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The Many Ghosts of George Kennan

No one likes to be over edited. Least of all Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. So much so that he pulled his article “Containing Russia: Back To The Future?” [Part One and Part Two] from publication in Foreign Affairs because, according to a statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry:

The Editors, with reference to their own standards, substantially edited the article, if not censored it. It was cut by 40%, losing a considerable part of its original meaning. Some editing even meant that Sergey Lavrov was to subscribe to certain Foreign Policy positions of the present US Administration, to which Russia objects on grounds of principle. Having gone through that all and motivated exclusively by the interests of strengthening US-Russian relations, we had to face an utterly artificial and unacceptable demand by the Editors. We were required to supplement the article’s title “Containing Russia: back to the future?” with a subtitle which read “averting a new Cold War” or “a conflict between Russia and America.”

FA editor James Hoge, speaking in an interview with RFE/RL, rejected “all suggestions of censorship” and that Lavrov’s retraction “was a total surprise” and was “kind of baffling.”

The editorial dispute according to Hoge concerns his request that Lavrov provide a subheading for the article, which is standard practice for FA articles. But Lavrov “balked at presenting one. We then said, we really have to have it, all the essays have it, it’s really a format formality, you can choose the wording you want, if you want a few suggestions, we’ll make them, which we did. And the next thing we know, he just sends us an email withdrawing the piece with no explanation.” In regard to Lavrov’s claim the edited version would aggravate US-Russian relations, Hoge replied, “Well that’s nonsense. The piece — you can see because the Russian Embassy thinks it is so aggravating they have put it on the wire (newswires), which we would have done too, but we didn’t want to violate his copyright — it’s a very tame piece.”

The thrust of the piece is a reply to Yuliya Tymoshenko’s May/June 2007 article “Containing Russia.” That article, which opens with a reference to George Kennan’s “Long Telegram” raises the specter of Russia’s “age-old imperial designs,” this time fueled by its oil-gas empire, and argues that “the West must seek to create counterweights to Russia’s expansionism and not place all its chips on Russian domestic reform.” Basically it seems to me with her arguments about the need to create a “collective energy market” i.e. the EU should negotiate energy deals collectively rather than on a state by state basis, while at the same time promoting “democracy and free markets” amount to a new form of containment policy. Yet, despite all these, Tymoshenko maintains that “I do not believe that a new Cold War is under way or likely.” You could have fooled me.

The article is also a plea for Western European and American backing of Ukraine. “By strengthening our independence,” Tymoshenko writes, “we can shape Europe’s peace and unity as we roll back the crony capitalism and lawlessness that are now the norms of the post-Soviet world.”

My favorite line is “Russia’s leaders deserve understanding for their anguished struggle to overcome generations of Soviet misrule.” As if Russia’s leaders are wounded children that need nurturing, understanding, but also a bit of tough love. I doubt infantalizing Russia’s leaders will hardly garner their cooperation.

If anything, Tymoshenko’s article makes it crystal clear where she stands in all this: Save us from the Russians because your future is tied with ours.

Lavrov, of course, sees right through this ruse. “The mere posing of the question [of whether or not to contain Russia],” he writes, “suggests that for some almost nothing has changed since the Cold War.” Lavrov never mentions Tymoshenko or Ukraine specifically and mostly addresses the US as if the former is merely a puppet of the latter. So despite all his claims that the Cold War is anachronistic and “it is time to bury the Cold War legacy and establish structures that meet the imperatives of this era,” Lavrov nevertheless speaks in terms of a West-East binary. Still he does well to draw attention to the “limits of force” (a direct shot at Washington) in dealing with some of the crisis that plague the world. But his scope for those problems are limited to those which directly affect Russia’s interests: Iran, Kosovo, and NATO expansion. While serious issues for sure, but besides nuclear proliferation, the real crises are yet to come.

If Russia wants to be a partner in global cooperation in dealing with the world’s problems it needs to take stock of how many of its current domestic problems are also global ones: the increasing gap between rich and poor, migration/immigration of redundant populations, the rise in ethno-religio-nationalist radicalism, the increasingly collapse of secular political movements as vehicles for political change, the rise of low intensity political violence by groups that lack state power, and the “balkanization” of the Middle East and Central Asia as a result of all this.

It seems to me that no binary can encompass the totality of these processes. Not East-West, nor North-South. Because when you look at the topography of the world, conditions previously relegated to the former are now found in the latter, and vice versa. Such is the bequeathal of globalization.

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