Staunton, January 20 – Hopes and fears both spring eternal as to relations between Russia and the United States, with each new development prompting discussions about a possible breakthrough to some kind of permanent accord. But Vladislav Zubok says that “the radical differences” between the nationalism of the two countries make that impossible.
In an article for Moscow’s “Vedomosti” newspaper, the Russian analyst who teaches at the London School of Economics and Political Science says that it is quite likely Putin and Trump will be friends for a time and make that the basis for “deals on some important issues” (vedomosti.ru/opinion/articles/2017/01/18/673416-rossiya-ssha
Not everyone agreed with this, of course; but when the Soviet Union collapsed, President George H.W. Bush declared that “with God’s help, American won the cold war.” The world became a unipolar one, and that was something he very much welcomed. It led to two decades of what one can describe as “American ‘triumphalism.’”
“Russian nationalism and worldview are rooted in entirely different things,” Zubok argues. Building a powerful empire was always more important than business; indeed, business and trade have always been viewed as a means to that larger end rather than values in and of themselves.
To be sure, at least since Petrine times, there has been a struggle within Russian elites between what might be called “the party of business” and “the party of power.” But the latter invariably wins when the Russian masses conclude that in some way their country and its political stability are at risk.
“In the first years after the collapse of the USSR, Russian foreign policy was in the hands of the young and energetic ‘party of business,’” who believed that economic reforms would lead to political ones and that Russia could thus “at one and the same time become a democracy in the Western club and a great power.” At the very least, it would be “’a second Canada.’”
But this project failed: “Millions of Russian citizens never lost the conviction that a strong power and a strong president are the most important medicine against a time of troubles and that precisely a centralized and powerful state will save people from complete anarchy and disorder.” And that took the form of a new conservative Russian national consciousness.
Moreover, Zubok says, “a strong state for many in Russia is not about trade balances or GDP” except as those are needed for defense “as about the opportunity to rein in obstreperous neighbors.” And they accept Putin’s view that the US project would lead to the destruction of Russia and so must be opposed.
But one thing that has changed since the cold war is this: now, the Russian threat divides rather than unites Americans, while “anti-Americanism works for Putin in Russia.” Even those who dream about the end of sanctions share in many of its tenets.