Russia and the War on Terror: The Multiplicity of Roles
The current geopolitical situation is quite different from that during the Cold War and one of the salient characteristics of the period is that there are few stable geopolitical marriages, so to speak.
During the Cold War, global alignments were clearly divided between the West, with the United States as leader, and the USSR, with its proxies and allies. It is true that even at that time there were countries that tried to avoid the grip of the major geopolitical alliances and to play on the conflict between the superpowers. But there were limitations in their ability to pursue an independent policy. And most of those who tried to do so were compelled by the military/economic force of the superpowers to be attached to one of them, at least indirectly. The elite of the countries attached to the United States usually had a general pro-American view, or at least regarded the U.S. as less of an evil than the USSR.
The situation changed drastically after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the USSR. In particular, changes of perception of the U.S., the last superpower, were brought about by dramatic changes in U.S. foreign policy.
The collapse of the USSR and the geopolitical vacuum created by the disappearance of the only other superpower tempted the U.S. to engage in “preventive” imperial wars. The doctrine was implemented first not by Bush but by Clinton, with the strike against Serbia in 1999; later, after the September 11 terrorist attack, which played the same role as the murder of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo, the imperial quest was expanded to Afghanistan and Iraq.
The American elite is also entertaining plans for possible wars with Iran and Korea; in fact, what the American elite calls the “war on terror” has no end. While this aspect of American foreign policy was a salient feature during the Bush era and neocon ideological and political predominance, it has not disappeared completely during Obama’s presidency. Indeed, the U.S. has played an active role in the Libyan war and plans on “preventive” strikes against Iran have not been abandoned completely as could be seen by the pronouncement of various members of the U.S. elite.
Similar to the Bush administration, the Obama administration does not always think about the long-term implications of certain foreign policy moves and is mostly concerned with how they would affect their ratings and chance for re-election.
This was, for example, the case with the bin Laden assassination. It boosted Obama’s prestige as a tough leader but made the U.S.’s relationship with Pakistan worse. It drove Pakistan closer to China and minimized the country’s willingness to cooperate with the U.S. in dealing with terrorism or any groups hostile to the U.S.
This sort of reckless action driven mostly by an internal agenda and with little interest/thought about long term implications could well be a pattern in the future when the Washington elite—following the bid of the electorate—could try to find in foreign adventures distraction from increasing predicaments at home. In addition to ill-defined foreign policy actions, Washington demonstrated its clear disregard to its allies. Not only had Washington made no attempt to save Mubarak’s regime—it did not even make any attempt to save Mubarak personally. And this certainly sent a chilling signal to many American allies in the region and beyond.
All of this and the absence of a clearly defined opposing power that could match that of the USSR and rally allies around Washington have created problems among the elite, even in countries that still regard the U.S. as an ally. There is doubt whether the U.S. can, indeed, be regarded as an ally; and some members of the elite might even see the U.S. as more of a foe. On the other hand, the U.S. imperial quest is not as clear-cut as was the case with the USSR. Its post-Cold War imperial quest was limited to the Bush era and neocon predominance. And while residual elements of the neocons’ imperial posture can still be seen in the Obama administration, it has become increasingly irrelevant; and a different trend has become obvious. America’s imperial presence and its general ability to maintain not just an acquired post-Cold War empire (Afghanistan and Iraq) but even its traditional Cold War era imperial inheritance are in question. The signs of sharp decline have increased and accelerated.
Obama withdrew most of the troops from Iraq and could well withdraw the rest in the near future. This was done despite not just continuous instability in the country but the clearly increasing influence of Iran—the U.S.’s mortal threat.
Most troubling is the departure from Afghanistan where the Taliban presents no signs of any exit, and the viability of the Kabul government and its army and law enforcement continues to be questionable despite its continuous expansion. The danger of departure is emphasized not just by the neocons or their ideological allies who saw in Obama’s actions almost treason, but even by Gates, the former Secretary of Defence.
Hardly of the neocon mold, he was a man with balanced judgment. He was a very good professional, who was respected even by the U.S.’s enemies. He urged the administration to stay in Afghanistan for “the long haul,” which could last for generations and warned about the possible disastrous implications of departure.
