Russia needs the US as an enemy and as a supporter, Shevtsova says

Putin Regime's Anti-Americanism (Image: V. Bogorod, Moscow Times, 2014)

Putin Regime's Anti-Americanism (Image: V. Bogorod, The Moscow Times, 2014) 

Analysis & Opinion, Russia

During Mikhail Gorbachev’s first visit to Washington, Georgy Arbatov, the Soviet Union’s leading Americanist who was accompanying him, said that the Soviet leader was going to do something far more terrible to the United States than any of his predecessors: Namely, Gorbachev was going to take away Washington’s preferred enemy.

Lilia Shevtsova

Lilia Shevtsova

Although it is unlikely that Arbatov knew then just how far Gorbachev was prepared to go, even contributing to the demise of the USSR, his insight was fundamental. Without an enemy, Arbatov suggested, the US would be unable to navigate in a brave new world and would be forced either to find new enemies or to build up Moscow so that it could resume that role.

Now, thirty years later, Lilia Shevtsova, a Brookings Institution Russian expert based in Moscow, makes a similar argument but this time about Russia’s needs.

“Imagine,” she says, that the US suddenly disappeared?” What would Putin do, given that he believes the world rests on “hostility and cooperation with America.”

However loath the Kremlin is to admit it, she continues, “America has become our systemic ‘binding,’” given the exhaustion of any other “unifying ideas.” No other country can play the role of a foreign “threat” sufficient to justify the Kremlin’s position and mobilize the Russian people behind it. It would be an insult to Russia to put any other country in that role.

Moreover, Shevtsova says, “America is a splendid enemy.” Under Barack Obama, for example, Washington “did everything possible not to make Putin angry” despite his behavior. But there is another reason Moscow looks to the US: Americans played a key role in building up the Soviet economy and military-industrial complex.”

“Without the assistance of America,” she argues, “the Soviet Union hardly would have been transformed into a global power.” And she cites the evidence of US assistance that government and non-government provided in Anthony Sutton’s 1973 volume, National Suicide (New Rochelle, 1973).

As Shevtsova notes, Stalin recognized this, telling the US ambassador that “two-thirds of all major industrial enterprises in the USSR were built with the help of the US or with American technical support.” All major US companies worked in the USSR, and “the Americans sold [it] licenses for the latest technology,” arms in the first instance but other things as well.

There were two reasons for this, Sutton argued in his book. On the one hand, “Americans believed that through trade and cooperation they would tame the rising giant.” But on the other, many in the US believed in the Soviet project of “building communism” and promoted the idea that the US should be involved in this.

But Shevtsova suggests that “the most striking story was the participation of America in saving Soviet Russia from famine in 1921-1923,” assistance organized and led by future US president Herbert Hoover that Vladimir Lenin first opposed but then accepted and led to the saving of some ten million lives.

Thus, she continues, “America demonstrated not only capitalist pragmatism but generosity and compassion.”

During World War II, “America again came to the aid of the USSR,” and between 1941 and 1945, Washington extended military and humanitarian assistance that was worth in today’s prices, 146 billion US dollars. And that was only the government: ordinary Americans created a special committee to assist “Russia at war” and sent millions more.

When the USSR collapsed, the US again provided assistance. “Between 1992 and 2007, the total amount of assistance to the Russian Federation from the US government amounted to 16 billion US dollars,” Shevtsova says. And the structure of that assistance showed that “America was trying to support stability in Russia and to help resolve the problems of security.” Russia, like the Soviet Union before it, responded by pointing to the US as its number one enemy and threat.

“And today, “Russia needs American technology and investment, and today it needs America as the basis of its great power status.” That has some implications many in Moscow (and in Washington) prefer not to think about.

“The key to the survival of Russian autocracy is in the pockets of Americans. The anti-Americanism of the Russian elite and its obsession with America are only a confirmation of what it knows about this,” the Brookings analyst says.

“It remains only to pose the question: does America know that it is our systemic ‘binding’? Or does it pretend not to know? Or does it know and not understand what to do with this role?” And that leads to a final question: What if the US does know and acts on it? How will Russia’s “statist regime on steroids” survive at a time of need?

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Edited by: A. N.

