Russia US Relations
The relationship between Russia and the US is one of animosity. There is even talk that Russia might attack the US.
Is the animosity mutual?
I suggest not.
I just returned from a three-week tour of Russia (which I spent lecturing and consulting), and I did not feel any hostility.
Russians are thirsty for Western knowledge. Fourteen hundred Russian people attended one of my lectures. The next day, nine hundred attended. One of my former Russian clients took forty of his top executives to Silicon Valley for a week to see what they could learn about management from American companies.
In Moscow, you can sense that Russians are very fond of America. The main streets are full of American or otherwise Western chain outlets: Chanel, Tiffany & Co., Boss, Calvin Klein, KFC, McDonald’s, Domino’s Pizza, Marriott, Hilton. Also, they built a commercial center which, with its glass high-rise buildings, looks like Manhattan.
Many Russians I talk to have visited the US. Most of the young people speak English well. Older people speak or are learning to speak English. Many Russian expressions are peppered with English words. Every restaurant I attended plays American music in the background. I had to search and search for a restaurant that played Russian music. The radios in the taxis I took—all of them—were blaring American music. Billboards announce the visit of some American artist.
Now, compare this to what is happening in America: the media is attacking Russia nonstop as the enemy, after North Korea.
I believe that Americans’ rejection of Russians stems from both arrogance and ignorance.
Let me start with arrogance. Americans are accusing Russia of meddling in the US’s elections. I consider Americans’ outrage over alleged Russian interference to be a product of our arrogance. Do you think we do not interfere and try to sway foreign elections in our favor?
The US has been interfering with foreign elections for decades. We meddled whenever we did not like an elected or soon-to-be-elected leader of another country. Who do you think brought down the democratically elected President of Chile, Salvador Allende, if not the Americans and Chilean military in collusion? Who do you think meddles with presidential elections in most Latin American countries? There is even talk that the US was involved in the election of Bibi Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel.
When we suspect Russia meddling in our elections, we become indignant, as if we are innocent and not active in meddling in foreign elections ourselves.
When the Soviet Union brought missiles to Cuba, we almost went to war over it. However, without much hesitation, we tried to bring missiles to Poland and the Russian-Ukrainian border after the Maidan Revolution of 2014.
In other words, Americans condemn and threaten Russia for behaving the way we do. We seem to believe that we are immune to criticism, that we are above it all because we are the best and the strongest. It is no surprise that in some countries there is resentment, that we can find graffiti on walls reading, “Gringos, go home!”
As for ignorance, have you met a person who studies Russian? How many people do you know who have made a trip to Russia? How many Russian artists have been invited to the US?
I believe that the average American does not know the difference between the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation. They believe that they are one and the same. Since the Soviet Union was communist and committed to spreading communism, it threatened American political and economic systems. That is not true for the Russia of today. Russia is not the Soviet Union. True, 70% of Russia’s economy is dominated by government-owned enterprises, but the Russian economy is still a free market compared to the centrally planned communist market characteristic of the Soviet Union. Russia has a stock exchange, allows private ownership, and has more business courses than you can count, all of which teach American business practices.
In my judgment, today’s Russia is even more capitalistic and materialistic than the US. It is trying to catch up after years under a communist system that suppressed entrepreneurship and private ownership.
Granted, there is corruption in Russia, but there is corruption in China and Mexico, too. We wage trade wars with China and Mexico but do not threaten them with military action like we do Russia.
True, Russia is acting in ways that can be interpreted as threatening US interests by taking over Crimea and sending troops to Syria and now Venezuela.
But why are they doing it?
I believe Russia is a wounded bear. Like any other wounded animal, it will react fiercely to a threat. Russia’s sense of self was wounded when the Soviet Union fell apart. During the Soviet Union, the country felt like an empire, a world force one had to contend with. When it fell apart, Russians lost their pride and strength and are now wary of any attempts to weaken them further. As a result of ignorance, arrogance, and the need for an enemy to justify a huge defense budget feeding the appetite of the military-industrial complex, the US continues to try to weaken Russia. When the Maidan Revolution happened in Ukraine, the US tried to convince the Ukrainian government at the time to join NATO. This was a direct threat to Russia.
When we act with hostility toward them, they respond like a wounded animal. The more the US threatens Russia, the more Russia will react to regain its self-confidence and pride. The US tries to make Ukraine a member of NATO: Russia takes over Crimea. The US reacts with sanctions: Russia goes into Syria. The US increases sanctions: Russia sends troops to Venezuela.
How far will this game of chicken go? How far will the relations deteriorate?
It is inconceivable to me that Russia will make the first move to start a war with the US. Russians have seen too many wars. They know the cost of war in their bones. Russians starved in Leningrad during the Second World War. The memories still live on their skin.
In comparison, the US has not had a war on its soil since the Civil War. American soldiers know war, but the American people do not. For most Americans, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan are wars they hear about and see in the news, not something they have felt at home.
I cannot imagine that Russia would start a war against the US but, I can imagine the US preemptively striking for reasons that should never have existed to start with.
Ichak Kalderon Adizes