Still, his advice was not heard, and this was the reason he was willing to retire. In addition to troop withdrawal and looming base closures, there are other clear signs of the U.S.’s imperial troubles. The most clear is the military budget cuts. Started during Gates’ tenure, this accelerated recently (July 2011) after the debt deal in Washington and more cuts are likely looming ahead. Some of those who advocated the cuts might note that much expensive hardware was designed for the Cold War and that no one except those with vested interests to produce them needed them.
This, however, is not the entire truth. Not only is China in the process of increasing the upgrading of its military potential; but, as various reports of concerned people in Washington indicate, the existing military hardware, equipment and navy is aging and even worn out. In the case of Afghanistan, the equipment is not just worn out, but much of it has been destroyed. Usually, equipment was quickly replaced but not now. Moreover, the cuts can have implications for pay and/or benefit for soldiers even those who were or are on the battlefield. During the debt crisis of the summer of 2011, there was even talk that soldiers on the battlefield might not be paid at all.
The repercussions of these actions, or even talk, on troop morale and America’s military in the eyes of foes or potential foes was ignored regardless of the fact that the U.S. continued to be engaged in wars. This has never been done before, and the expectation of possible major geopolitical collapse in the future rose. The abrupt collapse of the U.S. as a major geopolitical prop would unleash a dangerous chaos that could be filled, at least partially, by such powers as China and Iran. And this is not likely seen as a positive alternative even by some of those countries that could hardly be seen as America’s friends.
Last but not least, the U.S. continues to be a major economic power and the dollar one of the major reserve currencies. The military/geopolitical collapse of the U.S. could lead to very serious economic repercussions. At the same time, the economic problems have direct implications for the very existence of the American empire. In fact, the geopolitical/military strength and economic vitality is interwoven.
While a general geopolitical crisis could lead to economic repercussions, the economic problems could well have their own momentum. The stock market, which demonstrated what seems to have been an unstoppable rise from the 1930s to 2000, had been unable to sustain this growth.
Since the 2000 crash, stocks, while rising for a while, have returned to approximately the 2000-year level. The “Great Recession,” prospects of “Great Recession/Depression Number 2,” inconclusive decisions on debt, and reducing the U.S.’s credit rating hardly bodes well for the U.S. economy and society in general in the long run. The major economic crisis is not just abstract speculation of fear mongers but is a chilling possibility. And, if this happens, it will have a tremendous impact not only on the American society but also on the global community in general.
Indeed, a major American economic crisis and a sharp decline of the dollar could have devastating repercussions, even for countries that seem to pose as rivals, such as China. Thus, in this new arrangement, the old Carl Schmitt famous dictum that a country is defined by its enemy, and this enemy emerges as the absolute opposite to the country, does not work; or, at least, the picture becomes more complicated. And this has an implication for the U.S.’s vision among the global elite. Indeed, even countries that pose as America’s strategic foe have a segment of the elite that advocates cooperation with the U.S., at least in some matters. Thus, the peculiar aspect of the modern geopolitical arrangement is that both pro- and anti-American segments can exist in the same country.
While these arrangements exist in many countries, they are especially pronounced in Russia, due to its complex geopolitical position. On one hand, Russia still possesses the second biggest nuclear arsenal in the world and has recently become a major supplier of oil and gas, especially for Europe. Russia also continues to wield considerable clout in many parts of the former USSR. On the other hand, it continues to lose its high tech industrial base, and the population is rapidly declining.
Geopolitically, Russia is squeezed between Europe, China, and the Islamic world, regions that have become stronger than Russia, economically or demographically or both. All the complexity of the geopolitical position has affected the worldviews of the Russian elite; in fact, no unified view exists. The goal of this paper is to outline the major views of the Russian elite and quasi-elite—the sociopolitical groups who belong to the fringe—toward the U.S. and its geopolitical posture, usually equated with what the U.S. calls the “war on terror.”
The Behavior of the Elite
Operational models that emphasize the fragmentation of the elite’s view provide the framework for understanding the Russian elite’s complex approach to the U.S. and the war on terror. The question often found in Western media, “Who is Putin?” must be asked in regard not only to Putin but to many major world leaders: are they foes or allies of the U.S.?
The answer is that they are both. The complexity of their approach to the U.S. is caused not by their personal characteristics but by the complexity of their elite’s approach. In the case of Russia, one can clearly see several layers of elite, each with its particular vision of the U.S. It is clear that at present the pro-European and what I call imperial moderate Russian nationalist groups dominate the Russian political establishment. But none of the other groups is completely out of the picture with any chance to regain influence in the future. Even extremists can be in the forefront in a major political crisis.
