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May 31, 2007

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SO WHAT IS IT WITH RUSSIA?
Dear Gina,
Here is something I posted recently on the Russian newspaper-web site Kommersant. Thousands of people read this VERY MUSCULAR post, but few responded:

“IN MANY NEIGHBORHOODS, in many countries, there is a drunken guy who throws beer bottles, bullies his neighbors, starts fights for no reason, and who no one likes.

Is this the international image Russia wants? That is how bad it is getting. After Communism collapsed, Russia's leaders decided to be little Czars, dictatorial, unsympathetic to their own people, expansionist, and international hegemonist pains in the ass. Giving nuclear tech to North Korea and Iran, selling arms to Syria and Venezuela, and other rotten countries, it's as if Russia's leaders have a, "what nasty thing can I do today?" list, and every day they add more stuff.

Russia is bigger than Canada, loaded with resources and opportunities, and I can't imagine what it would do with more land. Russians could be as rich as sultans with what they already have. Do Russia's leaders just think it's fun to veto things at the UN, block sensible international proposals, interfere with democracies, and bully other countries? Do they think they can re-establish world dominance by being rotten, while they impoverish their own population with their incompetence? Can't Russia try just being nice for once?

Canada, with a tiny 31 million people, is one of the G7 countries, the seven most important economies, because we love democracy, like capitalism, got rich doing it, and now oppose and fight despots and tyrants worldwide. We are not a neutral country, but we invented peacekeeping, and if we had not intervened in the Suez Crisis, Russia and the USA might now be blasted-out deserts.

An international poll recently found that Canada has the most admirers, and the fewest enemies in the world. In that sense we have the greatest international influence, per person, in the world, and we did not do it by selling nuclear weapons to rogue states, or blackmailing our oil customers (Canada has more than 10 times the oil reserves of Russia, and we make solid, fair deals with customers, and stick by the agreements through thick and thin).

Russia has a total GDP comparable to Italy, which has only a fraction of Russia's population, and Russia will soon to be poorer per person than China. Russia's leaders need to stop hungering for world influence, and work harder to IMPROVE THEIR OWN COUNTRY.”

What surprised me most about my posting was the limp response Russians made to it. The general populace seems so timid. You can take the Communism out of Russia, but it's very hard to take the Communism out of the Russians. They are not good at debate, they’re fearful of being found out if they speak up, and they seem to accept that Russia will maintain an imperialist posture with its neighbors, because that is what it has always been, so they think that's what it always will be.

Russians are so passive about this, that they stand by while their government wastes billions of dollars building new nuclear submarines and other fabulously expensive military equipment while their pensioners literally starve to death.

I strongly believe that there is a lot of fear of invasion amoung the russians - and also a feeling of being sidelined by history. After ~70 years of being important, no one seems to care too much. Maybe I am simplifying, but I do think they have an inflated sense of their own importance, and think that everyone is out to get them. This results in building weapons to counter a non-existant threat.

Missile defense systems mean that MAD (mutually assured destruction) can no longer be counted on as a deterrent against nuclear strikes (assuming it ever provided such a deterrent to begin with).

If I can safely lob missiles at you from behind my own missile defense system with relative impunity ... well .. it's unbalanced.

Right now, however, the missile defense systems that we have are relatively crude and can be overwhelmed by a multitude of missiles and warheads ... hence building up the missile system and adding speed, efficiency, and more warheads to the mix... it restores MAD ... a staple of American/Russian policy...

No. It is symbolic of the fact that they understand what war means and we don't. They know WWI and WWII didn't happen in Hollywood but in their parents', or their own, homes. They know that they had a treaty with Germany that was broken when they were invaded. They know that too many people reflexively saw them as evil for a long time, and many still do. They educate their kids in the horrors of war which are all too abundant, not the heroics which are but a very small part in light of the horrors. Likewise, they always viewed NATO as evil and most still do, i.e., given that we apparently made peace long ago after the fall of the Soviet Union, why is NATO constantly knocking at the doors of former Russian partners?

Europeans understand this. They know this is why Russia is reacting the way they are. They don't fear Russia as much as they fear the possibility of Russia allying itself with unsavories who may be an actual threat. Poland feels historically slighted by everyone around them, and have a right to, but Russia is the latest tormentor and they are always ready to poke Russia in the eye if they have a chance. Czech Republic, and many others in the former Eastern Bloc, likewise.

President Bush looked into Putin's eyes and he saw he was a good man.

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GINA COBB

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