U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul is amazed by the heating up of anti-Americanism in Russia. “To be honest, I was shocked with anti-Americanism and attacks on me personally. … However, we’ve been told that this is just a part of the presidential campaign.” And, he explained further, the U.S. will not return to “Cold War” rhetoric. “If Russia does that, it’s her business.”
With regard to his country, Ambassador MacFaul is not entirely right. Yes, a new warming of relations with the Russian Federation is taking shape; the White House is generally not engaging in the rhetoric of the “Cold War” (and neither is the Kremlin!). But then again, many congressmen make statements aimed at “Putin’s Russia,” which are no weaker than those of State Duma deputies about the U.S. Further, Western mass media demonize Putin, and even Russia as a whole, and our TV demonizes the U.S. and NATO. True, Western media are considered independent (or rather, the government is dependent on them), unlike our federal TV channels.
At the same time, all serious experts from Russia say we are neither enemies nor allies of the U.S. We have common interests and reach concrete decisions on issues such as Afghanistan, nuclear non-proliferation and terrorism. We have disputes, such as those over missile defense and Syria. Strategically, Russia desperately needs the U.S. in its attempts to establish an innovative economy. It’s no coincidence that American specialists play such a huge role in the Skolkovo project.
In general, normal contacts are, “just business, nothing personal.”
That’s how the business of realpolitik is evaluated in the U.S. and R.F. There is no global zero-sum game pitting one against the other. There are no antagonistic conflicts.
But the public’s perception is another matter.
Relations with Russia is not the number one foreign policy issue in the U.S. – not by far. It is altogether absent from domestic politics.
In Russia, the U.S. is the dominant issue, above all in domestic politics. Anti-Americanism has become the measure of all things in public consciousness. If you removed the anti-American magnet, all the particles in our ideological field would begin to move altogether differently.
At the same time, an unnoticed and decisively weighty psychological substitution takes place. In the public consciousness, something other than the real country, partner and competitor with the R.F. – with its acts, its elites, etc. – appears under the label “America.” The image of “America” fulfills a necessary function: that of the “Gray Wolf” in our fairy tale, the visible incarnation of the center of a “world-wide anti-Russian Evil Conspiracy.” Hence, the depth of anti-American phobias of the “defensive consciousness.”
Our public psychology has been formed for centuries “from the opposite.” And the “most opposite” now is the U.S. Such a choice of enemy is natural, traditional and prestigious. In almost any given discussion, the last argument is either that it plays into the hands of the U.S. (“anti-Russian”), or it goes against them (“pro-Russian”). That is, the image and interests of the U.S. are primary, but Russia (“anti-US”) is secondary! Practically all reflexes of the Russian political consciousness are built on the indisputable anti-American irritant. Politicians are differentiated by their relation to the U.S. (“patriots” versus “the State Department’s fifth column”) within Russia and in the world at large. Any enemy of our enemy is destined to receive some kind of sympathy, with the exception of Al Qaeda types.
It is curious that this rigid, blind anti-dependence is declared as our “independence” from the U.S.
The situation is similar to the Russophobia of the Baltic countries, where “us” versus “them” is defined in relation to Russia. The only difference is that Russia has never been occupied by the U.S. military.
All the traditional complexes of the “Third Rome”* are present: desiring to be the center of the world but, for various reasons, forced to catch up to the West; humiliation; jealousy and envy towards the self-styled, haughty “foreign schoolmarm of democracy.” These complexes are rigidly focused against the U.S. But since we have no actual conflicts with them, we rationalize this kind of phobia by hinting at the “sinister anti-Russian plans” of the U.S. and the eternal reminders of Serbia, Iraq and Libya. This is the equivalent of NATO saying it fears “Russian aggression” by alluding to Russia’s war with Georgia.
The initial phobia is exacerbated by propaganda. As a result, a paradigm is formed: the current regime or “the American agents!” The virtual “struggle with the U.S.” is the main pseudo-intrigue of pseudo-politics and tilting at prestigious windmills fills the practical void. A system of priorities emerges in which “opposition to the Yankees” proves to be more important (in any event, discussed far more heatedly) than real social problems.
Yes, the “world cop with the messianic complex” irritates far more than just Russia, but in few other places in the world is there such a self-absorbing and inappropriate fixation on the U.S.
Anti-Americanism is not how Russia relates to the U.S. Everything is more or less normal between the two states. Anti-Americanism is, however, how part of our society relates to itself; it is an attempt at self-identification “from the opposite,” an invention of events and thoughts, a “defense” not from the U.S., but from reality and common sense. And that does not insult the reason of the majority.
*Translator’s note: the medieval notion of Moscow as the legitimate seat of Christianity following the falls of Rome and Constantinople