Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Russia and the Future of Democracy

Observing the development of the crisis in relations between Moscow and Tbilisi, it’s possible to come to the conclusion that this was a crisis deliberately sparked by the Russian government for two main reasons: in order to create a diversion from the negative global publicity it has received in connection with its energy policy and the Sakhalin 2 project, and in order to demonstrate the new “independent” foreign policy recently outlined by foreign minister Lavrov - a policy principally aimed at challenging U.S. and Western interests around the world.

It has been instructive to watch the cynicism with which Russian government spokesmen and policymakers have formulated and packaged the Georgia crisis, in their attempts to present it as a kind of “mirror-image” of the Israel-Lebanon conflict, complete with captured soldiers, closing of borders, accusations of state terrorism, statements at the United Nations, and more - there is also a dash of mockery of the U.S. position on Iran, with "sanctions" wrapped up in self-righteous rhetoric, to make these crude collective punishments look respectable. Gleb Pavlovsky, the Kremlin’s chief adviser on matters of state propaganda, made it clear that Moscow was not going to expose itself to the kind of criticism experienced by Israel for its use of force against Hizballah in Lebanon, remarking that “Moscow will not go into the Caucasus…like a mousetrap.” The cynicism in the comparison, as in the accusations of “Stalinism”, “banditry” and “state terrorism” levelled at the Georgian government by Putin, lies of course in the fact that in this situation, as usual, Moscow is the aggressor, and also the purveyor of state terror.

In fact, the Israel-Lebanon analogy Russia so keenly seeks to establish may, if inverted from its original form, be useful as an aid to understanding exactly where Moscow has set its sights for the latter half of the first decade of the 21st century, and beyond. As Paul Goble recently pointed out, Russia is at a turning-point, and with the Georgian crisis the point may already have been turned: Moscow is aligning itself once again with the world’s despots and aggressors, forming alliances with forces that seek to destabilize the world economy and global security: Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, China, and even North Korea. This path of realignment really began quite a long time ago, with the supposed ending of the Cold War and the deliberate decision by the Soviet elites to dissolve the Soviet Union. That decision, with its release of forces that had previously been contained by the mechanisms of Soviet power and influence, in particular the forces of radical Islam, led directly to September 11.

It’s in the continuation of this new form of the anti-Western, anti-U.S. axis once represented by the Soviet Union that Russia seeks its future goals and orientation. It might be as well for the West to realize this before too long. And indeed, Vice President Cheney’s remarks at the 2006 Vilnius Conference, with their invocation of the spirit of the Baltic States, of Sakharov, Mindszenty, Walesa, Havel and other resisters of Soviet oppression, presented Russia with a choice between a reversion to the ways and thinking of the past, or an alignment with the West in its struggle to bring democracy to the rest of the world - and in particular, to Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East, It seems that Russia has made its choice - and it has chosen the path of the tyrants, those who, in Cheney’s words “may, for a time, deny the hopes of others, violate the rights of others, and even take the lives of others.” Yet, Cheney went on, “they have no power to inspire hope or to raise the sights of a nation.” Sadly, it is that path of authoritarian nihilism that Russia has chosen, led by people who have betrayed and sold out what was great in that nation’s contribution to the world’s culture.

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