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Russia and the West: a Debate

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Winner, May 31, 2014.

  1. Winner

    Winner Diverse in Unity

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    Right, I think we should have a talk about this and the threads about Ukraine are not the right place for it. What comes up in all such debates, repeatedly, is a set of arguments which could be summarized as follows (I'll be as objective as I can):


    Now, what I want to do in this thread is to discuss these issues and try to find out, whether there is something to these arguments, or not. I expect CIVIL DISCUSSION adhering to the rules of politeness and good faith. If you want to simply score points and dish up propaganda slogans, please go elsewhere. Also, Ukraine has been discussed to death and new developments are talked about in other threads. You may mention it here, but only to support your arguments concerning the three main points listed above.

    For those interested, here's a documentary about Putin and the system he's created in Russia. Very revealing:


    Link to video.
     
  2. Borachio

    Borachio Way past lunacy

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    Yeah. Interesting. I honestly don't have a clue.

    (I won't let that stop me, though.)

    1. Didn't Russia sell off it's state-run enterprises to the oligarchs using Western finance? (I don't see how the West is to blame for this. Beyond the mere fact of being capitalist in nature. A nature that Russia seems to have been eager to embrace.)

    2. I find it hard to credit the EU, for instance, with the intention of expanding at the expense of Russia into Eastern Europe, when those countries have been eager to join the EU. If Russia hasn't been able to marshal its soft power effectively, I can't see pointing a finger at the West is at all helpful.

    3. Russia is an exceptional state. All states are exceptional. As for Russians being suspicious of Western motives, what is there to suspect? Western corporations simply want to make a profit for their shareholders. Many of whom are Russians.
     
  3. Winner

    Winner Diverse in Unity

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    I'll reply here to a few arguments raised in the Ukraine News thread:

    I'll respond to this, because this really comes up every time and every time the views of those most concerned are ignored.

    I am Czech, i.e. a citizen of one of those countries which joined NATO in 1999. As far as I know, joining NATO was a political-security goal from the early 1990s (alongside membership of the EU, which came later, in 2004). Membership in NATO was not necessarily viewed here as something aimed against Russia. It was seen and understood as a symbolic guarantee that the West would consider Central Europe as its integral part, as an affirmation that it is now a zone of democracy and liberalism. Rather than to join "for the benefits", Czech Rep., Poland, Hungary and others joined in order to re-affirm their self-perception and position as modern, democratic European countries which are a part of the West, rather than the heavily stereotyped "Eastern Europe" or any other "them" group.

    More importantly, it was *our* ambition, *we* were the actors and the initiators of that process. The above-quoted argument basically denies any agency to the central European countries; they were supposedly just gobbled up by NATO which wanted to punish Russia. What all those Czechs/Poles/Hungarians thought or wanted is irrelevant. It's an incredibly arrogant, reductionist argument because it reduces everything to the Cold War logic of Russia vs USA; small countries are just pawns without any mind of their own.

    Russia of course loves to interpret the world according to this logic. "No, the Czechs didn't really want to join our mortal enemy (USA/NATO), they were simply "annexed" by the West, corrupted by its influence and money and pop-music and gayness and..." yadda yadda. Russia doesn't treat smaller countries as equals in terms of sovereignty, so neither can the West — this is what many Russians seem to believe and they act according to this tragic error in reasoning.

    How would that have looked in practice? What would you have said to the Central Europeans? "We are sorry, but your countries are not sovereign states free to choose their own fate; you have to get Moscow's approval before we talk to you"? As far as I know, NATO went out of its way to persuade Russia that it is not there to threaten it. No bases were moved to the new member states; in fact nowadays we know that no plans were made to actually defend the Baltic states (for example) against a Russian attack, despite numerous Russian-Belorussian military exercises featuring a mock invasion of the Baltics. Russia was included in the NATO-Russia council and informed about nearly everything; they received almost as much information as if they were a member state themselves.

    Yet the Russian government continued, quite deliberately I might add, painting NATO as an adversary, as a hostile power seeking to encircle Russia. This is preposterous since practically all European countries wanted the exact opposite — co-operation and partnership with Russia based on shared economic and security interests. It is likewise not true that the accession of former Warsaw Pact countries made NATO more anti-Russian. Czechs, Slovaks, Baltics, Poles and others are not seeking any kind of confrontation with Russia because they'd suffer most from it. What they want is a clear Russian guarantee that Russia will treat them as sovereign, independent countries and not as "pawns" of the US who are to be ignored. And from our point of view, that is how Russia approaches us, with this smug arrogance of "well, enjoy your stay in the West, it won't last forever and one day you'll be under us again".

    It takes two to tango. Russia needs to co-operate if the West is to normalize relations with it. Unless Russia shows the same amount of good will, then the Western policy of 'appeasing' Russia becomes a dangerous folly that could quickly spiral into a very dangerous situation (historical parallels abound).

