Reprinted from Consortium News
Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses UN General Assembly on Sept. 28, 2015.
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Arguably, the nuttiest neoconservative idea -- among a long list of nutty ideas -- has been to destabilize nuclear-armed Russia by weakening its economy, isolating it from Europe, pushing NATO up to its borders, demonizing its leadership, and sponsoring anti-government political activists inside Russia to promote "regime change."
This breathtakingly dangerous strategy has been formulated and implemented with little serious debate inside the United States as the major mainstream news media and the neocons' liberal-interventionist sidekicks have fallen in line much as they did during the run-up to the disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Except with Russia, the risks are even greater -- conceivably, a nuclear war that could exterminate life on the planet. Yet, despite those stakes, there has been a cavalier -- even goofy -- attitude in the U.S. political/media mainstream about undertaking this new "regime change" project aimed at Moscow.
There is also little appreciation of how lucky the world was when the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991 without some Russian extremists seizing control of the nuclear codes and taking humanity to the brink of extinction. Back then, there was a mix of luck and restrained leadership, especially on the Soviet side.
Plus, there were at least verbal assurances from George H.W. Bush's administration that the Soviet retreat from East Germany and Eastern Europe would not be exploited by NATO and that a new era of cooperation with the West could follow the break-up of the Soviet Union.
Instead, the United States dispatched financial "experts" -- many from Harvard Business School -- who arrived in Moscow with neoliberal plans for "shock therapy" to "privatize" Russia's resources, which turned a handful of corrupt insiders into powerful billionaires, known as "oligarchs," and the "Harvard Boys" into well-rewarded consultants.
But the result for the average Russian was horrific as the population experienced a drop in life expectancy unprecedented in a country not at war. While a Russian could expect to live to be almost 70 in the mid-1980s, that expectation had dropped to less than 65 by the mid-1990s.
The "Harvard Boys" were living the high-life with beautiful women, caviar and champagne in the lavish enclaves of Moscow -- as the U.S.-favored President Boris Yeltsin drank himself into stupors -- but there were reports of starvation in villages in the Russian heartland and organized crime murdered people on the street with near impunity.
Meanwhile, Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush cast aside any restraint regarding Russia's national pride and historic fears by expanding NATO across Eastern Europe, including the incorporation of former Soviet republics.
In the 1990s, the "triumphalist" neocons formulated a doctrine for permanent U.S. global dominance with their thinking reaching its most belligerent form during George W. Bush's presidency, which asserted the virtually unlimited right for the United States to intervene militarily anywhere in the world regardless of international law and treaties.
How Despair Led to Putin
Without recognizing the desperation and despair of the Russian people during the Yeltsin era -- and the soaring American arrogance in the 1990s -- it is hard to comprehend the political rise and enduring popularity of Vladimir Putin, who became president after Yeltsin abruptly resigned on New Year's Eve 1999. (In declining health, Yeltsin died on April 23, 2007).
Putin, a former KGB officer with a strong devotion to his native land, began to put Russia's house back in order. Though he collaborated with some oligarchs, he reined in others by putting them in jail for corruption or forcing them into exile.