Russia’s Very Different Reality

St. Basil's Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow (Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin)

St. Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow
(Photo by Natylie S. Baldwin)

By Natylie Baldwin, Consortium News

In February, the Obama administration announced that it was quadrupling funding for a major increase in NATO troops and weaponry in the countries of Eastern Europe on the border with Russia. Diplomatic relations have faltered between the two countries over Syria.

And the corporate media in the U.S. and U.K. have again stepped up their demonization of all things Vladimir Putin – he’s corrupt, he personally orders hits on people, is facilitating war crimes in Aleppo, and wants to invade Europe. The media also pushes the idea that Russia is an uncivilized and backwards cesspit.

Russian President Vladimir Putin laying a wreath at Russia's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on May 8, 2014, as part of the observance of the World War II Victory over Germany.

Russian President Vladimir Putin laying a wreath at Russia’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on May 8, 2014, as part of the observance of the World War II Victory over Germany.

Considering that Russia is a nuclear superpower, the largest country geographically in the world, and is the sixth largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity (and projected to be number six in 2021 in terms of GDP), the U.S. relationship with Russia is one of the most important and delicate.

In order to have any chance of conducting this relationship in a rational manner, an accurate and nuanced understanding of the country itself and the history of post-Soviet U.S.-Russia relations is essential. This requires cutting through the misinformation and distortion that saturates much of our mainstream news and political discourse.

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Russia’s Very Different Reality


5 thoughts on “Russia’s Very Different Reality”

  1. Congratulations for an informative, well researched and insightful perspective regarding the critical future conflict being constructed at present.

    Vote for People, Planet and Peace by supporting Jill Stein.

  2. Thank you, Douglas. Yes, Stein seems to be the only rational person running. It’s a shame Americans were not able to hear what she had to say in the debates.

  3. Very thorough, comprehensive and all-encompassing article, Natalyie! Some points (supported with links to the sources of data and evidence) are worth repeating once in a while – and, I believe, for a number of people it would be the first time they learn about it. Granted, they still might just ignore it as inconvenient truth and “Kremlenite Propaganda” ™ because, obviously, anything out of the general Russophobic narrative is Russian propaganda these. I can only hope that your article will find its readers and have some positive impact on them. If they will stop and reconsider typical portrayal of Russia as the “Mordor” and of Russians as either beast-like drunken savages or piss-poor downtrodden oppressed masses, well, this will be already a huuuuge success!

    However, if you’ll allow me, I have some small issues and commentaries on some of the points made in your article. Please, do not think that I’m “attacking” you and your article – just commenting.

    “It’s important to keep in mind that Russia has a 1,000-year history of authoritarian rule and only started its climb out in the late 1980s. It is a transitional society, with elements of both authoritarianism and democracy. Putin, along with Dmitri Medvedev and Mikhail Gorbachev, is the least authoritarian leader that Russia has ever had.”

    This is true… in a fashion. Indeed, if we to divide all forms of government into republican and authoritarian, then, yes, this is 100% true. But “1,000-year history of authoritarian rule” also applies to *any* other European country. Kingdom of Franks was not a democracy – it was a kingdom, and it became one centuries earlier than the Grand Principality o Rus. For the most time what we came to understand as “Europe” had been ruled by feudal monarchies. More so – “democracy as default option” entered the collective conciseness of the European civilization and its derivatives in relatively recently from the historian standpoint. If we look at Europe in the interwar period of 1920-30 we’ll see disappearing little in the way of “democratic” regimes. Even after the WW2 the pro-democracy trend was far from a sure thing, with the USSR favoring various “People Republics” and the West having to qualms to support outright various juntas and dictatorships.

    It’s too narrow, I think, to claim that “democracy = good, authoritarism = bad”. There were objective reasons why this or that form of the government arose in this or that country in the first place. Unfortunately, since late 1980s there is ridiculous Western triumphalism, a sincere belief in the “End of History” and the so-called “Liberal Democracy” as the pinnacle of human development, which every single nation must adopt to become as successful as the USA. Such line of reasoning is only appropriate for cargo cultists – which some of the “young reformers” in the former USSR indeed were. I mean – look at the Ukraine right now.

    Many people claim these days that Russia is not a “democracy”. Because of Putin. Such line of reasoning, more or less, implies that the current Russian government does not represent the people of Russia. Naturally, people who claim this become suddenly mum when asked to present any proof that, actually, Russian people want someone else to represent them. This also strikes me as an attempt to redefine the term “democracy”. Democracy has many forms – be it slave-owning Athenian democracy, Icelandic Althing or some future direct cyber-democracy with people voting on-line literally on anything. But you can’t limit the term “democracy” to just “What is Currently Approved by the State Dept”.

    “Corruption has been an intractable problem for centuries in Russia since the administrative state and its attendant tribute paying and harsh bureaucracy were established by the Mongols in the Thirteen Century.”

    Well, this is less factually true and also plays nicely into the hands of those people who are always glad to “prove” Russians “backwardness” and “Asianness”, as opposed to the Racially and Culturally Superior Europeans.

    Actually, Mongols failed in their attempts to install Chinese-style bureaucracy (probably the most developed on the Globe in that time) over principalities of Rus. After the initial invasion of 1238-40 Mongol returned home after a small (but no less bloody) detour into Poland, Hungary and Carpathians. Naturally, they demanded a tribute from those, whom they saw as vanquished foes and for that matter they sent tax assessors and collectors (who were not Mongols themselves – they came from more “civilized” parts of their Empire). The second half of the XIII century and early XIV were known for a series of large scale of uprising against these foreign collectors known as baskaks. After the uprising in Tver in 1327 khans of the Golden Horde relented and decided to “outsource” the tribute collection to local princes instead of their own officials.

    Granted, the Grand Prince of Moscow had no qualms of “skimming over the top” of the intended tribute which greatly contributed to Moscow’s ascendancy as the political center of the North-Eastern Rus.

    But was Rus and Russia so unique in this regard? What, was Europe at that time less “corrupt”? Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia became His Holiness the Pope Alexander VI in result of one of the most publicly known (and because of that – most outrageous) “elections” featuring gratuitous use of the “administrative resource” and vote-buying. Nepotism and corruption at that time were something absolutely natural for the people in power. 20 years later one certain Armand Jean du Plessis became a bishop of Luçon, despite not qualifying due to his then young age. One trip to Rome and a hefty bribe to the Pope later made all legal troubles go away. And while Richelieu’s portrayal in the popular culture is mostly wrong and libelous, it’s hard to argue that, yes – he was a “crook” by today’s standards, that he promoted nepotism, that he stole outright from the state and was rather petty and vindictive person. But he did not “invent” corruption within France – it was already here. Without any help from the Mongols, btw.

    Actually, in Russia things are getting better in the department of battling corruption. Our so-called liberals love nothing better than to cry and point accusatory fingers at this or that convenient (for them) corruptioner, but when the state did react and arrest the high ranking perp (be it governor, mayor or the businessman) this crow changes the tune immediately and starts bemoaning “repressions” and claims that “the new 1937 is upon us”. The Free and Independent Western Media ™ just copy+pastes their complaints.

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