Russia: Tit for Tat – Israel Shamir
Posted by Israel
Shamir on June 29, 2015
Summing it up, President Putin
speaks softly. If he carries a big stick, he does not flash it around.
Hail, fire and brimstone, new
sanctions or the US tanks on its borders, Russia takes things in stride.
President Putin could adopt the motto of William of Orange: saevis
tranquillus in undis, calm amidst the tempest.
NATO BASES SURROUND RUSSIA
The tempest is all around. American
tanks moved into the Baltic states. American warships sail up the Black
sea. The EU sanctions against Russia were extended for another six
months. Russian assets were seized in France and Belgium. In Syria,
Damascus is threatened by the US-armed rebels. Greece wants to embrace
Russia, but probably will not dare. Armenia, a small country hidden
between Iran and Turkey, just joined the Eurasian Union of Russia-led
states, and already there are public disturbances ominously reminding
everyone of Kiev 2013. Ukraine is in shambles, sending waves of refugees
to Russia. A weaker nation would become hysterical. Putin and Russia
I’ll tell you a Missisippi joke.
A black criminal and a white criminal are being led to the gallows. The
black takes it easy, the white guy weeps. Stop whining, said the black.
It’s easy for you to say, retorted the white, you blacks are used to
such treatment. Likewise, Russia is used to such treatment since Soviet
days, and even since earlier times, for the rivalry between heirs of
Rome and the heirs of Constantinople is very old indeed. Now, a short
period of détente is over, and it’s back to cold war. Surprise,
surprise: the majority of Russians would prefer the West’s hostility of
Brezhnev days to their warm embraces in the days of Gorbachev and
Yeltsin. Indeed things do improve, with the cold war and the sanctions.
- The Russian idle rich,
bereft of Miami and Côte d’Azur pleasures, pay more attention to
their less fortunate fellow citizens. They do not steal less, but
spend the loot locally.
- A most prominent lady,
Valentina Matvienko, the Senate Speaker, had been banned from
travelling to Europe and the US, so she went for holidays to a
Russian resort. She quickly discovered its faults, aside of its
considerable charm, and provided the budget needed for improvements.
Let them all be banned, was the cry.
- Russian cheese makers
could never compete with French or Italian ones in the liberal,
open-markets-and-borders Russia of yesteryear. Came sanctions, and
in the span of six months they almost doubled their output. Their
cheaper cheeses are now freely available, while previously
supermarkets preferred to stock expensive foreign cheeses.
- The Army needs hardware
to defend the Motherland, and advanced Russian industry gets more
orders from the Ministry of Defence. Factories and workers laid off
or semi-retired get a new life, foreign customers queue up, the
rouble is steadied. Young men get some purpose beyond watching telly
- A feeling of national
pride – after the terrible humiliations of being unheard and
taken-for-granted in Yugoslavia, Ukraine and elsewhere – comes back.
- Infrastructure is
brought up-to-date. Moscow gets a new hundred miles of bicycle
paths, parks are well attended. The capital city is clean and shiny
despite the stretch of heavy rains.
- Now you understand why
Russians are in favour of sanctions. They are quite supportive of
the government and of the president, whose American-agency-measured
ratings reached an unheard-of 89%.
- It’s not that the
Russians want war, but they are tired of their country being pushed
to the wall, as they see it.
- They do not want an
Empire for themselves, but they want to be heard and their demands
considered. And they want their government to make their erstwhile
partners, present adversaries, pay for each anti-Russian action.
Among the very popular
retaliatory steps of the Russian government, there is the full
termination of transfer arrangements for the NATO troops occupying
Afghanistan. President Putin in his first term, in 2001, was an
enthusiastic supporter of the US; so after the American invasion of
Afghanistan he offered Russian assistance with the transfer of equipment
to and from that country. Now, almost 15
years later, this shortest and easiest route to Kabul has been cut;
the Americans have to shift their heavy weaponry through Pakistan
mountain passes where they are ambushed by the guerrillas with a long
experience of fighting invaders from Alexander the Great to Brezhnev.
