Friday, August 5, 2016

The Scary Russians

Russia fear-mongering is very fashionable in some circles today.  For ensample:

 . . . While Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia in many ways feel like Denmark or the Netherlands, they can never forget that just across their borders lies the Russia of Vladimir Putin. This is not the Stalinist state of cursed memory but nor is it the more liberal regime of Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s. Putin is an increasingly repressive dictator who, unlike his Communist predecessors, is not restrained by the need for unity in the Politburo. He runs Russia as his personal fiefdom, and it is a fiefdom that has been expanding under his rule. Putin has invaded Chechnya, Georgia, and Ukraine. He has illegally annexed Crimea—a forcible change of borders unknown in Europe since 1945—and he has sent his troops to prop up the murderous Assad regime in Syria.

Ever since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2014, the fear has been that the Baltics could be next. Given Putin's proclivity for posturing as a defender of supposedly oppressed ethnic Russians, Latvia and Estonia especially have reason to be nervous. They both have large Russian-speaking minorities—numbering more than 550,000 people in Latvia (28 percent of the population) and more than 320,000 in Estonia (25 percent). By contrast Lithuania has only 175,000 Russians—6 percent of the population. The good news is that most of these Russian-speakers know they are better off where they are than under Putin's kleptocracy. The bad news is that local sentiments may not matter if Putin decides, as he did in eastern Ukraine, to manufacture an insurgency out of whole cloth.

Putin is making his intentions clear on a regular basis. His Russian-language TV channels broadcast a steady diet of propaganda into the Baltics, playing up Russian grievances and accusing the democratically elected leaders of those states of being fascists and Nazis—the same nonsense that was used to justify Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Russia is also rumored to be providing funding to Russian political parties in Estonia and Latvia, and mysterious calls are circulating online to recognize "people's republics" among the Russian minorities. NATO generals believe that we are already seeing "Phase One" of a Russian "hybrid war" against the Baltics, playing out primarily in the realm of information warfare and cyberwar for the time being.

If an actual shooting war breaks out, Putin will be ready. He has been expanding and enhancing his forces in the Western Military District of Russia. This area now has an estimated 65,000 Russian troops, 850 artillery pieces, 750 tanks, and 320 combat aircraft, all located just a few miles from the Baltic borders. The Balts have gotten used to no-notice "snap" exercises that involve tens of thousands of Russian troops maneuvering nearby—exercises that could easily be employed in the future as a pretext for an actual invasion.

When reading such propaganda intended to stoke a new Cold War (or perhaps even a hot war) with Russia, we would do well to keep in mind what the Southern poet Wendell Berry wrote in one of his poems, ‘To a Siberian Woodsman’:

 . . .

Who has invented our enmity? Who has prescribed us
hatred of each other? Who has armed us against each other
with the death of the world? Who has appointed me such anger
that I should desire the burning of your house or the
destruction of your children?
Who has appointed such anger to you? Who has set loose the thought
that we should oppose each other with the ruin of forests and
rivers, and the silence of the birds?
Who has said to us that the voices of my land shall be strange
to you, and the voices of your land strange to me?

Who has imagined that I would destroy myself in order to destroy you,
or that I could improve myself by destroying you? Who has imagined
that your death could be negligible to me now that I have seen
these pictures of your face?
Who has imagined that I would not speak familiarly with you,
or laugh with you, or visit in your house and go to work with
you in the forest?
And now one of the ideas of my place will be that you would
gladly talk and visit and work with me.

 . . .

There is no government so worthy as your son who fishes with
you in silence besides the forest pool.
There is no national glory so comely as your daughter whose
hands have learned a music and go their own way on the keys.
There is no national glory so comely as my daughter who
dances and sings and is the brightness of my house.
There is no government so worthy as my son who laughs, as he
comes up the path from the river in the evening, for joy.

It is also worth remembering that the Russian Orthodox Church has been working within the [u]nited States and all of North America for more than 200 years to spread the Orthodox Faith.  For those frightened by the corporate media’s accounts depicting Russians as subhuman, be not afraid.

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