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  • Dagwood Bumstead

    I doubt whether Dwarfstan can count on support in any form from the US this time. Moscow and Washington have no common enemy so Washington has no need to prop up the demented dwarf’s crumbling “empire”. Furthermore, the lesson has been learnt: don’t expect any gratitude or other positive result for aid to Moscow.

    • Oknemfrod

      I can only hope your doubts will materialize, for Washington has stepped on this same rake repeatedly in the past either out of compassion or in hope that Russia would transform into something it has no DNA to transform into. In other words, I’m not sure the lesson has been learned. Not in the sense that we don’t know well enough about Russians being a bunch of ingrates or that no positives results can be achieved. But in the sense that the DC has enough guts to stay away from feeding starving people even knowing that right after they get up from their bellies they’ll turn around and bite the feeding hand plus spit into the face of their very savior.

      • Dagwood Bumstead

        All the more reason to let them rot, I say.

    • zorbatheturk

      Paradoxically the US wants RuSSia’s nukes to be controlled by a known single hand in the Kremlin such as Putin. Stray nukes worry Washington. This is why they do not support disintegration of RuSSia as a state. The Gorbachev-Yeltsin switcheroo freaked the State Dept out back in the day. The Trumpster seems to admire Putin for some strange reason. Probably since he stole billions from the country and got away with it. Trump only respects money.

      • Dagwood Bumstead

        The implosion and disintegration of Dwarfstan are inevitable im my opinion. Pedo Putolini’s insane policies have made the process irreversible and the west would do well to prepare for what will inevitably come sooner or later. There won’t be a Russian Federation in 25 years time.
        When the implosion occurs, the launch and arming codes will still be in a central place i.e. Moscow. Seizing the nukes by rogue elements may be one thing, but without the arming and launch codes they are useless. And while any safeguards can eventually be bypassed by those with enough time, patience and skills, this is no easy matter and those with the skills are very thin on the ground.

        • zorbatheturk

          RuSSians seem to thrive on unhealthy doses of radioactivity. They must be mutated cockroaches in hominid form.

  • Eolone

    “Without an enemy, Arbatov suggested, the US would be unable to navigate in a brave new world and would be forced either to find new enemies or to build up Moscow so that it could resume that role.”

    Or conservatives could pop off “America First!” Well, the only thing that makes sense is Putin’s need to distract from his klepto tendencies by telling his lambs the frightful US is after them. The US however does not need a new enemy. There was relief in the US when the Soviet empire collapsed; but Bogeyman Putin rose from the crypt.

  • Turtler

    “Although it is unlikely that Arbatov knew then just how far Gorbachev
    was prepared to go, even contributing to the demise of the USSR, his
    insight was fundamental. ”

    No, it really wasn’t.

    Because true to form with most Kremlin “Americanists”, this was a case of Soviet leaders projecting their own biases and agendas onto others. A highly charged, dualistic ideology like “Scientific Socialism” or Marxist-Leninism- in which there was an inevitable juxtaposition between the “Capitalist Past”- ie the US and basically the rest of the world- and the “Communist Future” in which they would struggle and one would be destroyed was ESSENTIAL, all the way back to Lenin’s coup. While the likes of Gorby and even Brezhnev may have lacked the kind of apocalytpic fervor Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, etc. had and their desire to spread the revolution by world war, the successors still inherited the system outlined by Lenin. And so they could not escape the fact that the Soviet Union was defined by its’ enemies and the process of eliminating them (or at least trying to).

    In contrast, the US can and has gotten along quite well without an overriding “Great Enemy.” It was built as a NATION, not a temporary trojan horse for a global ideology taking over by force. The US has enjoyed several periods of time without any kind of great enemy- for instance, the late 19th century after the American Civil War- without any kind of overriding enemy and has generally PROSPERED as a result.

    This is another reason why immediately after WWII, the US was so naive and slow to confront an inherently antagonistic, aggressive Soviet Union that it believed was an ally just because it happened to fight on the same side in WWII for the last half of the war.

    “Without an enemy, Arbatov suggested, the US would be unable to navigate in a brave new world and would be forced either to find new enemies or to build up Moscow so that it could resume that role.”