    Unlike Weimar Germany though, the West didn't defeat Russia in war, it didn't impose impoverishing sanctions, it didn't go on to occupy its industrial regions, it didn't force it to give up large tracts of land, and it didn't force it to become a second category country. The Russians chose to blame the West for purely hypocritical reasons; it was easier to blame the West for the failed experiment that had been the USSR rather than to own up to their mistakes.

    Where the Germans in the 1920s/30s chose to shift the blame to the Jews and the Communists (instead of the conservative militaristic elites which dragged their country into a war), the Russians of the 1990s and 2000s chose to blame the Westerners and their values for their misery, rather than the ingrained authoritarian "nomenklatura" elites (it makes no difference whether they call themselves Aristocrats, Communists or Capitalists) which continue to loot their country's great potential for wealth.

    I agree. However, Western mistakes do not in any way justify the Russian aggressive expansionism. In the West, we can criticize both, instead of resigning to the insane logic that "if we've made mistakes, the Russians are entitled to make a few of them too."
     
  4. Bootstoots

    Bootstoots Warlord Super Moderator

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    Thanks for starting this thread. I'm not going to argue with any of those points - I'm trying to understand the Russian worldview myself, and that isn't far from my understanding of it. The Russians here should comment and let us know if they think this is an accurate read and where they would raise objections.
     
  5. ~Corsair#01~

    ~Corsair#01~ Chieftain

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    I think the big difference between Russia and the west, is that when people from liberal democratic countries think about human rights and democracy we actually recognise these concepts as real things that affect us in our everyday lives.

    However when Russians hear those words they automatically insert the quote marks. As in: we're going to protect the "human rights" of these people in this region. Wink wink. Nudge nudge.

    Russians have been lied to so many times for so many years by so many people, both foreign and domestic, that they no longer regard words like democracy as meaning anything. They're just hollow facades to be used to achieve the goals of whoever is in power.

    Its a form of conditioning that came from years of "People's Democracy" and single-party elections and show-trials.

    In their eyes the independence referendum in east Ukraine was as "democratic" as any other referendum. Not because it actually represented a sincere attempt to gauge the opinion of the population, but because every other "vote" is just a sham too.

    Its incredibly hard to have a dialogue with people who mentally insert quote marks over everything you say. The actual words you say are irrelevant because you are a liar and you are the enemy.

    Here is a video that red_elk posted in the Ukraine thread:
    Link to video.

    About 50 seconds in, there is a close-up shot of a placard. It shows a bear fighting what appears to be some kind of shriveled, rabid dog. The creature is labelled "democracy". This is the perfect summary of the Russian worldview.
     
  6. Tolina

    Tolina trust the pillars with your s e c r e t s

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    And I've got a feeling that the West still hasn't realised that, hey, maybe the bloody Cold War is over? That perhaps, maybe, just maybe, not all Russians want to defy your democracy and burn the ashes?

    Also, there's extremes everywhere. You see someone vouching for Texas independence or something, but you don't call him out as an extreme man, wanting to end democracy as you know it?
     
  7. red_elk

    red_elk Warlord

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    First of all, it's not a Russian worldview - video shows anti-Ukrainian, anti-war protests in Germany. The creature (apparently, a jackal) is not labeled democracy, it is labeled by U.S. flag on it and holding "democracy" label in (or under) its paw. Which is, quite clearly, symbolizes usage of "democracy" rhetoric as a tool covering aggressive politics of the USA.
     
  8. Mustakrakish

    Mustakrakish In 'Node' We Trust

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    Subscribed!
     
  9. Winner

    Winner Diverse in Unity

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    And this is another common 'argument' that pops up every time: "The West/USA has never realized the Cold War has ended."

    -> Where are your arguments for that view? On what actual policies or behaviour on the international stage are you basing it?

    In my view, the West embraced the end of the Cold War eagerly - perhaps even too eagerly. Europe quickly decided to capitalize on the "peace dividend" and began dismantling its military to the point where nowadays they're about 1/10th of what they've been in 1989.

    The US, being thrust into the position of the single superpower and the de-facto world policeman, has shifted attention to issues undermining global stability (rogue states, state failures, terrorism, tensions in East Asia); it didn't challenge Russia after the USSR has collapsed. It continued to reduce its nuclear stockpile and nuclear delivery systems - it even helped Russia fund the decommissioning of its unneeded nuclear warheads.

    NATO expanded not because of any wish to corner Russia, but because the post-Communist countries wished to join for reasons I explained in my previous post. NATO umbrella was also seen as an stabilising force. The EU's role in the latter was even more significant.

    So far, wherever I look I see signs that the West has happily abandoned Cold War policies for new policies of engagement and co-operation with Russia. So where is your evidence to the contrary?
     
  10. Tolina

    Tolina trust the pillars with your s e c r e t s

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    Oh, dunno. Perhaps the whole "the russians are coming, the russians are coming!" attitude I'm seeing lately?
     
