Streetwise Professor

February 9, 2009

Is SP Channeling SWP?

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 6:13 pm

Strategy Page ran a piece today with a title that could have come straight from the pixels of SWP: “Homicidal Maniacs With Delusions of Grandeur and Selective Memories.”  Three guesses as to the subject, but two don’t count:

The global recession has hit Russia hard, so now the Russians are eager to have NATO and U.S. supplies (no explosives or weapons, though) shipped to Afghanistan via Russia. That means millions of dollars of much needed business for Russian railroads.Another mutually beneficial financial deal with the West includes retiring more nuclear weapons. Russia wants to proceed with deals made in the last five years, that call for Russia and the U.S. dismantling most of their remaining nukes (each nation has about 6,000). Russia apparently wants the number reduced to a thousand, rather than the current 2,000. This would save hundreds of millions of dollars a year in maintenance and security costs.

The government has again warned neighboring countries (like Estonia and Ukraine) to stop being ungrateful for what Russia did for them during World War II. This is a long standing sore point. The Baltic Countries and Ukraine consider themselves forcibly made a part of the Soviet Union. All four nations contributed troops to the Nazi war effort against the Soviet Union. Although reviled in Russia and the West, these troops are local heroes, for having fought against the hated Russians (not for supporting the Nazis.) The Russians don’t get it, ignoring the fact that Russian secret police and death camps killed millions of people from the Baltic States and Ukraine. Russia considers these dead to be criminals, while the countrymen of the victims consider Russians homicidal maniacs, with delusions of grandeur and selective memories.

Speaking of delusions, hundreds of Russian MiG-29 fighters remain grounded after one of these aircraft crashed last December 5th. The cause was structural failure (the tail separated, in flight, from the rest of the aircraft). The Russian Air Force has been investigating, but has not announced anything yet. It’s believed that poor maintenance and a shortage of spare parts is the main cause.

It’s gets worse. Russian arms exporters see sales to China falling up to 40 percent this year. The reason is partly the poor quality of Russian weapons, and partly Chinese theft of Russian technology to build their own versions of Russian weapons (complete with flaws, but the Chinese don’t seem to mind as long as they save lots of money).

Russia is proposing a new treaty between itself and the West. The main idea is that the West would promise not to invade Russia, or mess with Russian internal affairs (which tend to get messy). Russia, in turn, would stop acting like a paranoid bully.

NATO has told Russia that it is not happy with the way Russia has absorbed two portions (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) of neighboring Georgia, and is building a military base in Abkhazia. Russia ignored the criticism. Meanwhile, Russia continues to have problems governing some of its border areas, that would rather be independent. Mainly, it’s the Caucasus provinces of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan. Long unstable because of clan and ethnic differences, the situation has been made worse by Russian economic mismanagement, and the appointment of corrupt provincial officials. The national government  has sent in special police units, but that has done nothing for the unemployment and corrupt officials that anger the locals the most. The violence (weekly assassinations and raids on police stations) is spreading to Moscow, where in one recent week, there were four Caucasus related murders. The northern Caucasus has been a headache like this, for centuries. No one has ever come up with a lasting solution.

Russia has restored aid to Cuba, but at only a tenth of the Soviet era largess (which amounted to over a billion dollars a year), which ended in the early 1990s (and had been declining through the 1980s).  Russia is doing this mainly to annoy the United States.

SP’s discussion of the battle over the past strikes a nerve.   I’ve written before on the outrageous revisionism in Russian history schoolbooks, and I found Medvedev’s recent lecturing of neighboring nations on their treatment of WWII history particularly grating.   This is particularly true coming from the president of a nation that has yet to deal in a full, honest way with its own historical legacy.  

Now, there is always some ambiguity in connecting the USSR with the Russian Federation, but it is pretty clear that the current Russian leadership, and much of the Russian populace, views the RF as the successor to the Soviet Union.  Moreover, the same leadership and same elements of the population clearly harbor more than a little nostalgia for the USSR; resent its dismemberment in 1991; and would like to see the restoration of its territory under the Russian aegis (if not with all of its social, political, and economic elements.)   And, the USSR was primarily a Russian project.

