For nearly a decade, challenging United States' dominance on the global arena has been the ideological cornerstone of Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy. However, although they call for a multi-polar world order, what Russian diplomats really want is to restore Russia’s lost grandeur and to overthrow America as a superpower. With prominent examples from European history, Aleksander Yanov demonstrates how the absence of a global leader, such as the United States today, could hurl the world into chaos.
I have long believed that Russian anti-Americanism, integral to the Putin era, is an anomaly. Unlike other European nations, where public opinion about America is actually contingent on U.S. foreign policy, Russians don’t need current events to ground their feelings. For instance, in 2006, when George W. Bush was president, the number of Russians with favorable opinions of the U.S. was equivalent to the numbers in France and Germany. In 2011, the number in Russia went down, while the number in Europe rose. Last March, in an interview with the Voice of America, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said that the level of anti-Americanism in Russia "came as a surprise for everyone in Washington." But what is the source of Russia's strange resentment?
Аs a former superpower, Russia is deeply troubled by its sudden drop in stature. However, considering the examples of France and Germany, this alone is insufficient as an explanation for its resentment. Like Russia, France and Germany are fallen world leaders. France ruled Europe from 1800 to 1815 and 1853 to 1871; Germany from 1870 to 1914 and 1939 to 1945. Once Europe's fearsome rulers, both ended up mercilessly cast off Olympus. Not only were they diminished, but, unlike Russia, they were also occupied to boot. And yet they accepted their fates. There is more to Russia’s hatred than simple mourning for former glory.
Recently, filmmaker Slava Tsukerman published an article on the Snob magazine website that proved rather controversial. In it, he listed what he sees as the greatest perils of Putin-endorsed anti-Americanism. These include:
• Seeking external causes for Russia’s problems instead of internal ones, which prevents these problems from being solved.
• Senseless military expenditures.
• Supporting Russia's real enemies, such as Iran, just because they are America's enemies.
• Cultivating outdated patterns of thought that lead to ignorance of the true contemporary world order and, consequently, innovation, which will lead the country to ruin.
Unfortunately, Tsukerman's argument is as poorly received in the nation at large as it is on the online forum. The problem is that in Russia, people don’t just dislike America, they hate it. “In my social circle (intelligentsia), I am the only Americanophile. When my colleagues start deriding me for it, they say such nonsense that I can only put my head in my hands,” comments Katerina Murashova, a psychologist practicing in St. Petersburg. “It’s convenient for many people to hold onto this bipolar worldview.”
Why is it convenient? “Perhaps because America seems more dangerous as a potential enemy,” says one commenter. “The U.S. is no herbivore,” continues another. "Some obvious examples show that it is an aggressive predator that makes no bones about doing away the weak… Russia is weak now… Fear and envy – can there be a more powerful cocktail?”
Yet another Snob reader pointed out that, if Russia and the U.S. switched roles, Russophobia would spread over the world “because a strong and wealthy Russia would impose its idea of 'sovereign democracy' on other nations, and no one wants that.”
Unfortunately, none of the discussion participants brought up the fact that Russia had already been the world leader twice. Both times, it was fiercely hated, to the extent that during the reign of Nikolai I, known as the era of Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality, Russian students felt compelled to conceal their nationality abroad. According to 19th century Russian poet Fyodor Tiutchev, at that time, Europeans saw Russia as “the cannibal of the century.” In the second period of its greatest influence, between 1945 and 1991, especially following the harsh crackdown on the Hungarian Uprising and the Prague Sping, Russia was again reviled.
It was the same with other superpowers, from Napoleon's France to Hilter's Germany. Hatred of this kind was typical of the brief (in historical terms) “age of superpowers" because no nations wish to be told how to live.
The Roots of Russia’s Hatred
There are two important preliminary questions for studying superpowers. First, we need to look at what was happening in Europe between the fall of the Roman Empire and the emergence of the first superpower, Napoleonic France, which ended up dominating the continent by virtue of its military superiority. Secondly, we need to understand why history would recreate an empire of this kind, nearly forgotten since the Roman Empire.
A brief answer to the first question is that between the Roman and Napoleonic Empires, Europe shook in the chaos of a multipolar world order. In this paradoxical situation, I see the roots of Russia’s hatred. The current diplomacy and propaganda machine are working in aims of returning to that chaos. It's a revanchist mentality: yes, Russia is no longer a superpower, but the U.S., its former adversary, should not be one anymore, either. This is Putin’s dream, broadcast around the clock on state-controlled television networks, and preventing our technological and academic intelligentsia from asking themselves a key question: what would the world look like if America were no longer a superpower?
History can answer that question, as well.
The Chaos of the Multipolar World
The term ‘multipolar world order’ suggests that there is no dominant superpower.The defining feature of this world is an endless war of everyone against everyone. For instance, take the a timeline of the Age of Enlightenment:
1733 – the war between France, Austria, and Russia for the Polish throne;
1733-1735 – the war of France and Spain against Austria;
1735-1739 –the war of Russia and Austria against Turkey;
1740-1748 – the war of Prussia and Austria for the Austrian succession;
1756-1763 – the Seven Years’ War between Russia and Prussia;
1768-1774 – the Russo-Turkish war.
Thirty out of forty years were spent in long, bloody wars. If this is the multipolar world Putin is dreaming of, it would be difficult to describe it as anything but a violent jungle. It is the proof of why the world needs a superpower: to put an end to the European ‘jungle wars’ and, in crude terms, to save civilization.