Back in the 1990s, after the shock and uncertianty of the collapse of the Soviet Union had abated, I had a few different surprises in my communications with Russians and encounters with them. I was young and uber naive, but the Russians that I met and talked to were often quite friendly and intelligent. They weren't the vodka swilling, dour villians that I had been expecting. Rather they tended to be jovial, impish, and friendly. And intelligent. And just plain fun to be with. Alexei, Sergei, and others were fun to be with and around. They seemed so interested in the future without recrimination or anger over the Cold War that I was swung around from previous stances about them to genuinely liking them. It's not that unique a pattern. Old prejudices for people are often overcome by being exposed to positive representatives of the Alien. I always knew that they were people, but I didn't realize that we had as much in common as we do. I then took an interest in the xUSSR in a more positive light.
That's when I started being distressed. The Russian economy was in the tank. And it looked to be getting worse. People had stopped having children. Organized crime in Russia made the attempts at it here in the States and in Italy look like pail wannabe attempts instead. I kept wondering where Yeltsin, the energetic young leader that stared down the coup plotters and then marginalized Gorbachev, really was. Additionally, the technology of Russia was behind, at best, yet I kept encountering individuals online - I know, bad me - that kept talking of magitech that would pwnd anything that the West had, especially you obnoxious Americans! Even more troubling than a few kooks was the fact that the Russians started worrying about NATO expanding east. Then there was Kosovo. At that point, I began to wonder if the truth to some of my old suspicions and concerns.
However, I kept the hope that Russia was just going through a rough patch because they were transitioning from the totalitarianist regimes of the Soviet Union to democracy. It looked depressing and over time I thought it would last quite a while. Probably until the last of the old leaders and memories of the Soviet Union had faded away. At that same time I kept thinking that with aid from the West, opening of the markets to Russian goods and vice versa, capitalism in action, all those wonderfully bright people and all those reasources at hand, they'd pull through and join the West as they should have been for the past century. Indeed, even with the protestations about NATO, I had hoped that Russia would join that alliance as a full partner and even the European Union as a full member.
A good friend of mine and I had even had a long talk about this prior to me coming to the SF Bay Area. He saw Putin getting elected as an embracing of the very people that had been pushed out of power and into the criminal element. A bringing them in from the dark, you might say, that would help heal the rifts of Russia at least to some extents and reduce the gawdawful crime. After all, all the people that had been the best and brightest were told everything they'd done and would do was junk prior...and then they were brought back in. I ought to have thought those words through more and not been so accepting of the 'fact' there was 'democracy' in Russia. The truth then wouldn't have been so painful these days. However, before the truth would out and my crushing depression with respect to Russia consume my thoughts of that nation, there would be a whole 'nother step to take place. That would be three months after moving from New Mexico to the Bay Area when the apalling moments of 9/11 would come crashing into our world.
At that point, Russia and the world stood with we, the Americans, to go do a take down on those murdering terrorists. I thought at that moment that Russia was truly, finally, joined us in the West. Here we stood, together, the greatest nations, indeed, nigh on all the nations, to bring down a malignancy that threatened us all. Rahrah! Yet I should have taken into account Putin. I never stared into his eyes and saw his soul, but just reading his own words and watching his actions since Russia started making so much money from the increased oil prices was more than sufficient. No one took into acount Putin. Or Putin's soul.
To take him into account and see him for him, you have to think as he does, and one thing has come through in his own words, jujitsu is a nontrivial part of personal philosophy. He even goes on to say that you need to use a person's strength against him in the authorized biographies. Think about that for a moment. That tells me a lot. In fact, it's exactly what he's down with the US. And Shrub.
Once we were off tied up in two wars - Afghanistan and Iraq - and the oil wealth began to flow into Russia, Putin suddenly saw weakness, began beating his drum, and showed his true colors. Would he have tried the Gas War with Ukraine's Western leaning politicians if he didn't think that the United States was in a very weakened position to respond? Or would he be threatening Poland and the Czech Republic over a very few antiballistic missiles? Or that the two people he's putting forward as his annointed succesors are rabidly anti-West, especially anti-America! Would he have tried desperately with the aid of China to try to leverage the US out of Central Asia especially since our bases there are nearly useless against Russia or China? Or would he have repeatedly found ways to abrogate agreements with Western companies and force them out of the country? Or ban all those NGOs? Or appoint the formerly elected governors of the regions of Russia? The list goes on.
The fact of the matter is that there's no democracy in Russia. Its a sham. Read Putin's own words and you can see even he getting into the Presidency had little or nothing to do with democracy. His annointment of successors makes it even worse. The election will at best be a sham. More likely they wouldn't even have anything close to outside monitoring since that would be 'foreign influence'. Putin is even talking of rewriting history to his tastes, with more favourable textbooks. I guess Big Brother never left the building after all.
I mean, consider what should have been: even with the worst demographics of the next century, Rusia would have been the single most populous country in the EU. It's representation in the EU parliament would have been greater than Germany, France, or Britain. It would have been one of the most, if not the most influential nations therein. As an EU member they would have had part of the great eurozone economy, which is doing rather well over time. As a NATO member, their defense would have assured and they would have gained access to all that the West had to offer militarily. Protected and integrated they would have been a fantastic place to do business with, been allies with, and even politic with. Yet, that was the dream and dream it will remain. A bitter and rapidly fading dream at that.
Putin and his potential successors have made it clear: the sad and depresisng truth of the matter is that Russia is on course to try to be our enemy again. It is certainly not our friend.