From Russia with Love and Hate: The New Cold War as Relationship Drama

Apr 20 2015

Let’s imagine the USSR and the USA as individuals. And let me tell you their story. They had an amazing, engrossing love-hate relationship, which started just after the Second World War.

For most of my adult life I have been simultaneously observing Russia from the inside and outside. It all started in my late teen years, when I had the privilege to spend a year in the USA as an exchange student. It continued through my 20’s, when I was an active part of the European green movement, eventually serving on the board of the European Green Party ‘s youth wing. I was a European citizen, but I was also a citizen of Russia, residing in Moscow and traveling around my motherland as much as I did around Europe. By the end of my 20’s I held the position of deputy director in the Russian Chapter of Transparency International and hosted a TV-show on the unique Russian independent television channel, TV Rain. I was definitely an insider. Now, in my early 30s I am starting my second year in the USA as a visiting scholar at the Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies, at Miami University, Ohio. The last time I was in Russia, Crimea still belonged to Ukraine. So now I am an outsider once again.

During the last year Russia constantly hit the headlines in the US and around the world, and you may imagine how many times I had to explain “what is going on in Russia?” Eventually I came up with a nice metaphor that I want to share here.

Let’s go back in time a bit and imagine the USSR and USA as individuals. And let me tell you their story. They had an amazing engrossing love-hate relationship, which started just after the Second World War. The entire planet was just a playground for those two, as they performed their dance, played little tricks and …, became obsessed with each other. Neither of them, however, would ever admit the love part: as typical teenagers, they would claim that their relationship was only about hate.

It all came to an end in the 1990’s. And that is when the true problems began. The USSR gave up its idealistic dreams, changed its name to Russia and surrendered itself to America’s reasonable and practical arguments, hoping it would be the start of new era in the relationship: the hate is gone – only the love should remain. The change manifested itself in pop culture. Songs such as “American Boy” were hitting the Russian charts and thousands of young Russians were singing “Where are you my foreign prince? I’m waiting for you!”

Unfortunately, the sentiment in the USA was different – the winner had no more interest in its former object of obsession. Since all the mystery and rivalry was gone, Russia was now off the radar for the general public. “She has been conquered, so let’s move on” – so stereotypical, yet so true. The US found other obsessions; Russia was now just an ex. In my high school in New Jersey I had to explain to people why the flag on my backpack had no hammer and sickle and that Russia was no longer a communist country.

So here we have Russia, who is in love and who has a somewhat starry-eyed vision of her husband-to-be. And we have the USA, who has moved on and already checking out some new partners. The new partner should be somebody exotic, somebody Asian or Middle Eastern, somebody who possesses mystery and somebody who must be conquered. Well, you know where this search led America and I don’t need to remind you, that you should be cautious, when you are dealing with those mysteries. But this is a different story– what you may not know is how Russia felt about being jilted.

Have you ever talked with a person who cannot get over a breakup while her* former partner has already moved on? Have you ever tried to explain to that person that the Ex “did not mean it”? And not because the Ex is a good person, but just because he gave no thought to how his former partner would react? Your Ex does not care. Well, many people could never let themselves believe that it is not about them anymore. They prefer to suffer from imagined offenses, which allow them to feel that they are still part of this story, still being courted by their former lover. She knows in her gut that each and every move the USA makes has some special meaning and most of it is to hurt Russia directly or indirectly. Russia, in other words, cannot let go.

Kosovo was a turning point in that relationship. The USA was no longer a Prince Charming. By no means do I want to support the concept of “Humanitarian Bombing.” I strongly believe that hundreds of military and civilian casualties cannot be justified by the idea of enforcing peace. But I also know that this story has quite a different meaning for our main characters.

For the USA the 1999 campaign was “just a bombing”, one among many the USA was involved in around the world. It is hardly remembered now. And among those who give thought to it, some would still claim that it was a right thing to do. Others would argue that this was a clear wag-the-dog operation to switch public attention from the Monica Lewinsky scandal. And then there are always people who believe that you should never support Muslims. But none of them realize that there is a parallel reality where this entire operation is simply perceived as a personal attack on each and every Russian. Most Americans do not know how deep the connection between the Serbs and Russians are. They would be quite surprised to know that in the parallel reality this bombing of Yugoslavia was basically perceived then and now as an attack against Russia herself and has left a deep wound. In Russia the “Humanitarian Bombing” of Yugoslavia is well remembered and referred to whenever the USA is mentioned.

