Four myths about Russia

Brilliant geopolitical strategist who has held the position of “hawks” in the matter of rivalry, called the accession of the countries of the Warsaw Pact to NATO tragic mistake. If someone decides to ascribe these words to Putin, he is mistaken in the author, but not in essence saying. Putin holds a similar point of view and regularly speaks about it. He even went a step further and called the collapse of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the XX century”.

Polish media are unanimously considered his statement dangerous manifestation of the eternal dream of Russia of the Imperial power and proof that the Russian government does not change. The author is close to the value statements were meanwhile George Kennan (George Kennan) — Advisor to the American leadership in the cold war era and Creator of the containment strategy of the USSR in the 1940-ies.

The main disadvantages of modern Polish foreign policy is the lack of a realistic view of the world, deficiency of genuine political thought and the lack of expertise and close to the power circles of personality, intellectual level which at least partly close to the level of Kennan. So instead of serious reflection on political possibilities and shaping a slender sound political strategy, we observed chaotic throwing from one extreme to another and the destructive superposition of internal conflicts on foreign policy, which is dominated by outdated, do not meet the time and situation of the ideological schema, which is used in addition in a simplified or watered-down form.

Presentation of Polish politicians about the relationship between East and West is (speaking about Russia) the set of prejudices, phobias, complexes, moralizing and historical myths. In terms of Ukraine, the West (especially USA) and placing troops on our territory is of extreme naivete, the desire to wishful thinking, distorted logic and lack of independent thinking.

The myth of nationalism and imperialism

In the minds of Polish politicians of all stripes, as well as most journalists, political writers and commentators, Putin’s Russia is automatically evokes associations with “the age-old nationalism and imperialism.” Under this scheme, Russia is not an ordinary state with their interests, needs, fears, aspirations and goals, and the Asian despotism, which in all its forms “from white to red tsarism”, and now- “from red to Putin” is one and the same: implements Imperial dreams of territorial expansion and national dominance.

First, the fusion of nationalism with imperialism speaks of the complete lack of understanding of Russian history. Because of her national and Imperial element not only interact, but engage each other in conflict. Source Imperial are part of the geographical conditions, the national-ethnic diversity and Asian heritage, part of which was the Mongol-Tatar yoke and formed under the influence of paramilitary control system. Russia, however, has not built a modern imperialist state, with its inherent racism. Almost until its collapse in 1917, she was unable to create a workable state apparatus, which led to disaster. The national state was formed in Russia differently than in the West and much later. The same applies to the process of the emergence of the bourgeoisie and of capitalism. The bearer of national identity was made by the opposition, the intelligentsia, and not the middle class, and the modernizing force of the state. Among the reasons for the backlog to name just a conflict between the national idea and the idea of Empire. This thesis puts forward Geoffrey Hosking (Geoffrey Hosking) is a British historian working in the Russian theme.

Secondly, Russia (with the exception of the end of XIX century) not pursued an aggressive policy of Russification and did not give benefits to an ethnic Russian. To the Polish uprisings it’s not even suppressed our obstinate patriotism. In turn, national and religious policy of the USSR was too multilateral and extended in time, so that it can be described using the concept of “Russification”. The theme of anti-Semitism is a separate issue. Now Russia remains a multinational Federal state.

Third, the collapse of the Soviet Union without boundary and territorial claims of the former republics. Russia has clearly demonstrated that she renounces national egoism and goes to step best new States, including Ukraine. A much greater contribution to the development of Ukrainian statehood made it a nationalist movement, and Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev at a time, although this really is not like the ruling now in Kiev oligarchy, and in contravention of her state’s “historical policy”.

Fourth, the disputed Crimea, which appears as the ordinary evidence of Russian aggression, has been in the past under the rule of different States and empires, but was never Ukrainian. 19 February 1954, Khrushchev reassigned Crimea in the framework of one state, passing it from the RSFSR to the Ukrainian SSR, which can hardly be directly equated with modern Ukraine, as it was an integral part of the Soviet Union.

