Friday, January 07, 2005

An Old Argument

A recent article by Paul Goble, from the Latvian newspaper Diena:
The Return of an Old Argument

In western and US newspapers over the last few weeks we have seen the return of old arguments, which would be comical if they weren't so threatening.

Scholars, analysts and politicians - past and present - all urged western nations not to criticize Russia's recent actions; particularly its actions in Ukraine, in order to prevent a return to a "new Cold War".

In the entirely real period of conflict between 1945 to 1991, many who desired closer ties with the Soviet Union typically trotted out this same argument, particularly when Moscow did something exceptionally outrageous such as the invasion of Afghanistan, when imprisoning its political dissidents in psychiatric institutions, or using deadly force against the Baltic nations when their only 'crime' was their claim to freedom.

During the entire Cold War period, those who urged that Moscow not be called to accountability for its actions, typically advanced a tripartite argument. Firstly, they said, the West must understand that Moscow evaluates its actions differently then we do, and it is therefore necessary for us in considering Russia's actions to always take into consideration Russian thinking on these issues.

Secondly, those who promoted this line of thinking promised that any Western criticism of Moscow's policy would encumber Soviet leaders' cooperation with the West and would lead to their replacement by even worse individuals.

And thirdly, they stated that arms control (reduction) was of such paramount importance in any relationship with Moscow that absolutely no one could be allowed to hinder cooperation with Moscow - no matter what Moscow did elsewhere.

Each of these arguments, of course, had a certain tempting credibility, especially the last one - because of course it was a reflection of 'realpolitik' - even as all of these arguments, individually and together, always delivered negative consequences.

On one side these arguments deflected awareness of what Moscow was actually doing and actually made the West to be responsible for consequential Moscow actions. From another side this signified that it was Moscow - and not the West - that determined the standards by which it could be judged. This consequently allowed Moscow to behave even more badly, even though supporters of these conciliatory approaches would certainly condemn the results.

As Latvians already well know, such Western arguments were often utilized against them not only in the initial Baltic nations' move to freedom, but also most recently when we have seen some Western authors attempting to justify any sort of demands that Moscow might raise, or actions that it might take.

In the years since the collapse of of the Soviet Union this argumentation has been used to justify Russia's actions in Chechnya, the suppression of free media and other freedoms, and has now begun appearing in discussions regarding those areas that Russia has termed its 'near abroad'.

Even though the utilization of this argument has been, until now, advanced in a guarded or even self-embarrassed manner, things have changed since the Ukrainian elections, and now their voices have been turned to full volume. Just last week in the largest newspapers in Paris, Washington, and New York we have seen the re-emergence of these old outworn and disproven arguments.

We are urged to "understand" Russia's actions in Ukraine; actions which attempted to control the election process - and even worse. We are told that any critisism against these Russian actions could result in another "New Cold War". And we are told; 'Even though we don't like Vladimir Putin's actions, there are others standing in line behind him, who could be worse.'

In essence we are told that we must accept what Russia has done, and, further, that we are responsible for whatever worsening in relations might occur - should we dare to criticize what has been done by Russia.

In conjunction with this line of thinking, Russia becomes guiltless for any actions that it has taken and for any worsening of relations with the West. Invoking the "new Cold War" slogan - something that no one wants, and also something that isn't even possible in the current global situation or in Russian capabilities - this argument is being advanced in the obvious hope of deflecting western critics who might be opposed to whatever Moscow wishes to attempt in the future.

It is rare to see any of the promoters of this argument, acknowledge that in allowing Moscow to bear no responsibility for its aggressive actions - and not to take a stance against them - is like allowing a spoiled child the freedom of doing anything while expecting no responsible action from him.

It is rare to see the promoters of this argument acknowledge that resistance against unnacceptable actions and the defence of democratic principles is not a failure - but is a mandatory responsibility - if we wish to see an improvement in international relations.

And it is for this reason that the promoters of this accommodation argument should recall those words which were first stated years ago by the Russian memoirist Nadezhda Mandelshtam: "Lucky is the nation where the contemptible are held in contempt."

(translation: scb)

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