Since then the USA and Russia progressed into two completely different realities, where we may find them today. Neither is really healthy. America definitely has some problems: narcissism and depression are among them. But Russia’s situation is much worse. Without any psychological help, Russia eventually came to inhabit a world where its whole ego is built around resisting and defying America, her former love. This anti-American sentiment has no real substance. Russia’s self-esteem is so low that she pushes for constant attention from others. The reality in which Russia is not a major object of American affection is so scary that it is blocked by a collective consciousness of denial. Thus the latest Maidan in Ukraine triggered full-scale hysteria**. And the worst part —any attention Russia receives just confirms its behavior. Hysterical people are often primarily looking for attention: it does not matter if the attention is positive or negative, love or hate, it is the attention itself that matters. Russia perfectly follows this pattern. One of the reasons Russians are so eager to believe that their country is back to the mighty times of global importance is the number of times Putin has appeared on the front pages of The Economist. It provides an illusion that Russia is once again a major player in the modern world. And Russian propaganda is looking for any mention of the country by American politicians to prove that they do still care about us.

Just read this quote from one of the latest statements by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “We are witnessing with dismay and indignation an unrestrained anti-Russian campaign, which is unfolding in the United States. The US national media and leading political research centers splash, as if at a command, russophobic lampoons, diligently portraying Russia as an enemy and instilling hatred towards all things Russian in ordinary people.” I hope it gives you a glimpse of the hysterical perception prevalent in Russia. And this should be taken into consideration by anyone who tries to come up with a strategy to calm Putin down. In such a reality any sanctions are welcomed by the majority of Russians, since they prove that Russia occupies a place in the mind of Americans. Any harsh comment from the White House will just reaffirm attention-seeking behavior and further confirm that America still obsesses over us.

Avoiding and ignoring Russia may seem as a good strategy, but without proper treatment it will eventually trigger a new cry for attention. As her egoistic satisfaction received from the last crisis dissolves, Russia will need a new way to attract the world’s attention. Whatever she chooses will certainly not be in the interest of world peace. It will be in the form of more relationship drama.

* I am using the metaphor of a girlfriend who cannot get over her boyfriend, and I am aware of it being gender biased. I am pretty sure it can happen the other way around. Though the song “American Boy” just does not leave me any choice but to keep those gender stereotypes.

First published at the blog of Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies:

http://blogs.miamioh.edu/havighurst/2015/04/13/from-russia-with-love-and-hate-the-new-cold-war-as-relationship-drama/

For most of my adult life I have been simultaneously observing Russia from the inside and outside. It all started in my late teen years, when I had the privilege to spend a year in the USA as an exchange student. It continued through my 20’s, when I was an active part of the European green movement, eventually serving on the board of the European Green Party ‘s youth wing. I was a European citizen, but I was also a citizen of Russia, residing in Moscow and traveling around my motherland as much as I did around Europe. By the end of my 20’s I held the position of deputy director in the Russian Chapter of Transparency International and hosted a TV-show on the unique Russian independent television channel, TV Rain. I was definitely an insider. Now, in my early 30s I am starting my second year in the USA as a visiting scholar at the Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies, at Miami University, Ohio. The last time I was in Russia, Crimea still belonged to Ukraine. So now I am an outsider once again.

During the last year Russia constantly hit the headlines in the US and around the world, and you may imagine how many times I had to explain “what is going on in Russia?” Eventually I came up with a nice metaphor that I want to share here.

Let’s go back in time a bit and imagine the USSR and USA as individuals. And let me tell you their story. They had an amazing engrossing love-hate relationship, which started just after the Second World War. The entire planet was just a playground for those two, as they performed their dance, played little tricks and …, became obsessed with each other. Neither of them, however, would ever admit the love part: as typical teenagers, they would claim that their relationship was only about hate.

It all came to an end in the 1990’s. And that is when the true problems began. The USSR gave up its idealistic dreams, changed its name to Russia and surrendered itself to America’s reasonable and practical arguments, hoping it would be the start of new era in the relationship: the hate is gone – only the love should remain. The change manifested itself in pop culture. Songs such as “American Boy” were hitting the Russian charts and thousands of young Russians were singing “Where are you my foreign prince? I’m waiting for you!”