Russia owned Crimea in 1778, constructed the fortress city of Sevastopol and the fortified port for the black sea fleet fought in the Peninsula with the Ottoman Empire and European powers (in the Crimean war). During the Second world war, the Crimea became a grave for thousands of Soviet soldiers.

In the West you can hear (in Poland it tried to suppress) that the seizure of Crimea in 2014 was not planned aggression, and spontaneous defensive reaction which has been provoked by NATO. This view is defended by such scientific authorities as John Mearsheimer (John Mearsheimer), Richard Sakwa (Richard Sakwa), or the former President of France valéry Giscard d’estaing (Giscard Valéry d’estaing), which is not exactly belong to the “useful idiots”. Interestingly, although both of the aforementioned professors belong to different ideological camps, they share a realistic approach to Russia.

Fifth, in the era of Gorbachev’s perestroika (or, rather, “catastroika” as he called her dissident Alexander Zinoviev), Russia was in a critical condition, which the Russians themselves compared with the turmoil of the turn of XVI-XVII centuries. The collapse of the Soviet Union does not become the last point of this period of chaos and decay. Rapid economic and social degradation of the country began after 1991, when decreased her status in the international arena. At the same time it was a special period in Russia’s history, when the United States praised her for her alleged progress towards democracy. In fact, the devastating “reforms” of the Yeltsin decade the country was plunged into anarchy and state of socio-economic apartheid with endemic authoritarianism. The power in the country passed into the hands of greedy comprador oligarchy. The population is rapidly impoverished. From the Imperial point of view, Russia has lost all the gains of the last 200 years. In territorial terms, it has dropped in the era before the reign of Catherine, deprived part of the population. She has never been so far driven from Europe, as after the separation of the former Western republics. At the same time it lost its huge abundant natural resources Asian republics. Moscow was losing control over the state.

This was accompanied by increasing tensions and military conflicts unfolding in the vicinity of former Soviet territory. This is the first Iraq war, the disintegration of Yugoslavia, NATO’s advance to Russian borders. The last 30 years can hardly be called era of territorial expansion. Putin’s rule has become in the first suspension period of rapid decline, and at the same time painstaking reconstruction of the economic infrastructure, the improvement of the society and restore the international role of Russia in trade and politics. I wrote about this, in particular, distinguished historian Michael Sturmer (Michael Stürmer). The Kremlin has also attempted to oppose the American concept of a unipolar world in which Russia is subject to neutralization, and the United States play the role of hegemon.

Moscow’s actions are defensive, not aggressive. To see this, just once look at a map of military bases of NATO, which Russia take to the ring, and compare their number with the number of Russian bases outside the former USSR there is only one in Syria. At the same time from the official documents and statements of Western politicians, it follows that in the sphere of expansion closer to Russian borders, the Alliance has not yet said his last word. In Russia there are forces that appeal to nationalism, but it is not Putin’s Russia.

The myth of the totalitarian state

Another common in Polish journalism and, most regrettably, in the scientific literature, myth supports the idea of a totalitarian Russian state since tsarist times to the present day. Under this distorted view of Russia for centuries was a Leviathan that devours its own people, threatens its neighbors, distributes authoritarianism imposes cruel military dirigisme and throughout its history is an example of a police state. This explains why the Communist model of totalitarian state fell into a fertile soil: in fact, she grew out of it. Proponents of this myth tend to exaggerate the crimes of communism, trying to prove that their scale exceeds the scale of the atrocities of the Third Reich.

Such representations have nothing to do with reality. For most of its history, Russia has suffered not from the excess but from deficiency of power. In English-language historiography of the notion of “undergoverned country” — a country with a sufficiently strong and effective governance, defective in this respect. Already own the vast expanses over which nominally was ruled by the kings, ethnic, cultural and religious diversity of these territories, combined with insufficient economic development, inefficient logistics, lack of technology governance and corruption were not given the chance for a successful implementation of the plans for the rigorous management of the centre, if any existed. This idea is well substantiated by the American historian Gregory Friz (Gregory Freeze). Harvard Professor Ted Skocpol (Theda Skocpol) calls the pre-revolutionary Russia, an underdeveloped power — “an underdeveloped great power”.