The pro-American elite’s strong position in the Yeltsin era continued during Putin’s tenure and after, indicated by the fact that, despite all the bickering, Putin, and, later, Medvedev, did not break with the U.S. Members of this group may disapprove of the U.S. recipe for the development of democratic institutions in Russia, but they view the U.S. as the country’s major ally. They argue that, with all its problems with the U.S., Russia actually has no other choice. Russia is being squeezed by three powerful and, in some cases, unstable regions. Alliance with the U.S. is the most viable choice because it can ease Chinese pressure and help manage the threat of Islamic terrorism. China is dangerous in the long run, due to its geographic proximity, demographic pressure, and voracious appetite for natural resources.
But the immediate problem is Islamic extremism, clearly seen in the wave of terrorist acts throughout the country. These groups of the Russian elite believe that Islamic extremism emerged independently from U.S. policies, or at least that the role of the U.S. in the emergence of al-Qaeda should be downplayed, for it has no bearing on the present relationship between the U.S. and Islamic fundamentalists.
In general, with respect to the emerging threat from the East, whether from China or Iran, the U.S. is seen as the only viable ally. A major reason why the U.S. is seen as the major ally is the assumption that many of Russia’s problems (e.g., Islamic terrorism/separatism in the Caucasus) and especially those that could emerge in the future can be resolved only with military force. And only the U.S. can help Russia, because of the U.S. military machine and also because the U.S. is not shy in applying force.
The story is different with Europeans, who, in general, downplay the role of force, military force especially, in their geopolitical projections. France and the UK could be the exceptions. Still, even their bellicosity should not be exaggerated. The members of these pro-American groups also believe that the U.S. continues to retain its position as the major source of innovation, technological breakthroughs and science. It is the U.S. that is crucially important for Russia’s innovation and projects as a cluster of think tanks and high-tech companies placed in Skolkovo. While approaching the U.S., the pro-American groups do not share the illusions/expectations of the early post-Soviet era.
They could note, for example, in televised round table discussions that Americans’ external friendliness often means nothing and could well be a cover for absolute indifference or the desire to take advantage of you or mask deep hostility. Those who participate in these Russian TV round tables note in this respect that there should not be a problem in dealing with Americans. One should plainly follow the Americans’ own strategy: externally, one should smile and be friend and at the same time think about one’s own interests. As a matter of fact, these people argue, it is nothing peculiarly Machiavellian in the American approach. It is the way business and foreign policy is carried on all over the world.
The Russians should simply be good students. Pro-American groups also assume that America has no option but to deal with Russia, due to overall U.S. isolation. It is true that the present-day American elite could approach Russia as a foe in Cold War fashion and plan to weaken Russia even more, even thinking about its disintegration. But these people are not prominent in the American elite, and the praise is a sort of détente between Russia and the U.S. during the beginning of the Obama presidency. They believe that even more realistically minded people could well be at the helm of America’s ship in the future. The latter could well understand that America actually has no strong friends, and that the Europeans are foes in disguise.
They might verbally support the U.S. but actually play behind the American back and support Iran and China. The American elite would finally understand that neither Iran nor China is a Russian ally––in fact, Russia provides a counterbalance to these powers––and that Russia’s collapse would increase the power of Iran and China to the degree where the U.S. could not master them. So Russia would emerge as the only American friend and true ally whose interests are the same as those of the U.S.
The U.S. should regard Russia as a junior partner who will police the territory of the former USSR. Others, who have a more skeptical view of the U.S. economic and military abilities, assume that Russia could well play the role of almost equal partner in dealing with the U.S. or, at least, that Russia’s interests would be fully respected. The assumption that the U.S. is destined to be the global leader, or, at least, one of the global leaders, and that this scenario is best for everybody else exists not just among the Russian elite. It can be found in Europe, for example in countries such as the UK, where a substantial segment of the elite preserve pro-American feelings.
They also argue that only the U.S. can save European-Western civilization. For this group of Europeans, the “world” should not only accept U.S. imperial leadership but even close its eyes to the U.S.’s clear violation of international law and its streak of adventurism. They continue to believe that despite all of the problems, the U.S. continues to be the essential pillar of the global order, not just geopolitically but also of the economic order as will, regardless of all the problems with the U.S. economy.
