My title, “Goodbye America!” is taken from a song in the super popular Russian flick Brother 2 (the 2000 sequel to the also popular post-Soviet crime film, Brother). The film’s protagonist, Danila, accompanies his brother to Chicago, where he tries to “do justice”, becoming involved in a series of encounters with different types of Americans, both good guys and bad ones. By film’s end, Danila’s brother has decided to stay in America, preferring to go to an American jail for murder rather than to return to Russia, but Danila himself leaves America with no regrets and returns home. The movie, a box office hit in Russia, symbolized the idea that Vladimir Putin’s Russia was “getting up from its knees” and putting an end to Boris Yeltsin’s “pathetic years”, in which it envied the West and attempted to imitate it. Danila returns to Russia convinced that he will surely find “truth and power” there. The ending was pure Putin. No wonder the Russian President later quoted a line from the movie: “Power is where the truth is.” So truth and power are in Russia and not in America.The movie depicts a whole slew of feelings and emotions that Danila, a young, affable Russian street gangster, experiences toward the only superpower remaining after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Those feelings include: sarcasm; a sincere, almost childlike astonishment and bewilderment upon coming into contact with the confusing America; respect for America’s might and majesty; and the conviction that nevertheless Russia has something that America does not. In a word, the movie depicts a simpleton’s patriotism: “We still have it better than you guys.” There is no explanation of what exactly is better, but this undefined “something” provides the basis for feelings of self-confidence—the very same contradictory feelings residing deep in many Russians hearts today. To be sure, American movies about Russia are no less simplistic: full of samovar, caviar, matryoshka dolls, Russian mafiosi and bumbling spies. There is no shortage of stereotying, for that matter, in any country’s popular media. But the fuller truth is that there is a multitude of Russian attitudes toward America, because there are now, in the post-Soviet period, many different Russias. There is the Kremlin Russia, which speaks in the voice of its leader (Putin’s voice, for now), as well as those of its propaganda officials. There is the Russia of the ruling political class, which breaks down into segments that display varying feelings toward Americans and their country. The Russia of the liberal, left and nationalist oppositions speaks in many different voices as well. There is also an even vaster Russian public space, whose voice is seldom heard in official and political discourse. Whatever the attitudes of Russia’s political class or society toward America, we can observe a general phenomenon in the fact that, 21 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the bipolar international system, Russia continues to view America not only as one of the most important factors in its foreign policy but also as a factor in its domestic scene. Moreover, the American factor has systemic significance for Russia. This means that the stance toward and the policies related to America combine to form one of the means of preserving the traditional Russian system predicated on personalized power, which we can call the “Russian Matrix.” Regardless of their willingness or readiness to do so, Americans play a significant role in the Russian drama. And there can be no doubt that what is now happening to Russia and its system is a civilizational and historical drama. How else could we characterize the dead end Russia finds itself trapped in—a plight which a substantial part of society recognizes but from which, so far, it sees no way out? Please pay attention here: Despite there being a possibility of rapprochement, or even agreement, between the official and unofficial Russian interests of the moment, on the one hand, and American interests, on the other, nevertheless Russia and America represent two completely different, spiritually alien civilizations. What is the reason for this alienation? Some will say it is culture, political mentality, and tradition; in part, they are right, but such differences between, say, America and India do not interfere with their ability to cooperate and trust one another in areas of mutual concern. Others point to differences in value systems. That much is obvious; Russia and America developed around different principles. However, this should not automatically translate into hostility. Yes, Russia has an authoritarian regime, but the United States has rather friendly relations with many autocracies. There are deep-seated reasons for the impossibility of close relations between the United States and present-day Russia. The problem lies in the distinctive set of principles along which the Russian state is developing—principles which testify to the existence of a distinctive Russian civilization. This Russian “distinctiveness” or “uniqueness” is based on the following principles that create the conditions for the existence and endurance of the Russian Matrix: claims of Russia’s world role as a Great Power (derzhavnost’); expansionism; spheres of influence and satellite states; missionary outreach; and the constant search for a foreign enemy. The principle of missionary impulse exhausted itself with the fall of Communism; the Kremlin has run out of ideas that can be brought into the world. But all the other principles still apply and, as of yet, there is no basis for concluding that Russian authoritarianism can survive without them. They are intertwined in a reciprocal relationship. Thus, the personalized power in the Kremlin sustains itself by virtue of its world claims; the Kremlin’s world claims, in turn, justify the preservation of the authoritarianism. This specific characteristic—the way in which internal and external politics are tied together—makes the Russian Matrix different from other authoritarian systems like, for instance, the Chinese one, which does not require overtly aggressive and expansionist props to support it. In this context, keeping up one’s great-power appearances and maintaining existing spheres of influence requires one constantly to compare oneself with a similar world power, to contain that power, to distance oneself from it, and to compete with it for world influence. If one isn’t even playing in the same league as the other power, the competition can be imitated. The United States is the only country in the world that affords the Russian Matrix an opportunity for self-affirmation of this kind. Relations with the United States allow the Kremlin to maintain the myth of Russia as a superpower and to appear to be one of the key global players. Conversations with Washington give Russian leaders an opportunity to hold onto the feeling that their country still belongs to the world’s top-tier powers and also provides foundations for their derzhavnost’ claim. Managed anti-Americanism—that is to say, emotions that can be played up by the Kremlin today but played down tomorrow—is one of the most effective instruments for consolidating Russian society. Trade and economic cooperation are secondary and cannot neutralize the other motives that dominate in the Kremlin with respect to the United States. Playing off the United States to attain systemic goals was the established policy of the Soviet Union even before World War II. However, this policy was most actively practiced after the war, as Josef Stalin perfected the art of turning America into a factor for sustaining the Matrix. Having America as a rival helped him to formulate the hierarchy of Russia’s goals in militarist terms, as well as world expansion and the creation of an internal enemy. Stalin’s heirs assigned the United States the same functional role. “Overtake America!” was one of the slogans that consolidated Soviet society in the post-Stalin era. The nuclear containment of the United States was a justification for the militarism that remains the principal distinctive characteristic of personalized power. Little has changed since then. The Kremlin has become more flexible in switching between dialogue with and rejection of the United States, as dictated by its needs of the moment. Moscow was forced to reject its policies of military confrontation with the United States due to a lack of resources, as well as the Russian elite’s quest for personal integration into the West, but the essence of the Matrix has remained unchanged. And no degree of U.S.