Essay One: A Very Brief History of Russian, British, and American Relations
Today’s tension between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, and the respective governments they head, has been dubbed by some as a “New Cold War”. Although things have come to a fever pitch not previously reached before the Ukrainian crisis, this New Cold War has precedents going all the way back to Russia’s brief war with Georgia in August of 2008.
The recent and current events of the Ukrainian crisis will be discussed in the second installment of this series, but it is important to first examine the deep historical roots of this present conflict between what is collectively call the West (particularly the U.S. and her NATO allies) and the modern-day Russian Federation.
- Russia Removed from the West -
Russia, the most powerful nation of Eastern Europe, has always maintained a degree of independence from her Western neighbors. While she is close to Europe in some respects, she also exists very much apart from other European nations, which have historically been much more integrated with one another. She is a Eurasian nation–a crossroads between East and West. She is historically an Orthodox Christian country, and developed as a nation beyond the political and religious influence of the Roman Papacy. From the Teutonic Crusaders, to Napoleonic France, to Nazi Germany, Western powers have made numerous attempts to conquer Russia, yet she has resisted each time. The effects of these characteristics has persisted throughout the lifespans of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, and still persist today in the Russian Federation.1
However, Russia’s semi-isolation from Western Europe also meant that she did not immediately reap many of the benefits of the European Renaissance which fostered many of the modern advancements in science, the arts, and statecraft. In fact, it was not until the 18th century, that Russia, under the reign of Emperor Peter I (“Peter the Great”), began to open up to receiving some of the lessons that the West had to teach her. As a result, it was also during this period that she emerged as an industrial and imperial power, expanding into the second largest empire in the world. As such, her rise as a global player also guaranteed that the Western powers would seek to have influence with or over Russia, and obviously not always for reasons in her best interest. Thus from the late 1700s onward to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Russia was in a near-perpetual geopolitical chess game with the powers of Western Europe–especially the only empire larger than hers: Britain’s.2
- The Russian Empire versus the British Empire -
From approximately the time of the Congress of Vienna in 1815, onward to the eve of the First World War in the early 20th century, Russia was essentially Britain’s only significant rival in the Eastern Hemisphere. When Russia was expanding into Central Asia, and frequently warring with the Ottoman Empire, Britain took close notice, as Russian expansion was a potential threat to British dominance in South Asia and its considerable influence in Ottoman Southwest Asia; thus, the British Empire put great effort into maintaining a policy of containing Russia’s further rise. During much of the 19th century, the two great empires were in a geopolitical tug-of-war for control over the Eurasian Heartland that historians have dubbed “The Great Game”.
In discussing this geopolitical duel, a key difference between the British and Russian empires must be emphasized:
The British Empire expanded as a maritime empire for the purpose of dominating and controlling the global trade of materials extracted from its many colonies around the world. As such, the British system, with its reach all across the globe, and dedication to so-called “free trade”, needs to prevent its subjugated peoples from organizing into strong, sovereign nation-states. Thus industry and infrastructure in the colonies are kept only at the bare-bones level necessary for looting and exporting.3
Additionally, the British Empire rarely resorts to overt military conquest, and instead established control over territory by infiltrating and subverting resistant nations from within, thereby orchestrating social and political discord. (Many of the nations targeted by this method were Russia’s neighbors in Southwest and Central Asia, of which were organized as proxy forces the British recruited against Russia, creating destabilization all along Russia’s southern border.)
Unlike its British counterpart, the Russian Empire expanded through force of arms to become a continental empire across the vast landscape of Eurasia.4 Although it conquered a multitude of ethnic groups, it can be argued that the Russian Empire still functioned much more like an unified nation when compared to the multi-tentacled global colonial empire of Great Britain. Thus Russia’s economic growth depended upon the very same kind of inland development and internal improvements that were suppressed in the British colonies. Therefore, as an empire straddling a supercontinent, Russia was more poised to evolve from an empire into a nation-state, whereas Britain could only continue upon its current trajectory of growing into an ever-larger parasite, victimizing decaying nations.
