing problems of racism, state surveillance, the crimes of US foreign policy and corporate corruption, these issues are swept under the carpet under a tide of false and malicious accusations of Russian influence.
Opposition to Trump and the Alternative Right becomes constrained; rather than discuss the criminal and predatory policies of the Trump administration, the politically dissenting groups have to answer deceitful questions about their alleged lack of patriotism and foreign influence.
Russia’s reorientation and resurgence
In the last few weeks, Russia has delivered to the Venezuelan government two long-range strategic bomber aircraft, capable of carrying short-range nuclear warheads. Moscow also pledged to establish joint defence training and military strategies with the Venezuelan authorities.
These measures, along with the Russian government’s decision to block the Kerch strait separating Russia from the Crimean peninsula and seize three Ukrainian naval warships, touched off a war of words between Moscow and Washington. But these moves also demonstrate the major reason Washington and London harbour bitter resentment towards Moscow and Putin in particular. Putin has been outmanoeuvring the US and Britain for decades.
Russia has recuperated from the disastrous consequences of the USSR’s dissolution in 1991. In what was the worst peacetime collapse of industry and social services, millions lost their lives through destitution, the rise of unemployment and crime, and the subsequent loss of medical services. The change from a centrally-planned socialist economy to a privatised, oligarchic ‘free market’ produced the mass pauperisation of the population, massive inequalities, child malnutrition and homelessness. Health and social policy experts have calculated that in the 1990s, millions died as a result of the reestablishment of capitalist economic relations and the destruction of social services.
The orgy of criminal self-enrichment of the Yeltsin years stopped under President Putin. No, he is not going to restore the Soviet Union; no, he is not a new Stalin, neither is he a dictator. He is a Russian nationalist, a De Gaulle-style leader who stresses cooperation with Europe while maintaining Russia’s interests. While criticising unilateral actions by American imperialism, he is not anti-imperialist. Russia is not a superpower about to devour the globe; neither is it an economically disastrous place as it was in the 1990s.
Russia has vast natural resources, and this, combined with its resurgence, makes it an obstacle to the plans of the United States. Let us bear in mind that Russia today has an economy smaller than South Korea and Brazil. It has military bases in Syria, and along Armenia’s border with Turkey. The United States has at least 800 military bases around the world, plus its expanding and covert military presence in African countries.
It is not Kremlin propaganda to point out the obvious fact that NATO has expanded to incorporate former Eastern bloc nations. It is not Kremlin proper to observe that the 2014 Ukrainian putsch was led by neo-fascists and Nazi-rehabilitating racist criminals. It is not “Putin apologetics” to point out that the United States – and interestingly Israel – are militarily and diplomatically supporting the neo-Nazi government in Kiev to stoke tensions with Moscow.
Russia under Putin has got itself together, and waged diplomatic measures to increase ties with China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, India and other nations. The Kremlin intervened decisively in Syria to protect its interests, and militarily defeat what it sees as religiously extremist militia groups fighting to topple the Ba’athist Syrian regime. Demonising Putin may make us feel self-righteous, but does nothing to assist us in understanding the legitimate grievances that Moscow raises regarding current conflicts.
Australia – let’s stop the anti-Russia paranoia
What has all this got to do with Australia?
In an article for Russia Beyond the Headlines, journalist Rakesh Krishnan Simha makes the powerful case that Australia, rather than blindly and mindlessly following the policy directives of Washington, should abandon its anti-Russia paranoia. As Simha writes:
Over the decades, they have blindly followed the U.S. and have been loyal foot soldiers in a string of American-inspired conflicts around the world – Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria. Plus, with old co-hegemon Britain’s defense forces shrinking because of budget cuts, Australia is keen to take over the role of America’s closest ally.
With the end of the Cold War, the Australian foreign policy establishment were euphoric – Russia was defeated (supposedly) and Yeltsin opened up the nation to the inroads of foreign capital. But the euphoria was short-lived. Putin’s ascent to power, and Russia’s resurgence as a force to be reckoned with, has made Canberra sullen, hostile and resentful. We must stop this ongoing hostility to Russia, simply making America’s enemies our opponents as well.
If we maintain this direct collision course with Russia, the consequences for the world will be catastrophic. Let us stop this insane psychology of ‘Russiagate’, and look at ourselves and our own problems. In their attempt to unseat Trump, factions of the American ruling class are using Russophobia as a weapon. Let us not go down that road, but oppose Trump by presenting an anti-capitalist alternative, and thus sweep away the diseased system that gave rise to such a diseased mind.
Australian correspondent for Tuck Magazine, Rupen Savoulian is an activist, writer, socialist and IT professional. Born to Egyptian-Armenian parents in Sydney, Australia, his interests include social justice, anti-racism, economic equality and human rights.