-Russian cooperation on tactical issues can change it, nor can such cooperation change the personalized regime’s stance toward America. How the Enemy Is Chosen One may disagree with this analysis by saying that external politics is not simply an instrument of internal politics, that it has its own objectives and instruments. I am not arguing with that. (By the way, there was far greater room for maneuvering on foreign policy issues at the time of the Soviet Union, but even then foreign policy priorities—the security risks, the nuclear standoff, the drive for the Communist expansion and the preservation of the world socialist system, the “Third World” policies—served as direct or indirect means of attaining the objectives of the Matrix in its Soviet incarnation.) Today when Russian civilization based on traditional personalized power is in terminal decline, the country’s foreign policy has a much more limited scope and is fixated mainly on preserving the status quo. In fact, as internal instability and the diminishing public support for the Putin’s regime become more pronounced, the Kremlin will exploit foreign policy issues to a far greater extent simply to survive. The time has come when Russia cannot afford to engage in geopolitics just for sake of geopolitical ambitions; now the Kremlin’s geopolitics is about survival. The preservation of the status quo is also being helped by the greater traditionalism in Russia’s foreign policy compared to other spheres of life, as well as by the conservatism of those who work in this field. Of course, foreign service institutions are conservative everywhere; liberal democracies are no exception. However, in Russia, the foreign service bureaucracy and experts (excluding a very narrow group of independent analysts) function collectively as the guardians of archaic state values. In comparison to the regime officials working in the economic and internal policy spheres, the foreign service bureaucracy looks like a relic of the 19th century, if not the 16th century. Neither liberal nor even competing interpretations are allowed in the bureaucracy, inasmuch as external policies have always been primarily a means of protecting statehood and internal order rather than a means of modernizing them. America plays a key role in the Kremlin policies of maintaining the status quo, primarily because it is the driving force of the international liberal community that represents the alternative to and primary challenger of the Matrix. One cannot help but note the following paradox, however: One would have thought Russia would perceive an emerging China, which shares borders with the weakening Russia, as the major threat. This would have been consistent with the logic of realpolitik. But no! Despite having growing suspicions of Beijing, the Kremlin prefers to see the West as the major threat. Thus, America, not China, is the main object for deterrence and counteraction. America, not China, is the reason for giving Russian society the impression that it lives inside a “besieged fortress.” This paradox goes to show that civilizational—that is, value-driven—challenges are more important by far to Russia’s ruling team than geopolitical ones. The more the Kremlin senses its internal vulnerabilities and the more it loses its position in society, the more intensive will be its search for an external enemy. This has been the Kremlin’s long-standing preservation model. You may ask: who can be the enemy of the Matrix? Of course, one can hiss at petty enemies like Georgia. It is also possible to single out Poland again, or pick on the Baltic states. But to maintain the derzhavnost’ spirit and greatness, or its imitation, there has to exist a really powerful enemy, a large state, but one that, crucially, will not allow itself to be provoked by the Kremlin’s aggressiveness. China cannot be such an enemy, essentially because it may use force in response to provocation. Moscow understands that China will not throw soft balls (there has already been one post-war boundary conflict between the Soviet Union and China, in 1969). But the crucial reason why China does not embody a systemic threat for the Kremlin lies elsewhere. China operates under an authoritarian paradigm and can work alongside Russia to contain the West, which is viewed as a hostile civilization by the Kremlin. True, authoritarian states can also be embroiled in fierce disputes (as in case of Russia and Belarus), but they unite when threatened by the alien liberal civilization. Thus, America perfectly fits the profile of systemic enemy of the Russian personalized regime. To a degree, one can see a continuation of the Soviet tradition in preserving such an image of America in Russian political mentality. And, of course, such a stance toward America is also an expression of nostalgia for the late Soviet Union and its “enemy number one.” Having the right powerful external enemy is extremely important for the sustainability of the Russian Matrix. It allows the Kremlin to search for internal enemies that are the projections of the external one. The Russian regime cannot acknowledge that internal enemies and rivals appear on their own, as this would mean that there are internal reasons for their appearance. Believing that the internal enemies are generated (and financed) externally is more expedient, though it may well be that the Kremlin bosses sincerely believe this. The Kremlin recently declared Western-sponsored NGOs “foreign agents”, thus confirming the axiom I am describing. The most dangerous “agents” are naturally those financed by the United States! However, the policies of containing and transforming America into an enemy can no longer be the only approach. The Kremlin does not want to turn Russia into North Korea. The regime is trying to strike a balance between containment and dialogue on the issues of interest to it. The latter helps with personal integration of the Russian elite into the West. It would be naive to think, however, that this integration into the West is going to prevent the escalation of anti-Americanism by the Kremlin and will stop its slide toward confrontation with the United States. The personal integration of Muammar Qaddafi’s clan into Europe did not dampen his commitment to waging war against the West when it came to preserving his power. We do not yet know where the boundaries of Kremlin’s recklessness lie. In fact, neither do its occupants. Provided that the containment of the West and, primarily, the United States (the Kremlin looks upon Europe as a limp and pathetic political formation) is a systemic factor, there are no grounds for hopes that partnership and cooperation with liberal democracies will soften the regime and force it to reject the old dogmas. Engagement may help work out specific problems in Russia’s relations with the West at particular points in time, but it cannot alter the Matrix. The impetus for transforming the system is not external; it is inside Russia. Not realizing it and relying on engagement only may lead to missing the point at which the Kremlin starts taking advantage of the West for its own survival. That is what happened with the U.S. “reset” policy. I would like to note here that my constant criticism of the West’s acquiescent treatment of the Kremlin does not imply that I hope a different approach could bring about the internal evolution of Russia. This would be possible only if Russia joined the EU and accepted the principle of political conditionality, according to which membership depends on the degree of domestic transformation. This is impossible for a number of reasons. The Western liberal democracies can, however, do