- Russia and the U.S.: Once Close Allies -
It is probably for these differences that Russia developed close ties with the British Empire’s former colony and chief rival in the Western Hemisphere: the United States of America (although this is largely a forgotten history since the events of the Bolshevik Revolution and the Cold War). It is somewhat ironic to reflect upon the fact that Russia and the U.S. shared a “special relationship”–in which they were unified against Britain–long before the Anglo-American special relationship established at the end of World War II, which was an alignment against Russia.
During the American War for Independence (1775-83), the U.S. earned the sympathy of Empress Catherine II (“Catherine the Great”) and her government; thus the fledgling republic was being supplied by Russia and her allies—the League of Armed Neutrality—during the war. During the Second Anglo-American War (1812-15), the Russians pressured Britain to sue for peace with the U.S. During Russia’s Crimean War (1853-56) against the British, French, and Ottomans, the U.S. returned Russia’s favor from 80 years prior by supplying her with war materiel. And during the U.S. Civil War (1861-65), Russia intervened directly to deter Britain from formally allying with the Confederate States of America.5
But this alignment between the U.S. and Russia did not merely apply during wartime. Russia, as a transcontinental nation, was eager to adopt methods of the “American System of Political Economy”.6 American economic nationalists exchanged their ideas with Russian counterparts to help further Russia’s development into a modern nation-state. The U.S. gave Russia the materiel needed to establish modern industry and railroads—including the famous Trans-Siberian. By the turn of the 20th century, the U.S. and Russia were one another’s largest trading partners.
But the rapid development of both Russia and the United States as strong, sovereign, national economies was something that the British Empire could not tolerate. The fruitful alliance between the two nations was not to last.
- The Anglo-American Special Relationship and the Cold War -
In 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution overthrew Russia’s imperial monarchy, and the creation of the Soviet Union soon followed. This, of course, created a giant rift in U.S.-Russian relations, which had already been waning since the retirement of Prime Minister Sergei Witte–a strong advocate of American System-style development–in 1906.
The twilight of World War II saw a potential return to something approaching the relationship the U.S. and Russia enjoyed during the latter half of the 19th century. But the untimely death of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, the main torch-bearer for such an approach to U.S.-Russian relations, meant it would never come to pass.
In the aftermath of World War II, instead of rekindling things with Russia, the U.S. established a “special relationship” with the British Empire, and was thus initiated as a full-fledged, major player in the game of imperialist geopolitics.7 Almost immediately after Roosevelt’s death, the Anglo-American Establishment moved quickly to exploit what were workable differences between the U.S. and the Soviet Union and usher in the Cold War.
Much happened during this period, but the most important feature to mention for our purposes here is to mention that the Cold War was largely governed by a doctrine of “Mutually Assured Destruction”, appropriately acronymed as MAD. MAD meant that since the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. each had thousands of nuclear and thermonuclear weapons, war between them would mean the destruction of them both—and probably most, if not all, of the human race, as well. Thus the promise of MAD meant that the only way to deter the one side or the other from instigating war was for the two of them to continually one-up each other through arms-race, intrigue, and geopolitical maneuvering.
In the waning days of that Cold War, the U.S. would assure the disintegrating U.S.S.R. that the coming new era would mean an end to Cold War relations, most specifically the surcease of the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an anti-Russian military alliance of Western countries.
- Yeltsin and Putin -
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Anglo-Americans pounced on the heavily-weakened superpower by installing their puppet Boris Yeltsin as President of the new Russian Federation. Under Yeltsin, Russia was eager to transition from a state-controlled economy into a free market one. Western “economists” advised the new government to implement economic “shock therapy”—i.e., the overnight privatization of most sectors of the Russian economy. This allowed the rise of a new class of Russian “oligarchs” who looted the country. By the end of the 1990s, Russia was on the verge of becoming a Third World country.8 By the end of his presidency, the bumbling, corrupt Yeltsin enjoyed single-digit approval ratings.
