Thursday, March 9, 2017

USA Africa Dialogue Series - The Russians are coming .: my column Thursday 30/03/2017

 The Russians are coming 
Jide Osuntokun, 30/04./17
Many years ago Hollywood released a hilarious movie entitled "The Russians are coming" depicting The paranoia that surrounded AMERICAN-Russian relations during the anti communist campaign championed by senator McCarthy. Not senator  Gene McCarthy but Senator Joseph McCarthy who led the infamous movement between 1947 and 1956   .The thrust of McCarthyism was to see communism in every liberal idea and to persecute  and prosecute those who had what was regarded as "UN AMERICAN"or perhaps anti American proclivities. Quite a few decent academics and talented left wingers in the arts suffered unjustly from this campaign before wise counsel prevailed.But in spite of  the more rational view of  Russia  that followed, distrust of Russia persisted. Any politician who broached  the idea of rapprochement with Russia was treated with disdain and distrust . This was understandable in the Cold War years of 1949 to 1994 before communism collapsed in Russia and the Russian empire disintegrated into fifteen "'independent states'"some of which like the Baltic states of Lithuania,Estonia and Latvia have become members of the North Atlantic treaty organization '(NATO) Ukraine the biggest  in terms of population after the Russian federation and having its own nuclear weapons surrendered them for  the right of independent existence guaranteed by the big powers of the USA , France, Great Britain ,Germany and the Russian federation .Unfortunately Russia violated this solemn pledge by seizing the Crimea from Ukraine  and supporting secessionist forces in Eastern Ukraine apparently in its pursuit of protecting "Russians abroad" . Vladimir Putin, Russia's eternal ruler has not reconciled himself with the reduced stature of his country from being a super power to a second rate power in possession of nuclear weapons enough to bury the world several times over just like the USA . He forgets that power is not measured by how much destructive power a nation has but how much soft power it has . The Russian economy is not more that ten percent of the American economy and is way behind its Chinese counter part.indeed if we are to look at the world today it is a unipolar world and may in the nearest future become a bi-polar world of the USA and people's republic of china.Russia nowadays survives on export of oil and gas and armaments which exposes its economy to the vagaries of changing commodity prices. 
In spite of this scenario the Russian federation continues to hanker after big power status. This is why it is defending unto death it's naval and military bases in Syria in spite of damage to its own economy and in spite of laying waste Syrian territories and lives just to maintain a  murderous  Bashar -al-Assad in power. The same tendency is manifesting in its hostility to the Baltic states of Latvia , Estonia and Lithuania as well as to , Georgia, Ukraine and any successor states of the old Soviet Union that tries very hard to be independent in fact and in deed by toying with the idea of joining NATO like Georgia and Ukraine would wish if left alone 
 Russia is technically speaking a "democratic "state perhaps more like a state of "guided democracy" to use a terminology popular in the 1960S and 1970S. What the antagonism between Russia and the USA in recent times has proved is that beneath the veneer of ideological differences between communism and capitalism which  characterized their struggle during the Cold War were geopolitical contestation and consideration of power. Russia had expected the withering away of NATO after the dis appearance of the Warsaw Pact  as a mark of amity or at least understanding that things have changed . After  all ,even an anti communist like Great Britain's communist hater Mrs Margaret Thatcher had described Mikhail Gorbachev as somebody she could do business with . What was left of communism was dealt a dead blow by Boris Yeltsin  who created the Russian federation .It was the expansion of NATO to former Russian area of influence in Eastern Europe that seemed to have irked Russian rulers that nothing has changed . But can Russia embark on a new arms race without permanently damaging its economy ? 
This was why Putin favored Donald Trump over Hilary Clinton in the last US election . He seemed to have thrown at it all possible effort including throwing caution to the wind . Putin hands are all over the place in the secret meetings between Trump surrogates and Russian operatives including Russia's long serving ambassador in the U S the suave and avuncular Sergei Kislyak. The Trump people were rather naive that they were not being watched by AMERICAN intelligence . Barack Obama did not have to personally order phone taps before they would have been routinely done. Russia would have done the same in Moscow if there was heavy traffic between AMERICAN ambassador and Russians . Every ambassador ,including this writer  knows,that phones of the chancery and residence of ambassadors are subject to  espionage. This is why embassies routinely "sweep" their buildings to remove bugs planted for purpose of gathering intelligence even from friendly countries . I was on official visit to Russia in 2005 with a colleague from the presidential Advisory Council . We were well received and lodged in an official hotel by the Russians . I made several calls to my daughter in Canada . The Russians wanted me to know that they were listening .! Whenever we went for meetings some one would go into my room to open my box and scatter my clothes on the floor . I got the message and I stopped phoning . Only a  diplomatic neophyte  would serve in a foreign country or on a visit  to one and think he or she was not being watched and electronically monitored. The upshot of this  is that the Russians played too hard a hand and the Trump operatives  naively thought Russians loved them for who they were rather than what they could offer in the event of a Trump victory . Now that Trump has won the latent AMERICAN Russophobia has been soused and is fighting back and seeing Russian meddling with and plotting against American democratic system of government. 
There is nothing wrong in Trump wanting to reset Russo-AMERICAN relations and allying with Russia to stamp out international violence and terrorism and reduce general tension in the world.  Some of the people around the new president  who are alleged to be white supremacist also want to forge a "white power "alliance in what some of them see as a future racial struggle for world domination . It seems to me that at least temporarily the Russians have miscalculated and this is seen in Trump's desire to increase arms build up by a ten percent increase in military budget which  neither the Russians and the Chinese can match .  Trump is doing this to blunt any attack on him as being soft on Russia.But at heart Trump ,for whatever reason he has ,wants to reset the relations between his country and Russia in the nearest future on the grounds that in international politics there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies but permanent interest .  He said this much in his recent speech to Congress when he said some of the current American allies were its enemies in the past . He was apparently referring to  Germany and Japan . However it must be said that a Russo-AMERICAN rapprochement will not be bad for the world .


Akinjde Osuntokun, Ph.D OON FNAL FHSN
Professor Emeritus of History and International Relations
Bapitan of Oyo

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