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Russia Has Legitimate National Interests Which Sometimes Don't Align With Washington's Grand Vision for the World. Sorry?

Washington and Moscow will always have conflicting interests. Memo to Ash Carter: That doesn't mean we need to toss diplomacy and common sense out the window.


This post first appeared on Russia Insider


It's too bad George Kennan is no longer with us. The revered statesman, who repeatedly warned against Washington's needlessly antagonistic attitude toward post-Soviet Russia, would be in for a real treat if he were alive and well, scrolling through the latest Daily Beast headlines, or Ash Carter's most recent crime against people with brain cells.

In a "hard-hitting" speech at Oxford University, Carter "accused Russia on Wednesday of sowing seeds of global instability" and undermining the "principled international order". The "principled" bit is a real stroke of creative genius, reminiscent of a college freshman flipping through his thesaurus until he finds the most perfect and completely inappropriate adjective that will give his total baloney midterm paper the zest it so desperately needs.

<figcaption>Putin inspecting "unprincipled" Russian tanks</figcaption>
Putin inspecting "unprincipled" Russian tanks

Of course, Ash Carter is not a college student. He is Secretary of Defense; his job is to exacerbate — not diffuse — conflicts, and it would be insincere of us to suggest that he has neglected his duties. Just read what he told those poor moppets at Oxford:

"Despite the progress that we made together in the aftermath of the Cold War, Russia's actions in recent years — with its violations of Ukrainian and Georgian territorial integrity, its unprofessional behavior in the air, in space, and in cyberspace, as well as its nuclear saber rattling - all have demonstrated that Russia has clear ambition to erode the principled international order," Carter said.

A few points, if you will allow us.

1. Your humble Moscow correspondent has visited Donetsk (twice), and we don't think it's an overstatement to suggest that Carter's assessment of the situation in Ukraine lacks — and we're being very generous here — "nuance." Incidentally, the Donetsk residents we spoke with were primarily concerned with the Ukrainian army violating their right to not be murdered. Nevermind the "territorial integrity" of their bombed-out homes, compliments of right-wing punitive battalions.

2. Russia's "violations of Georgian territorial integrity". Bold.

Russian aggression 101
Russian aggression 101

What's next? The Soviet Union violated the territorial integrity of Nazi Germany? (Of course, according to Ukraine's most celebrated statesman.)

3. Russia's "unprofessional behavior in the air". Carter is probably referring to all the Russian spy planes and jet fighters that cruise along the East Coast with their transponders turned off, despite Moscow's promise to keep transponders on during a joint NATO-Russia summit in July. Typical Kremlin back-stabbing.

4. And what the actual heck has Russia done in space? Temporarily suspend free rides for American astronauts to the International Space Station? Last time we checked, Russia is more than happy to sell the U.S. rocket engines it needs to spy on Russia.

Russian space aggression
Russian space aggression

That's like the dictionary definition of being a good space neighbor.

5. Russia's "actions" in cyber space: No. Nein. Nyet. Please just stop. Anne Applebaum just came out with some new word salad about how Russia is going to hack into our precious electronic voting machines and elect Bart Simpson as president of "Dissolve NATO Tomorrow". Not to mention the DNC hacks, carried out personally by Vladimir Putin. This topic deserves a separate internet article.

6. On Carter's last point concerning "nuclear saber rattling", we must concede. Russia is absolutely committed to starting a nuclear war. The sooner the better, honestly.

Look, Carter: You don't have to like Russia. But sweet mercy, is this really how our best and brightest are supposed to conduct international relations? Yes, the United States and Russia often have separate, conflicting interests. And endless squabbling over these competing interests is the price you pay for living on Earth.

What's terrifying though is that at the highest levels of U.S. government, even the possibility that Russia might have legitimate national interests which do not perfectly align with Washington's so-called "principled international order" is dismissed as "Russian violations of territorial integrity" and "irresponsible behavior in the air." Consequently, any attempt on Moscow's part to clarify its role in the world is written off as mindless RT propaganda.

Actually, a quick anecdote on this point. We have a very dear American friend who has a less than flattering opinion of "Putin's Russia." But last time we spoke, he told us something truly remarkable:

"I recently saw an interview with Sergei Lavrov. I still don't agree with a lot of what he said, but Lavrov provided reasonable explanations as to why Russia takes the positions that it does."

Simply put, our dear friend was shocked to learn that Russia has its own national interests, and legitimate reasons to pursue them. This is not a trivial revelation. It's quite difficult — maybe even impossible — to encircle your alleged adversary with military bases and missile silos while simultaneously acknowledging that your dreaded enemy is actually quite reasonable, maybe even at times cooperative and open to compromise.

This is why Ash Carter does the things that he does. As for diplomacy, compromise, peace — whatever you want to call it — anything less than re-armament (or ideally, war) is bad for the stockholders.

Returning to our delicious fantasy of raising George Kennan from the dead: Faced with the reality that his entire life's work was ultimately for nothing, we imagine Kennan going the way of disenchanted CNN reporter Richard Quest, who was once found sitting on a bench in Central Park with "some drugs in his pocket, [and] a rope around his neck that was tied to his genitals."

The End.


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