Yeltsin resigned on New Year’s Eve, 1999. His successor was his prime minister, Vladimir Putin. Putin immediately began an enterprise to turn Russia around. He reigned in the oligarchs and reversed the privatization schemes. The presidencies of Putin and his collaborator, Dmitry Medvedev, launched national initiatives to improve public health, education, housing, and agriculture; promote the flourishing of useful domestic industries; and promote the development of modern technologies.
In his fifteen years in high office (ten years as president, five as prime minister), Putin has managed to bring Russia back from poverty and social discord, and turn it back into a strong, sovereign nation-state. Whatever his flaws, Putin is surely not deserving the vilification now being incessantly hurled at him by Western pundits and politicians.9 Putin is hated simply because he is a nationalist who dares to defy the Anglo-American Establishment.10 As one popular Russian analyst has said of him:11 As a world leader, Putin represents a vision of a pluralistic world order of sovereign nation-states that adhere to international law. Unlike Yeltsin, he has not sat idly by and allowed his country to become a de facto colony of the Anglo-American system, and stands firm against its efforts to create a unipolar empire of might-makes-right.
Just as Lincoln and Roosevelt were circumspect of the British Empire, and therefore willing to cooperate with Russia in creating such a pluralistic and peaceful world order, so too must the present government of the United States break off the Special Relationship and engage Putin in his present mission.
Forthcoming: Essay Two: “What is the Actual Significance of the Ukrainian Crisis?”
- Notes -
1. The differences between Russia and the West are not so irreconcilable that they condemn the two sides to an eternal “clash of civilizations” which must inevitably lead to one side destroying the other, as some fanatics–both Russian and Western–have argued. Nonetheless, the differences in culture, religion, and history must be recognized and taken into account by both parties if they are to have any cooperation in building a better future for mankind.
2. Although my knowledge of Russian history and its relationship to the West is admittedly rather sophomoric, I nonetheless have found that Russia’s volatile relationship with my native United States actually has its historical roots in Russia’s problems with the British Empire, which go back to the 18th century, and continue today.
3. I use the present tense in describing the system of British Imperialism, because it does, in actuality, persist as today’s Anglo-American “neocolonial” system. I have written on this elsewhere in “The Philippines: Underdeveloped, But Not Overpopulated” and “For Independence from Empire: The Spirit of ’76 and Pan-Asian Nationalism”. I also recommend other reading material, particularly from the ground-breaking historiography of Executive Intelligence Review, such as Treason in America: From Aaron Burr to Averell Harriman by Anton Chaitkin (1999, Sec. ed. E.I.R. Washington.); and L.Wolfe, “The Other War: FDR’s Battle Against Churchill and the British Empire”, The American Almanac, Aug. 28, 1995. Also see As He Saw It by Elliot Roosevelt (Duell, Sloan, and Pearce. New York, 1946).
4. Russian Imperialism, although in part motivated by practical reasons such as the need to acquire resources and to secure access to warm water ports, has its roots in a “Third Rome” ideology, where Russia was the successor to the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire (which is why the title of the Russian Emperor– “Tsar”–is Russian for “Caesar”). At least some of Russia’s recurring conflicts with the Ottoman Turks were inspired by a Romantic fantasy of “liberating” Istanbul (formerly Constantinople, the capital of Byzantium) from the Muslims and reestablishing the old empire. Third Rome ideology does persist to this very day in some quarters of the old Russian elite.
5. See George Konstantin, “The U.S.-Russian Entente That Saved the Union,” Executive Intelligence Review, Jun. 26, 1992 (reprint); William Jones, “Britain’s Surrogate War Against the Union, 1861-65″, Executive Intelligence Review, Aug. 12, 2011; and Konstantin Cheremnykh and Rachel Douglas, “Russians Look at Strategic Meaning of Historical Alliance with U.S.A.”, Executive Intelligence Review, Jun. 8, 2007.
