Church of the Savior on Blood. Saint-Petersburg. degrees degreesdegrees degrees .
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Russia has always fascinated me--the mystical orthodox faith brought to Kievan Rus in the ninth century, the stern heroes who defended Muscovy against the Golden Horde in the 13--15th centuries, the vast spaces, the remarkable literature of Pushkin and Tolstoy, the Bolshevik Revolution against imperialism ... The West has always been a bit jealous of its proud race of genius.
I fell in love with Russia as a teen when I discovered Prokofieff and insisted--rebelling against my teacher--on playing his fiendishly difficult Toccata in D minor for my Conservatory diploma. I have no idea how I managed it now, but I did, and the piece and my performance proved to be a fine metaphor for the logically impossibility of 20th century Russia, which lived on war and revolution, dreams and nightmares. Prokofieff returned to Russia in 1933, at the peak of Stalin's repressions, and produced his greatest works, Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella, War and Peace, his war sonatas (not to mention his Ode to Stalin). That hooked me.
Today's standoff between the Russian bear and the American eagle is yet another epic struggle in Russia's history, at the heart of Eurasia--the world's "heartland". It had a narrow brush with complete collapse in 1985--98 under Gorbachev/ Yeltsin, a weak, indecisive leadership, a metaphorical reenactment of Boris Godunov seizing the throne in the 16th century. 1985--98 was a repetition of Godunov and the legendary Time of Troubles.
1998 saw a reenactment of the rallying of the nation to expel the Polish occupiers and reassert Russian power in 1613, just as Vladimir Putin's consolidation of power ended the western invasion in the form of NATO encirclement and western carpetbaggers. That is most certainly how Russians now assess their crippled society.
Putin is despised in the West as a corrupt chauvinist, and Russia is boycotted (though Europe is happy to continue to buy Russian oil and gas), but the reality is very different. Just as in 1613, the first Romanov Tsar Mikihail was inexperienced (a 17-year-old pious prince whose counselors were a mixed bag, some relatively honest and capable men like his father; some, corrupted and bigoted), Putin has fashioned an image of an incorruptible Russian patriot, above the fray, but all the time juggling with powerful oligarchs and complex political currents, both at home and abroad.
Western media is a barometer not so much for who is a 'bad guy', but who is getting the imperial goat; who needs being brought into line. So in the West, (Nobel peace laureate) Gorbachev and Yeltsin were both slavishly praised (both are despised by Russians, rating 1% in popularity) and Putin is relentlessly pilloried. Who's the 'bad guy' and why is he 'bad'?
The American bully tries to taunt the Russian bear into doing something rash, as it moves NATO up to Russia's borders, encircling it as it did in Cold War days, wooing and inciting noisy little neighbours from the Baltics to Georgia and further. But the Russian leader stands by his principles and his fellow Slavs, despite the provocations. The Time of Troubles is over. No one is going to destroy the Russian heartland, nor will they succeed in breaking up the ancient slavic federacy into a chain of Wal Marts.
1991 sea change
Whether left or right, all agree that the US was more cautious in foreign policy when the Soviet Union was alive and well. There have been lots of coups instigated or just abetted by Washington, but, other than Korea and Vietnam, very little use of US troops in the process--until 1991.
1991 marked a sea change in world politics. Bush senior, US president at the time, professed the goal to be "a new world order--a world where the rule of law, not the law of the jungle, governs the conduct of nations ... an order in which a credible United Nations can use its peacekeeping role to fulfill the promise and vision of the UN's founders."
The US and the EEC (newly incorporated as the European Union in 1993) would help the ex-socialist bloc, including the ex-Soviet Union and its energy-rich Central Asian republics, rebuild their economies and political structures along western capitalist, democratic lines, fashioning weak, "postmodern states", independent in name only. This process began in Europe with the creation of the EU after WWII and accelerated in North America with the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, soon to be reinforced by the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement, creating a monster 'rimland' American empire-lite, surrounding the Eurasian heartland.
Such alliances, with NATO under US guidance, are intended as the foundations for a united, peaceful world, a "postmodern imperialism", devoid of messy competitive wars for colonies, neo-colonies or the need for a life-or-death defense of 'western civilization'. Russia was invited to join in the 1990s, but when it woke from its post-collapse hangover, it discovered that its dream of a nuclear free world had been pushed aside, and realized that the proposed peaceful postmodern imperial order was a sham. Events since have only confirmed this 'sober' assessment.
Bush senior hit the ground running, invading Iraq in January, without so much as a 'by your leave' to Soviet President Gorbachev (who merely approved, after an offer to mediate was ignored).
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