The same geographical and historical conditions blocked the development of democratic models of governance. In addition, it in contrast to a narrow stratum of the intelligentsia did not need a huge peasant masses — the General population of Russia. Thus, surprisingly, in Russia decided to conduct a huge experiment to create a national state, the implementation of the Communist utopia, which from the Middle ages dreamed of political dreamers, “scientific” design which was created captivated by the West of the Russian socialists with the syndrome of populism and nechaevsky.

Open between the two continents, European and even suryanamaskar in its highest achievements of philosophy, literature and art, and at the same time Asian management, Byzantine religion, East and West, backward and progressive, diverse and subject to uniformization, Russia has become a tangle of contradictions and paradoxes that it is impossible to contain in a simple circuit and explain, referring to moral authority.

Western (primarily Anglo-American) academic literature calls into question popular in Poland, the idea of the totalitarian nature of the Soviet Union throughout its existence. Not assessing this position, you should at least appreciate the fact that there is conducted a lively and enlightening discussion on the cognitive value of the concept. Unfortunately, it echoes almost did not come to Poland. Meanwhile, it is safe to doubt the legality of the use of inaccurate and emotive word “totalitarianism” in relation to Putin’s Russia. After all, we see there is real political competition with a broad ideological and programmatic spectrum (broader than in the US), free elections, freedom of expression and the media and, at least, such a dispersal of power and influences that the internal opposition and the so-called fifth column, as well as external enemies can reflect on the prospects of a Maidan in Moscow. Is it possible in your right mind to compare this situation with the reign of Stalin or Hitler?

The myth of economic decline

The following illusion is connected with the economic sphere. Russia, say experts and journalists, is virtually bankrupt, who barely make ends meet. Its economic weakness it compensates with muscle-flexing and a demonstration of its military power. Its economic system is archaic and anachronistic, since it relies on the predatory exploitation and sale of natural resources. Only a favorable environment allows Russia to stay on the surface, not allowing them to drown.

This popular opinion is directly contrary to the previous myths, says that Russia is an aggressive totalitarian state, which entered a phase of expansion of the Empire and threaten the neighbors, Europe and the whole world security. You cannot be bankrupt and threaten to endure the economic collapse and frightening war, because military power is directly tied to financial resources. However, all these myths are pronounced in one breath.

Science in a liberal economy (I do not agree with it, but believe it heralds the ideas of the economic collapse) from the time of David Ricardo (David Ricardo), there is the concept of comparative advantage, which explains the mechanisms of international trade. Simplify: Russia’s profitable trade in raw materials, because it uses the specificity of its economy and its comparative advantage. And China, for example, is at its disposal huge resources of relatively cheap labour force that has transformed this country into one big factory of a globalized world. If the climate and natural conditions have inclined Russia to grow bananas or coffee, products with low elasticity of demand, then we could safely say that the archaic and hopeless economic system. However, in the present situation, this thesis looks exaggerated. The structure of Russian GDP is not very different from the structure of GDP of developed countries: about two-thirds provide services, about one — industries with a small proportion of agriculture. Since the beginning of XXI century, the Russian GDP grew at an impressive pace. If the structure of the export sale of resources is 70%, then the GDP is just 16-18%. Indicators of quality of life and social cohesion in the last fifteen years have improved, in this regard, Russia is ahead experiencing an unprecedented economic boom in China.

This does not mean that Moscow has no problems. A considerable part of them was the effect of the economic war, which declared the West. For her, Russia had to spend its impressive foreign exchange reserves. However, the thesis about the economic collapse are totally unfounded.

Jarosław Dobrzański — philosopher, historian of ideas, who worked at Polish and American universities.