at least one thing: They can try to pursue a policy that would cease to legitimize the Matrix and would deprive the corrupt Russian elite of favorable conditions for integrating into Western society. This is not to say that the West should “make” Russia follow Western principles, but that the West should follow these principles inside its own domain. What the Pro-Regime Political Class Thinks of America I have already described the Kremlin’s stance toward the United States as a continuation of Soviet policies, albeit in a modified form. The Russian political class is wider than the Kremlin circles, however. How do its different parts feel about America? Let’s discuss systemic liberals—that is, the liberals who stand for the free market but who also support authoritarianism. The vast majority of them view America favorably and wish to cooperate with it. But systemic liberals lack the former enthusiasm and hopes that characterized them during the 1990s. They are always at the ready with suspicions of America (if the Kremlin wills it), so they are unlikely to soften the anti-Americanism of the ruling team, even if they disagree with it at heart. The power elites that took over the Russian regime look at America unambiguously. Read Putin’s statements and you will understand their psyche. They are suspicious about everything they cannot influence; they mistrust everything that expresses views alien to theirs; and, most importantly, they dislike everything that is far more powerful than they are. Putin’s 2007 Munich speech, in which he lashed out at the United States, summed up his Praetorian Guard’s doctrine. The only difference between them and Putin, however, is that they are much more straightforward than their master, who can see the limit of his rhetoric and puts pragmatism before his feelings. As for the systemic left and right—that is, forces that are part of the system, such as the Communist Party, the Kremlin’s perennial ally; the Just Russia party, a moderately left Kremlin satellite; and nationalists like Dmitri Ragozin, long-time mouthpiece for the Kremlin’s nationalism and imperialism—they have always been consistent conductors of anti-Americanism, quite often of an even more aggressive kind than that of the Kremlin. What the Opposition Thinks The position taken by anti-systemic forces is of greater interest. Let’s start on the left. Sergei Udaltsov, the “Left Front” leader can be considered one of the Left’s popular radical representatives. He actively participated in anti-American rallies and is proud of the fact that he expressed displeasure with the United States right by its embassy. The radical Left’s anti-capitalist orientation is unlikely to allow them to revise their hostile stance toward the bastion of capitalism. The nationalists, for their part, have their own reasons for being suspicious of the United States. In contrast to the Russian imperialists, they seem to have fewer issues with America’s global expansion. However, the nationalists are convinced that America opposes and fears Russia’s revival as a nation-state and thus is its enemy. While the nationalism of the former Russian satellites in Eastern Europe was pro-Western and pro-American, Russian nationalism remains generally hostile to America. This is understandable: Russian nationalism, despite the fact that its moderate supporters accept liberal rules of the game, retains a fair share of Soviet-type suspicions when it comes to the outside world. I cannot rule out the idea, however, that nationalists of liberal and democratic stripes (yes, they do exist) may evolve in their view of America. The evolution of the liberal opposition’s views is the most interesting. Those who consider America a symbol of liberal democracy represent tiny minority and have no effect on the general mood in the opposition’s liberal camp. Some liberals support the European model of democracy, which explains their critical posture toward the United States. However, those who are dissatisfied with Washington’s policies with respect to the Kremlin and Russia comprise the majority of the liberal opposition. One can actually trace the changes in their expectations of Washington. In the early 1990s, Russian liberals and democrats expected the United States to actively support reforms in Russia and put pressure on Yeltsin to follow through with them. They were unhappy when this support seemed inadequate, or when it was directed at sustaining Yeltsin’s absolute power. In the Bush-Putin years the anti-systemic liberals found themselves confused in their perception of the United States. They approved of the Kremlin’s support of the American war on terror, but they grew increasingly frustrated by Washington’s attempts not to notice Putin’s tightening of screws. With Barack Obama entering the White House, the opposition liberals, or at least most of them, gained new hope. His election in and of itself was viewed as a global breakthrough. A world superpower elected a black person as its leader! No wonder the Russian liberal “ghetto” expected Obama to find a new formula for American and, in general, Western relations with Russia. This formula was to create external constrains for the growing Kremlin’s authoritarianism. Obama attracted Russian liberals, and not only the liberal opposition, by his willingness to reject the simplistic idealism of “regime change” rhetoric. He also won their admiration by his attempts (at least rhetorically) to find new ways to promote freedom. “The standards and principles . . . should be the heart of our policies”, he wrote in The Audacity of Hope. These words struck a chord in the Russian liberal community, in which quite a few believed that Obama would definitely represent a new type of policy combining interests and values. For the Kremlin, Obama’s election understandably came as a shock and a harbinger of difficult times. The unknown always causes fear, especially among the forces that are incapable of innovation. However, Obama’s “reset” policy soon alleviated the Kremlin’s fears. It turned out Obama decided to pursue the course of tactical compromise, avoiding anything that might unnerve or irritate the Kremlin. Russia’s ruling team could not help but support Obama’s approach to dealing with Russia, since it was based on a rejection of “ideology”, as well as on ignoring “linkage” between foreign policy and domestic developments. That is exactly what Putin’s regime wanted: In its dealings with the West it has always strived to eliminate the discussion of values and domestic developments. The reset has resulted in certain tactical gains for both sides, but it could not eradicate the deep-seated reasons that make Russian and American systems alien to each other. Sooner or later, cooling and mutual grievances between diverse Russian political groups and America were inevitable. It soon became evident that very different political forces inside Russia, even opposing ones, were disappointed by the reset. They could not agree on other issues but were unanimous in their criticism of the reset. Putin, who has never been its advocate and never missed a chance to make his tepid views of America known, could abandon the reset route at any time – his hands were free. It is no coincidence that he let Dmitry Medvedev assume a role of the Russian architect of the reset policy. The cooling of U.S.