Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Different Perspective

Just over a year ago, the columnist Spengler at the Asia Times imagined the following conversation between Putin and George W. at Kennebunkport:

Bush: Vladimir, I was hoping we'd come out of this discussion with an understanding of at least one point: Why are you so upset about our putting anti-missile systems into places like the Czech Republic? You know that we can't defend Europe against a Russian missile attack.

Putin: George, it's not just about the missiles. It's about your lily-pad bases in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and elsewhere in our near abroad. It's about fomenting those pointless color revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. You aren't going to get democracy in these places - it's silly presumption. All you will do is foster the centrifugal forces that threaten to tear apart the Russian Federation. Don't you get it, George? We are only three-quarters Russian, and in a generation we might be only half Russian. We haven't recovered from the beating you gave us in the 1980s. Half of adult male deaths in Russia are due to alcoholism. Our women have 13 abortions for every 10 live births. We're fighting for our life. We are not going to let what remains of Russia be torn to pieces.

Bush: Do you think we can find some kind of common ground over Kosovo?

Putin: That's where you are really playing with fire, George. You are proposing to dismember Serbia to add a province to Greater Albania, and you will set a precedent for every breakaway minority that wants to leave Russia. We can't possibly accept this - and I warn you that if you insist on this dangerous and reckless course of action, we will do precisely the same for disputed territories in the near abroad, starting with South Ossetia. (emphasis mine)

I think this is what my former professor George Friedman at Stratfor is trying to get at too. It's uncomfortable for me, because my every instinct screams that Putin is a bloodthirsty ex-KGB thug who has just led his nation to a well-deserved status as a rogue, and damn the strategic considerations.

But Spengler was certainly prescient, writing on July 3, 2007, about Russia reacting to a Kosovo declaration of independence by putting down independence-minded republics in its "near abroad." And Russia's notions of strategic necessity certainly have major points of departure from ours.

Spengler has his obsessions with Islam to be aware of, for example he thinks there's no such thing as a "moderate Muslim," but for all that his take is a usefully contrarian perspective to consider. Read the whole thing.

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