    Except again, we see no such thing during the “Gilded Age.” We see no such demand for a new enemy during the early Truman years before Stalin’s perfidy and aggressive intent were displayed to all.

    Even during the very sink of the Great Depression the US did not go after and specifically scapegoat or demonize a single “Great Enemy” like Putin has for the US, with antagonism with Japan, Germany, and to a lesser extent the Soviet Union being more gut feelings (and in the case of Germany FDR’s pet plans) rather than some kind of all encompassing propaganda campaign to Blame Somebody Else.

    Now, has the US tripped in the brave new world and somewhat struggled to accomodate? YES, very. But it worked THROUGH that and now is the undisputed hyperpower.

    This is for a couple reasons. Firstly because Arbatov didn’t recognize the fact that while the Soviet Union was the single greatest enemy it was NEVER THE ONLY ONE. The PRC had stood waiting in the wings to try and snatch the Kremlin’s crown as far back as the middle Mao years, and other ideological and strategic rivals like the chowderhead Mullahs in Tehran and Sunni Jihadis ensured the US would never lack for apocalyptic ideologies that wanted it destroyed.

    ““Imagine,” she says, that the US suddenly disappeared?” What would Putin do, given that he believes the world rests on “hostility and cooperation with America.””

    Do a happy Cossack jig and try to chew down as much of Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Third world as he could? Yeah, Putin relies on foreign scapegoats in order to distract the public from his own miserable failings and gin up for aggression. But does anybody on this PLANET think a man like Putin would have much difficulty finding an alternative scapegoat, and would benefit from that scapegoat being weaker than the unprecedentedly powerful US of A?

    I mean, Putin’s psychos have been spinning the meme that Euromaidan was not only a coup, but one incited by Polish Intelligence was well as the usual demons. Putin will EASILY find other targets to conjure up.

    ““Without the assistance of America,” she argues, “the Soviet Union
    hardly would have been transformed into a global power.””

    I’m less optimistic. The Soviet Union was a global power from its’ very inception, driven on by the simple, massed ranks of Russian and Ukrainian “red” manpower, the military and industrial surpluses left over from the Tsarist era and the wreckage of WWI, and the sheer, bloody-minded, compelling vision Lenin and his close cohorts had.

    There’s a farqing reason why the Bolsheviks VERY NEARLY succeeded in starting a second world war just months after the first one wound up even though they could never come close to matching the likes of Japan, the US, Britain, France, or Italy.

    Now, was this Bolshevik regime as powerful or all expansive as the one it would be in the 1950’s or seventies? NO, of course not. And in that sense foreign support- first German and then Western- was essential. But what made this development a terror was the fact that it was building off of the skeleton of a great power possessed by a terrifying ideology, not building one from scratch.

    “And she cites the evidence of US assistance that government and non-government
    provided in Anthony Sutton’s 1973 volume, National Suicide (New Rochelle, 1973).”

    A very good book indeed, I highly recommend it.

    https://www.alor.org/Library/Sutton_AC_national_suicide.pdf

    But again, something to keep in mind: He addresses the fact that the Bolsheviks and their regime existed before the “bridge building”, before the West started selling the would-be hangmen the rope.

    “However loath the Kremlin is to admit it, she continues, “America has become our systemic ‘binding,’” given the exhaustion of any other “unifying ideas.””

    MUH RUSSIAN WORLD?

    Muh Russian expansionism?

    Muh Eurasianism?

    Muh Krimnash?

    Muh Russia Will Be Superpower again?

    “No other country can play the role of a foreign “threat” sufficient to justify the
    Kremlin’s position and mobilize the Russian people behind it.”

    Peoples’ Republic of China anybody?

    EU?

    Germany?

    France?

    UK?

    Japan?

    *Poland*?

    Again, Putin does not strike me as a man who is very picky about who his designated Eurasia/Eastasia will be.

    “It would be an insult to Russia to put any other country in that role.”

    I’ll be sure to tell the Kremlin troll farm-ers that when they peddle hysteria about how Poland launched the “coup.”

    ““The key to the survival of Russian autocracy is in the pockets of
    Americans.”

    Let’s not kid ourselves here.

