My first experience with Russia was in 1958. I was 14 years old and my father had talked the television station (KTTV in Los Angeles) where he was a producer to pay for taking us to report on what it was like for an American family to visit Moscow.
It was a very spooky and surreal time to be in the Soviet Union back then. Stalin’s waxy corpse was still enshrined next to Lenin’s in the Red Square Mausoleum. I still have a host of vivid memories – and one that really stuck was the fascination Russian kids had for a ballpoint pen. They had never seen one. “A country that doesn’t know how to make ballpoint pens can be had,” was my thought at the time. From that moment on, I knew that someday, with the right US President, we could get rid of the Soviet Union.
But also what struck me was how friendly the Russian kids were. They had been propagandized since birth about how evil the American capitalist warmongering imperialists were, yet there was no hostility towards us, nothing but genuine warmth. With the exception of Soviet government apparatchiks, most Russian adults were the same way.
I use “Russian” and “Soviet” interchangeably because the only Soviet people we met were Russians in Moscow, but also to emphasize that the Soviet Union was merely the Imperialist Empire of Czarist Russia with Marxism-Leninism as its religious justification. This is why the hope that Russians would embrace freedom and democracy once liberated from Communist tyranny in 1991 was delusional. Their egos, so dependent upon being imperialist masters, collapsed once their colonial subjects were free to stop taking their orders.
Yet, the frustrating yet, is that anyone who has spent time with individual Russians knows what wonderful people they can be, what good friends they can be. They can be an enigma wrapped in a riddle, as Churchill observed, but they are nonetheless a Western people, a Christian people belonging to Western Civilization. And for that reason, as well as for our own national security, we must now come to their rescue.
Already flat on their backs, the “loss” of Ukraine could be the final blow. What is most likely to happen is the opposite of what we hope – that the example of millions of Ukrainians waking up from their oppressed torpor to demand their destiny will be an inspiration for Russians to do the same. Instead, Russians will shrink further from the West, into the depressed gloom of resentment and a recidivist Russian nationalism.
We’ve got to do our best to prevent this, for if we don’t, China will take over most of what is now Russia.
The fact is that Russia is dying. There were 150 million people in Russia when the Soviet Union fell in 1991. There are less than 140 million today. With a death rate that far exceeds the birth rate, and the birth rate half of replacement rate, Russia faces demographic doom – which means it is going to vanish as a nation.
But demography really isn’t destiny, as so often claimed, because people can will it otherwise. A “natalist” movement is spreading among Russia’s young people – just as one is spreading in Red State America – who want to have large families with lots of children, and define their lives primarily as parents. There is hope in Russia – and we must nurture it.
George Bush and Condi Rice are aware of this. They lost it for Putin some time ago (the turning point was Putin going after Khodorkovsky and Yukos Oil), but realize they have a delicate dance to perform. Ukraine is now out of Russia’s “orbit.” That’s the take – now there must be a give. Expect to see Viktor Yushchenko, soon after he is overwhelmingly elected on December 26, encouraged to be magnanimous towards Russia. This involves a place called Sevastopol.
In 1954, Nikita Khrushchev capriciously redrew internal Soviet borders, taking the entire Crimean Peninsula along the Black Sea out of Russia and placing it in Ukraine – thus even though it is ethnic Russian, Crimea was inherited by an independent Ukraine in 1991. The Russian Black Sea naval fleet is based in the large sheltered deepwater harbor of Sevastopol in Crimea. There is no other place to accommodate the fleet’s 130 ships, even at the new Russian base being built at Novorossiysk (on the Black Sea coast that Russia still owns).
Sevastopol is a Russian city with a Russian culture 220 years old, since Catherine the Great. The Bush White House will be pressing Yushchenko to let it remain so, and refrain from evicting the Black Sea fleet. The thinking is that the virus of democracy will not immediately spread from Ukraine to Russia, but will do so only after Russians see a Ukraine that both joins the West and cooperates constructively with them at the same time.
The White House thinking goes further – much further, far beyond Ukraine-Russia relations. It is becoming increasingly obvious that America must develop a global policy towards China as a possible strategic threat. This requires an alliance of major allies. They are: Japan, India, and Russia. Especially Russia.
All of Russia’s Far East province of Primorski Krai used to belong to China. If Russia does not resuscitate and keeps getting weaker, China will seize it and much of Siberia as well. The worry and fear Russia has over the West and America taking over its “sphere of influence” is displaced 180 degrees: China is an enormous threat to Russia’s continued existence. Further: A Chinese Siberia would face us across the Bering Straits.
We need a resuscitated Russia to restrain Chinese imperialist nationalism. Only America can resuscitate Russia. The resuscitation dance will require a political Fred Astaire to do the steps right – and Russia is no Ginger Rogers. Russia will be exasperating and infuriating and will need chastisement as often as encouragement.
But with patience, we may see the day when Russia finally figures it out, that it is part of Christian Western Civilization. It never has because, Russians argue, Russia never had a Renaissance. Well, better late than never. Expect Condi and GW to tell the Russian people that now is the best opportunity in their history to have a Russian Renaissance.