6. The American System of Political Economy was considered by its proponents–which included Alexander Hamilton, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, Henry C. Carey, and Abraham Lincoln, among others–as the antithesis to the “British” system of free trade and imperialism. It is a form of economic nationalism: i.e. a political economy that fosters a society of producers, where high-technology industry and infrastructure are applied for the greatest possible benefit of the living standards of the general population. For more on this and related topics, see Anton Chaitkin, “How Ben Franklin Organized Our Economic Independence”, Executive Intelligence Review, Oct. 21, 2011, “The Fraud of Andrew Jackson: Think Like an American–Restore Hamilton’s Bank!”, Executive Intelligence Review, Feb. 10, 2012, and “The American Industrial Revolution that Andrew Jackson Sought to Destroy”, Executive Intelligence Review, Jun. 22, 2012. The article for “The American School (Economics)” on Wikipedia also presents a useful overview.
7. For insight into actual nature of the Anglo-American “Special Relationship” scrutinize Churchill’s famous “Iron Curtain” speech on Mar. 5, 1946 to Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri where he publicly announces that the U.S. must align with the British Empire (it is of special note that he emphasizes the Empire, over the nation of United Kingdom) against the Soviet Union and work toward establishing the United Nations as a kind-of supranational government. View Churchill’s words in the context of Henry Kissinger’s May 10, 1982 speech to the Royal Institute for International Affairs. Kissinger shamelessly confesses that he “kept the British Foreign Office better informed and more closely engaged than…the American State Department,” and that his allegiances lie with the historical outlook of imperialists like Churchill, rather than those of patriotic and “moralistic idealists” like Roosevelt and John Quincy Adams.
8. See Dan Josefsson, “Shock Therapy: The Art of Ruining a Country”, Dan Josefsson’s Articles and Blog, Apr. 1, 1999; and The Saker, “Is the twenty years long “pas de deux” of Russia and the USA coming to an end?”, Vineyard of the Saker (blog), Oct. 12, 2013.
9. Knowing what sources to put one’s faith in when it comes to sorting through information on Vladimir Putin and his presidency can be quite difficult. The Russian President is undoubtedly a major thorn in the side of the Anglo-American Empire, and therefore the great majority of the English-language news media cannot be trusted for any honest reporting on Putin or Russia. Even good journalists who might be sincere in their reporting can misrepresent the facts about the state of affairs in Putin’s Russia if they unwittingly rely upon sources that are disinformation and/or are uneducated on the larger context on the issues in question.
Russian sources, on the other hand, particularly the increasingly-popular, Russian government-funded, English-language news outlet Russia Today (RT) are likely guilty of being overly bias toward the current Russian government, but are still valuable for presenting Russia’s side of the story and for reporting important stories that run contrary to the narrative the Anglo-American Establishment wishes to promote (both of which the mainstream media in the West will never do).
Two of the best English-language sources I have come across for intelligence on Russia are The Vineyard of the Saker—a blog written by a Soviet dissident and former military analyst—and Lyndon LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review.
As for my own opinion of President Putin, I will say that while the man is certainly no saint, and is perhaps guilty of some of the objectionable actions he is accused of, he is nonetheless a master statesman (quite possibly the greatest Russia has had since Witte) who has no contemporary peers among other world leaders. I believe his motivation to lead is derived more so from a desire to serve for the good of Russia and her people, than from selfishness and narcissism. I could be wrong in this assessment, but I have yet to be presented with any convincing evidence that I am.
10. The connotation of the term “nationalist” I refer to is not that which is often synonymous with fascism, and refers to a xenophobic, isolationist, racialist idea of national identity (a connotation which is probably better expressed by the term ultranationalism, a term used to describe the extremist, fascistic contingent apparently in charge of the new Ukrainian government right now), but the idea that the general welfare and interests of the nation must be protected from destructive foreign influences, whether covert or overt, and that a sovereign nation has a right to her development.