While these groups of pro-American members of the Russian elite still exist and play a visible role in Russia, its role and influence has been in the process of constant erosion since the late 1990s and in continuous decline throughout the Putin tenure. This was the case even before America’s recent (summer 2011) economic problems.
By the end of Yeltsin’s term, the majority of Russians were quite disappointed with the results of the post-Soviet economic development that led to a dramatic economic collapse, impoverishment of the majority and enrichment of a few robber baron tycoons. Most of those who provided the blueprint for the economic changes were either Americans or people affiliated with the U.S. sponsored organizations. This had undermined the minds of many Russians the image of the U.S. elite and the soundness of their social/economic schemes in general. The “preventive” strikes against Serbia (1999), Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003) and, to some extent, Libya, reinforces in the minds of quite a few Russians the image of the U.S.––and in fact the West—and, here, the U.S. became the symbol of the West—as predatory and aggressive.
This image had existed in Russian tradition for centuries and was just reinforced by Soviet propaganda. At the same time, Obama’s decision to withdraw American troops in Afghanistan before achieving victory reinforced, paradoxically, enough of the negative image of Americans.
It is assumed that both the reckless invasion and the same reckless withdrawal indicated that the U.S. foreign policy is not well thought through, and depends on power politics, the pressure of various interest groups and is, in general, irresponsible. In short, it is not the partner with whom one could deal. While U.S. foreign policy played some role in shaping the negative image of the country, it was the average Russian’s daily contact with what has been either directly or indirectly related with the U.S. that played the most important role in shaping the image of the country.
Throughout the Soviet and early post-Soviet era, the U.S. existed in the minds of the majority as a place of high living standards and efficiency. It was a place of quality goods, appreciation of talents, and energy and unorthodox thinking; here the U.S. emerged as the opposite of rigidity and the low level of life of the USSR. It was also seen as the place of sexual freedom, in fact, a sort of erotic panacopia. This image became badly hurt in the last 10-15 years. Besides the dollar’s fluctuation, U.S. goods have lost their attractiveness in the minds of most Russians. They are seen not just as expensive but also of low quality, and, at least from my personal observation, have almost disappeared from the stores. The returning émigré, tourists and other folk often bring back quite a negative image of the U.S. The American economic machine has become obsolete with inefficient arrangements of a highly- paid layer of do-nothing management that supervises equally inefficient highly-paid workers. They are flanked by the bankers and similar people who either engage in financial speculation or just print money. In addition, the U.S.’s coming departure from Afghanistan and Iraq have created a feeling that the American empire is quite fragile, the political elite fickle.
Washington is seen as unreliable; and, in general, the U.S. is moving quickly downhill, regardless of the party affiliation or personal characteristics of the occupant of the White House. This descent of the U.S. as a major ally/patron does not mean a “turn to the East” as was the case in the previous period of post-Soviet history but has led to an attempt to move closer to Europe; and one could assume that it is pro-European trends that dominate both the elite and masses alike.
The pro-European groups believe Islamic fundamentalism constitutes a threat to both Russia and the West. But they also believe America’s policy is reckless and irresponsible and that Russia should not be involved in the war on terror. Moreover, Russia should distance itself from the U.S. as much as possible. The arguments of these groups can be formulated as follows. While the U.S. has a huge military machine, it has revealed itself as useless in fighting not just terror or what is called “asymmetrical threats,” but even guerrilla warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq, from which the U.S. is about to depart in humiliating defeat.
American military and economic potential is limited, and the U.S. is clearly experiencing classical “imperial overstretch.” But its elite is not ready to accept a more humble role in the global arena. The American elite, these groups argue, cannot accept the fact that the period of American global centrality was short and that new centers of power, especially in Asia (China and Iran) are emerging, drawing clear limits on the American presence and ready to limit its influence and power even more.
As a result, the U.S. is engaged in reckless actions, as its ill-conceived plans have been combined with the absurd, unworkable scheme of spreading Western-type democracy all over the world. For these groups of Russian intellectuals, the political schemes of American “neo-cons” look like a carbon copy of the equally unworkable plan of the Soviet elite to spread Communism all over the world.