Russians liked the tit-for-tat
decision to ban dozens of Western politicians from entering Russia, as a
response to Western banning of Russian politicians from entering Europe.
Perhaps Russia is not the world’s most popular holiday destination, but
surprisingly, the ban did hurt. The very idea of a Russian active
response took the Europeans by surprise: they never thought the Russians
have the means or guts. Squeaks of excluded Western public figures
were music to Russian ears.
Regarding the Ukrainian crisis,
there are many who dream of Russian tanks racing to Kiev and restoring
civil peace to the troubled Ukraine, but this dream will remain
unfulfilled while Putin believes there are other, peaceful ways to solve
the problem. Still, the Soviet-style obsessive peace-mongering and
fear of war gave way to a more vigorous attitude to war as a forced but
unavoidable necessity of life. The soul-numbing mantra of “everything is
better than a war” finally has been dropped.
On May 9th celebrations of
the 70th V-day were most lavish ever in people’s memory, and
provided citizens with a chance to view the newest Russian military
toys. This year, the Russians stressed their victory rather than their
victimhood, suffering and losses. The victory has been perceived as a
Russian victory over Europe, not only over Germany; for practically all
European nations from France, Spain and Italy to Hungary and Bulgaria
fought on Hitler’s side against Russia. This is true, but this truth was
rarely mentioned until this year. Faded Russian hopes of Europe
supporting Russia’s independent policies for its own benefit gave place
to recognition that the European leaders are as obedient to Washington
as their predecessors were to Berlin.
Slowly, oh so slowly the Russian
giant remembered days of his youth, the battles on the Volga River and
the sack of Berlin. These memories made him laugh over threats of Frau
Merkel and Mr Obama.
© Sputnik/ Vladimir Pesnya
Western Isolation of Moscow Helps Putin, Opens New Opportunities for
Just after the war parade on
May 9th, millions of civilians marched the streets carrying photos of
their fathers and grandfathers, the soldiers of the War. This
was absolutely unexpected: neither I nor other observers and
journalists, foreign or domestic, predicted an event of such magnitude.
The city of Moscow planned for ten thousand participants; fifty times
more, over half a million marched in Moscow alone, twelve million all
This unprecedented act of
solidarity for Russia had sent seismic tremors through the whole
society. Many marchers carried the picture of the victorious war-time
leader, Joseph Stalin. He is far from being generally loved, but anyone
whose mentioned name can make fat cats and their apologists shake with
rage cannot be wholly bad. People call for returning his name to
Stalingrad, the place of the great battle, renamed by Khrushchev. Putin
is not keen on that step, yet.
Russia’s President Vladimir
Putin (2R) speaks with China’s President Xi Jinping during the Victory
Day parade at Red Square in Moscow, Russia, May 9, 2015. Russia marks
the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two in Europe on Saturday
with a military parade, showcasing new military hardware at a time when
relations with the West have hit lows not seen since the Cold War.
REUTERS/Host Photo Agency/RIA Novosti ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE HAS
BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED
BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
The towering presence of the
Chinese President Xi at the May celebrations signified an historic
realignment with China: a sea change in Russia’s policies. Its
connection with China grows stronger every day. This is a new attitude:
previously, Russians and Chinese were suspicious of each other, even
after overcoming the hostility of late Soviet days. Pro-Western Moscow
liberals snubbed the Chinese and planned for an American-led war against
China. Now this dream (or nightmare) is over. We are not yet back to
1950s, when Mao and Stalin established their ties, but close to it.
Some eight hundred years ago
Russia had been in a similar situation, being hard pressed by the West.
The Pope blessed a Crusade against them, demanding they accept Western
hegemony and give up their Byzantine Christianity. Then, Prince
Alexander preferred to accept the Mongol patronage of Genghis Khan’s
successors rather than submit to the Western diktat. His gamble worked
out: Russia retained its own way, and the plucky Prince was sainted by
the Church as St Alexander Nevsky. The Russians still feel that using
Easterners’ support is less dangerous for the Russian soul than
complying with the Western demands.
