Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russians Have More Friends Abroad than They Think -- But in Different Places than Before 1991

Paul Goble


            Staunton, September 30 – Many Russians now believe that everyone in the world hates them and wishes their country ill, but that is not the case, Ruslan Gorevoy argues in “Novaya Versiya.”  Russia and Russians even now have many friends: they just aren’t in the places where they were in Soviet times.


            In the current issue of that weekly, the Moscow commentator says that it is time to stop repeating Alexander III’s famous dictum that Russia has “only two true allies, its army and its fleet” and recognize that Russia and Russians do have friends beyond the borders of the Russian Federation (versia.ru/articles/2014/sep/29/odinnadtsat_druzey_putina).


            There are in fact a lot of them, somewhat fewer politicians than in the past but somewhat more entrepreneurs and “those whom it is customary to call the intellectual elite,” Gorevoy continues. And then he provides a survey of Russia’s friends at the level of countries, then at the level of political movements, and finally at the level of individuals.


            All Russians know that the US is the main enemy, followed by Great Britain and then Poland, three countries which are “prepared to make friends with anyone as long as they are against Russia.”  But there are other countries in the world, and not all of them follow the American line.


            Before the Ukrainian crisis, Gorevoy says, the Pew Research Center conducted a poll in several dozen countries about popular attitudes toward Russia. Most opposed to Russia were Japan, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Turkey, Germany and France. Most favorably disposed were Greece, South Korea, Ghana, Kenya, Malaysia, India and Indonesia.


            Some of those attitudes have shifted since that time, Gorevoy continues, but many have remained in the same camps. Now, Russia’s “most probable potential allies are such countries as Vietnam, Bangladesh, Thailand, and the Philippines,” while the least likely partners are Poland, Italy, Spain and the United States.


            Many Russians are struck or confused by the fact that those who were sympathetic to Moscow in the past no longer are, but they need to remember that “those who sympathized with us in the past loved not Russia but communism,” and with the end of communism has come in most cases the end of such positive feelings.


            That is not so much as many think because the USSR spent more than Russia does on gaining the support of such people, Gorevoy argues, but rather because communist ideology was attractive to many in the West who are nonetheless put off by Russian nationalism.


             He cites Sergey Markov, a Moscow commentator, on this point.  Arguing that no one should confuse attachment to communism and attachment to Russia, he says that “when our country rejected communist ideology, all those who shared the ideas of Marx and Lenin immediately ceased to sympathize with it.”


            There is not the slightest chance, he says, that the Rosenbergs would have “risked their lives” to hand over the plans for the atomic bomb to the Russian special services as opposed to the Soviet agencies as they did.


            Russia also benefits from the friendships Vladimir Putin has with certain Western politicians, including Gerhard Schroeder of Germany and Silvio Berlusconi of Italy and from support of nationalist political parties in Europe who oppose the EU and who are seek to destroy it from within. He cites the recent article of Mitchell Orenstein in “Foreign Policy” on this point.


            These parties include the French National Front, the Hungarian Jobbiks, the Bulgarian Attack parliamentary group, the Austrian Peoples Party, the Flemmish Interest Party of Belgium, the Italian ‘Forward, Italy” and Northern League parties, and the Polish Self Defense party, all of which have parliamentary representation and all of which are “friends of Russia.”


            Many Western businessmen are also favorably inclined toward Russia, largely if not exclusively because of their interest in making money there, Gorevoy argues. But more intriguing are the positive relations of actors, film stars, and the like who often express sympathy for Russia without gaining anything – except in the case of Gerard Depardieu.


            Among these people are Helen Mirren, Mickey Rourke and Steven Siegel.  Mirren is of Russian background, but the other two are not. How do they explain Russia’s attraction to them? Rourke says that Russia attracts him because it “can stand up against everyone and win,” and Siegel says he “understands Russian people” better than he understands Americans and “feels himself art of Russian life and Russian culture.”


            At the end of his article, Gorevoy offers quotations from three prominent political commentators who are also very much “friends of Russia;” Alexander Rahr of Germany, Stephen Cohen of the United States, and Dmitry Trenin, the director of the Moscow Carnegie Center.

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