-Russian relations, which became unmistakable by the end of 2011, signaled the failure of one of Obama’s key foreign policy initiatives. As seen from the Russian perspective, Obama essentially became a hostage of his “reset”. The Kremlin grasped this quite fast and gleefully demonstrated its lack of commitment to the reset paradigm with Washington. The Kremlin’s harassment of Michael McFaul, the new U.S. Ambassador to Moscow, was an intentional gesture that told Obama: “We could care less about you. You depend on us, and not the other way around!” A paradoxical situation developed: Washington had to pretend that everything was going all right and that Russian roughness and assertiveness were merely a ruse directed at Russian society that could be disregarded. Meanwhile, Moscow enjoyed complete freedom of action, which it took full advantage of, thus trying America’s patience. At the end of 2011, Putin basically returned to anti-Americanism, perfectly understanding that he was putting Obama on the spot as the U.S. presidential election approached. The Kremlin essentially started playing into the hands of the Republicans despite the fact that Obama is a more acceptable candidate for them than the alternative. Although Putin’s behavior can be partly explained by his personality and his attitude toward America, it was still dictated by the logic of the Matrix, the survival of which necessitates searching for an enemy to distract Russian society and the world from Russia’s internal problems. Even if Putin were Obama’s good friend, he would still have to heed the Kremlin code. The reset saga, which will go down in history as another Western strategic failure, exposed the trap that all Western leaders have ended up in as far as relations with Russia are concerned. These leaders could either turn a blind eye to Moscow’s trampling on the very limited freedoms that still exist in Russia and, by doing so, ensure Moscow’s cooperation on the issues that are important to them (security, energy, trade); or they could condemn Moscow and be faced with an unpredictable and unmanageable partner. The first approach would inevitably cause public discontent in Western societies and provide ammunition to their political oppositions. The second would create a foreign policy issue that the West, already in the throes of the world economic crisis, was not ready for. Moreover, even cautious support of democracy in Russia could backfire, not only embittering the Kremlin but also turning the opposition into the target of growing public anti-Americanism. When, by the end of 2011, the Kremlin started escalating authoritarianism and returned to anti-Americanism, Washington stayed on its course of tactical realism with respect to Russia (albeit lacking its containment element), still trying not to aggravate Putin and his team with democracy and human rights rhetoric. The Kremlin interpreted this as weakness in Washington, as well as a sign that Moscow could afford to play a macho game. The Russian opposition and the segments of society that were disaffected with the regime began to view the West, and primarily America, as symbols of hypocrisy and indifference. But I will hazard a guess that this spell of disenchantment benefited the opposition by finally convincing it that waiting for help from the West was futile, and that it could only rely on its own strength. The naive ones that harbored such hopes finally understood that the West has limited abilities and is not ready to undertake the project of Russia’s transformation. Today the Russian opposition, including its liberal segment, senses the public mood and understands that reliance on the West, and America in particular, will not provide it with mass support. It was high time for the opposition to part with the old illusions and remake its public image. The past two years have marked a turning point for non-systemic liberals as they began to do what they could not have imagined doing in previous years: They openly criticized America’s and Europe’s policies of connivance with the Kremlin. (Some of them criticized these policies earlier, but they were just a few). At times, liberals criticize the West, and the United States as its leader, for the very same things that the nationalists and the Left criticized them for in the past. The criticism is sharp. Leading liberal politicians and opposition writers openly accuse the West of collaborating in the creation of a mafia state in Russia, not only by virtue of its acquiescence but also through direct participation in the Kremlin’s corrupt projects. For instance, the West is blamed for creating mechanisms for laundering dirty Russian money and lobbying for the Kremlin’s interests in the West. One must admit that these accusations are not without some grounding. Such leading Western politicians and former leaders as Gerhard Schroeder, Silvio Berlusconi, Paavo Lipponen and Lord Robertson were or still are directly involved in the activities of totally nontransparent Russian state or semi-state corporations that are viewed in Russia as corrupt or even personally controlled by Russian leaders. Western companies participate in business deals that involved Russian government officials. Western governments create favorable conditions for integrating the Russian ruling elite into the West. Western experts and writers work for the Russian regime, for instance, by trying to improve its image. These are all instances of Western collaboration in sustaining the Matrix. Mikhail Khodorkovsky was entitled to draw the conclusion that Russia exports not only its raw materials to the West but its corruption as well. Let’s listen to Russia’s leading politicians and writers and their take on American policies toward Russia. Garry Kasparov, one of the leaders of Solidarity political movement says: I do not believe Obama has a Russia policy at all today. His “reset” was based on a fallacy, that Medvedev was anything more than Putin’s shadow. Now the White House is hoping Russia just goes away, but that is not going to happen, as shown by Putin’s support for Assad. To be relevant, any Obama policy must confront the reality of the Putin dictatorship and also recognize that Putin does not represent the Russian people. According to Vladimir Ryzhkov, one of the leaders of the Republican Party-Party of People’s Freedom: Obama’s policy vis-à-vis Russia is very weak and ineffective. Obama has removed from his agenda all the positive points present in the American policies of the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush years. At least, Clinton tried to help Russia with its reforms. Bush tried to raise the questions of democracy and human rights. Obama opted for the policy of pragmatism. And what could he accomplish aside from a few tactical compromises? The disagreements on Iran, Syria and missile defense still remain. The Kremlin’s policies became blatantly anti-American. And what does Obama do? His administration tries to obstruct Congress’ Magnitsky Act, which would voice America’s concerns with the human rights situation in Russia. We can only interpret all of this as a policy of double standards and hypocrisy. For Andrei Illarionov, an independent economist, In bilateral [US-Russian] relations, the American side is constantly retreating on all issues. The KGB guys could barely contain their joy and satisfaction at the offer to “reset” the Russian-American relations and “start from a clean slate”. […] The behavior of the American administration cannot even be called a retreat. It is not even a policy of appeasement. It is a capitulation. It is a complete and unconditional surrender of Russian democrats’ hopes and efforts to the modern Russia’s regime of KGB officers, mobsters and bandits. It is also a surrender of hopes and efforts of the peoples in the post-Soviet states, who have been dreaming of setting themselves free from the system that has controlled and terrorized them for almost the whole century. But that’s not all. This behavior makes it extremely clear for the democratic and liberal forces in Russia and the Former Soviet Union that from now on the US refuses to offer them even moral support in their struggle against the forces of the past and thus joins the ranks of their mortal enemies. As a result, the Russian KGB regime receives a card blanche to engage in the new shady adventures in the post-Soviet states and beyond. […] Today the collaboration between the two governments is only possible under conditions set by the Russian regime and can only be consistent with its goals. The president of Levada Center, Lev Gudkov, who is an independent sociologist, says: I think that both the opposition and the public at large (there is practically no difference here) perceive the “reset” policy as a purely cynical act of trade off between Putin and the new American administration. The agreement is based on a few assumptions. Among