by Gilbert Doctorow, Russia Insider:
“I submit that all of the above is wrong and results not only from the limited knowledge of the real situation on the ground in these two countries but to a prejudicial mindset that does not want to get at the facts.”
For a fascinating Russian TV News report from the huge 19th Party Congress in Beijing last week, featured in today’s RI – almost completely ignored by western media, click here.
In this essay we will examine two aspects of the same issue: the strategic partnership between Russia and China which is fast becoming a foreign policy, commercial and military alliance.
The first question centers on the relationship itself, how solid is it, and in particular can this potential game changer in international relations be unwound, can Russia be drawn back into the orbit of the Western world. The second question is that given this partnership cum alliance, what kind of world order has taken shape in the past couple of decades? We know for certain that it is no longer an American led unipolar world. But is it de facto a multipolar world as so many of our commentators tell us, or are we witnessing a return to the bipolar world in the context of a New Cold War? These issues are of critical importance if we are to understand the times we are living in and formulate an effective and durable system of world governance.
Notwithstanding the hysteria in the United States over threats to its democracy coming from Russia, as demonstrated by alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign… Notwithstanding the claims that Russia has designs on the Baltic States, that it is destabilizing Ukraine and has further territorial ambitions there, all of which reasoning is adduced to justify US movements of arms and personnel into Eastern Europa as part of a program giving new life to NATO… Notwithstanding the United States naming Russia as the country’s greatest security threat…The consensus view of American and European political scientists is that Russia is a country in decline.
They make reference to its problematic demographic situation, to near stagnant GNP growth rates and to a highly centralized and authoritarian system of governance that seems incapable of implementing liberalizing reforms they insist are essential. In the near unanimous judgment of this fraternity of Western experts, the global power balance will be changed not by Russia but by China, the up-and-coming power that is already the world’s second largest economy and that has made its geopolitical ambitions clear by its militarization of the South China Sea, securing its perimeter in preparation for the launch of an ocean-going navy and global projection of power to match the global projection of its trade and investment ties.
These same experts tell us that the apparent Russian-Chinese partnership and their common action in the UnitedNations and other forums is not what it seems to be considering the fundamental divergence of their security interests . We are reminded of the nearly empty expanses of Siberia and the Russian Far Eastern territories, just across the border from overcrowded, resource and land hungry China. We are reminded of the disparity in economic strength of the two, which dictates that Russia will be the “junior partner” – a situation which the Kremlin will find untenable. At best this is a temporary alignment that will not last, they say.
I submit that all of the above is wrong and results not only from the limited knowledge of the real situation on the ground in these two countries but to a prejudicial mindset that does not want to get at the facts. Russia may not be experiencing dynamic growth, but over the past two years it has survived a crisis of circumstance (sharply depressed oil prices) and economic warfare against it by the West that would have felled less competently managed governments enjoying less robust popularity than is the case in Putin’s Russia. Moreover, current GNP performance is on a par with Western Europe’s. Russian agriculture is booming, with the 2017 grain harvest the best in 100 years despite very adverse climatic conditions from early spring. In parallel, domestically produced farm machinery has been going from strength to strength. Other major Industrial sectors like civil aircraft production have revived from zero with the launch of new and credible models for both domestic and export markets. Major infrastructure projects representing phenomenal engineering feats like the bridge across the Kerch straits to Crimea are proceeding on schedule to successful termination in the full glare of regular television broadcasts. So where is this decrepit Russia that our Western commentators repeat to us daily?
The reason for their wrongheaded observations are not so hard to discover. The ongoing rampant conformism in American and Western thinking about Russia has taken control not only of our journalist commentators but also of our academic specialists who serve up to their students and to the general public what is expected and demanded: proof of the viciousness of the “Putin regime” and celebration of the brave souls in Russia who go up against this regime, such as the blogger turned politician Alexander Navalny or Russia’s own Paris Hilton, the socialite turned political activist Ksenia Sochak.
Although vast amounts of information are available about Russia in open sources, meaning the Russian press and commercial as well as state television, these are largely ignored. The sour grapes Russian opposition personalities who have settled in the United States are instead given the microphone to sound off about their former homeland. Children ofthese emigres now studying at American universities are characterized by one of America’s foremost scholars-administrators in the Russian studies field, Timothy Frye, at Columbia’s Harriman Institute, as giving soundness to the field by compensating for the stunning collapse of Russian language training in the country among non-Russian-descent undergraduates and graduate students. Meanwhile, anyone taking care to read, hear and analyze the words of Vladimir Putin becomes in these circles a “stooge.” All of this limits greatly the effectiveness and usefulness of what passes for expertise about Russia.
Apart from the shortage of Americans or Western Europeans who are not émigrés from Russia or the other former republics of the Soviet Union and can read the language of their area of concentration, the field suffers, as it always has, even in its heyday during the Cold War, from a narrow concentration on Russia and from the impoverished general education of those entering the field. They do not study world history in a way that would put their Russian knowledge in some firmly anchored comparative international setting.
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