Unfortunately, the sentiment in the USA was different – the winner had no more interest in its former object of obsession. Since all the mystery and rivalry was gone, Russia was now off the radar for the general public. “She has been conquered, so let’s move on” – so stereotypical, yet so true. The US found other obsessions; Russia was now just an ex. In my high school in New Jersey I had to explain to people why the flag on my backpack had no hammer and sickle and that Russia was no longer a communist country.

So here we have Russia, who is in love and who has a somewhat starry-eyed vision of her husband-to-be. And we have the USA, who has moved on and already checking out some new partners. The new partner should be somebody exotic, somebody Asian or Middle Eastern, somebody who possesses mystery and somebody who must be conquered. Well, you know where this search led America and I don’t need to remind you, that you should be cautious, when you are dealing with those mysteries. But this is a different story– what you may not know is how Russia felt about being jilted.

Have you ever talked with a person who cannot get over a breakup while her* former partner has already moved on? Have you ever tried to explain to that person that the Ex “did not mean it”? And not because the Ex is a good person, but just because he gave no thought to how his former partner would react? Your Ex does not care. Well, many people could never let themselves believe that it is not about them anymore. They prefer to suffer from imagined offenses, which allow them to feel that they are still part of this story, still being courted by their former lover. She knows in her gut that each and every move the USA makes has some special meaning and most of it is to hurt Russia directly or indirectly. Russia, in other words, cannot let go.

Kosovo was a turning point in that relationship. The USA was no longer a Prince Charming. By no means do I want to support the concept of “Humanitarian Bombing.” I strongly believe that hundreds of military and civilian casualties cannot be justified by the idea of enforcing peace. But I also know that this story has quite a different meaning for our main characters.

For the USA the 1999 campaign was “just a bombing”, one among many the USA was involved in around the world. It is hardly remembered now. And among those who give thought to it, some would still claim that it was a right thing to do. Others would argue that this was a clear wag-the-dog operation to switch public attention from the Monica Lewinsky scandal. And then there are always people who believe that you should never support Muslims. But none of them realize that there is a parallel reality where this entire operation is simply perceived as a personal attack on each and every Russian. Most Americans do not know how deep the connection between the Serbs and Russians are. They would be quite surprised to know that in the parallel reality this bombing of Yugoslavia was basically perceived then and now as an attack against Russia herself and has left a deep wound. In Russia the “Humanitarian Bombing” of Yugoslavia is well remembered and referred to whenever the USA is mentioned.

Since then the USA and Russia progressed into two completely different realities, where we may find them today. Neither is really healthy. America definitely has some problems: narcissism and depression are among them. But Russia’s situation is much worse. Without any psychological help, Russia eventually came to inhabit a world where its whole ego is built around resisting and defying America, her former love. This anti-American sentiment has no real substance. Russia’s self-esteem is so low that she pushes for constant attention from others. The reality in which Russia is not a major object of American affection is so scary that it is blocked by a collective consciousness of denial. Thus the latest Maidan in Ukraine triggered full-scale hysteria**. And the worst part —any attention Russia receives just confirms its behavior. Hysterical people are often primarily looking for attention: it does not matter if the attention is positive or negative, love or hate, it is the attention itself that matters. Russia perfectly follows this pattern. One of the reasons Russians are so eager to believe that their country is back to the mighty times of global importance is the number of times Putin has appeared on the front pages of The Economist. It provides an illusion that Russia is once again a major player in the modern world. And Russian propaganda is looking for any mention of the country by American politicians to prove that they do still care about us.

Just read this quote from one of the latest statements by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “We are witnessing with dismay and indignation an unrestrained anti-Russian campaign, which is unfolding in the United States. The US national media and leading political research centers splash, as if at a command, russophobic lampoons, diligently portraying Russia as an enemy and instilling hatred towards all things Russian in ordinary people.” I hope it gives you a glimpse of the hysterical perception prevalent in Russia. And this should be taken into consideration by anyone who tries to come up with a strategy to calm Putin down. In such a reality any sanctions are welcomed by the majority of Russians, since they prove that Russia occupies a place in the mind of Americans. Any harsh comment from the White House will just reaffirm attention-seeking behavior and further confirm that America still obsesses over us.

Avoiding and ignoring Russia may seem as a good strategy, but without proper treatment it will eventually trigger a new cry for attention. As her egoistic satisfaction received from the last crisis dissolves, Russia will need a new way to attract the world’s attention. Whatever she chooses will certainly not be in the interest of world peace. It will be in the form of more relationship drama.

