Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

The Russia Journal
December 21-27, 2001
Russiaís elastic elite turns its eyes West
Putin has chosen to face reality, and the herd has gone with him

Itís happened. The two fattest rats of Russian politics Ė Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Alexei Mitrofanov Ė have unfurled their banners and ceremoniously deserted the ship of anti-Western strong-state ideology.

The brave few who continued to defend the idea of an alliance between Russia and the West during the deepest and darkest years of Primakov Thought (with its idiotic triangles between China, India and Russia) are now in danger of being swept aside by the herd of multipolar rhinoceroses stampeding their way.

It makes me want to salute those who havenít abandoned the ship, those whose refusal to compromise verges on madness, or who are mad in any case Ė Alexander Prokhanov, the last soldier of the empire, Alexei Pushkov, the romantic troubadour of the Cold War and peopleís academician Vasily Shandybin. Donít despair. These herds will yet come running back your way and then go the other way again. And so it will go on, to and fro, depending on which the way the Kremlin winds blow.

The winds from the Kremlin can be very unpredictable. In the first year of Vladimir Putinís presidency, Russian foreign policy was starkly anti-American in nature. Itís main aim, it seemed, was virtual opposition to the United States on every front possible. Itís enough to recall the deliberately insulting withdrawal from the Gore-Chernomyrdin agreement, Putinís demonstrative visits to Cuba and North Korea, the pertinently false rumors that the Kursk sank after colliding with an American submarine and the blatantly anti-American tone taken by Russian publicists.

Putinís foreign-policy change of thinking seems to have been gradual and linked above all to the fact that he, more than anyone, is now responsible for the countryís future and to his being better-informed about the real state of affairs.

What the real state of affairs showed him was that Russia is a huge country with the GDP of the Netherlands and has a poorly armed and unreformed army with all its combat-ready units tied up in a single rebellious province and its military doctrines and plans designed to ward off a non-existent threat from the West when the biggest security threats are in the South and, potentially, in the Far East.

The problem was most succinctly and accurately summed up in August 2000 by the father of one of the sailors who died on the Kursk: "How long can we keep thumbing our nose at America when our backsides are bare?"

Putinís foreign-policy turnabout is the product of long reflection, not of chance. On Sept. 11, he didnít just propose a new concept for foreign-policy thinking, he showed in practice how to resolve Russiaís main national-security challenge Ė liquidating the threat of Islamic extremism from the South Ė by completely changing his views on relations with America.

Sept. 11 gave the bare-bottomed Russian "elite" a fantastic opportunity to pursue its favorite sport and thumb its nose at America. Most of the elite did just this, announcing with malicious hypocrisy that they were "sorry for the Americans, but not for America."

Putin, on the other hand, showed both dignity and pragmatic spirit. He said, "Americans, we are with you," and used the political, economic and military might of the worldís only superpower to resolve Russiaís security problem.

The results of this new experiment have been so obvious and impressive for Russia that it has provoked among the "political elite" a mass exodus of rhinoceroses and rats.

(The writer is director of the Center for Strategic Research.)

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