Current U.S. Policy of PROVOKING RUSSIA Is Fundamentally Flawed

By Qualls, John M. Us Army | Military Review, January/February 2009 | Go to article overview
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Current U.S. Policy of PROVOKING RUSSIA Is Fundamentally Flawed


Qualls, John M. Us Army, Military Review


OUR CURRENT POLICY concerning Russia is flawed and must be reevaluated. We, the United States, seem bent on a collision course with Russia, a course that should be avoided at all costs lest an accidental exchange of fire between our two nations' military forces lead to the use of nuclear weapons. American insistence on independence of Kosovo, pursuit of agreements with bordering nations to install ballistic defense missiles, and the encouragement of proxy democracies in the Caucasus and Eastern Europe all serve notice that the United States seeks to challenge Russia in her own backyard.

In the long run, nations pursue their interests irrespective of the personalities of their leaders. It is easy to characterize the behavior of individual leaders of nations as good or bad. However, to put recent developments in perspective, one must avoid the propaganda of the quick slogan and concentrate on the strategic situation. Any Soldier who has been around a few years knows that, to paraphrase Aeschylus, the first victim in any war is truth.

Factors such as language barriers, cultural differences, and religious traditions lead our nation to misunderstand and misread Russian actions. The language barrier is self-explanatory: the Russians use a Cyrillic alphabet - we use a Latin alphabet. While an American can often interpret a French or Spanish word without knowledge of the language, such interpretation in context is impossible with languages such as Russian that use a different alphabet. Thus the language barrier makes communication between the two nations more difficult. In addition, Russia is primarily an Orthodox Christian nation whose cultural and religious attitudes are closely intertwined even to this day, despite 70 years of militant communism. Orthodox Christianity is different from Western Christianity, which has attempted since Augustine and Aquinas to divide, define, and explain Christian theology. Western Christianity has always reinvented, and to some degree changed, its religious beliefs over time, but the Eastern Orthodox Church continues to accept the early church writings (by John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, and Gregory the Theologian) as definitive and without further need of explanation. Some say the Eastern Church is therefore more spiritual. For these reasons, among many others, Russians tend to be more obethent to authority, while Americans tend to be more individualistic.

Abrief history of Eastern Europe helps to explain why current U.S. policy directed at Russia is confrontational and dangerous. The history of Russia begins with the formation of Slavic democratic citystates organized by the Varangian Rus (Vikings who traveled east). Christianization of the Kievan Rus by Prince Vladimir in 988 led to a national identity. The invasion and prédation of the Mongols in the 13th century followed 200 years of relative peace. These nomadic warriors were Islamicized in the early 14th century under the Golden Horde. Gradually, resistance to the Khan centered around the Grand Duchy of Moscow. In the 15th century, after many battles and deaths, the Mongols were defeated at the Ugra river and Russia was rid of the Mongol yoke of Genghis Khan's descendants.

Further to the south, the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453 and turned the greatest cathedral in the Orthodox Christian world, Hagia Sophia (built by the Emperor Justinian and finished in 537 AD), into a mosque. From the 15th century to the beginning of the 1 8th, the Grand Duchy of Moscow expanded its power base until Russia became a recognized world power under Tsar Peter the Great. To some extent, the history of Russia in the last millennium is the history of its Christian people attempting to secure its borders from outside invasion.

From 1700 to the early 20th century, Russia warred with Sweden, Austria, England, France, Germany, Poland, the Caucasus region, Central Asian Islamic tribes, the Ottoman Empire, and Japan. Russia expanded its influence thanks to the military successes of Marshals Suvorov (Catherine the Great era) and Kutuzov (age of Napoleon).

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