RUSSIANS were told over breakfast yesterday what really happened in Georgia: the conflict in South Ossetia was part of a plot by US Vice-President Dick Cheney to stop Barack Obama being elected president of the US.
The line came on the main news of Vesti FM, a state radio station that — like the Government and much of Russia's media — has reverted to the old habits of Soviet years, inwhich a sinister US hand washeld to lie behind every conflict, especially those embarrassing to Moscow.
Modern Russia may be plugged into the internet and the global marketplace but in the battle for world opinion the Kremlin is replaying the old black and white movie.
The Obama angle is getting wide play. It was aired on Wednesday by Sergei Markov, a senior political scientist who isclose to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. "George Bush's administration is promoting interests of candidate John McCain," Dr Markov said.
"Defeated by Barack Obama on all fronts, McCain has one last card to play yet — the creation of a virtual Cold War with Russia.
"Bush himself did not want a war in South Ossetia but his Republican Party did not leave him any choice."
The Americans were now engineering an armed conflict between Ukraine and Russia, Dr Markov added.
The establishment and its media supporters are dusting off favourites from the Cold War shelf. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Washington of playing dangerous games.
The West was guilty of "adventurism", supporting aggression against peace-loving Russian forces who are engaged on a humanitarian mission to protect human life.
That all sounds so familiar.
And well it should. Indeed, it sounds far more familiar than most people realize.
At the moment, I'm reading Sir Edward Creasy's "Fifteen Decisive battles of the World". Last night, I was reading about the battle of Poltava. In case you're not aware of that battle, it was the battle where the Russians defeated the Swedish invaders in 1704.
Prior to that time, Russia was hardly a country at all. The victory of Poltava marks the moment when Russia changed from a collection of eastern barbarian tribes, semi-united under a weak king in Moscow, to a unified state which took it's place as part of—or as P.J. O'Rourke once put it, at least an idiot stepsister to—Western Civilization.
It also began Russia's long history of territorial expansion and aggression in "the near abroad". Since then, not much has changed.
Writing in 1852, Sir Edward remarked:
Fear, not moderation, is the only effective check on the ambition of such powers as Ancient Rome and Modern Russia."Orators and authors, who have discussed the progress of Russia, have often alluded to the similitude between the modern extension of the Muscovite empire and the extension of the Roman dominions in ancient times. But attention has scarcely been drawn to the closeness of the parallel between conquering Russia and conquering Rome, not only in the extent of conquests, but in the means of effecting conquest. The history of Rome during the century and a half which followed the close of the second Punic war, and during which her largest acquisitions of territory were made, should be minutely compared with the history of Russia for the last one hundred and fifty years. The main points of similitude can only be indicated in these pages; but they deserve the fullest consideration. Above all, the sixth chapter of Montesquieu's great Treatise on Rome, the chapter "DE LA CONDUITE QUE LES ROMAINS TINRENT POUR SOUMETTRE LES PEUPLES," should be carefully studied by every one who watches the career and policy of Russia. The classic scholar will remember the state-craft of the Roman Senate, which took care in every foreign war to appear in the character of a PROTECTOR. Thus Rome PROTECTED the AEtolians, and the Greek cities, against Macedon; she PROTECTED Bithynia, and other small Asiatic states, against the Syrian kings; she protected Numidia against Carthage; and in numerous other instances assumed the same specious character. But, "Woe to the people whose liberty depends on the continued forbearance of an over-mighty protector." [Malkin's History of Greece.] Every state which Rome protected was ultimately subjugated and absorbed by her. And Russia has been the protector of Poland, the protector of the Crimea,—the protector of Courland,—the protector of Georgia, Immeritia, Mingrelia, the Tcherkessian and Caucasian tribes. She has first protected, and then appropriated them all. She protects Moldavia and Wallachia. A few years ago she became the protector of Turkey from Mehemet Ali; and since the summer of 1849 she has made herself the protector of Austria.
"When the partisans of Russia speak of the disinterestedness with which she withdrew her protecting troops from Constantinople, and from Hungary, let us here also mark the ominous exactness of the parallel between her and Rome. While the ancient world yet contained a number of independent states, which might have made a formidable league against Rome if she had alarmed them by openly avowing her ambitious schemes, Rome's favourite policy was seeming disinterestedness and moderation. After her first war against Philip, after that against Antiochus, and many others, victorious Rome promptly withdrew her troops from the territories which they occupied. She affected to employ her arms only for the good of others; but, when the favourable moment came, she always found a pretext for marching her legions back into each coveted district, and making it a Roman province. Fear, not moderation, is the only effective check on the ambition of such powers as Ancient Rome and Modern Russia. The amount of that fear depends on the amount of timely vigilance and energy which other states choose to employ against the common enemy of their freedom and national independence."
Sir Edward hit the nail on the head, and his words are no less true today, than they were 160 years ago.
And the price of Russian "protection", whether extended by Czars, Commissars, or Presidents, has never been decreased.
The Russian leadership succeeded in something that the rest of the world did not (want to) believe: The resurgence of fear of the “Russian bear”. This fear and — be it temporary — sense of powerlessness is something that the world will not forget for a long time.
Fantastic historical parallel, Dale. However, just to wax mkultra-ish for a moment, how do you differentiate the comparison of modern Russia and America to this passage:
The classic scholar will remember the state-craft of the Roman Senate, which took care in every foreign war to appear in the character of a PROTECTOR. Thus Rome PROTECTED the AEtolians, and the Greek cities, against Macedon; she PROTECTED Bithynia, and other small Asiatic states, against the Syrian kings; she protected Numidia against Carthage; and in numerous other instances assumed the same specious character. But, "Woe to the people whose liberty depends on the continued forbearance of an over-mighty protector." [Malkin’s History of Greece.] Every state which Rome protected was ultimately subjugated and absorbed by her.
The obvious answer is that we have not "subjugated and absorbed" the state’s we have protected (e.g. Europe, Japan, Korea, Vietnam (for awhile), Iraq, etc.). But haven’t we exercised dominion over those states in other ways (i.e. economic)?
Since I’m pretty sure how you’d respond, I guess my larger point is that our policies of foreign intervention have forged a double-edged sword that offers states such as Russia convenient excuses when they embark upon expansionist adventures. I don’t think there is any any equivalence between how America has interjected itself into the world and the way Russia/USSR has done so, but the differentiation is subtle, and I’m curious as to how you go about marking such differences, especially given the ready comparisons that are already being made such as with Kosovo and Iraq.