“We have done the most terrible thing to you that we could possibly have done. We have deprived you of an enemy.” Those were the words of Gennadi Gerasimov, foreign spokesman for the Soviet Union upon the collapse of the once mighty, evil empire. Being lucky enough to have been born after communism had been all but thrown into the dustbin of history, I do not remember the fear and trembling that must have afflicted citizens of this country as they thought of the real possibility of nuclear Armageddon. You would think the world would rejoice that freedom and democracy had won the fight, but our political rulers, always hungry for more power and influence, had been deprived of their enemy.
The world was simple to them during the Cold War; nobody could deny the threat of the Soviet Union. It has become increasingly complex and multi-polar in the 25 years since the collapse. Our rulers have searched for an enemy, but all pale in comparison; Milosevic failed as an enemy, Hussein — though more depraved than Stalin’s worst nightmares — could not pose a credible threat to our way of life, and now ‘terror’ is proving to be quite a hard enemy to fight.
But, a few years ago, these politicians, tired of searching for their geopolitical foe, had a brilliant idea: “Why not just go back to the Russians?” It was an ingenious plan, for there was so much nostalgia for a powerful and threatening Russia that they could just pretend such a Russia still existed. They could simply sweep little issues under the rug, such as the lack of credible threat that Russia poses to our way of life, the double standards imposed on what classifies as ‘aggression,’ and the several years of us betraying our obligations to the Russians in a post-communist landscape. It was much easier to point to a strongman like Putin — a man who does himself no favours by actually being a brutal despot — and make a villain of him. Voila, welcome back to the simplicity of the Cold War.
The European Union’s horrible Ukranian strategy of propping up a regime that is far more disturbingly fascistic than even Putin’s kleptocracy could ever hope to be, and the madness that is international intervention in Syria, are prime examples of the idiocy of anti-Russian sentiment. Britain’s recent decision to permanently place 800 troops in the Baltic region in response to ‘Russian aggression’ serves to highlight the double standards of our leaders in these political games.
Russia refueling a warship heading for Syria is framed as aggression; but stationing armed troops with tanks on their border is not. The siege of Aleppo is spun as a show of Russian barbarity; the violence of Obama administration drone strikes that blow up hospitals are brushed away. These simplifications accomplish nothing abroad, and it is very hard to tell if they really improve domestic support for the politicians offering them. Johnson’s encouragement for the public to protest outside the Russian embassy led to a show of all of one protester: hardly a sign of success.
In the end, the ramping up of comments against the Russians is all a part of a wider trend in politics: a disconnection between politicians and the needs of their constituents. The Russians are not the cause of unemployment, they are not responsible for declining productivity, and they are not exclusively responsible for the troubles of Syria. Putin may be a horribly narcissistic tyrant, but he is not our problem and he poses us no threat. The world is not the playground for Western intervention, and nations are not defined in relation to us. It is about time that politicians focus on what they were elected to do, rather than search for an outlet for their depraved power trips.