Staunton, October 14 – “Anti-Americanism,” Vladimir Pastukhov says, “is the Marxism of ‘the Russian spring’ and the religion of the ‘post-modern’ post-communist rebirth. It is the guide to any action and at the same time a universal indulgence” and explanation of all problems Moscow faces.
It is in short, the Russian historian at the London School of Economics says, “the new cult of Putin’s Russia,” reflecting the fact that “Russia no longer loves America but as before cannot live without her. If the Americans did not exist, it would be necessary to invent them” (slon.ru/posts/74808).
This cult is “not simply a continuation of an old trend,” he suggests, but rather “a transition to some completely new quality,” containing as it does “something neurotic” and in some cases as “poorly concealed hysteria.” And like any other hysteria, it has “earthly and rational” roots in three things: folly, rage and jitters.
The Kremlin wants to replay “the Soviet spectacle ‘We will bury you,’” Pastukhov says, and it is prepared to engage in “a fantastic bluff” to force the West to back down and “’leave us in peace, don’t interfere with our affairs, and yield to us as a protectorate the territory of the former Empire.’”
These demands seem to the Kremlin “so simple, clear and in its understanding just that the failure of the West to agree is literally driving the leadership of Russia mad.” But Russia is divided between those who are prepared to become like North Korea and those who want to be like South Korea, and both groups suffer from Russia’s diminished status in the world.
Putin doesn’t want to give either the chance to succeed, but the Kremlin by its approach may end by being like North Korea and not the South.
“One of the most surprising aspects of Russian political culture,” Pastukhov says, “is the ability of the elites to push themselves into a state of self-hypnosis,” starting by trying to deceive others and ending by deceiving themselves. “Anti-Americanism was developed as a political tool, but literally before our eyes, it was transformed into an end in itself.”
In part, this reflects a revival of “good old Soviet anti-Americanism,” and in part, it reflects the impact of “‘the Versailles syndrome’” and imperial nostalgia. And that has led to a fundamental contradiction within this new mix because the US “at one and the same time is dying and enslaving others, the only super power and a geopolitical lame duck.”
That combination has been informing Russian elite thinking for some time, but in the last month, the level of hysteria has reached unprecedented levels and produced jitteriness among the elites, something hitherto absent, the historian says. This is because the elites fear the economic crisis may be a more serious test than they admit and sanctions more serious in their impact.
In this situation, Pastukhov says, “the times when the foreign policy of Russia was a continuation of its domestic policy have passed. Now everything is just the opposite: all the life of Rsusia is subordinate to the realization of its new global foreign policy goal: to frighten the West and force it to retreat, lift sanctions, and open the capital market for the regime.
The Kremlin faces no domestic threats, but its survival depends on a status quo which in turn depends on the West – “and above all the US” – and the sanctions regime is maintained or expanded there is the risk that “Russia will inevitably follow the path of the USSR,” collapse and disintegrate.
It is thus “no surprise,” Pastukhov says, that the Kremlin is following the US election campaign so closely given that the next president will “hold in his hands” the power to affect Russia. But given that, the Kremlin’s obvious preference for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton “seems insane” given that the latter is likely to be more gentle and predictable than the former.