The 10 Big Myths of Russia, Its Leader, and Its New Power

By Macshane, Denis | Newsweek International, September 15, 2008 | Go to article overview

The 10 Big Myths of Russia, Its Leader, and Its New Power


Macshane, Denis, Newsweek International


Byline: Denis Macshane; MacShane Is Labour M.P. For Rotherham And A Former Europe Minister.

Far from being a mystery and an enigma--to use Churchill's language--today's Russia now stands revealed as a bully, wrapped in nationalism and cloaked with its leader's arrogance. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's adventure in Georgia has produced shock and awe at the sight of tanks, planes and warships mobilized against a small neighbor. But Russia has always been a great mythmaker--from setting up Potemkin villages in the 18th century to fomenting great fear that Sovietism would conquer the world after 1945. Here are 10 of the biggest myths about today's Russia:

MYTH 1. Putin is the big winner of the incursion into Georgia. Yes, Putin has shown who runs Russia, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has been sidelined. And yes, Putin won the unanimous support of both houses of the Russian Parliament for the invasion and annexation of parts of Georgia. But he has united Europe after the years of division created by George W. Bush. In 2003, an emergency European Council split down the middle on Iraq. In 2008, European leaders came in behind French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the cautiously strong line advocated from the early days of the crisis by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband. Putin could not even get the support of his erstwhile ally, China, as Beijing looked with horror at Russia's endorsement of busting up frontiers agreed upon by the United Nations.

MYTH 2. The cold war has re-emerged. After 1945, there was a worldwide confrontation between two ideological systems. By contrast, the Georgian conflict was a war without an ideological basis, and within a capitalist system. While Georgia has opted to try to become a small branch subsidiary of transatlantic capitalism, and South Ossetia has become a festering sore of corrupt mafia-military capitalism, Russia has adopted a form of nationalist, state-controlled capitalism that suits the Putin generation of ex-KGB functionaries.

MYTH 3. Russia has been humiliated since 1989. In fact, no other former foe of Western democracy has been so welcomed. Russia has been brought into the G7. The Council of Europe has opened its doors to Russia even if the Duma refuses to recognize the European Court of Human Rights. Every European city has welcomed Russians. Investment has poured into Russia. Bush, Tony Blair and Gerhard Schroder all gushed withpraise for Putin when he became president in 2000. For years, Western leaders were largely willing to overlook the deaths of journalists under Putin or the war crimes committed in Chechnya.

MYTH 4. The West refuses to deal with Russia as an equal. Rather it is Russia that cannot treat other European countries as equals. Under Putin there have been endless verbal, diplomatic, cyber or trade disputes with its neighbors, demonstrating that Russia, with an economy smaller than Mexico or South Korea, has not learned the key lesson of the European Union: that all states, no matter how irritating, have to be treated with respect. Russia refuses to afford Poland or Georgia or Estonia the equality it demands for itself.

MYTH 5. The West has sought to encircle Russia. Can a nation that stretches from Europe to Japan and China be encircled? Russia is the only nation allowed to station antiballistic-missile rockets around its capital city. Poland and the Baltic states may not like Russia but are not going to invade. Russian M.P.s sit on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and Russian generals have observer status at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Ukraine and Georgia have a long way to go before they can join NATO or the EU, but by what right are sovereign states not allowed to decide what organizations they can or cannot join?

MYTH 6. South Ossetia is the same as Kosovo. The Kosovars sought the same rights as other nations and peoples in the former Yugoslavia. Despite Slobodan Milosevic's Islamaphobe repression they peacefully created a parallel civil society that won freedom from Belgrade after Serb genocidal brutality obliged NATO to intervene in 1999. …

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