By Alan Caruba
New times, we’re told, call for new thinking. Out with the old and in with the new. In America’s case, the new is President Obama. For the Russians in charge of the former Soviet Union it means figuring out who the new guy is.
For someone who spent most of his life during the Cold War, I have an almost nostalgic feeling about it. One knew who the enemy was and it was the Soviet Union. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union there was a feeling that a new, democratic Russia would replace it and, in many ways a new Russia has emerged.
I have a friend who visited Moscow in 2004 and again in 2008. Jim Camp is an internationally recognized negotiation coach. He described the difference that four years made as that of night and day. It was a grim place in 2004 but by 2008 he felt like he was in New York, a bustling city where Russians in the streets were smiling. CNN, he told me, is watched by everyone and English is a second language to Russians right down to taxi drivers.
(Read his commentary here)
In a recent article published in Yezhednevny Zhurnal, Alexander Goltz asked “Why is Russia’s leadership so annoyed with Obama?” Given his commentary’s open criticism of the Putin regime, one can see that some progress has been made.
Speaking of the televised inauguration of President Obama, Goltz reported that “I observed Russian journalists from the four government-controlled, nationally syndicated channels racking their brains, trying to outdo each other in slinging mud at the inaugural ceremonies.” Americans were described as “airheads” who had been duped by the Obama campaign propaganda. “Which begs the question: how has Obama—who has yet to do anything, good or bad—managed to irritate the Russian elite?”
Even a former foreign minister, Yevgeny Primakov, no fan of the U.S., was “amazed at the fact that nobody in Moscow is rejoicing over the complete absence of Neoconservatives (who swarmed around Bush and informed his foreign policy) in Obama’s circle.”
“As ridiculous as it might seem,” concluded Goltz, “I think it is because he is black.”
Whew! How politically incorrect can you get, but Goltz pushed on to say that the Russian governing elite have “an abiding conviction” that everything in the U.S. is the same as in Russia, i.e., “manipulated elections, strict control over the media, corruption, and nationalism. The Americans are just better at covering it up.”
Putin, like Bush, was operating from a Cold War frame of mind and both, in that respect, thought that they understood each other though Bush became less enamored of Putin over the years. It may account for why the invasion of Georgia caused so little alarm in U.S. foreign policy circles. The Russians were being Russians! And, having invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. was in no position to criticize,
It will probably require another generation or two of Russians before they finally let go of their fantasies about America and engage us and the rest of the world as a normal nation among nations. “Trust, but verify” said Ronald Reagan when dealing with the Russians. It’s still a good policy.
Whether President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton can establish some new diplomatic rapport with Putin and his colleagues will be interesting to watch.