Saturday, April 7, 2018

Putin’s Casual Talk of Nuclear War Reflects Attitudes of Many Russians, Tsipko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 7 – The mass expulsion of Russian diplomats from Western countries shows that the world is mono-polar and that “in spite of our Russian fantasies,” it is going to remain so in the coming decades, Aleksandr Tsipko says; and it also shows that the West views Russia as a threat” and as “an unpredictable country.”

            “To a great extent,” the Moscow social theorist and commentator says, “today we are not needed or the object of interest by many even among those countries which survive on the basis of our oil and gas.”  Instead of becoming part of a common European home, “Russia has been transformed into ‘a wild field’ which the countries of the West go around on their way home” (

            According to Tsipko, “never have we been so alone as now. With no friends and no allies, we live as in a besieged fortress. As Ivan Ilin predicted more than half a century ago, the East European countries Stalin imposed communism on now “form around us a ring of enemies.”  And by its actions, Moscow has added Ukraine to their number. 

            The West shares some of the blame for Russia’s self-isolation, the commentator says. Its failure to treat Putin as an equal is something he cannot bear But his response, directed toward restoring Russia’s great power status “has given birth to a new version of the cold war,” albeit one based not on ideology but on “the special features of Russian national character.”

            But a large part of the blame belongs to the response of Putin and Russians to “the chaos and anarchy of the 1990s,” a response which involved the construction of “the power vertical.”  But Russians, including himself, Tsipko acknowledges, “forget that Russia is threatened not only by anarchy and chaos but by the willfulness of an autocrat.”

            “The problem is that we today live in a Russia where there is no politics but one where the will and impulses of a single individual decide the fate of a multi-million population.  But none must recognize that when only one person defines the fate of a country with nuclear weapons, this involves a potential danger not only for Russia but for all humanity.”

            Tsipko says he has ever more doubts that there was a way in the past to prevent Russians from fleeing from chaos and anarchy back into support of autocracy.  “As a result,” in any case, “we have what we have:” sincere joy about the return of Crimea and an expanding conflict between Russia and “the leader of present-day Western civilization, the US.”

            But the most terrible thing is that “we will never return to March 2014, to Russia without Crimea and the US will never reconcile itself with a Russia” that insists it can act on the basis of its own interests without regard to anyone else’s.  That is clearly “a deadend situation,” the Moscow analyst says.

            According to Tsipko, “Russia has found it very difficult to reconcile itself with the logic of the new global world where leadership belongs only to economically developed countries.” Indeed, he says, “behind our current feverish great power ambitions stands an inability to recognize the extend of Russia’s lag behind the developed West.”

            And it is certainly the case, he argues, that Russians “are not in a position to follow the necessary path of hard work which China did in the time of Deng Xiaoping.”

                Tragically, Tsipko continues, there is an even more serious danger. It isn’t just a cold war that has returned. Instead, Putin has begun talking about a nuclear war that would destroy all of humanity. No leader at the end of Soviet times or afterwards until Putin has been so casual about referring to the kind of war that would end civilization.

            That is unfortunate, but even more unfortunate is the fact that “a significant portion of the population of present-day Russia is reacting completely calmly to this talk about the inevitable end of humanity. Such indifference to the problems of the death of humanity Russian people did not have in Soviet times,” Tsipko says.

            Over the last four years, talk about Russia being a besieged fortress has undermined the already weak Russian instinct for self-preservation.  Lenin, Trotsky said, was “not a Russian national type.” But Putin, Tsipko says, “really is the embodiment of genuine Russianness in all its depths and contradictions.”

            The current Kremlin leader “very exactly reflects the attitudes of many Russian people who cannot reconcile themselves to the dominant position of the US in the present-day world. In these attitudes there is a lot from the deep Russianness and from the philosophy of the man ‘from the underground’ about whom Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote.”

            Since his Munich speech, Putin has insisted that Russia can and will act without regard to others; “but the tragedy is that the West and the US have the real privilege to deprive us of the source of economic development, but we unfortunately have only the privilege to expel their diplomats or test another inter-continental rocket which can reach Florida.”

            Russians today, whatever Putin and they think, “in fact do not have serious economic, social, and civilizational bases for any power privileges” of the kind Putin and Russians now insist upon because Russia does not have the resources on which real power in the world today rests.

            “Beginning with the spring of 2014,” Tsipko says, “we have lived and continue to live by the joys of one day without reflecting on what we will pay for these joys tomorrow or what Russia we will leave to our children or whether we will even leave them their own country.” That is what Russians should be reflecting upon.

            At the present time, no one threatens the territorial integrity of Russia even with the addition of Crimea; and so Russians have time to begin to think about where they are and what they must do in order to ensure that their millennium of statehood will not come to an end and that the Russian people will be able to have a genuinely dignified life.

            There have been occasions in history “when the leader of Russia has had to sacrifice a very great deal and above all his personal dignity in order to preserve his people, his faith, and his right to live in the future.” One of those may have come again, and he will have to work hard to overcome Russian poverty and income differentiation rather than talk about nuclear war.

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