Obama’s policy is certainly better than that of Bush; still not much better, for the Obama elite—and the American hoi polloi in general—are not able to recognize fully the U.S.’s speedy decline. Washington continues to antagonize Russia and, in general, tries to hold on to most of the American empire instead of engaging in global retreat. All this can lead to nothing but disaster, including increasing waves of terrorism, from which the U.S. cannot protect even itself, much less those who would join with it. Thus, the best way to avoid being a victim of terrorism is to keep one’s distance from the U.S. as much as possible.
This distancing from the U.S. does not imply that those who advocate this view think Russia should actively support America’s enemies, especially those that emerge in Asia. Moreover, this group could even regret the imminent American demise; with all their problems with the U.S., they would still prefer a world dominated by the U.S. rather than by China, Iran, or especially a force like al-Qaeda. Still, they believe that nothing can be done, and that not just the U.S. but also the entire West is following what could be called the Spenglerian scenario: the West has entered a period of decline and actual demise. The American inability to accept this, along with the recklessness of American foreign policy, could speed up the process and make it really catastrophic, not just for the U.S. but for the entire world.
On this point these groups of Russian elite are close to many, if not the majority, of the elite in most European countries. They assume that there is no such thing as a unified West; that the U.S. and Europe are two different geopolitical entities; and that Europe, not the U.S., should be Russia’s ally/partner.
European and Anti-American Groups
The pro-European/anti-American groups regard Russia as part of the Western world and see Europe, not the U.S., as Russia’s main ally and economic partner. They regard Islamic fundamentalism as an independent force and generally a quite negative force directed against the U.S., the West in general, and Russia. But despite its threat, it can sometimes be useful for Russia. In fact, fundamentalism and related terrorism can be divided into two parts: negative and wholesome. Negative terrorism is, of course, that which is directed against Russia and her allies, whereas the same terrorism could be wholesome when directed against the U.S.
America is seen as Russia’s enemy because it tries to dominate globally. Terrorist activities against U.S. power in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere are positive phenomena that Russia should directly or indirectly support, for they limit the power of the U.S. to spread its empire. These views can easily be found among Russians who could be called patriotic Westernizers as well as among nationalists. One might surmise they could also be found among some Europeans and especially the Iranian elite, who clearly regard the guerrilla terrorist activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, implicitly everywhere, as a way of weakening the U.S.
Imperial Russian Nationalists
Imperial Russian nationalists assume that Russia should not only preserve its present borders but also restore the USSR or create an even greater quasi-empire. These ideas are expressed by members of the Russian elite who profess the philosophical and quasi-political doctrine of Eurasianism. They see Islamic fundamentalism not as an independent force but as created by the U.S. Several images of Islamic terrorism have emerged. In one view, Islamic fundamentalism and al-Qaeda were created by the U.S. during the Cold War to fight the USSR In their view bin Laden was created by the CIA in Afghanistan to fight the USSR. Later these forces got out of control, and this led to the September 11 terrorist attack. The members of the American elite understand that they cannot put the genie back in the bottle. But the U.S. would like to redirect them once again against Russia, and the American intelligence community is actively working in this direction.
In another view, Islamic fundamentalism/terrorism has already been used by the U.S. against Russia. It may have some level of autonomy, but it is directly or indirectly controlled by Washington. It is part of the U.S. conspiracy to undermine Putin’s/Medvedev’s regime and Russia’s position in the republics of the former USSR, which would lead to the country’s disintegration. Islamic terrorism is seen as similar to NGOs, which are organized and directed by Washington and have recently engaged in battering Russia.
While Islamic terrorists in Chechnya have engaged in direct terrorist attacks against Russia proper, NGOs have launched anti-Russian revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan and attempted to do so in Uzbekistan. This image implies that Islamic terrorism is mostly nonexistent, and actually the action of the U.S. itself. In this the view bin Laden and al-Qaeda are fictional characters, propaganda images created by the U.S. The terrorist acts of September 11 were launched by the U.S. intelligence community, possibly with the assistance of the Israelis. All this—the creation of a phantom al-Qaeda and acts of terror against its own people––were launched to justify the American elite’s drive for global predominance.
