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  • Dave, why shouldn’t we view Russia as inantely expansionist? They have been so for more centuries than our nation has been around. We have also been expansionist but that largely stopped after the Spanish American War. (It should have stopped after we bought Alaska, but that’s another issue.) The Russians/Soviets were still grabbing up territory during WWII. That largely stopped at that time because political realities forced them to do so. (Instead of simple territorial additions they installed puppet regimes in neighboring states, which is another handy tool of great powers.) Following the collapse of the Soviet Union it’s only natural that Russia would want to reclaim lost territory.

    I guess all of that is a long-winded way of asking, “Why do so many people assume that post-Soviet Russia would be a docile modern European nation-state?”

  • Basically, because I don’t think things had to be the way they’ve turned out. I think we could have helped manage the collapse of the Soviet Union more prudently. As a general rule I think we should have avoided feeding their paranoia.

    Instead we’ve never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. We actively encouraged a restructuring of Russian society that put thieves and government apparatchiks in charge of things. We didn’t try to cultivate useful institutions in a society that 70 years of Communist Party rule had stripped of useful institutions.

  • Frankly, it’s not our job to save the world, or to choose how any given country will be run. Blaming the US for Russia’s character, because it’s possible that in a perfect world we might have done more to change it, seems wrongheaded to me. On the other hand, I am not so sure that taunting Russia over places like Georgia was a good idea, either.

    Some middle ground — like saying we don’t care how anyone is governed, but we’ll support democracies in institution building where we are asked — seems a more prudent and more effective course. In places like Poland, basing missiles or a brigade or a fighter squadron makes sense. In places like Georgia, training their military makes sense, but should have been accompanied (and there is some evidence that it was) with warnings that we are not going to come to their active defense. USAID makes sense in a lot of places.

    The problem that I see is that Georgia saw our support as a green light to take on the neighborhood bully, where they shouldn’t have. But that hardly changes the nature of Russia, which as Outis noted has been pretty constant for hundreds of years. Russia is brutal and expansionist, paranoid to the extreme and easily insulted. That’s not our problem. Georgia thinking it is our problem, that’s our problem.

  • Thinking about it a little bit more, what I think we really need to do is walk more softly, but deploy bigger sticks. Don’t have a big debate about missiles in Poland, for example, just install them. If you want to protect Georgia, put a fighter wing in place, but don’t make a big deal about it. The worst of all possible worlds is to talk loudly (which we do) but not back it up (which we often fail to do). Still doesn’t absolve Russia, but it is a guide for how we might improve our performance in meeting our interests (again, assuming we’ve defined supporting western-leaning democracies as an interest).

  • What we have a responsibility to do is serve US interests. Our interests in Georgia are disappearingly small. Managing Russia by contrast is a huge concern. They still have a rather large nuclear arsenal, a great deal of oil and gas, a large army, and common borders with half the trouble spots on earth.

    We have no choice but to talk: we’re a democracy. And US policies need at least the tacit approval of the people. It’s not a good idea to drag the people into a mess they aren’t committed to solving.

    Thank God we never brought Georgia into NATO. Send Americans to defend Georgia’s hold on South Ossetia?

  • I don’t think we’re responsible for the Russian political scene. We tried to have some influence at the time of the Soviet break-up, but in retrospect I don’t see why we should have expected a different outcome. There wasn’t a domestic leadership class that was ready to step in and take control after 70+ years of Communist leadership, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the new leadership came from the old Communist Party. Given that, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that they would run the country for their own benefit, or that they would necessarily give up the belligerent pose that the Soviets had adopted. In retrospect in would have required a ridiculous amount of luck for it to have turned out otherwise. (I freely confess that I didn’t see all of this beforehand.)

  • I don’t think we’re responsible for the Russian political scene.

    I agree with that. But I do think we can reasonably be held responsible for our own behavior to which the Russians have reacted rather predictably. We’ve gone out of our way to alienate the Russians: slights during the Clinton Administration that could have been avoided, bombing Serbia, our involvement in what used to be Yugoslavia in which we have next to no interests but our European allies have many. We also sent hordes of consultants, lawyers, and others giving remarkably bad advice for remarkably large fees to Russia.

    I’m not complaining because things are lousy in Russia; I’m complaining because we could have made things so much better for ourselves. I think the U. S. and Russia are natural allies and we certainly have mutual interests.

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