Russia has always occupied a special place in the west’s imagination. The stereotype of Russians is long-standing and seemingly immutable – brutish, backward, drunken and menacing. Essentially the opposite of how the west thinks of itself. Indeed, in the western mind Russia and Russians are an important negative reflection of how the west defines itself.
Simple formula: The more evil the Russians are, the more virtuous the west is. Russia and Russians also function as an external “stability barometer” and “psychic test” for the west, particularly the United States. Consider recent history.
With the end of the Cold War and up to the illegal overthrow of the democratically elected government in Ukraine in February 2014, Russia was essential a country thought to be marginal on the world stage. It failed to live up to western expectations – never measuring up to “western values.” But when the west’s forced regime change in Ukraine turned into a fiasco suddenly Russia re-emerged in the western mind – and in a big way.
Instead of accepting the west’s unilateral decision regarding Ukraine and shortly thereafter for Syria, Russia got an upgrade. Russia went from a marginal country to a “regional power.” Recall the words of Barack Obama, “Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors — not out of strength but out of weakness.”
This upgrade was not meant to be a compliment – it signalled the west’s “stability barometer” and “psychic test” had been activated. The evil Russians were back and a threat to the west’s “virtuous values” it must provide (using force if necessary) to the entire world.
As the west continued to stumble and bumble in the Middle East and Ukraine, as well as failing to cope with social unrest at home, the higher Russia profiled in the western mind. The endless and mindless mantra became: failed policies in the Middle East, Ukraine, and failing domestic policies is Russia’s fault, particularly Vladimir Putin’s fault. This warranted another update. Russia was no longer a “regional power,” it had become an “important” country. Recall Obama’s evolution: “The bottom line is, is that we think that Russia is a large important country with a military that is second only to ours, and has to be a part of the solution on the world stage, rather than part of the problem.” This can be read as a backhanded compliment.
With the advent of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, the west’s “stability barometer” and “psychic test” went critical. No longer a marginal country, no longer a regional power, no longer an important country, Russia is now a threatening hegemonic force influencing events everywhere and all the time!
At the rate things are going, what do you bet that in a short amount of time Russia will be deemed the center of the world and the single greatest threat to humanity and the planet has ever known?
The fact is, Russia has changed very little over the past few years. It continues its internal modernization, while strengthening its sovereignty. It is the west that is failing. And those failures only fuel hysteria. Until the west begins the process of introspection about its real problems, Russia will continue to be subject of the west’s very vivid and destructive imagination.
Peter Lavelle is host of RT’s political debate program CrossTalk. His views may or may not reflect those of his employer.