Could it be that Putin, a
native of St Petersburg who cherishes his European contacts, speaks four
foreign languages fluently (none of them Chinese), will repeat the deed
of St Alexander and realign Russia eastwards?This
would be a huge loss for Europe, as the Old Continent will become an
American colony in all but name.
The Neva and St. Petersburg
St Petersburg, the city of St
Alexander’s last repose, is definitely a European city, west-facing as
opposed to east-facing Moscow. It is most delightful in June, the month
of White Nights, when it basks in light, cool and lucid light at day and
soft and milky light at night, while lilac bushes in full bloom, dressed
to kill, gaze into aquatic mirror for channels and rivers criss-cross
the Northern Capital of Russia so a stream is never too far. The old
Imperial glory still rests on the shores of the Neva River.
This was the heart of the
Russian Empire until Lenin shifted the government seat back to the old
capital, to Moscow. That’s why, during the Soviet years, Petersburg (or
Leningrad, as it was called then) did not suffer much from massive
low-budget housing programmes that disfigured Moscow.
Arnold J. Toynbee
The British historian Arnold
Toynbee (all but forgotten due to his anti-Zionist
stand) said the move to Moscow ‘’embodied the reaction of the
Russian soul against the Western Civilization’’. Putin’s presidency, he
would say, embodied a pro-European shift of the Russian soul. Could
(what some Russians view as) Europe’s betrayal cause Putin part ways
with Europe, instead?
I saw him at the recent
International Economic Forum in St Petersburg. At the Forum, Putin did
very well: calm, he kept his poker face, answered every question
sincerely, he never became irritated or visibly annoyed. He calmly dealt
with the crisis of the seized
Russian property. His people would prefer if he were to thump
his fist and seize French and Belgian assets. Instead, he promised to
deal by legal means through European courts.
He came to St Petersburg after a
very successful trip to Baku, the capital of oil-rich Azerbaijan where
European Games provided a chance to meet and confer at length with
Presidents of Turkey and Azerbaijan. None of Western leaders showed up,
but these rulers of the Orient were quite satisfied with their own
Summing it up, President
Putin speaks softly. If he carries a big stick, he does not flash it
around. He does not act heartbroken because of some Western
unpleasantness. It seems he is working hard for alternative arrangements
but he wants to postpone painful decisions as long as possible.
Eventually he may be forced into a strategic alliance with China, which
will further undermine Europe’s remaining independence.
However, things are not
black-and-white. Russia is interconnected with the West in many
unexpected ways. The most implacable enemy of Russia is the former
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. His wife has been banned from
visiting Russia. At the same time, Bildt was appointed
an advisor to a Russian oil company, belonging to the
second-richest oligarch of Russia, Michael Friedman. Friedman, one of
the seven original oligarchs of Yeltsin’s days, began as a ticket tout.
He lavishly spends on Jewish education. His Alfa Bank tried to stop
production of the new Russian tank, Armata by bankrupting the
armour-building factory. Friedman is friendly with Putin. So much for
the simple image of the ruthless Russian dictator, sworn enemy of Jewish
Indeed Russia remains liberal,
and Russian liberals copy American liberals, mutatis mutandis. They
treat Putin like their US counterparts treated Bush II, though by their
choice of vocabulary you’d think he is a Kim Jong Il. Newspapers are
free to slight Putin, and they use their freedom to utmost. Theatre
directors insert anti-Putin philippics into monologues of classic plays
replete with attacks on the Church. Cinema stresses poverty and abuse in
his realm just like Jim Jarmusch. But ordinary people like Putin as Bush
II was popular in the Red states. They would like him even more were he
to give the Americans a double tit for their tat, but meanwhile Putin
prefers to do with token retaliation.
First published in the Unz
Israel Shamir can be
contacted at email@example.com