them are America’s promises to refrain from criticizing Putin’s authoritarian regime and accept – at least superficially – Putin’s claims to the status of a major statesman who restored Russia to its historical superpower position. This status makes Putin a tentatively acceptable partner to the West in a situation that calls for a quick solution of such problems as the war in Afghanistan and a silent acceptance of the aftermath of the Iraqi war, etc. In exchange, the Kremlin pledged its cooperation or at least its non-opposition in the sphere of American interests. Putin badly needed such American stance to maintain legitimacy within the country (in contrast to his economic and social policies, his foreign policy is approved and considered unquestionably successful by the vast majority of Russians across the political spectrum). Few in Russia had doubts that these naked promises of two unprincipled governments can be breached at any moment should the interests of maintaining power require it. Essentially, the overwhelming majority of Russians believed that for the sake of increasing the Russian regime’s world prestige and protecting its geopolitical interests, it is not only lawful but appropriate to treat the Americans as “useful idiots” (to resort to the phrase attributed to Lenin). They believed that to this end any means are justifiable, including deception, blackmail, etc. For Andrei Piontkowski, an independent publicist: This “reset” once all the lofty peel is removed is reduced to a simple bargain: the American military cargo transit to Afghanistan in exchange for safe havens in the West for the assets the Russian ruling elite has illegally accumulated. […] Those who come to the Bolotnaya Square and the Sakharov Prospect understand that America is acting as an accomplice of Putin’s kleptocracy that is destroying Russia. America also guarantees safety of the elite’s foreign holdings and is their beneficiary […] By covering up Russian criminals, the governments of the US and other Western countries become accessory to the pillaging of Russia. Finally, George Satarov, another independent publicist, argues: The last ten years have been characterized by the declined importance of values in the world politics. Quite naturally, America as the world leader was setting the pace in this area as well. But morality is quite aptly called long-term rationality. Having replaced it with the expediency of the moment, the US starts suffering strategic losses even in the mid-term perspective. While conveniently allowing the Putin’s regime to bury the US Cold War democratic victories in exchange for dubious concessions, the US didn’t notice the trap. In fact, by obliterating democracy in Russia and by pilfering it, the Putin’s regime is repeating the breakup trajectory of the Soviet Union, changing its pallet from tragedy to farce. However, when the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia assumed control over the nuclear weapons. What will happen to these nuclear weapons in case of Russia’s breakup is not the question that occurs to the State Department and White House pragmatists. The above statements are pretty blunt. You may think they are excessively emotional and unsubstantiated. In this case, we can discuss and debate the merits of the statements by the Russian opposition thinkers and see where they are mistaken and what they exaggerate. “You are wrong,” claims my American colleague. “We are not out to legitimize the Kremlin and your system!” Of course, not! Even America’s sharpest critics do not think that the United States is deliberately playing the Kremlin’s game. This is not how it happens. In reality, the Russian elite, long-practiced in the game of survival, is skillfully using American policy to achieve its goals. Washington is using the Kremlin to achieve tactical goals, while the Kremlin is taking advantage of Washington to survive. If one of America’s strategic goal can be said to be the expansion of democratic values, then this goal is being shortchanged for the benefit of U.S. tactical goals. The question, then, becomes who is winning. For the time being, not America. Another important development is that today a broad section of the liberal camp in Russia criticizes the American administration while only a handful of liberals on the right and left were critical of Washington in the past. This indicates that the United States and the West have lost the trust of the most progressive and advanced segments of the Russian society. This is a problem that needs to be discussed. Thus far one thing is clear: Russia’s opposition has changed its outlook on the role the West plays in the country’s development. A lot of oppositionists now believe the role that Western governments, at least, play in Russia’s development is likelier than not to be negative. At the same time, the opposition respects Western public opinion and those Western parliamentarians who are critical of trends in Russia and of the evolution of the Kremlin regime. The very fact that Western public opinion is concerned with issues of democracy and values offers hope for a possible dialogue between Western civil society and the emerging alternative Russia. One may note another direction in which the Russian opposition’s views of America and the West are evolving. While it was previously believed that the West should aid democratic development inside Russia, the opposition now believes that the best option would be a policy of containing the elite’s ambitions and interests in the West. Hence the opposition’s active and full support of the Magnitsky Act. By the way, the very fact that this bill has even been drafted has softened the anti-Americanism of both the opposition and other segments of Russian society that follow international events. If Western observers would take a look at some of the Russian websites where the Magnitsky Act has been discussed, they would discover views more or less like this: “Of course, nothing good is to be expected of the U.S. President and the State Department. But at least, the U.S. Congress has decided not to support our crooks. So Americans are starting to understand what is happening here.” Such views are among the first, and thus far rare, expressions of public approval of U.S. policies in recent years. The discussion over the Magnitsky Act has ushered in a new phase in Western policies toward Russia. There can be no doubt that trying to curb the exportation of corruption from “contaminated” countries—Russia, in particular—is both an effective instrument for containing authoritarian regimes and a morale booster for Western society. Of course, a lot depends on how quickly the Magnitsky Act is passed, and how it will work. Some Russian opposition members do not rule out that the legal mechanism will be developed in a way that will avoid irritating the Kremlin. It is disappointing that, as of October 2012, the law still has not been passed. The American administration did not want to get involved with Putin, the Russian opposition gathered. If it turns out that the administration is deliberately dragging its feet on the passage of this law, it will become yet another reason for the opposition to step up its criticism of the United States. It will also give the Kremlin another reason to believe that the United States is no obstacle to stiffening its repressive mechanisms, nor is it an obstacle to Russia’s aggressive posture in the global arena. And now I will say a few words on how Russian intellectuals feel about America. Intellectuals ceased to exist as a unified group upon the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and today they express very contradictory sentiments. The prevailing sentiments, perhaps, mirror the Soviet attitude toward America: on one hand, suspicion, and on the other, a wish for Russia to somehow resemble America—admiration and hostility, mockery and arrogance, all mixed in with inferiority complexes. Back in the day, the great Russian opera singer Feodor Shaliapin grumbled after arriving in America, “Disgusting…Difficult country.” Having visited America, the poet Sergei