* I am using the metaphor of a girlfriend who cannot get over her boyfriend, and I am aware of it being gender biased. I am pretty sure it can happen the other way around. Though the song “American Boy” just does not leave me any choice but to keep those gender stereotypes.

First published at the blog of Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies:

http://blogs.miamioh.edu/havighurst/2015/04/13/from-russia-with-love-and-hate-the-new-cold-war-as-relationship-drama/

Lukashenka’s Ryanair Hijacking Proves Human Rights is a Global Security Issue

May 24 2021

The forced diversion and landing in Minsk of a May 23, 2021 Ryanair flight en route from Greece to Lithuania, and the subsequent arrest of dissident Roman Protasevich who was aboard the flight, by the illegitimate Lukashenka regime pose an overt political and military challenge to Europe, NATO and the broad global community.  NATO members must respond forcefully by demanding (1) the immediate release of Protasevich and other political prisoners in Belarus, and (2) a prompt transition to a government that represents the will of the people of Belarus. 

The West’s passivity in the face of massive, continuous and growing oppression of the Belarusian people since summer 2020 has emboldened Lukashenka to commit what some European leaders have appropriately termed an act of “state terrorism.”

The West has shown a manifest disposition to appease Putin’s regime —Lukashenka’s sole security guarantor. It has made inappropriate overtures for a Putin-Biden summit and waived  Nord Stream 2 sanctions mandated by Congress. These actions and signals have come against the backdrop of the 2020 Russian constitutional coup, the assassination attempt against Navalny and his subsequent imprisonment on patently bogus charges, the arrests of close to 13,000 Russian activists, and the outlawing of all opposition movements and activities. All this has led Putin and Lukashenka to conclude that they eliminate their political opponents with impunity.  

Today’s state-ordered hijacking of an international passenger airplane—employing intelligence agents aboard the flight,  and accomplished via an advanced fighter-interceptor—to apprehend an exiled activist, underscores that violation of human rights is not only a domestic issue, but a matter of international safety and security.  Western governments unwilling to stand up for the victims of Putin’s and Lukashenka’s regimes are inviting future crimes against their own citizens. 

Absent a meaningful and swift response, the escalation of violence and intensity of international crimes committed  by Lukashenka’s and Putin’s regime will continue, destabilizing the world and discrediting the Western democratic institutions. 

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS – THE KREMLIN’S INFLUENCE QUARTERLY

May 20 2021

The Free Russia Foundation invites submissions to The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly, a journal that explores and analyzes manifestations of the malign influence of Putin’s Russia in Europe.

We understand malign influence in the European context as a specific type of influence that directly or indirectly subverts and undermines European values and democratic institutions. We follow the Treaty on European Union in understanding European values that are the following: human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Democratic institutions are guardians of European values, and among them, we highlight representative political parties; free and fair elections; an impartial justice system; free, independent and pluralistic media; and civil society.

Your contribution to The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly would focus on one European country from the EU, Eastern Partnership or Western Balkans, and on one particular area where you want to explore Russian malign influence: politics, diplomacy, military domain, business, media, civil society, academia, religion, crime, or law.

Each chapter in The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly should be around 5 thousand words including footnotes. The Free Russia Foundation offers an honorarium for contributions accepted for publication in the journal.

If you are interested in submitting a chapter, please send us a brief description of your chapter and its title (250 words) to the following e-mail address: info@4freerussia.org. Please put The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly as a subject line of your message.

Criminal operations by Russia’s GRU worldwide: expert discussion

May 06 2021

Please join Free Russia Foundation for an expert brief and discussion on latest criminal operations conducted by Russia’s GRU worldwide with:

  • Christo Grozev, Bellingcat— the legendary investigator who uncovered the Kremlin’s involvement, perpetrators and timeline of Navalny’s assassination attempt. 
  • Jakub Janda, Director of the European Values Think Tank (the Czech Republic) where he researches Russia’s hostile influence operations in the West
  • Michael Weiss, Director of Special Investigations at Free Russia Foundation where he leads the Lubyanka Files project, which consists of translating and curating KGB training manuals still used in modern Russia for the purposes of educating Vladimir Putin’s spies.

