At American Purpose Jeffrey Gedmin interviews Frederick Starr who repeats some points I’ve made around here including that Putin is not unpopular in Russia, indeed, he’s doing things of which many Russians approve. Here are some snippets:
We have a Putin problem because we have a Russia problem.
George Kennan always viewed writer Anton Chekhov as the model of the wise, prudent, and Western-oriented Russian intellectual. The list of others in that group extends deep into the 19th century and glitters with such names as novelists Ivan Turgenev and Leo Tolstoy, writer Alexander Herzen, composer Igor Stravinsky, a bevy of modern-thinking Russian lawyers, and a host of Soviet-era figures culminating in Nobel Prize-winning physicist Andrei Sakharov.
But there were always others who went along with Russia’s imperial project or actively abetted it. This list, too, includes some of Russia’s greatest artists and thinkers, beginning with the urbane and otherwise humane poet Alexander Pushkin, who actively supported Russia’s conquest of Poland. Think of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s thunderous Marche Slav, or Fyodor Dostoevsky’s hatred of Catholicism and socialism, which he equated with the West, or his belief that Russia’s 1877 war against the Muslim Ottoman empire was necessary for salvation. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s post-Soviet proposal to combine Ukraine, Belarus, northern Kazakhstan and Russia into a new superstate also comes to mind. Particularly relevant today are the words of the much-hailed Russian poet Josef Brodsky who, writing after Ukraine declared its independence, dismissed Ukrainians as “khokhols” (the equivalent of our “N-word”) and versified about “spitting or something into the Dniepr.”
JG: After Ukraine, does the West need a new containment strategy? What would such a strategy look like?
SFS: Even though all possible outcomes must be considered, it is far too early to speak of a new containment strategy. And in projecting possible outcomes, the West must avoid focusing only on the two extremes, i.e., a “catastrophizing” scenario that includes a complete breakup of the Russian Federation or a rose-colored future that is merely a repeat of the naive optimism that prevailed in 1991 after the leaders of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine officially terminated the USSR.
Any postwar strategy by the West must be based on a thorough knowledge of the groupings and individuals who are now coming to prominence in Russia. Some of these are today working in Russian governmental and business offices; others are already meeting abroad; while still others are toiling unobtrusively within Russian academic and scientific institutions or think tanks or are maintaining their own blogs. Particularly important will be members of the rising generation, tens of thousands of whom fled abroad either as conscientious objectors or simply as draft dodgers. Generational change, no less than the outcome in Ukraine, will shape and design Russia’s future.
Read the whole thing.
I don’t agree with the Russians but, like Mr. Starr, I have some understanding of what they think and why. That’s why I recognize that Ukraine’s maximalist objectives are not merely off the table but a formula for the complete destruction of Ukraine. Similarly, not only do I think that breaking Russia up into ten or fourteen smaller chunks is beyond our capability it isn’t even in our interest not to mention that it would result in the deaths of tens of millions of people.