Staunton, March 25 – The Kremlin’s anti-Western mythology is now so widespread that many in Moscow and some in the West accept it as a given and fail to understand how it reflects a specific political program and how dangerous and self-destructive it is for those who are putting it about, according to Vladimir Milov.
In an extended blog post on Ekho Moskvy today, Milov, a former deputy energy minister and now president of the Moscow Institute for Energy Policy, argues that there are two reasons for that conclusion.
The first reason is that this mythology is “based on serious exaggerations and often on open lies which disorient Russia in its foreign policy actions and open the way to incorrect steps.” Using it is like attempting to fly with a map not based on reality but on one’s own imagination. That can lead to crashes.
And the second, Milov says is that Russia will only suffer if it turns away from the West as a strategic partner and transforms itself into the enemy of the rest of the world. “When our problems with our real and natural competitors, China and the Islamic world, intensify, the gap between Russia and the West can play a very evil joke on [Russia].”
Consequently, “it is time to begin a serious de-mythologization” of the West and its relations with Russia. Among the myths that need to be dispelled is that the West “terribly insulted and injured Russia in the 1990s” and now is the time for Russia to take “its ‘just’ revenge.’”
Consider the facts, Milov says. The West provided credits to Gorbachev to help him “preserve the Soviet system.” It forced three former Soviet republics to return nuclear weapons to Russia. And it provided direct aid and credits which prevented an even greater economic and humanitarian debacle.
Many in Russia now complain that the West didn’t write off the Soviet debt, but they forget that Russia “assumed them in exchange” for agreements by the other former Soviet republics not to make claims on Soviet property abroad and that as a result of oil and gas price rises, Moscow was easily able to carry them.
A second myth put about by the Kremlin with its anti-Western rhetoric is that “the West and NATO bombed and dismembered Yugoslavia and want to do the same thing with Russia.” People should remember that the West intervened in Yugoslavia only three years after the bloodletting began.
One can disagree with NATO’s strategy – according to Milov, its involvement in Kosovo in 1999 was more questionable than its earlier actions elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia, but one fact is clear, Milov says: NATO “did not unleash the Yugoslav wars: it intervened in order to end them.”
A third myth in the Kremlin’s propaganda campaign is that the expansion of NATO “threatens Russia.” There is no evidence for this, he argues, although he does suggest that US President George W. Bush made a “colossal” mistake in 2002 when he unilaterally withdrew from the ABM treaty. That gave Putin some winning “propaganda cards.”
Focusing on an imaginary Western threat, the Moscow analyst argues, is creating a situation in which the Russian authorities and the Russian people are ignoring very real threats and driving away those who could and may in many cases even want to be Moscow’s allies in countering them.
The most obvious is China whose leaders talk about the “injustices” of the 1858 and 1860 treaties and sometimes suggest that it will at some point be necessary to “take Siberia and the Far East” away from Russia. “Just now China is taking a moderate line toward Russia, but who knows who will be in power [in Beijing] in the years to come?”
Because of his occupation of Crimea and his antagonism to the West, Vladimir Putin has made Russia more dependent on Chinese good will, Milov suggests, and it is virtually certain that China will make use of that dependence “against us.” But no one is talking about that risk, the result of being blinded by the Kremlin’s anti-Western mythology.
Meanwhile, there is another “potential source of threat” that the anti-Western rhetoric obscures: the Islamic world. Moscow was terrified by the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, but interestingly enough, “the Americans have done the dirty work” for Russia by overthrowing that Islamist regime. What happens when they leave Afghanistan, especially if the US is viewed as an enemy in Moscow?
Iran is another problem for Russia in the Islamic world, Milov continues. Moscow tries to be friends with Tehran, ignoring the reality that “Iran is our largest prospective competitor for supplying gas to Europe and Asia,” the only country with more natural gas reserves than Russia. And what has Moscow been doing? Helping Iran with its nuclear program.
A fourth myth on which the Kremlin’s anti-Western mythology rests is that the West attacks everybody: Iraq, Libya and Yugoslavia and now plans to “attack” Russia. There is no question that many of these earlier Western decisions were not wise or carried out. But there is no evidence that the West is about to “attack Russia.”
How can anyone believe that the West will do so when he or she sees how difficult it has been for the West even to agree on targeted sanctions in the wake of Crimea? It is absurd to think that is has any intention to take a more radical step.
And there is yet another fifth myth in the Kremlin’s arsenal: the myth that the West is using NGOs as “a ‘fifth column’” to subvert Russia and the other post-Soviet states in order to install governments loyal to itself.
It is true that “the democratic model of organizing society as the most successful the world has known open threatens the future of the most varied dictatorships, including the Russian one,” but it does not threaten “the future of the countries of peoples,” only that of those who want to control them in an authoritarian way.
Of course, Milov says, the West has its own interests and it is “stupid to count on altruism toward Russia on the part of Western countries.” But if one compares Western policies toward Moscow with those of other centers of power, like China and the Islamic world, the former are far better and more suitable for Russians if not the Kremlin than the latter.
The West has helped Russia, perhaps not as much as it could have, but it has helped. “The others? Not so much.” China hasn’t done much. And the help of the Islamists was limited to “only part of its residents, those who declared themselves ‘Ichkeria’” as Chechens called their country before and during the Russian attacks against it.
If one thinks about this, the mythology offered by the Kremlin about the West dispels itself, the Moscow analyst concludes; but if one doesn’t – and in Moscow today, that is the case of far too many people — then that very mythology carries with it the risk that the Russian leadership may make some “fatal strategic errors.”