Over the last few centuries, roughly after the Peace of Westphalia when the borders of states were determined after unceasing and bloody wars, Russia with her vast territory, seas, rivers, forests, natural riches, brilliant composers, writers and, most importantly, her people – so rugged, so able to survive in a harsh climate, and in such severe conditions – appeared to Western Europe as a different world: far away, unknown, and menacing. Even in the enlightened 19th century, accounts from visitors to Russia seemed strange, confused, at times simply an outright fable to down-to-earth inhabitants of Western Europe, which caused amazement and fear. To be sure, Russia was always considered a great power, both European and global. Others endeavored to attract her to their side in the global struggle for dominance on the seas and lands, in conflicts over natural riches, and for power. In the context of a bipolar world, the Soviet Union and those associating with her supporters were labelled a source of “universal evil.”
And for only one period, not long in historical terms, after the breakup of the USSR, which turned out to be a tragedy for those living within its borders, Russia, weakened and seeming to lose its supporting roots, began to be called in Western capitals a friend, partner, and even a colleague.
But the place of an enemy devil does not remain empty. By this time, an internal crisis appeared in the Old world, and the demographic problem was coming to the fore. For menial labor, the aging population needed ever more immigrants who were, supposedly, to have integrated into European institutions and taken “their right place.” Instead, the completely unpredictable happened. New generations of Muslim immigrants publicly announced their intent to preserve their own identity and traditions within the European community. This caused serious alarm among the Western elite. Media outlets and politicians in their public appearances gave warnings about the threatening Islamization of Europe, and that Islam was the main enemy of modern civilization. The then NATO Secretary General Willy Claes spoke about that with convincing candor (for that straight talk he was quickly hounded out of office as Secretary General).
Then came September 11th, 2001, the greatest act of terror in history. Afterward, other acts occurred in a number of European countries, smaller in scale, but sowing no less fear. At that time, the American political analyst Samuel Huntington’s put forth his theory on the “Clash of Civilizations”, which became famous instantly. Then, numerous studies followed, in which it was proven “scientifically” that violence and terror are an intrinsic part of the Islamic religion.
And that is how the “enemy” revealed himself, so needed by Western elites to justify the arms race, NATO’s expansion, and provide a handy excuse to assign blame to a real or imaginary enemy for all problems, missteps, and blunders. The confrontational air between the West and the Islamic world escalated sharply during the dramatic, violent events of the “Arab Spring,” and armed interventions in Iraq, Libya, and Syria.
Furthermore, American media outlets, when necessary, became clever with their designations of particular “evildoers.” For example, it was Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, then it was Muammar Gaddafi, and then the leader of North Korea. Under conditions of a unipolar world this immoral, irresponsible style of spreading information was taken for granted.
Toward the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the situation in the world began to take on new shapes. The tendency was becoming clear for changes in the balance of power and movement, quite clearly, toward a multipolar world. This coincided with the fast-paced growth of the systemic crisis of the West itself, which began to acquire an even larger scale. Existing structures in Western societies began to decay. This process, naturally, led to massive public outpourings of protest, especially because of the middle classes’ reduced standard of living, the widening gap between rich and poor, and erosion of society’s moral values.
In order to dampen the intensity of the demonstrations, Western ruling elites, with zero forethought, resorted to the tried and tested stereotype: explaining the emerging difficulties and problems to the intrigues of a foreign enemy. And so, once again, Russia became the “new old enemy.” She, above all, was accused of all mortal sins: for meddling in internal affairs, for subverting the West’s unity, and “even for electing in Western governments leaders she needed.” There seemed to be no limit to the schizophrenic fantasy and fabrications of Western media outlets. One can’t help recalling Goebbels’s sinister pronouncement, that a lie must be colossal for people to believe it.
The expression “fake news” appeared right at that time. Sergey Lavrov even spoke about fake diplomacy. It was not uncommon for our Western colleagues to renege on already signed agreements, and obligations they had accepted.
Even with the rabid and aggressive anti-Russian campaign it would be a mistake to assume that everyone in Western countries swallows all of this as the truth, and does not realize that the true state of affairs is otherwise. “It is important that we understand that the U.S. has largely been doing these things to itself,” stated the New York Times in its article, “The Self-Destruction of American Democracy” dated November 30, 2017,” i.e. disorder in international affairs is not the result of Russia’s activities, but the result of the West’s own policies. That same thought was expressed on the Deutsche Welle site on December 4, 2017 emphasizing that Western countries should seek sources of their problems “in their own homes, and not in the Kremlin.”
It’s notable that in this period certain political analysts began speaking about how the level of professionalism, competence, and just plain knowledge has noticeably decreased among the Western elite.
“The acrobatic somersaults of the Great Donaldo are an object of wonder in America’s diplomatic circus,” wrote the English Times a few days ago, adding that, “Policies have been flipped, sometimes twice in a week, to the open-mouthed bemusement of the global audience.”
Virtually every day the main American newspapers, such as the New York Times and Washington Post publish articles with sharp criticism of the American president. Almost daily, the papers print a large number of articles by columnists, who write about the American president’s self-destructive policies.
And those are not exclusively an American phenomenon. This same style of behavior is becoming characteristic for Western politicians. Some time ago, the minister of foreign affairs of UK, Boris Johnson, while speaking at a conference of the Conservative party in Manchester, hurled insulting tirades toward Libya. Libyans reacted with outrage. The country’s parliament demanded apologies, and the head of the Libyan government in Tripoli, Fayez al-Sarraj, characterized Johnson’s comments as “unacceptable.” Commenting on this statement by the British minister, the Saudi Arabian newspaper Arab News wrote on October 11, 2017 that this is one of the latest displays of Western anti-Arab racism. Additionally, it was especially noted that Boris Johnson is notorious for “unusual” rhetoric. For example, in 2016, he stated that Donald Trump was “clearly out of his mind,” and is “betraying a quite stupefying ignorance.”
In the early October of this year, the Bloomberg agency published a release from the memoirs of the Secretary of Defense Ash Carter (in the Obama administration), in which he admits that “From that first moment, Russia sought to associate us and the counter-ISIS campaign with what they were doing in Syria — constantly telling the world of their desire to coordinate and cooperate with us.” However, he categorically opposed this under the pretense that this would hand “Russia an undeserved leadership role in the Middle East.”
The worsening crisis in the Western political system, weakness in current leaders of many Western countries, their strange zigzags in policies (to put it mildly), has forced many leaders of developing states to reach out more toward Russia in the hope of receiving assistance for solutions to their problems.
Even English newspapers, which in no way favor Russia, were forced to concur, like they did on November 29, 2017 in the newspaper Times, that “Russia has thoroughly outwitted Obama and Trump with realpolitik and regional expertise.”
The former chief executive of auto racing’s Formula One Group, Bernie Ecclestone, called President Putin a first class person for his ability to do “what he believes to be right and he stands by it.” Ecclestone thinks that the Russian leader is the “guy who should run Europe.”
Today, Russia is spoken of with a deep respect all over the Middle East, with an especial emphasis on her honest, consistent position in defense of the rule of law, adherence to rules of international dialogue, her reliability and responsible approach. Egyptian, Saudi Arabian, Libyan, and other Arab newspapers write about this. They speak of the “clear success of the Russian President’s direction in international affairs,” stressing in particular Russia’s “central, key role in the region.”
Veniamin Popov, Director of the Center for Partnership of Civilizations at MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations) of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”