Contrary to the spin from neocons and the mainstream media, Russia is playing defence, not offense, in its confrontation with the West over Ukraine. Misunderstanding Russia’s motivations, and its fundamental nature, could have tragic repercussions for us, not least further driving Russia away from the West—its natural ally—into the arms of China, its natural enemy.
Almost continuously since the 17th century, when Peter the Great began to transform Russia along Western lines following his tour of Europe, Russia has identified with the West, and sought to join the West. The Russian court spoke French. Tsar Alexander II freed the serfs after Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. Even Russia’s embrace of communism—the only time it strayed from its Judeo-Christian traditions—was a Western import, Karl Marx being the fashion in Germany, France, and England.
Today, Russia embraces traditional Western values more than does the West itself. While many in the West now reject our heritage, tearing down statues commemorating our history, rejecting the traditional family, and adopting critical race theory, Russia leads the opposition to wokeism.
In 2020, 80 percent of Russians voted to change their constitution by codifying a “defense of the institution of marriage as a union of a man and a woman; the creation of conditions for a decent upbringing of children in the family, as well as for the responsibilities of adult children to care for parents.” Last year, President Vladimir Putin criticized Westerners for our “reverse discrimination against the majority in the interests of minorities” and “the aggressive deletion of whole pages of their own history.” Such views are not those of an ideological adversary of the West; rather, they reflect the mainstream view in most of America’s 50 states.
Neither should Russia be perceived as a natural enemy of the United States when no country over the centuries has been a more steadfast ally. Before American independence, Russia’s Catherine the Great defied Britain’s mercantile system by trading directly with the American colonies. During the American War of Independence, Russia sided with the United States, financing the colonies and using its diplomatic leverage to help the colonies obtain a favorable peace. During the American Civil War, to dissuade Britain or France from militarily supporting the Confederacy, Russia’s Tsar Alexander II sent his Baltic and Pacific fleets to New York and San Francisco, along with instructions to their admirals to report to President Lincoln for duty should the Europeans enter the war. During both world wars, Russia was allied with the United States against Germany.
Yes, Russia during its communist aberration over most of the 20th century was a Cold War adversary of the West, but as President Barack Obama correctly observed, those fixed on the Russia of the 1980s are “stuck in a Cold War time warp” that leads to “reckless” foreign policy (pdf).
NATO—the defensive alliance of 12 countries that the West established in the late 1940s to oppose Soviet Russian attempts to advance westward, into Western Europe’s sphere of influence—morphed after the Cold War into an offensive alliance of 30 countries that expanded eastward toward Russia’s borders.
The danger of equating Soviet Russia with post-Soviet Russia was presciently put in “A Fateful Error,” a 1997 New York Times op-ed by George Kennan, the diplomat who earlier developed for the United States the Cold-War policy of containing Soviet Russia. Containing post-Soviet Russia by “expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era,” he wrote, arguing it would “inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion” and “impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking.”
A NATO expansion would soon backfire, he wrote, since Russia “would likely look elsewhere for guarantees of a secure and hopeful future for themselves.” That “elsewhere” has become China, despite its culture being alien to Russia and despite a history of territorial and diplomatic disputes serious enough to lead to military clashes. Yet, from Putin’s perspective, he has no choice but to ally with China, given the West’s failure to welcome Russia back to the fold after it rejected communism and given its persistent rebukes of Putin’s demonstrations of good will.
“I would like to emphasize that we are interested in close cooperation with the United States on international affairs,” Putin stated in 2016 in a speech to Russian ambassadors. Two weeks earlier at a St. Petersburg economic forum that had then-European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson in attendance, Putin said that he considers the United States “a great power, today perhaps the only superpower. We accept this. We want to work with the United States and we are prepared to.” This outreach, along with others, including his desire for free trade with the EU, were all rebuffed in deed if not in name.
Ukraine is but the latest example of Western belligerence. Although the West portrays Russia as the aggressor, it was the West that engineered the violent overthrow of Ukraine’s pro-Russian democratically elected leader in 2014, leading to a referendum in the Crimean Republic in which 97 percent voted to join the Russian Federation. Contrary to a drumbeat of Western predictions that a Russian annexation of eastern Ukraine was imminent, none has occurred, consistent with Putin’s position throughout the conflict. He wants a diplomatic solution that largely restores a status quo in which Ukraine remains a buffer state. The West bloody-mindedly wants NATO to expand into Ukraine, raising for Russia the prospect of NATO missiles on the Ukraine–Russian border, pointing at Moscow.
To maximize the tightening of the screws on Russia, the West is also wielding economic weapons, such as the threat to sabotage Russia’s ability to use the international banking system. The unfortunate endgame of this brinksmanship would further push Russia into the arms of communist China, pitting the awesome nuclear weaponry of the Western powers against the awesome nuclear weaponry of a Russian–Chinese alliance. This cannot end well.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.