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/

Call for Submissions – The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly vol. 3

Oct 26 2020

The Free Russia Foundation invites submissions to The Kremlins 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 Kremlins 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 Kremlins 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.

Free Russia Foundation’s Press Release on Submission of Article 15 Communication to the International Criminal Court

Oct 06 2020

On 21 September 2020, the Free Russia Foundation submitted a Communication to the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s Office (in The Hague, Netherlands) seeking accountability for Crimean and Russian authorities concerning international crimes perpetrated during Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea. The Communication was prepared in cooperation with Global Rights Compliance and Center for Civil Liberties and is based on a focused inquiry conducted over the past year. In our inquiry, we documented crimes as part of a systematic, planned attack by the Russian state against civilians and groups in Crimea in order to discourage them from opposing the illegal occupation of Crimea and to force their departure from the peninsula. Crimes against civilians included unlawful arrests, beatings, torture, enforced disappearances, and other inhumane acts causing severe mental and/or physical pain. In particular, the crimes targeted the Crimean Tatars, a native ethnic group who had only recently returned to their homeland, having previously been forcefully and brutally displaced by the Soviet Union in 1944.

One of the principal coercive acts was the illegal detention and concomitant violence before, during, and after the imprisonment of political prisoners. Most of those detained were arrested by Russian and Crimean authorities on terrorism charges, but it was their legal, pro-Ukrainian advocacy that led to their imprisonment. In addition, trials of those arbitrarily detained were conducted in wholesale disregard of their fair trial rights. For example, some of those illegally imprisoned were denied a speedy trial, access to independent lawyers, and the opportunity to defend themselves against their arrest in a courtroom.

In order to force those illegally detained to confess to crimes they did not commit, Russian and Crimean authorities also perpetrated acts of torture and cruel or degrading treatment, the levying of additional charges against them, even more inhumane prison conditions, denial of communications with their families and threats made against them, enforced disappearances, and even, in at least one case, a mock execution.

Other inhumane acts include “punitive psychiatry” and the denial of adequate prison conditions, including the following: (i) feeding people inedible food or, at times, no food at all; (ii) facing severe overcrowding in prisons; (iii) denial of regular water supply; (iv) threats of assault against them by prison cellmates; and (v) adding pork to food – prohibited for observant Muslims. Further, medical attention was systematically inadequate or denied for many individuals.

Concerning acts of torture, it was perpetrated by different Russian authorities, including the FSB. Allegations include the use of electric shocks in an effort to get an accused to confess. One was beaten in the head, kidneys, arms and legs with an iron pipe. With another, fingers were broken. Still another endured spinal bruises and having a plastic bag placed over his head to the point of unconsciousness. Further, threats of sexual violence against a detained man were made. Murder as well. Hands were broken, teeth were knocked out in still another.

Trials were largely held behind closed doors for illegitimate reasons, and many of the witnesses were secret not only to the public but also to the Accused. Further, credible allegations exist that, at times, there were FSB or other agents in the room, silently instructing witnesses what to say and how the judges should rule. This adds credence to words, according to the Kyiv Post, heard by Arsen Dzhepparov from a senior FSB lieutenant who stated “I will prove by all possible – and impossible – means that [an Accused is] guilty – even if he isn’t guilty”.

Concerning the crime of persecution, nearly all of these deprivations of fundamental rights were carried out with discriminatory intent. Specifically, these groups were targeted due to their political view – namely, by peacefully opposing the illegal occupation of their country. Some were targeted on ethnic grounds or religious grounds on the basis of their Crimean Tatar background.

War crimes, another group of crimes punished at the ICC, were also perpetrated in addition to or in the alternative to the crimes against humanity. This includes the crime of torture, outrages against personal dignity, unlawful confinement, wilfully depriving protected persons of the rights of a fair and regular trial, and the transfer of the occupying power of parts of its population into the territory it occupies or the deportation of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory.

All these crimes had the ultimate objective of the criminal enterprise – the removal of pro-Ukrainian elements out of Crimea and the annexation of Crimea into the Russian Federation without opposition, including the installation of pro-Russian elements, which include the emigration of more than 70,000 Russians, the illegal imposition of Russian law in the occupied territory, forcing Russian nationality on many Crimeans, and the appropriation of public property.

Ultimately, we hope that all the information gathered by the ICC in the context of its preliminary investigation will lead the ICC to investigate mid- to high-level Russian and Crimean officials on this basis. The international community expects responsible global leadership that follows the rule of law and expects it – no matter the situation – to be respected, especially from a state that is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. When this fails to happen, the international community must demand accountability. We hope that an investigation can be opened and responsible officials of the Russian Federation will be investigated. After an investigation that conforms to international best practices, responsible persons should be charged with the systematic perpetration of international crimes.

Novichok Use Implicates Putin’s Government in Navalny’s Poisoning

Sep 02 2020

Today, the German government has announced that Russian pro-democracy leader Alexey Navalny was poisoned by Novichok. Novichok is a deadly nerve agent developed by the Soviet government chemical weapons program and used on several occasions by the Russian government to kill its critics in the recent years.

To restate the obvious, Novichok is a poison that can only be accessed with the authority of the Kremlin. Therefore, today’s announcement by German officials  directly implicates the Kremlin and Putin in the high-profile assassination attempt on Navalny.

The choice of Novichok was not just a means  to silence Mr. Navalny, but a loud, brazen and menacing message sent by Putin to the world: dare to criticize me, and you may lose your life.

The announcement by the German government of its intent to formally notify the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (‘OPCW’) of the use of Novichok against Navalny is a meek bureaucratic half-measure that fails to acknowledge the extraordinary threat to human life posed by Putin’s regime everywhere. Taken together with Angela Merkel’s promise earlier this week to help Putin finish his Nord Stream 2 pipeline despite an international outcry amounts to condoning the poisoning and normalizing it into a new modus operandi where Putin’s murders go unpunished. Free Russia Foundation urges the leaders of the EU, its Member States and the U.S. Government to take an urgent and drastic action to punish the perpetrators of this heinous crime not only to serve justice, but to establish a powerful deterrent against new attacks by Putin’s regime globally.

Free Russia Foundation Statement on Kremlin’s Interference in Elections in Georgia

Aug 26 2020

We are deeply concerned with information recently distributed by the well-respected authoritative source Center “Dossier.” According to “Dossier,” the Kremlin is using Russian political expert Sergey Mikheev and consulting company “Politsecrets” to manipulate Georgian society, distribute disinformation and anti-democratic narratives, undermine Georgia’s Western aspirations, and interfere in free and fair elections in Georgia scheduled for October 2020.

More

Free Russia Foundation Calls for Investigation into Alexey Navalny’s Poisoning

Aug 20 2020

Free Russia Foundation is gravely concerned about the life and safety of Alexey Navalny. More