Yesenin uttered, “We have soul, America has squat.” A similar mood hovers over the Russian intellectual and creative class to this day. The Russian rock star Boris Grebenshchikov ironically remarks, “Russia and America can be friends. . . . We have to be gracious and feed them like a guinea pig (!).” In these circles, there are generally two issues with America. The first can be summed up as “they have no soul”, and the second as “they don’t want us to be strong.” The question of “soul” and how to define it always arises when Russian civilization is discussed. Russians love to discuss the “soul”, which is probably an unconscious attempt on their part to ignore the cruelty and soullessness of the system that they live in. The “soul” discussion also serves an abstract compensation for the lack of normal and dignified life in a state that denies human beings dignity and rights. As for the second issue, you may argue till you are blue in the face that America is more likely to fear a weak Russia, but you will not get the Russian audience to come around. This argument would destroy a stereotype that is one of the elements of the political mentality that appeared in the post-Soviet era and that people are not ready to discard. And What Does Society Think? How does Russian society at large relate to America? Much like the political class, it looks at America through a deformed lens. The vast majority of the public is an object of constant manipulation by the regime and as a result is susceptible to the myth that America is “enemy number one”, or at the very least a country that does not wish Russia any good. In short, society is still captivated by the Soviet mythology and stereotypes that help the Matrix to survive. In fact, Russian mass consciousness does not usually distinguish between Western countries and cannot appreciate the peculiarities of a given Western democracy. Nevertheless, there is a distinction between Europe and America, thanks more to propaganda than to actual knowledge. Generally, Europe and the European Union are viewed positively: 63 to 78 percent said they view the European Union positively in a recent poll. In contrast, the attitude toward the United States is more critical and constantly fluctuates in reaction to the Kremlin’s political course: respondents saying they viewed America positively have comprised anywhere from 40 percent to 56 percent in recent years. As a matter of fact, the good feelings toward the European Union are often based on a belief that Europe resists American hegemony. Any positive attitude toward America is abstract, since it is not accompanied by a desire to draw closer and get to know it. According to polling by the Levada Center, rapprochement between the two countries rarely gets the support of more than 13 percent of respondents. Meanwhile, up to 31 percent advocate closer relations with countries that resist U.S. influence. In recent years, about 40 percent of those polled said they considered the United States to be the enemy of Russia, second only to Chechen fighters. About 73 percent of Russians said that the United States seeks to control all countries in the world. At the same time, almost 47 percent of those surveyed described Russian-American relations as normal or good. The contradiction is obvious, but it has an underlying logic. America is an enemy, and enemies are not to be trusted. But it has always been thus; besides, Russia can always stand up to America. The fact that we are not at war and are dealing with each other means that our relations are “normal.” Whatever exists is our “normalcy”, and this is not subject to change. There can be no illusions as to this last characterization. Since America is alien to us in any case, it can become a threat at any moment. Therefore, positive attitudes toward America can be reversed at any time. When it comes to America, the public mood changing to satisfy the Kremlin’s demands is a permanent characteristic of life in Russia. As for the evolution of perceptions by Russian society, let me refer to Lev Gudkov, who said exclusively for this essay: As the situation in the world changed, all the ‘reset’ rhetoric went away and is now virtually forgotten. According to the data compiled by the Levada Center in May 2012, 78 percent of Russians do not know what the reset policy is all about; nine percent believe that it promotes Russia’s national interests; seven percent say it does not, and six percent think that the reset policy and the national interests are not related. Only seven percent of respondents expressed interest in this issue, mostly those who support Putin’s system, vote for him and belong to the regime’s bureaucracy. Even back in 2009, only one percent of respondents were interested in the reset, seven percent were ready to pay some attention to it, and the rest disregarded it completely. While discussing this data, I would like to stress that those supporting the reset policies support something they understand little to nothing about. There is some cognitive dissonance here: People support the reset policy while at the time supporting closer relations with the states that are viewed as an alternative to the United States. In any case, the reset did not lead Russians to perceive that relations with the United States had improved. For instance, in October 2011, about 58 percent of respondents said they approved of the reset. But at the same time 33 percent characterized relations as cool, 12 percent called them tense, 7 percent described them as friendly, and 6 percent as neighborly. There is a clear reason that suspicions toward the United States have grown: the Kremlin returned to the “besieged fortress” strategy. The American threat was in demand again, and Russian television coverage returned to an all-too-familiar program of America-bashing. In 2012, the escalation of suspicion and caution with regard to the United States has continued. The Kremlin’s turn to a harsh authoritarianism that needs to be justified, and thus will result in more frequent scapegoating, is accompanied by the spike in negative feelings toward America among the Russian public. According to Levada Center polls, at the end of 2011, 56 percent of respondents had a positive opinion of the United States, while 29 percent had a negative view. In early 2012, 44 percent expressed “mostly positive” views and 40 percent “mostly negative” ones. In the summer of 2012, according to one of the Russian survey center’s FOM data, only one-eighth of Russians said they saw the United States in a positive light, and only 15 percent said that relations “will be improving”. The Levada Center polls also indicate that Russians believe that their country should increase its cooperation with China and India. Thus, in 2012, 35 percent of those polled said so, while only 18 percent talked about the need to work on building closer relations with the United States. This evolution of public views was a natural result of the Kremlin’s rhetoric and the evolution of the Russian regime. How Will the Kremlin Act? Considering that the Kremlin has to constantly alternate between accelerating its anti-Americanism and putting on the brakes to prevent anti-American feelings from increasing too much, thus jeopardizing its pragmatic agenda with the United States, one might expect further fluctuations in the public take on America—weakening anti-Americanism followed by growing anti-Americanism, and vice versa. Yet the major trend will still be the steady growth of suspicion toward America. Why? Simply because, as it switches to a more repressive mode, the regime will accentuate the image of America as “enemy number one”, as the country that plays dirty tricks on Russia. Such is the Matrix’s logic of self-preservation. Let me reiterate: the Kremlin is staffed with pragmatists who are interested in keeping anti-Americanism under control. They do not seek to provoke conflict with the leading superpower, since that could not only harm their corporate interests outside of Russia but also undermine the status quo domestically. But the fact is that the scapegoating survival mechanism