The Cold War Is Over, by Peter Hitchens, who lived as a foreign correspondent in Moscow and writes as one frustrated by the West’s misunderstanding of modern Russia.
On Russia’s supposed expansionism:
And so, as all around me rage against the supposed aggression and wickedness of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, I cannot join in. Despite the fact that Moscow has abandoned control of immense areas of Europe and Asia, self-appointed experts insist that Russia is an expansionist power. Oddly, this “expansion” only seems to be occurring in zones that Moscow once controlled…
On Russia’s centuries long precarious security situation:
My country boasts that it has not been invaded for one thousand years. The U.S. has not really been invaded at all, unless you count Britain’s 1814 rampage through Washington, DC (almost exactly two years after Napoleon Bonaparte had made a far more destructive and less provoked attack upon Moscow).
But Russia is invaded all the time — by the Tatars, the Poles, the Lithuanians, the Swedes, the French, us British, the Germans, the Japanese, the Germans again: They keep coming. Nor are these invasions remote history. On the main airport road into Moscow, at Khimki, stands a row of steel dragon-teeth anti-tank barriers, commemorating the arrival there, before Christmas 1941, of Hitler’s armies. The Nazis could see Ivan the Great’s tall white and gold bell tower glittering amid the snow in the Kremlin, but they never got any nearer.
The usual Russian term for safety or security, bezopasnost, is a negative word meaning “without danger” (bez = “without”; opasnost = “danger”). The natural state of affairs is danger.
Safety, for Russians, is something to be achieved by neutralizing a danger that is presumed to exist at all times. From this follows a particular attitude to life and government. If the U.S. had China on the 49th Parallel and Germany on the Rio Grande, and a long land border with the Islamic world where the Pacific Ocean now is, it might be a very different place. …
Russia is a strong state with a country, rather than a country with a strong state. If it were otherwise, it would have gone the way of the Lithuanian Empire or, come to that, the Golden Horde.
Hitchens’ own sense of ‘danger’ while in Russia:
There was nothing much, really, between me and China but a failing power, trembling in its armor. In those moments, I found myself wanting a Russia more muscular, not less so.
Communism’s “permanent warping” of a generation in atheism:
They had been marked for life, and it was not their own fault. They felt this wound, and so did their children, who in many cases have turned toward the cross their parents had been taught to despise, because they have seen what a world without Christ actually looks like. Would that their Western counterparts, who think atheism bold and original, could have that knowledge without the accompanying pain.
Hitchens on the decline of the twin horrors of the Soviet era, the death of Marxism-Leninism at home and expansion abroad:
Nor, it seems, has anyone noticed the withdrawal of Moscow’s power from 700,000 square miles of territory which it once held down with boots and tanks and secret policemen. … There is much to criticize in Russia’s foreign policy, especially if one is a Ukrainian nationalist, but the repossession of Crimea does not signal a revival of the Warsaw Pact. It is instead a limited and minor action in the context of this conquered and reconquered stretch of soil, the ugly but unexceptional act of a regional power.
Here I risk being classified as an apologist for Vladimir Putin. I am not. I view him as a sinister tyrant. The rule of law is more or less absent under his rule. He operates a cunning and cynical policy toward the press. Criticism of the government is perfectly possible in small-circulation magazines and obscure radio stations, but quashed whenever it threatens the state and its controlled media. Several of the most serious allegations against Putin — alleged murders of journalists and politicians — have not been proven.
On the West’s lack of a clear enemy:
Mikhail Gorbachev’s feline spokesman, Gennadi Gerasimov, once teased suspicious Western correspondents by sneering at them in the early days of the great perestroika and glasnost experiment, “We have done the cruelest thing to you that we could possibly have done. We have deprived you of an enemy.” … Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West has struggled to find a new bogeyman… So what a relief to return to the old and trusted Russian menace, even if it does not really exist and its supposed aggression consists mainly of retreats.
The glimmer of hope for Russia:
The misreading of Russia’s geopolitical situation is especially sad because for the first time in many decades there is much to hope for in Moscow. Out of utopian misery has come the prospect of rebirth. It is as yet incipient. But I see great possibilities in it, in the many once-blighted churches now open and loved and full again, in the reappearance of symbols of pre-Bolshevik Russia, in the growth of a generation not stunted and pitted by poisoned air and food, nor twisted by Communist ethics. …
If Russia is ever to become a country in which safety is normal and danger an aberration, we must understand the depths to which they were forced to sink and from which they are now slowly emerging. It is time not for a New Cold War, but for the Consolation of All Sorrows. If we do not recognize this, there will be many more sorrows to be consoled, here and there.