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Jewish World Review April 16, 1999 /30 Nissan 5759

Cathy Young

Cathy Young
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‘This is the way we
shoot down Americans!’

(JWR) ---- (
A RUSSIAN RIP VAN WINKLE who had fallen asleep 25 years ago and awakened now would have found at least some familiar things: a semi-comatose leader at the helm of the country --- and tirades against NATO aggression.

Seems like old times.

According to news reports, the NATO bombings of Serbia have caused a surge of anti-American and anti-Western attitudes in Russia. And it's not just the official rhetoric using words like "genocide" (with reference to NATO's actions, not those of the Milosevic regime). Mainstream newspapers, which are not just state mouthpieces today, celebrate heroic Yugoslav pilots under such headlines as "This is the way we shoot down Americans!" In polls, about half of Russians express a negative view of the United States, up from less than a quarter in January.

There's room for disagreement on the war. One could say that it's not our role to be Europe's policeman and that our intervention for humanitarian reasons seems disturbingly selective (what about Rwanda, or China's brutality in Tibet?). One could say that this is an ill-considered venture in which we could get mired for years. One could even argue that right and wrong in Kosovo are not clearcut, though this position is harder to maintain as evidence mounts of Serb atrocities against the ethnic Albanians.

But what explains the vehemence of Russia's response? I'm inclined to be cynical about declarations of Slavic brotherhood. But nationalist sentiment may play a part, in a country where many still smart over the breakup of the Soviet empire. Some Russians, such as an unemployed driver who spoke to the New York Times, compare Serbia's efforts to suppress the Albanians' quest for autonomy and Russia's war against the separatists in Chechnya and ask if Russia is the next target.

Russia's half-hearted muscle-flexing over Kosovo, just like its earlier grumbling at NATO actions against Iraq, is mainly a temper tantrum at being disrespected and not treated as an equal by the West, at the loss of superpower status. Does this matter to many ordinary Russians? To some extent, yes; traveling in Russia in the early 1990s, I heard more than one rueful remark about how "no one's afraid of us anymore."

This is not to say that Russians are inherently belligerent people who would rather be feared than have a good life. But they don't have a good life.

Most observers agree the resurgent anti-Americanism and anti-Westernism in Russia has to do with more than the war in Yugoslavia.

It is also a reaction to the hardships of Russia's "transition to capitalism" (actually, to a grotesque parody of capitalism) -- particularly after last August's financial crisis. Many Russians feel betrayed because they believe the West has not come through on the economic aid it had promised to smooth the way.

In fact, on top of direct aid, the U.S. has secured billions of dollars for Russia in loans from the International Monetary Fund. One can certainly question the IMF's beneficence -- not because it's too pro-market, as leftists imagine, but because its policies stress tax collections and balanced budgets over markets. But it's doubtful that more or better Western aid would have made a real difference, given the rampant corruption in Russia (last summer, $4.8 billion in IMF loans was apparently siphoned off into overseas bank accounts) and the conditions that encourage get-rich-quick schemes rather than long-term investment in business development.

The new chill between Russia and the West is a cause for concern, given that Russia still has its nuclear arsenal and can supply weapons to thugs worldwide. But should we regard U.S.-Russian relations as a casualty of the war in Kosovo? Probably not. The real cause of the deterioration is not disagreement over foreign policy, but Russia's inability to build a liberal democracy based on markets and the rule of law -- a failure that, sooner or later, many Russians would have sought to blame on the West.

Any Western friendship with the current régime in Russia could never have been anything more than a façade.

JWR contributor Cathy Young is co-founder and vice-president of the Women’s Freedom Network and author of Ceasefire! Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality Send your comments to her by clicking here.


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03/04/99: Do even known-liars deserve the presumption of innocence?

©1999, Cathy Young