In this vision of terrorism, as a real force or invented phantom, Russia has emerged as the focal point of American expansion. This group is different from those previously discussed; for this group Russia is not a marginal country in the eyes of the American elite, but continues to be a focus of American imperial posture. The American elite is still guided by geopolitical thinking that regards Russia/Eurasia as a pivotal “heartland” and considers that those who control the “heartland” control the world.
Since these groups regard Islamic terrorism as the product of the American intelligence community, they do not usually plan terror against the U.S. or encourage terrorists to change their activity. At the same time, since the U.S. is a major threat to Russia, Russia should be actively involved in a policy leading to weakening the U.S. They plan other ways to respond to American actions; for example, they believe Russia should not only ally itself closely to powers hostile to the U.S. (e.g., China and Iran), but also do its best to promote these countries’ rearmament. Russia should actively help Iran acquire nuclear weapons. In fact, some members of the Russian elite believe that proliferation of nuclear weapons is a powerful way to limit U.S. global influence and directly reduce the danger of terrorism for Russia.
Islamic-Russian nationalists have a great deal in common with traditional Eurasianists. For example, they believe in Russia as a powerful imperial state that can exist as a multiethnic state. But their views are in many ways different from those of traditional Eurasianists. First, they have a different vision of the relationship between Russians and the ethnic minorities of the Russian state. They do not believe that ethnic minorities and Russians have been blended into a Eurasian quasi-nation, though Russians and Muslim minorities have lived together for a long time. The second important difference is their approach to the ethnic Russian role in the Russian state. Traditional Eurasianists and related groups of Russian imperial nationalists emphasize that, despite the existence of a “Eurasian” nation in which all ethnic groups are united, ethnic Russians and the Orthodox religion are to be the leading force in Russia/Eurasia––Russians are the “older brothers” of ethnic, including Muslim, minorities.
Proponents of the Islamic version of Eurasianism challenge this relationship, holding that the Russians are declining in numbers and cannot save the state or even be its leader. The Muslim minorities should be the big brother, or at least play the same role as the Russians. The Muslim Eurasianists’ vision of terror is also in many ways different from that of traditional Eurasianists. The traditional Eurasianist view of Islamic terrorism as basically concocted by the U.S. to destabilize Russia is connected with their views of Russian foreign policy.
They regard Muslim countries, for example, Iran, as important allies of Russia/Eurasia, but not as the only or even leading allies. Many European countries, especially those of “Old Europe” such as France and Germany, are also important. For the Muslim variety of Eurasianism, the arrangements are rather different––Muslim countries are the paramount allies of Russia/Eurasia. Islamic terrorists are not seen as a wholesome force, and those who attack Russia are condemned, but in general Muslim Eurasianists have a more benign vision of Islamic terrorism, seeing it as a justifiable response to American aggression and imperial policy.
Islamic radicals are the more radical modification of Muslim Eurasianists. In fact, they are on the border of the Russian elite, with one foot in the Islamic extremist underground. They regard Muslims as the major force shaping present-day global events. But, in contrast to the previous groups, they do not regard Muslims, even those that the U.S. dubbed the “axis of evil,” such as Iran, as radical enough. Moreover, they regard Russia as part of their own “axis of evil,” which also includes Israel and the U.S. Russia could only be a positive revolutionary force by shaking off the existing regime and plunging into anarchy, the best breeding ground for the revolutionary movement. And the best revolutionary groups to fight the U.S., Putin’s Russia, and Israel are the Islamic extremists of all types—from Palestinians to al-Qaeda.
The above-discussed groups are integrated into the elite of present-day Russia, or at least their views are shared by some of the Putin/Medvedev elite. There are others, who at present are not members of the elite, but who should not be overlooked; and their views on terrorism should be taken into account. They could come to power in various ways, or their views could influence the elite in the case of drastic paradigm changes.
Russian Nationalistic Extremists
The nationalist extremist segment of Russians comprises a number of informal but quite widespread groups. These include various skinhead groups whose philosophy is actually fascist. They believe that Russia should belong to ethnic Russians, and that ethnic minorities should be expelled or at least have their power and influence severely limited. They have often engaged in harassing ethnic minorities. Their views on the U.S. and Islamic terrorism are somewhat contradictory. Considerable numbers believe that the U.S. wants to humiliate, marginalize, or even conquer Russia. Some may also entertain the idea that Islamic terrorism has been designed by the U.S. to harm Russia. But their fervent racism, their assumption of a divide between Russians and people of the “Caucasian nationality”––the latter swarthy in appearance and not seen as racial kin of blond Russians—pushes them to see Russia’s problems as mostly caused by people of a foreign race.
