Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sad similarity between Russia and Syria

The independent Russian election-observer group Golos (voice) said Saturday that "it (Putin's united Russia) achieved the majority mandate by falsification."

A few years ago I read Barry Rubin's book 'Syria', which I highly recommend for anyone who wants to understand the contemporary Middle East. The book makes clear among other things why peaceful transfer of power to a democracy is impossibly in Syria: basically, the ruling Alawite minority is barely 10% of the population, and any civil war would end for Assad and his cronies as things did for Saddam or Quaddafi.

The insight I wanted to share relates to Russia. I realized that aside from its size, Russia, just like Syria, is supported on two foundations: Force and Lies. Once you let go of the idea that they are just like Western countries, this simple idea explains a lot. However, for Russia, the need to maintain appearances is great - it does not want to become a pariah, like Syria. As the linked article shows, the Russian rulers know that time is on their side. Russians are used to abuse from above, so the wave of discontent is unlikely to last. So, the emphasis is definitely on Lies, with a minimum of Force, to keep the crowds dispersed.

Russia is not about to become a descent player on a world stage. I will continue to provide cover for Iran's nuclear program, threaten energy supplies to Europe, and stick their finger in the eye of US every chance they get, while largely ignoring their own people. Domestic policy holds little interest to Putin - he's primarily focus on projecting Russian power outside its borders.

The conclusion: Russia is still an evil empire. It has barely stopped being one during its bankruptcy in the 1990's. I should know - I was born there. How do we get along? First, realize that Russia is not a true democracy. Its leaders care little for their true popularity. They want to be respected, not liked. Being liked is for children, and pets.

Obama's 'reload' was dead on arrival. Russian leadership does not respect the US leadership, and that's the problem. Nothing strikes contempt in their hearts like craven appeasement. The initial spelling by the State Department did not help either - it was mistranslated, and actually means 'overload' in Russian. That's right, Hillary Clinton gave a button to her Russian counterpart saying 'overload', while she smiled broadly. I'm sure the Russians had a hearty laugh about this episode, they may even like Hillary, however, all of that is beside the point.

Obama read one of Reagan's books during his many vacations. The current administration would do well to follow in his footsteps of negotiating from position of strength with Russians. That is the only way to have their respect, and ultimately, their cooperation. Clearly, that reading has not overcome Obama's inclination to resolve conflicts by appealing to his enemies from position of weakness. It's a disturbing fact, that US under Obama has treated its enemies with more respect and deference than it has treated its friends.

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