is taking on a life of its own. At some point, the regime may lose control over these tools. Putin is already constantly forced to resolve contradictions between his anti-Americanism and the need to maintain a working relationship with Washington. The Kremlin is having an increasingly hard time answering certain questions: If America is an enemy, how can Russia even talk about NATO’s creating a supply hub in Ulyanovsk? Why does Moscow continue its economic cooperation with America, allowing Americans invest in Russia? So far, the Kremlin has been able to contain the anti-American machine. However, one may envision a situation when the need to consolidate the traditionalist base would require the Kremlin to engage in an open confrontation or even a limited conflict with the United States. Actually, Moscow has already engaged in such a conflict once: in Georgia in August 2008. This was a bona fide proxy war with the United States, with Georgia getting the beating. It was supposed to demonstrate that Moscow is ready to act decisively to protect its spheres of influence. But at this stage of the game, I have a hard time imagining a situation emerging that would push the Kremlin into direct confrontation with the United States. Kremlin officials do not look like they’re ready for a bout of recklessness. But let’s ask ourselves another question: How will the regime behave at the point of its collapse? At the breakup of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev decided to voluntarily hand over his powers to the democratically elected government of the new Russia. For the first time in Russian history, a leader who still held the reins of the army and the power structures decided not to resort to bloodshed to hold on to them. In contrast, when it became clear that Yeltsin could not keep grasping the reins, he and his family handed them over to the siloviki, the representatives of the old KGB apparatus, who guaranteed his immunity from persecution and were also ready to use force. This was Yeltsin’s method of self-preservation. How will Putin’s siloviki react when the Kremlin starts losing power? It is hard to say. The Russian system has had no precedent for representatives of the security forces holding power; their function had always been guarding the personalized power regime. But the Praetorian Guard is starting to lose power gradually. Will they agree to give it up when they understand that they can no longer maintain it? Or will they cling to power and resort to mass violence? If the second scenario is followed, conflict with the West, particularly with the United States, cannot be ruled out. If the Russian Matrix Falls The departure of Putin’s regime from the Kremlin, and even the fall of the Matrix, while they probably won’t occur in the foreseeable future, are not likely to result in the formation of another regime that will view the United States as a desirable partner. A new regime would probably not seek close friendship with America as did the first Russian democrats of the early 1990s. Even in the best-case scenario, one in which society accepts democratic rules of the game, there will likely remain reasons for treating America cautiously, even with a grain of suspicion. As of now, I can foresee a few such reasons:
- retention of derzhavnost’ relics, memories of Russia’s former historical role and jealousy toward world’s only global power, which are hard even for liberals to forget;
- suspicion of America’s agenda and refusal to accept its leadership—similar to French sentiments toward America, a form of Russian Gaullism;
- the inevitable rise of anti-Americanism if Russia turns to the left and toward a nation-state with a nationalistic bent;
- lack of broad economic interests that would propel Russia toward partnership with America.
At the same time, there are some seeds that may bear fruit in more trustful relations between the United States and Russia, should the Russian paradigm change:
- the threat of a rising China with aggressive geopolitical ambitions and a desire to take over Russia’s Far East—or otherwise the threat of instability in China spilling over into Russia;
- the drive of the Russian political class for partnership with America to achieve a modernization breakthrough;
- gravitating toward incorporating the American political experience into building a political system in Russia
As you can see, I operate under the assumption that the logic of Russia’s internal political development will be the decisive factor in informing the attitude of Russia’s society and political class toward America. U.S. policy may also have certain influence on this attitude, but it is hard for me to imagine a situation that would make it a key factor in formulating Russia’s stance toward America.The experience of the last few years demonstrates that Russia’s internal logic influences the Russian attitude toward America. In 2010–11, there were no significant shifts in U.S. policy toward Russia. There were no drastic geopolitical changes that might have influenced the vector of Russia’s policies. Nevertheless, Kremlin politics with respect to the United States grew more suspicious and the anti-Americanism of the ruling class intensified. These changes were a corollary of the Russian regime’s logic of self-preservation. Russia Is off the Radar American observers often ask: who would Russians like to see in power in the United States, Republicans or Democrats? According to the 2008 polls, 39 percent of Russians said that it was easier to deal with Democrats, while 11 percent said Republicans. The same poll revealed that 28 percent of Russians said that Russian-American relations were at their best under Clinton; 11 percent said the same about George H. W. Bush, while 10 percent chose Russian-American relations under Ronald Reagan. Almost a third of Russians (27 percent) wanted Obama to become President in 2008, while 15 percent wanted John McCain to win. These poll results were directly influenced by the Kremlin’s official propaganda. Whom do Russians want to see in the White House today, Obama or Mitt Romney? The respondents would probably choose Obama, given the fact that he stresses the “reset” policy, as well as Romney’s widely publicized and certainly ill-conceived statement that Russia is America’s “number one geopolitical foe.” However, the Russian opposition, whose skepticism toward White House policies on Russia is growing, may end up preferring Romney if he treats the Kremlin more critically. Admittedly, Russian elite or public attitude toward America is no longer a factor in American foreign policy. Nor is it of particular interest to the American political community. That is understandable. Similarly, Russian society is hardly interested in what, say, Pakistan or Austria thinks about it. The very fact that America has lost interest in Russia while Russian society is still interested in America generates the latter’s painful reaction and reinforces its inferiority complex. The growing American indifference toward Russia generates a desire, whether unconscious or not, to draw attention to oneself, to get even—in other words, the feelings of a rejected lover. These feelings manifested themselves in the schadenfreude of some segments of the Russian public in the aftermath of the September 11 tragedy. The number of these gloaters has decreased in recent years, however. In 2001, 50 percent of those polled said that “Americans got what they deserved, and now they know what people of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Iraq and Yugoslavia felt.” But in 2011, only 27 percent said so. This indicates that part of society is recovering from an unhealthy attitude toward America, although not that it is turning to a friendly attitude. If there is a factor that still engenders contradictory feelings toward America, it is America’s drive to maintain its global leadership role. On the one hand, there is an understanding that the weakening of American hegemony and the world’s drift to multipolarity will inevitably result in global instability. On the other hand, disillusionment with American-style