They believe that people from the Caucasus and Central Asia attack Russia because of its “white” nature. And this is seen as part of a broader attack on white civilization in general. In this racial contest, the malicious role of the U.S. is downplayed. Some of these extremists even assume that Russia, as a country of “white men” and thus racially close to the U.S., could be a U.S. ally. At least these groups are eager to copy and, if possible, maintain contact with likeminded groups in the West.
This willingness to be an ally of the West, if, of course, the West transforms itself into a racist society, often coexists with isolationist/separatist feelings. Indeed, in their drive to create a Russia free of ethnic minorities, these Russian extremists are ready to plan for a “Republic of Russia.” The Republic of Russia should shed the ethnic enclaves––most of the Caucasus, Tatarstan, and so on––and actually return to its fifteenth-century borders. This feeling goes along with separatist feelings among a considerable part of the Russian population, including ethnic Russians, who hate Moscow, regarding it as an imperial capital that exploits the provinces.
While not all the groups discussed here have engaged in violence or terror, extremists who belong to ethnic minorities indeed have done so. The Chechen rebels, for instance, have been involved in terror in Russia for more than ten years. These ethnic minorities have also been engaged in guerrilla/terrorist activities worldwide; for example, there is evidence that they have been conducting terrorist activities in Afghanistan.
The Chechens’ approach to the U.S. and terrorism against it depends on subgroups among the North Caucasians in general anti-Russian elite. None of them have a good feeling toward the U.S., but they do not all advocate terrorism or are ready to engage in it against the U.S. Some believe the U.S. could play a positive role in weakening Russia. Still, these pro-American groups became quite weak due to the transformation of the Chechen resistance, mostly inspired by nationalistic animus, to universalistic jihadism.
These North Caucasian jihadists regard terror against the U.S. as part of the global war against the infidels. Their vision of this war became structurally similar to that of all the worldwide revolutionary movement as it was visualized by the proponents of radical Marxism in the 20th century. As a matter of fact, jihadism had filled the vacuum after Marxism lost its popularity in the wake of the collapse of the USSR. Its proponents plainly replaced the slogan “Proletariate of all countries unites!” with “True Muslims all over the world unite!” Communism—the omega of world history––was replaced by universal khalifat. Similar to the jihadists all over the world, those jihadists who engaged in their activities in Russia had actively engaged in terror.
The post-Cold War era has created quite a complex geopolitical environment. There are no clear-cut boundaries between friends and foes; and drastically different views on U.S. policy, including on what the Americans call the “war against terror,” can exist inside the elite of the various powers. Russia is a good example. The question whether Putin or Medvedev are pro-American could be answered that, as those who represent the entire gamut of the Russian elite, they are both pro- and anti-American. At the same time, in general, the pro-Western––mostly pro-European––attitude of the majority of the Russian elite pushes Putin and Medvedev to cautiously support the U.S. in the struggle against Islamic extremists. Still, the Russian elite, and even more so the quasi-elite, are quite divided in their views on Russia’s global position and what the country should do in response to terrorist activities. Even extremists often have opposite views on the U.S. geopolitical posture in general and the war on terror in particular.
Moreover, a closer look at the Russian elite—which in a way reflects the view of the global elite—demonstrates the falseness of the oversimplistic political divisions into “good guys,” “bad guys,” and “very bad guys.” The moderate and even generally Western-oriented Russian imperial nationalists might, on occasion, provide an approving nod to terrorists who exclusively fight the U.S. and thus reduce the level of America’s imperial hubris. The neo-fascist Russian radicals might not be adamantly against any type of Muslim terrorism if such acts are directed at what can be regarded as non-whites and thus the primordial enemies of the ethnic Russians, who are seen as the embodiment of the “white,” “Aryan” race. At the same time, the same neo-fascist extremists could willingly stretch out their hands to Americans and Europeans just because, in their view, they are fellow “Aryans,” whose biological/racial bloodlines are more important than political divisions.
It is clear that one cannot easily place views on terror of the Russian elite, or Russians in general, in convenient paradigmatic boxes that could be easily understood and accepted by quite a few Western pundits.