  11. Phrossack

    Phrossack Armored Fish and Armored Men

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    Inasmuch as I'm seeing that attitude, it's in response to Russia marching in thousands of troops into the territory of a country whose integrity it had sworn to uphold, then annexing that territory. Europe hasn't seen that sort of thing since 1938, and it's unsettling proof that Putin has expansionist designs and cannot be trusted to uphold treaties.

    Is he gunning for the conquest of Europe? Of course not, and only crazies say he is. But even so, countries are expected not to carve up their neighbors the first chance they get anymore, and it's kind of disturbing to hear things from people like Zhirinovsky who said that "it's never too late to correct historical mistakes" and suggested partitioning Ukraine between Romania, Russia, and that one country. Sure, Zhirinovsky may be in no position to make such deals, but this isn't the sort of thing eastern European countries take lightly, considering their long history of being partitioned and annexed by more powerful neighbors (which only seemed to end within living memory).

    Now, I know the response here (maybe not from you, though) is going to be, "But the West does it too!" Let me point out that tu quoque is the sort of defense that children use. It's not a defense at all, because it tacitly admits that the accused party is guilty as charged and is now attempting to divert attention from that fact. Yet tu quoque, Whataboutism, and my-country-right-or-wrong nationalism seem to be the modus operandi of many Russians, who are eager to deny any Russian wrongdoing of any sort, blame the West for everything, and cheer on Russian expansionism. There seems to be a difficulty among Russians to be critical of their own country and leadership, perhaps in part because of what happens to opposition leaders and critical journalists there. And it's practically impossible to reason with nationalists
     
  12. Tolina

    Tolina trust the pillars with your s e c r e t s

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    Putin isn't Russia.
     
  13. Winner

    Winner Diverse in Unity

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    Meaning, you don't have any arguments to support your thesis that the West has maintained Cold War policies vis-a-vis Russia after 1991...
     
  14. Tahuti

    Tahuti Writing Deity

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    First of all, when debating Russia, we Westerners too often use the label "human rights", which basically boils down of creating excuses to hate the target country, in this case, Russia. While pretty much all other countries are ethically superior to North Korea, if you truly hate a country, you can dig up as much dirt as you want. It will probably not convince people with contrary opinions, though it will unify people in hate.

    So the first step in understanding Russia would be to shed the myth of Western moral superiority; It may actually exist, though it is significantly more marginal compared to what some would like to think. Plenty of controversial Russian laws are pretty much token. And I have mentioned earlier in the Ukraine thread that the Russian policies surrounding Riot and Greenpeace actually exist and are enforced in individual US states for existence.

    The second step will be to understand benefits a Russo-Western partnership will bring and has brought in the past since the end of the Cold War. Russia presents an alternative source of oil and natural gas, one that doesn't use its revenues to supply Islamist groups that attack the West. If anything, Western nations and especially the EU countries should treat Russia a preferential supplier of oil and gas. The "human rights" dimension comes in further: We are ready to view Putin as the new Hitler, yet we have no qualms with dealing with a ******** Islamist regime because of our irrational fears of the former.
     
  15. Tolina

    Tolina trust the pillars with your s e c r e t s

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    I'd say it's not the West in politics, but rather the Western culture that hasn't forgotten the Cold War. We've shed away our differences, or at least aren't threatening to blow up the world with several thousand nukes everywhere.

    However, NATO is still very negative towards Russia. You know, that whole missile system in Eastern Europe, which made Russia kind of anxious. Which is weird, because up to then, Russia wasn't even remotely intending to attack anyone.

    Or that's what they say.
     
  16. calad

    calad Chieftain

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    I don't know why people have forgotten this saying: if you can't beat them then join them. Whole west vs. Russia theme is ridiculous. There are many countries so putting them all in one word is absurd. Today Russia really wants to be a great nation again. Too bad but trying to revive USSR is simply not going to work. Also holding outdated ideology like authoritanism doesn't work as well. Russia people have made many great works but their problem has always been mediacore dictators and despotism. Also Russia has managed to piss of almost every its neighborhood nations which is really a negative achievement.
     
  17. Phrossack

    Phrossack Armored Fish and Armored Men

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    The missile shield was tiny and wouldn't have made a dent in any Russian nuclear attacks, so why were they worried?
     
  18. red_elk

    red_elk Warlord

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    There was a reason in ABM treaty and the reason is still valid. Tiny or not tiny are technical details which can be changed in a matter of months.
     
  19. Aleksey_aka_al

    Aleksey_aka_al Smiley

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    I think we, Russians, should promote some democracy and expand economic co-operation to the Czech Rep. Hmm... We could start with a newspaper which will reveal to Czechs how corrupt their government is and how degenerated they are as a society. I even got a name for such a paper: Pravda (truth)!
     
  20. Willem

    Willem Chieftain

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    Rather poor beginning for a debate. Every one of the viewpoints you list has the West at fault for the current relationship. Where is the Russian responsibility in the current breakdown?
     

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