    Russian autocracy has existed for nearly a THOUSAND years before the First Continental Congress assembled. If not stopped I believe it will last quite a while longer, even if the US magically vanished. Whereas first Muscovy turned to the “Tatar Yoke” and then to Poland-Lithuania and Turkey, Sweden, and France, before going to Germany and ultimately the “Greater West”, I fully believe they can find another person to blame.

    You’d be amazed at how quickly people can find scapegoats when their lives depend on it.

    • Oknemfrod

      An excellent post, T. Thanks.

      • Turtler

        Thank you kindly.

        Again, I’ve become steadily less and less impressed with the caliber of both Goble and the “Commenter Circus” he’s cited.

    • Dagwood Bumstead

      While I find much to agree with in your post, US assistance (and that of others) WAS instrumental in transforming the SU into a global power in my opinion. In the 1920s and 1930s the SU badly needed modern technology and know-how from the US and other countries- and got it. There are dozens of examples of these transfers, my favourite being the sale of the Christie tank design which formed the basis of the T-34, the best tank of WW2. It’s hard to imagine the SU developing its industry so rapidly without these transfers, especially its armaments industry. Lend-Lease during WW2 saw further transers of western technology.

      Without these technology transfers the SU wouldn’t have advanced as rapidly as it did.

      • Turtler

        “While I find much to agree with in your post, US assistance (and that of others) WAS instrumental in transforming the SU into a global power in my opinion.”

        Thank you for the kind response.

        And I have some reason to agree; especially if by “global power” we’re talking about the one defintion of “superpower” by the Soviet Diplomat whose name I can’t recall, in which we talk about a nation or regime whose opinion must be considered, stance must be evaluated, and thoughts must be estimated in every event or conflict, no matter how minor or distant. And which particularly had the power to intervene in such minor, far afield regions diplomatically, intel wise, and militarily..

        The USSR of the late 1910’s was not such a beast, it could not dispatch Red Guards by the battalion to Mexico City, even if it could send its’ spies. The parade of naval fleets and AFVs it would have would be decades in the future, having to wait for purloined or “borrowed” Western knowledge and infrastructure.

        But I do think it is important to know that even in this primitive state it DID have a global reach to some degree. Throughout the 1920’s it supported the bloodthirsty original Sandinistas, the followers of Sandino in Nicaragua. It funneled weapons and guns to them, the KMT, the CCP, and countless other necks of the woods. And of course, it began the long process of cultivating turncoats, spies, sleepers, and useful idjiotsacross the world. This is why I emphasise the Bolshevik’s global stature and possibility as a global threat from the get go.

        And it’s also worth noting why I look at this as the “Bolsheviks.” Because while Sutton’s work was unparalleled, in some ways i think his matter of looking at the threat is less productive- or at least as skewed- compared to looking at the threat on its’ own terms. As Westerners of the modern world we are inclined to think of things like the Soviet Union as a country, or countries.

        But Lenin did not fight on behalf of a country, he fought on behalf of an ideology. In his mind and those of the other first generation and second generation bolsheviks- like Trotsky, Stalin, and all the way to Khruschev- the Soviet Union was just the vanguard of what was to be a global ideological wave that would sweep the world as we know it away and institute the perfect Communist state. And they recognized that just as there were those in the former Russian Empire and territory controlled by them who were against it, there were many outside it who swore allegience to this nightmare.

        So while it is important to speak of “Russian” resources and industrial and technological capabilities- after all, this was the base of the ideology and ruled by it directly- it’s worth remembering that this was a very different threat from Putin’s Greater Russian nightmare. This was an ideology, not a state, and some of the most devastating weapons of that ideology are those that don’t get listed in a traditional accounting of a state’s resources.

        Though with that in mind, what Sutton says is still true, and the utter bankrupcy and stupidity of the USSR in terms of tech after all this time is a powerful indictment of the Bolshevik ideology, don’t get me wrong.

        “In the 1920s and 1930s the SU badly needed modern technology and know-how from the US and other countries- and got it.”