The event will take place on Tuesday, May 11 from 11 am to 12:30pm New York Time (17:00 in Brussels) and include an extensive Q&A with the audience moderated by Ilya Zaslavskiy, Senior Fellow at Free Russia Foundation and head of Underminers.info, a research project on post-Soviet kleptocracy

The event will be broadcast live at: https://www.facebook.com/events/223365735790798/

  • The discussion will cover Russia’s most recent and ongoing covert violent operations, direct political interference, oligarchic penetration with money and influence; 
  • GRU’s structure and approach to conducting operations in Europe
  • Trends and forecasts on how data availability will impact both, the Kremlin’s operations and their investigation by governments and activists; 
  • EU and national European government response and facilitation of operations on their soil; 
  • Recommendations for effective counter to the security and political threats posed by Russian security services. 

YouTube Against Navalny’s Smart Voting

May 06 2021

On May 6, 2020, at least five YouTube channels belonging to key Russian opposition leaders and platforms received notifications from YouTube that some of their content had been removed due to its being qualified as “spam, deceptive practices and scams”. 

They included: 

Ilya Yashin (343k YouTube subscribers)

Vladimir Milov (218k YouTube subscribers) 

Leonid Volkov (117k YouTube subscribers)

Novaya Gazeta (277k YouTube Subscribers) 

Sota Vision (248k YouTube Subscribers)

Most likely, there are other Russian pro-democracy channels that have received similar notifications at the same time, and we are putting together the list of all affected by this censorship campaign. 

The identical letters received from YouTube by the five account holders stated:

“Our team has reviewed your content, and, unfortunately, we think it violates our spam, deceptive practices and scams policy. We’ve removed the following content from YouTube:

URL: https://votesmart.appspot.com/

YouTube has removed urls from descriptions of videos posted on these accounts that linked to Alexey Navalny’s Smart Voting website (votesmart.appspot.com).

By doing this, and to our great shock and disbelief, YouTube has acted to enforce the Kremlin’s policies by qualifying Alexey Navalny’s Smart Voting system and its website as “spam, deceptive practices and scams”. 

This action has not only technically disrupted communication for the Russian civil society which is now under a deadly siege by Putin’s regime, but it has rendered a serious and lasting damage to its reputation and legitimacy of Smart Voting approach. 

In reality, Smart Voting system is not a spam, scam or a “deceptive practice”, but instead it’s a fully legitimate system of choosing and supporting candidates in Russian elections who have a chance of winning against the ruling “United Russia” party candidates. There’s absolutely nothing illegal, deceptive or fraudulent about the Smart Voting or any materials on its website.

We don’t know the reasons behind such YouTube actions, but they are an unacceptable suppression of a constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the Russian people and help the Kremlin’s suppression of civil rights and freedoms by banning the Smart Voting system and not allowing free political competition with the ruling “United Russia” party. 

This is an extremely dangerous precedent in an environment where opposition activities in Russia are being literally outlawed;  key opposition figures are jailed, exiled, arrested and attacked with criminal investigations; independent election campaigning is prohibited; and social media networks remain among the very few channels still available to the Russian opposition to communicate with the ordinary Russians.

We demand a  swift and decisive action on this matter from the international community, to make sure that YouTube corrects its stance toward Russian opposition channels, and ensures that such suppression of peaceful, legal  pro-democracy voices does not happen again. 

FRF Lauds New US Sanctions Targeting the Kremlin’s Perpetrators in Crimea, Calls for Their Expansion

Apr 15 2021

On April 15, 2021,  President Biden signed new sanctions against a number of officials and agents of the Russian Federation in connection with malign international activities conducted by the Russian government.

The list of individuals sanctioned by the new law includes Leonid Mikhalyuk, director of the Federal Security Service in the Russian-occupied Crimea.

A report issued by Free Russia Foundation, Media Initiative for Human Rights and Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union in December 202, identified 16 officials from Russian law enforcement and security agencies as well as the judiciary operating on the territory of the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula currently occupied by the Russian Federation. These individuals have been either directly involved or have overseen political persecution of three prominent Crimean human rights defenders – Emir-Usein Kuku, Sever Mustafayev and Emil Kurbedinov.

Leonid Mikhailiuk is one of these officials. He has been directly involved and directed the repressive campaign in the occupied Crimea, including persecution of innocent people on terrorism charges and massive illegal searches. The persecution of Server Mustafayev was conducted under his supervision. As the head of the FSB branch in Crimea, he is in charge of its operation and all operatives working on politically motivated cases are his subordinates. 

Within the extremely centralized system of the Russian security services, Mikhailiuk is clearly at the top rank of organized political persecution and human rights violations.

Free Russia Foundation welcomes the new sanctions and hopes that all other individuals identified in the report will also be held accountable.