It is painfully obvious that the USSR, the history of which is obscured (at best) or celebrated (at worst) in today’s Russia, has a legacy that is fully comparable to that of the Nazism that Medvedev accuses the Balts, etc., of celebrating.  Just a few of the horrific events that cost millions of lives which have not been adequately recognized, let alone addressed, by post-Soviet Russia:

  • Russian Civil War (millions of dead)
  • The Peasant Wars, primarily in Ukraine and other agricultural regions of the USSR (millions dead–probably more than in the Civil War proper)
  • Mass Collectivization, “de-Kulakization” (millions deported; millions dead)
  • The obliteration of Kazakhstan’s nomadic culture (as part of the collectivization)
  • The “Terror Famine” (Robert Conquest’s term), primarily against Ukraine (post-collectivization) (millions dead; a war against Ukrainian culture)
  • 1937 Terror (the only thing for which Putin has expressed regret–because it was directed at the party elite, presumably)
  • The imprisonment of eastern Europe, with accompanying purges.

I would hope that hectoring and lecturing others about the proper way to remember painful historical episodes would occur only after a serious remembrance and appraisal of the foregoing episodes.  But I would–and do–hope in vain.

I remember seeing the very modest memorial to victims of the KGB kitty-corner to the Lubyanka on a visit to Moscow in 2005.  I also remember thinking that it was a first step, but a very small one.  Since then, there has been retrogression, as the official attitude has been to celebrate a history that produced the events listed above.  And even worse, this retrogression has been accompanied by the badgering of neighbors who have (a) been the victims of many of these atrocities, and (b) have the temerity to remember them as such.  

Remember nothing.  Forget nothing.  A recipe for further pain.  

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Looks like someone else is also channeling SWP – Tim Geithner. CNN Money reports that Tim Geithner believes that “he can bring substantial private capital to the (bad bank) plan”. This clearly sounds a lot like issuing equity in the bad bank. Hopefully Tim has read this blog and taken the suggestion 😛

    Comment by Surya — February 9, 2009 @ 6:44 pm

  2. So where do we go to from here? An intriguing analysis by Mexican political scientist Fredo Arias King compares Russia to a person with the psychological condition known as borderline personality disorder. This involves a split cultural identity, unstable self image, black-and-white thinking and difficulties of perceiving one’s own responsibilities. Sufferers often have bursts of anger and aggressiveness and attempts to appease and indulge them are counterproductive. The way to handle them, it is said, is to be stable, polite and firm, defining non-negotiable rules that are then stuck to.

    Comment by Vladimir — February 9, 2009 @ 7:13 pm

  3. Vladimir, I work clinically in psych, another feature of Borderline Personality Disorders is that they often make impulsive suicide attempts, often as attention getting gestures. Impulsivity is a major symptom of the disorder. And, Fredo Arias King is correct that firm non-negotable rules are a must. That said, I’d place Putin’s Kremlin more in the realm of sociopathic behavior. Sociopaths need firm rules too. There is no conscience functioning with those folks. All of their relationships are predatory. There isn’t much clinically to offer them. More than anything it’s important that when they do the crime they need to do the time(in jail).

    The US and EU need to have more like a parole officer relationship with Russia.

    Comment by penny — February 10, 2009 @ 10:50 am

  4. “Homicidal Maniacs With Delusions of Grandeur and Selective Memories.”

    There would be much hope for Russia if Barack Obama had said those words at his first press conference. There won’t be much hope for Russia or us either until/unless he finally does say them at some point. One would think, given the wholesale slaughter of dark-skinned minorities going on in Russia, that Obama would not be so obtuse.

    Comment by La Russophobe — February 11, 2009 @ 7:48 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress