Three Books on the History and Nature of Russophobia Help Explain Russiagate
Russophobia is several things. Wikipedia says Russophobia is:
a diverse spectrum of negative feelings, dislikes, fears, aversion, derision and/or prejudice of Russia, Russians or Russian culture. A wide variety of mass culture clichés about Russia and Russians exists in the Western world. Many of these stereotypes were originally developed during the Cold War, and were primarily used as elements of political war against the Soviet Union. Some of these prejudices are still observed in the discussions of the relations with Russia. (wikipedia)
But as Guy Mettan explains in his historical study, Creating Russophobia: From the Great Religious Schism to Anti-Putin Hysteria, Russophobia is not just the manifestation of a feeling:
It is first of all the expression of a power balance, of a relation of power. It is not only a passive judgment. It is not just a mass of clichés and prejudices. It is also, and first of all, an active bias, adopted with the intention to harm or at least to reduce the other in relation to one’s self. In this sense Russophobia is also a racism: the purpose is to diminish the other with a view to better dominate.
And this is what makes Russophobia a phenomenon specific to the West. It proceeds with the same categories Edward Said identified for orientalism: exaggeration of the difference, affirmation of the superiority of the West and recourse to stereotyped analytical grids. The ultimate strategy of the Russophobic discourse is to provide a full-fledged, infinitely adjustable subject, sufficiently sophisticated for academics in charge of theorizing about Russia yet popular with journalists eager to put that within everyone’s reach.
And that makes Russophobia a political weapon, used by a variety of special interest groups that together constitute the Anti-Russian Lobby. It is that lobby that is the subject of Andrei P. Tsygankov’s book: Russophobia: Anti-Russian Lobby and American Foreign Policy:
The Lobby included three prominent groups: military hawks, liberal hawks, and supporters of Eastern European nationalism. Each of them promoted their own agendas and each had their own vision of Russian and American objectives. (p. 34)
The central objective of the [Anti-Russian] Lobby has been to preserve and strengthen America’s power in the post–Cold War world through imperial or hegemonic policies. The Lobby has viewed Russia with its formidable nuclear power, energy reserves, and important geostrategic location as a major obstacle in achieving this objective […] To many within the Lobby, Russophobia became a useful device for exerting pressures on Russia and controlling its policies.
Although to some the idea of undermining and, possibly, dismembering Russia was personal, to others it was a necessity of power dictated by the realities of international politics. According to this dominant vision, there was simply no place in this “New American Century” for power competitors, and America was destined eventually to assume control over potentially threatening military capabilities and energy reserves of others […] Russia was either to agree to assist the United States in preserving its world-power status or be forced to agree. It had to either follow the U.S. interpretation of world affairs and develop a political and economic system sufficiently open to American influences or live as a pariah state, smeared by accusations of pernicious behavior, and in constant fear for its survival in the America-centered world. As far as the U.S. hegemonic elites were concerned, no other choice was available. (p. 22)
Weapons are produced and used. Russophobia is no exception. The Anti-Russian Lobby uses a formidable array of think-tanks, NGOs, policy entrepreneurs, etc. to achieve its goals:
The Lobby also strove to gain policy access by preparing think-tank memos, cultivating ties with Congress and giving Congressional testimonies, and providing private advice to members of the executive and legislative branch. Testimonies by individuals affiliated with prominent conservative and liberal think tanks, such as the Hoover Institution, The Heritage Foundation, and The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, often served to strengthen the image of Russia as becoming increasingly authoritarian and open for collaboration with dangerous regimes to undermine the international positions of the United State. (p. 25)
Outside the United States, the Lobby sought to engage anti-Russian elites in Eastern Europe and the anti-Kremlin opposition in Russia. The Lobby’s ties with Eastern European nationalists stretch to the Cold War. Some influential members of the American political class are also from the region and do not separate American interests from those of supporting the extrication of Eastern Europe from the Kremlin’s influence. (p. 25)
The belief within the American establishment that Russia is “off track” and must be stopped before it is too late has become stronger over time, partly as a result of concerted activities by various specialized NGOs. Organizations whose agenda includes challenging Russia are, among others, the American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus (ACPC), Freedom House, The Jamestown Foundation, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the Soros Foundation. (p. 26)
Organizations such as Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies were active in the area of shaping Russia’s political system. In addition to focusing on Russia’s responsibility for human rights violations in Chechnya, they have promoted the image of Russia as a rising neo-Soviet dictatorship with no space left for opposition(p. 26)
See here for my own overview of more than 130 organizations and projects active within the Anti-Russian Lobby, producing and/or distributing anti-Russia content:
But all that tireless work carried out by the Lobby would not have been nearly as productive if certain other conditions had not been met as well, as Tsygankov explains:
Although historically the United States has expressed no animosity toward Russia and its people, American post–Cold War elites have armed themselves with Russophobic rhetoric for advancing their agenda. Their relative success has become possible due to several interrelated conditions operating on the international, domestic, and policy level. Table 2.2 summarizes these conditions. (p. 38)
Tsygankov’s book was published in 2009. Things have only gotten worse since then, much much worse: Russiagate has turned Russophobia into a society-wide hysteria.
In his 2018 book War with Russia? From Putin & Ukraine to Trump & Russiagate, Stephen Cohen why this new Cold War that we are in is even more dangerous than the old Cold War. Below I summarize nine main reasons he gives in his book:
- The political center of the new CW is directly on Russia’s borders, from the Baltic states & Ukraine to Georgia. There no longer is a Soviet bloc that once served as a buffer zone between NATO & Russia. Any incident -intentional or accidental- could trigger an actual war.
- In the old CW proxy wars were usually smallish in the “Third World”, with few to none US or Russian troops directly involved. In the new CW proxy wars are located in geopolitically central areas (eg Ukraine, Syria) and do involve sizable numbers of Russian and US troops.
- Western demonization of Russia’s leader is unprecedented. Putin is presented as a murderous thug, not as an acceptable negotiation partner.
- The demonization of Putin has generated widespread Russophobic vilification of Russia itself. The basis for diplomacy is the idea that both sides have legitimate interests at home & abroad. That basis is now completely gone: Russia is seen as the only party responsible for the new CW.
- “Most of the old CW safeguards -cooperative mechanisms and mutually observed rules of conduct that evolved over decades in order to prevent superpower hot war- have been vaporized or badly frayed”
- Allegations such as the idea that Russia has installed a puppet as American president or that Russia attacked US democracy — are unprecedented, and make it difficult for politicians, journalists & intellectuals to speak critically about the US role in the new CW.
- Unlike in the old CW where pro-detente advocates had roughly equal access to the mainstream media, the MSM play a key & woeful role in stoking the new CW, not allowing for dissent & quickly transforming accusations into widely accepted facts through sheer repetition.
- There is no significant opposition in the media, Congress, the Dems or Reps, think tanks, universities, grassroots, businesses etc to America’s role in the new CW.
- There exists now a commonly accepted myth that Russia is too weak, too poor, too fragile, too isolated, to wage a sustained new CW. And hence that Russia will capitulate easily. But Russia is not economically poor, not militarily defenseless and not internationally isolated.