The risks of forgetting history

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The post-Soviet legacy is pertinent to understanding the current crisis in East-West relations and the conflict in Ukraine

We live in an age where narrative reigns. What is true, what is false, what is fact, what is fiction… these are distinctions that have lost their meaning, engulfed by the supremacy of the narrative.

It's amazing how many people remain convinced that it was Russia that paved the way for Donald Trump, from the gossip and gossip columns to the presidency of the United States. Allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government (Russiagate) constitute a conspiracy theory as wild and imponderable as its reverse, the pizza gate. Demonstrated as false by reports Mueller e Durham, the idea that Hillary Clinton owes her defeat to a foreign power ― rather than to herself and an inept campaign ― remains an article of faith among millions of Americans, thanks to the power of storytelling.

Today, American foreign policy faces no greater challenge than the war in Ukraine. And here the narrative is atrociously simple: “there would have been no war if not for Vladimir Putin, the aggressor”. From that perspective, Ukraine would then need to be seen as the West's first line of defense, or, as Russiagate's most toxically dishonest supporter put it, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the United States must help Ukraine, so that “we can fight Russia there, and we don't have to fight Russia here".

This narrative leaves little or no room for the real story of the conflict between Russia and the West. However, a correct prescription always requires a correct diagnosis, and, as far as the war in Ukraine is concerned, the narrative – whatever its uses by the US elite to incite media and mass passions against the latest enemy number one in the United States – does nothing more than obscure the nature of the current crisis.

Worse: any effort to try to bring a little clarity to this climate of fog and lies has usually been, in the West itself, and at best, a thankless task.

However, the story matters. And the history of Russia, full of invasions of its vast and indefensible Eurasian steppe, has not yet been relegated there to the province of books, films and museums, as in the United States of the XNUMXst century.

Russia nurtures the tradition of a zhivaya istoriya, or living history. And if memories of the suffering suffered by Russians during World War II remain fresh, memories of the humiliating post-Soviet decade of the 1990s – in which Russia suffered its greatest peacetime economic and demographic collapse on record – linger still. more. Thus, the legacy of forty years of the Cold War is still alive (and very much alive) in the minds of the current generation of Russian leaders; perhaps especially in the mind of its top leader, who watched helplessly from an outpost in Dresden as the Soviet empire collapsed.

The post-Soviet legacy is, if anything, even more pertinent to the current crisis in East-West relations. David P. Calleo, a former professor of political science at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, once scathingly remarked that "American statesmen seem to have been much more enlightened at the beginning of the Cold War than after its end." The proof of this lies in how US policymakers – including the incumbent president – ​​have blunted the US-Russia relationship in the post-Soviet era.

The widely accepted and promoted expectation after the Cold War that Russia would meekly agree to play a subservient role to the American empire and allow its wide sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and Central Asia to be reduced to intermediate posts and airstrips for NATO, it would end up frustrated. The idea that Russia would also accept American tutelage with regard to its domestic political arrangements proved even more nonsensical.

The West's failed—indeed disastrous—introduction of American-style finance capitalism into Boris Yeltsin's Russia; as well as the series of “color revolutions” in Russia's periphery, supported by NGOs funded by the US government; as much as the warmongering of North American eternal wars, after 11/XNUMX; and last, but certainly not least, NATO's policy of expansion, led by the United States… all of which goes a long way towards explaining the current and reckless state of affairs.

For years, the establishment of national security in the United States was warned, by voices from the right, left and center, that the country needed to change the course that its policy towards Russia was taking. There were recurrent warnings that Russia could not be defeated in the regions around its borders. There were repeated warnings that Kiev – by launching an “anti-terrorist” campaign against its own Russian-speaking citizens – would recklessly and head-on antagonize Russia.

Warnings were repeated that elevating an instrument as corrupt as the Ukrainian oligarchs to the status of semi-divinity was an obvious mistake. There were many warnings about how misguided it was to confuse the interests of far-right ethno-nationalist factions in Kiev and Lviv (and their allies in Warsaw, Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius) with US national interests. There were many warnings to take President Vladimir Putin's numerous protests against NATO expansion seriously.

However, America's bipartisan ruling elite chose to ignore all these warnings. Now, the results speak for themselves.

*James W. Carden is an international politics columnist. He was a consultant to the US State Department for US-Russia bilateral relations during the presidency of Barak Obama.

Translation: Ricardo Cavalcanti-Schiel.

Originally published in The american conservative.

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