capitalism and, to a greater extent, with Washington’s policies toward Russia causes resentment of America’s leadership role. At the same time, the EU as a normative model is also a source of growing disenchantment. Hopefully, both of these disenchantments are transient and will pass, at least within the liberal community, as the West emerges from the latest crisis. However, at the present time these feelings are only growing stronger. There may be one more cause of concern: the loss of expertise on America and its political processes in the Russian political community. The loss of such an expert base may lead to inadequate understanding of America and clumsy policies toward it under any regime. Moving without Direction Upon reading these cheerless reflections, an American observer might say, “So what! Russia is not a serious global player, and Washington’s policies toward Russia are instrumental in nature. It is important for us to neutralize Russia as a spoiler when it comes to Iran, nuclear safety and other global issues. And we are neutralizing it successfully.” I would add the following: Putin’s regime is maintaining stability in Russia (so far) and is not interested in confrontation with the West at this time. Thus one could get the impression that Western democracies can stay on their moderate realpolitik course with respect to Russia. The West could continue to play the imitation game, pretending that it is taking the Kremlin’s global power claims seriously and patiently listening to the litany of demands that it must meet to pay for Russia’s geopolitical concessions. Everyone understands everything. The West understands it is playing the imitation game; the Kremlin understands that the West understands. And everyone is happy. It seems that this game of “Let’s Pretend!” can drag on for quite a while before the Matrix starts imploding. The Russian system’s safety margin is pretty substantial. It is far more substantial than that of Putin’s regime, which is not likely to last beyond 2018. As a matter of fact, the Russian ruling elite has learned to prolong the Matrix’s life by changing leaders and regimes. It cannot be ruled out that the Russian ruling class (or at least some of its segments, for sure) will once again consent to the reproduction of the Matrix, albeit within a more limited geographic realm, accepting the fragmentation of the Russian Federation. But let’s contemplate the consequences of a game that increasingly resemble Russian roulette. If America, the only global power that conceives of itself as a world leader and views value promotion as part of its mission, continues to participate in an imitation process, not only will America’s real intentions be cast into doubt; it will also undermine the normative system that it promotes. It is understandable for America to be reluctant—or to feel that it lacks the time or energy—to assess the future of the Russian Matrix and the consequences of its decline. America does have a fair share of its own problems. Besides, with a presidential election fast approaching, who could be thinking of some distant future strategy? In this period, all the strategy stops at November 2012. Then, creating an agenda for the new presidency begins and will again be limited by a four-year horizon. But when it comes to Russia and the post-Soviet space, one has to operate on a time continuum stretching well beyond the span of a single presidential term. Moreover, one has to contemplate the consolidated agenda of Western society as a whole. And this takes time that no one has, and resources that are limited. It comes as no surprise that the Western hiatus gives some room for maneuver to the Kremlin, which is desperately trying to breathe new life in the weakened Matrix. Today, the Russian ruling elite is able to exploit the civil war in Syria to force the West (albeit temporarily) not to intervene in the conflict, thus protecting the right of autocrats to remain in power at the expense of destroying their own people. In fact, it is the Kremlin (with China hiding behind it) that allowed the UN Security Council to refrain from action, thus legitimating this “Autocrat’s Law.” The West had to put up with the Kremlin’s concept of absolute sovereignty, which denies fundamental international treaties and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Autocrat’s Law and the concept of absolute sovereignty will be the means that the Russian personalized power regime will later use in its struggle for survival. After all, it is clear that, as it focuses on saving Bashar al-Assad, Moscow is thinking ultimately about saving itself. Even if the West finds the strength to stop Assad’s destruction of his own people, liberal democracy has already suffered enormous moral and political damage. Syria became a litmus test for the abilities of Western regimes—and primarily America—to react to violence that is intended to preserve autocracy. As a result, the Kremlin realized that it has a decent chance of enjoying a favorable external climate. Even more so, the Kremlin understands that now the West owes Russia for Moscow’s stubborn support of Assad. After all, it was this support that allowed the West not to lose face and justify its inaction when it was not ready to get engaged. There was a time when America presented an example of transformational strategy to the world, even though it was tied to the promotion of American economic interests. I’m referring, of course, to the Marshall Plan. There is no need to repeat the history of America’s aid-oriented strategy today. The world will now expect a different American strategy, one that revives values-oriented foreign policy but without its less attractive neoconservative characteristics. It appears that in its efforts to avoid being accused of returning to Bush policies, the Obama administration keeps pressing on the pedal of Niebuhrian realism. The Russian Matrix has learned to use any form of realism in its own favor. That is what it did with the “reset” policy, which became for it an instrument of international self-affirmation. Here I should confess that, when we follow America’s foreign policy from Russia, we have doubts as to whether it can be values-oriented at all, especially in a period of decline. In any event, we do not expect America to assist us in our democratic transformation (it couldn’t do so anyway, even if it tried!); rather, we want it not to obstruct, not be a stumbling block, in our quest for this transformation by creating a favorable international climate for the Kremlin. Who would have thought ten years ago that Russia’s opposition and independent observers would be saying to the world’s leading liberal democracy, “Do not hinder us!” We are by no means trying to persuade America to return to isolationism. We understand that America remains the only global power capable of prodding the West toward a new strategy (hopefully including a normative dimension) and a new vision of global development. One of the elements of this vision should be a realization that the Russian Matrix will inevitably decline, and that the geopolitical fallout of this decline could be dramatic. After all, we are talking about a nuclear-weapon state here; a state that still controls enormous territory; a state that has been able to corrupt multiple segments of Western society; and a state that borders a rising China, which in its own turn may prove to be a colossus with feet of clay. The collapse of the Soviet Union turned out to be a surprisingly peaceful process—perhaps because it was simply the Matrix shedding its old skin. Only now is the Matrix truly beginning to approach the end of its lifecycle. No one knows how this civilization will depart and how painful its agony will be. America has a choice. It can continue to help the Russian Matrix, prolonging it in its decay. It can help the Matrix by merely believing in its stability. Or it could choose another path: It could help Russian society cope with the most dramatic challenge in Russian history by at least understanding this challenge and recognizing the transience of the regime it’s dealing with.