Mikhail Gorbachev has an interesting article in Rossiyskaya Gazeta today, regarding increasing tensions between Russia and the US. His viewpoint is different than my own, but certainly worth reading none the less. I think the average Russian's point of view is even harder towards the USA. As I've discussed in other articles the past few months, Levada Center polls and Vladimir Zvonovsky's studies suggest Russian citizens have rather negative views of the US these days. Until recently, citizens of the US had rather favorable views of Russia (I expect that has slid a bit as Russian policies have been in the headlines more the last few months).
A few US politicians have used this opportunity to do a little bit of drum-beating and saber-rattling in Russia's general direction. Bush has been accused of being "soft" on Russia and Putin. These news stories have been barely noticed here in the US, but made headlines in Russia. Americans are much more focused on the Moussaoui trail, Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes, and the Duke University Lacrosse team, to care about what is going on with a country like Russia. To Americans, worrying about Russia is about like worrying about Italy. China, the UK, Iraq, Iran, and India get more attention from us (and therefore, headlines) these days.
And as always, Russians have rabbit ears regarding what someone might say about them. Pedro Martinez has nothing on Russian leaders in such regards.
So, the much maligned (in Russia) Gorbachev has taken this opportunity to write something which few American politicians are likely to read and which most Russians will dismiss, simply because it is Gorbachev speaking. To the uninformed westerner this might be a surprise - Gorbachev was the first leader of the former Soviet Union who didn't seem either like a complete asshole or a decrepit fossil. But to Russians, he is something like Jimmy Carter - blame for anything bad over the last 20 years pretty much falls at his feet.
From Gorbachev's Rossiyskaya Gazeta article:
Last weeks appeals in Washington for cooling and even toughening of attitudes between our strong countries is "Today's Special". During my recent trip, such views were in the press and in the performances of visible politicians, in particular senator John McCain, the possible candidate from Republicans for the 2008 presidential elections. We Russians also have people, who with alarm and anticipation, are adjusted for a renewal of "Cold War" in any new format.
Clearly, during these moments, we all have underestimated the complexity, the differences in our attitudes, and the necessity to approach to them carefully and building towards realistic purposes. At one time, we Russians were euphoric in those occasions with a prospect of cooperation with America. And in the USA there was an illusion that Russia had become their junior partner in the devising of the world on the American sample.
Now this phase has past, but sober analysis alone does not suffice for now. One of the main results of this has become a wrong understanding of results of the "cold war" in which one of the parties - the USA - has hastened to declare itself the winner. Russia, the other party, has appeared in deep crisis as a result of disintegration of the Union and reforms of 90 years.
Having remained in role of a unique Superstate, the United States was sick with a complex of the winner - which is dangerous including that behaviour which it defines. In such conditions it was impossible to build a proper attitude between our two countries towards long-term prospects. The USA gave Russia compliments which were often not deserved, and applauded radical-reformers under whose control the country spiraled downwards. Simultaneously the USA allocated to themselves on the world scene a role of police, prosecutor, and judge. This behavior should cause disagreement, and not only in Russia.
All of Russian history testifies: We have always left such past crises, gained strength and again became a serious world player. So it has occurred now, the Yeltsin chaos inherited by president Putin has resulted in a period of steady growth. Here there is more to be done still and all is far from done ideally, but the trend is obvious. And during this moment of the critics of Russia in the West and especially the USA have chosen to become especially sharp and irritable. In Russia it is noticed and we form our conclusions.
I can say this responsibly: the open lines of dialogue and interaction between presidents of Russia and the USA is supported both in political and public circles of our country. But recently there was has been anxiety: will this open dialogue remain intact?
In general if you look at the list of concrete claims by American politicians towards Russian foreign policy, it becomes obvious that the real disagreements are quite often exaggerated - to the detriment of opportunities for interaction in our common interests. Take, for example, the problem of the nuclear program of Iran. Here still political means have not been exhausted (as the president of the USA has confirmed), and Russia makes all efforts to find a resolution agreeable to everyone. I think, it will be reached more quickly if the USA, after planned consultations with Iran on problems of safety in Iraq, will go on towards wider contacts with the Iranian government.
It is not necessary to exaggerate the possible tactical disagreements on Middle Eastern problems. Russia and the USA - cosponsors of the Madrid conference, participants of intermediary "quartet" on Near-Eastern settlement. There is no basis to see as criminal the contacts between Russia and the freely-elected HAMAS government in Palestine. It is necessary to work more actively as partners with agreed tactics for such contacts, but it is already, as they say, in the working order and certainly, without unreasonable claims and charges.
I apologize for the mistakes in the translation, I might have done a better job with more time.
Personally, I find many Russian myths, rhetoric, and revisionist history in this article by Mikhail Gorbachev. This is my American point of view (even with my appreciation of Russian culture and history). I also think he completely misjudges the areas of cooperations between the US and Russia, particularly where Russian behavior towards Hamas, Syria, Iran, and apparently even in Iraq can be seen as nothing less than provacative towards the US.
In the US, recent history of the USSR and Russia would be seen as the collapse and defeat of the Soviet Union (a nation which oppressed its citizens), followed by an inevitable period of economic chaos, and now some recent signs of rebuilding. Based on Gorbachev's words, Russia was never "defeated" and suffered by mistakes and liberal reforms under Yeltsin. I supposed they just accidently fell on their sword. And now Russia has emerged as a real world power. Such thinking seems to suggest if there had been no Yeltsin - there would have been no problems for Russia. In this view, Russia has merely been resting - regaining their strength - so that they could reemerge as a leader on the world stage, as they have been since time immemorial (apparently).
I think Gorbachev completely misjudges American perceptions of Russia's Middle East partners. He feels the American concerns have been exaggerated - I think they have been rather mild as the US has a full plate already in Iraq. As regards nuclear power plants and missle deals with Iran - Americans would not be much more horrified if it was announced that Russia was selling nuclear missles to Satan himself. He seems to forget the extreme state of animosity between Iran and the USA since 1979 - an animosity that can not be resolved by the US alone. Everytime we begin to think of Iran as "normalizing" some leader there makes statements about killing every Jew and chanting "Death to America" with images of the American flag being burned. As prideful as Russians are, they would have burned Iran to the ground about oh ... 1982 or so ... if such behavior were directed against their own nation. Look at Chechnya for examples.
It becomes apparent that if this is the Russian point of view (I suspect it is actually the more LIBERAL side of the Russian political spectrum) that there is not going to be any resolution between the US and Russia in the near future.
More on Gorbachev's article can be found via the AFP article here.
Russia USA McCain Gorbachev Politics International Cold War