Hampden-Sydney is the parent institution of both the Medical College of Virginia and Union Theological Seminary (Presbyterian).
Wilson Center Newsletter March 2012
Whither Russian-American Relations in the Putin Era?
The re-election on March 4th of Vladimir V. Putin for a third term -- and possibly a fourth -- as President of the Russian Federated Republic, gives us pause to consider where Russian-American relations may be headed. After all is said and done, Russian inter-continental ballistic missiles are still in place with major American cities and other strategic American targets in their guidance systems. This means, above all, we must recognize that, while international terrorists can cripple one of our cities with a weapon of mass destruction (WMD), the Russians still possess the means to destroy our society with one strategic missile salvo.
In this context, to provide a brief insight into at least one aspect of current Russian-American relations, I would like to refer to an extract from a formerly classified end-of-tour briefing given to my superiors when I came back from my last Moscow assignment over forty years ago. I include it in the original language just to show that some things have not changed along the Russian-American axis:
"...The Soviets have profound respect for the U.S., especially for our ability to produce in an economic sense. They have been pursuing Stalin's will-o-the-wisp goal of 'catching up with and surpassing the United States' in productivity ever since the 1930's and still have not attained it. On the other hand, we should not lose sight of the fact that the Soviets mistrust the United States and are basically afraid of us. They picture us as killing our presidents, assassinating our minority political leaders, demonstrating in the streets, criticizing ourselves and slashing at each other without mercy. As one senior Soviet military figure put it to me: '(Russian) You Americans are crazier n' hell! You are a temperamental and immature society. No one can predict how you may react on a given occasion.' Historically, they did guess us wrong during the Cuban missile crisis. They also mis-guessed us in Indo-China and feel we vastly over-reacted to the problems posed for us there. In a sense, although this is dangerous, our very unpredictability may act as a certain deterrent for them.
"The Soviets seem to believe their own propaganda that we are disintegrating as a society, and they worry about what we may do in our death throes. Will we pull a 'Samson-in-the-temple' act, a sort of 'goetterdammerung?' At the same time, they will not hesitate to do whatever they can discreetly to hasten our demise. Their strategy is to press us politically, economically, psychologically wherever we appear weak and where the risks are slight, particularly in the Low Intensity Conflict arena in the underdeveloped countries of the world; to bleed us and to embarrass us, while maintaining across-the-board military superiority -- especially in strategic weapons systems. What I am predicting -- in essence -- is ultimately increasing Soviet activity in Communist-inspired Insurgency/Counter-Insurgency.
"In summary, there is a definite dichotomy--if not trichotomy--in Soviet attitudes towards us, as one perceives these attitudes from a close-up vantage point in Moscow:
A. In face-to-face contacts, the Soviets profess a desire for our friendship, want the benefits of trade with us, are sensitive regarding our relationships with the Chinese. Leading Soviet military figures have stated openly to me in private conversations, 'If we could only get together and reach a true common understanding, we could take care of all the world's problems. '(Russian) Together we could decide everything.'
(Needless to say, our allies do not enjoy that kind of talk.)
B. The Soviets respect us but are deathly afraid of us. They further are inclined to over-estimate our military capability and to worry that we could be reckless in employing it.
C. Finally, they still view us as the ideological enemy of long-standing, which means that an adversary relationship between the US and the USSR continues to exist and is not likely soon to go away."
Some years after the briefing events described above, I went back to Moscow (while the Communists were still in power) during their annual celebration of the October Revolution and once again watched the spectacular 7 November military parade across Red Square. When the military part of the parade was over, I came down out of the stands where foreign diplomats had been assembled and sought to greet some of my old acquaintances from the Soviet military high command who were in attendance. For the most part, they reacted to my appearance openly and with relative warmth.
As I approached one senior Soviet officer, I used the traditional: "How are things?...What's new?" He responded with the idiomatic: "There's nothing new...Everything is as it has been."
At the risk of offending him and spoiling the conversation, I ventured the remark: "Well, really, Comrade General, is that not an impossibility in terms of your Marxian dialectic? How can everything remain as it has been?"
With a peculiar gleam in his eye, he answered:
"(Russian) Well, Samuel, Son-of-Jasper, I will tell you..."
"(Russian) According to Marx, they say: 'Everything is in motion; everything is in the process of change."
"(Russian) However, here in Moscow, everything is in motion, and nothing ever changes...." (underlining supplied)
All of which reminds us that, while the Soviet Communists disappeared from the political map over two decades ago, it might be well for us to remember the old saying: "The more things change, the more they remain the same."