        Agreed. Though I do think it’s worth noting that I do think Sutton overstates the failures of Western diplomacy and econ *To a limited degree.*

        Firstly because a vast amount of this stuff- not the majority but a significant amount- was not sold by the likes of Ford but stolen by fellow travellers and card carrying loyalists in the wider world. People who had stronger allegiance to the Soviet ideal than to their nations. And while we can certainly criticise the West for not countering this threat better or sooner, that’s a different kind of failure than the one Sutton focuses on.

        And secondly: the case of Germany I don’t really count that as one of the failures of *Western*- specifically- diplomacy or policy, because Germany was aside the Western political, ideological, and diplomatic consensus. It- or at least the militarist nutters hiding behind every cabinet- wanted a return to the conquering German Reich and saw a collaboration with the Reds as the way to do it.

        But those caveats aside, he was prescient there and then.

        “re are dozens of examples of these transfers, my favourite being the
        sale of the Christie tank design which formed the basis of the T-34,”

        Indeed. This sort of nut and bolt detail is why I view that book as a tour de force everyone should read; a genuine magnum opus.

        “T-34, the best tank of WW2.”

        Ehhhhhh… YMMV.

        Certianl, it was a Very Good Tank for what it did. But I do think it’s overblown in a lot of ways. In terms of bieng the “Best”, it was probably overshadowed by both the Panther, and later variants of M4 Sherman, such as the Jumbo.

        What I find a lot of people miss is that the argument for “best workhorse tank of the Allies of WWII” was pretty much settled on the field of battle. Korea showed the weakness of even the souped up, up-armored, up-gunned T-34s the Soviets gave the North Koreans against Western Armor, including the late war variants of M4.

        “. It’s hard to imagine the SU developing its industry so rapidly
        without these transfers, especially its armaments industry. Lend-Lease
        during WW2 saw further transers of western technology.”

        Oh absolutely. And in this case the transfer of tech, gear, and the like from the Free World to the Soviets is one of the most catastrophic failures in grand strategy and diplomacy in the entire history of the world. Reading that book alone gave me chills down my spine, especially givenforeign interaction with the PRC.Without the Western technological and knowledge base, the Bolsheviks would have been even worse off than they were in 1918 (since much of the Tsarist Russian rail and factory systems they “Inherited” (like an heir blowing away their parents with a shotgun to the head) from the Tsarist and Republican Russian governments was built up by the French and British).

        But what I was focusing on was that in many was, the threat the USSR posed stretched beyond their tech issues. Even in the severely weakened, backwards state they were in the first years of the new nightmare showed they were a power of global importance in a way I think Sutton’s masterful technical overture underestimates. Even with the underdeveloped, backwards, tyrannised mess of the Russian Empire and masses of rather unsophisticated conscript armies, they very nearly started a second world war.

        And by just throwing their limited diplomatic and equipment credit around they swung the balance of power in the Middle East and China drastically, with their support for the Northern Expedition of the KMT. And of course, they could obtain the allegiance of many in the wider world and the naive sympathy or acceptance of others like Wilson etc. al to help grow their power.

        And I think that’s important. Because even the Soviets built virtually everything off of a Western technological base, this is what they built that appropriated Western technological base off of.

        “Without these technology transfers the SU wouldn’t have advanced as rapidly as it did.”

        Agreed.

        But without an expansive, universal, and highly charged ideology like Marxist-Leninism, it would not have been able to get the tech transfers it did.

  • Kruton

    Kill the commie’s ,simple!

  • Микола Данчук

    Sometimes I wonder if the Kremlin views ‘Amerika’ hostility in fear of repayment of all the assistance it has received in the past?
    They purchased Alaska, would they require Siberia as payment?

  • zorbatheturk

    Repurposing the Putin #1:-

    Turn Putin into a modern art exhibit. Fill a large vertical clear rectangular tank with urine and submerge the Putin in it. Display in gallery.

    The piece will be called Piss Putin.

  • zorbatheturk

    Sergey Tretyakov, senior KGB agent in New York, defected in 2000. He stated RuSSia both before and under Putin has three enemies: in order, the US, NATO, and China. RuSSia does everything possible to undermine the US and to put a wedge between America and Europe. Right now creating dislocation in the EU is also on RuSSia’s agenda, such as fermenting anti-EU sentiment in Holland.