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Who are Russia's enemies?


MOSCOW (RIA Novosti political commentator Vladimir Simonov). - "Tell me who your enemy is and I will tell you who you are."

This phrase could be easily applied to the results of the recent Levada Center poll of which states are seen as Russia's enemies and which as friends.

The results of the poll of 1,600 Russian adults were given wide coverage in Russian media, but it will take some time to analyze them because the new list of enemies is a bombshell. Respondents named Latvia (49%), Lithuania (42%), Georgia (38%) and Estonia (32%) as Russia's greatest enemies, while the list of friends includes Belarus (46%), Germany (23%), Kazakhstan (20%), India (16%), and France (13%).

The first striking thing is the absence of the United States, the archenemy of yesteryear. Compared to the recent past, public hostility to the U.S. has plummeted. Most Russian analysts of the poll's results have not even noticed this: America does not interest them either, although just a few years ago most Russian and American political scientists predicted a rapid growth of anti-American sentiments in Russia.

This has not happened, for two main reasons.

The first was a radical change in international situation and public sentiments. In the 1990s, the Russia-U.S. relationship was largely determined by conflicts such as the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and "unscrupulous" U.S. diplomatic maneuvers around Kosovo. Today there are no disagreements of this scale between the two countries. On the contrary, after 9/11 Moscow quickly became an ally of Washington in the global war on terror.

The second reason was the influence of President Vladimir Putin's personal stand on public opinion in Russia. Russians generally trust the president, especially his foreign policy pronouncements. Every Russian citizen who watches television knows about Putin's close relations with U.S. President George Bush. Recent official foreign-policy documents invariably mention America as "a strategic partner."

The list of enemies of the Soviet Union changed throughout the 20th century. In the 1920s, the Soviet people viewed Poland and Britain as their main enemies, while Nazi Germany was public enemy No. 1 during World War II.

After the war, Germany was replaced by America, the "abode of soulless imperialism," opponent of progressive socialist regimes in Cuba, Vietnam and North Korea, and "factory of spies," such as Francis Gary Powers, who piloted the U-2 spy plane shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960.

China was also an enemy for some time, owing to its "archaic" (according to Nikita Khrushchev) and "neo-Stalinist" (Leonid Brezhnev) ideology and its territorial claims to Damansky (Zhen Bao Island).

The Levada Center poll results were therefore shocking: in public opinion Russia's enemies are smaller and less significant. In a way, this can be explained by changes in the interpretation of the word "enemy." In the past, the enemies of the Soviet Union and Soviet Russia posed above all a military threat, whereas Russia's current enemies have moved from underground nuclear bunkers to the level of the crowd. Respondents were not thinking about the countries that really threaten Russia, but countries that have somehow wounded its pride.

According to this logic, it is no surprise that Latvia, Lithuania and Georgia form the top of the new hierarchy. The image of the Baltic states as enemies was created by their leaders. Russia sees them as enemies because 700,000 ethnic Russians are "non-citizens" in Latvia and Estonia, which extend state honors and privileges to former Nazi henchmen, Waffen SS troops and other carriers of the "brown plague."

Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga added fuel into the fire by speaking about Russian war veterans' "tradition" of "putting vobla [dried fish] on a paper and drinking vodka" during VE Day celebrations. She also had poor enough taste to say that the Salaspils camp in Latvia, where the Nazis carried out medical experiments on children and 90,000 people were killed, was simply a "corrective labor camp."

As for Georgia, Russians logically disliked the haughtiness of Georgian leaders' attitude to Russia. In addition, they think that President Mikhail Saakashvili is on George Soros's payroll, while Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili is in the pay of France.

It is somewhat comical that citizens of such a big country as Russia view international lightweights like Latvia, Lithuania and Georgia as their country's foremost enemies. This is probably a reflection of Russians' state of mind and their search for a new identity.

During perestroika, which was marked by rapid socio-economic changes, Russians lost parts of the vast territory of the Soviet Union, which they regard as their homeland; their ideological compass, which disappeared with communism; and the feeling of pride in their country, which is no longer a leader in space exploration, sports and even ballet.

In a way, Russia is a country of wounded pride, and this negative energy is looking for an outlet. The people want a simple answer to the perennial question, "Who is to blame?" As a result, they take out their bitterness on minor states whose authorities are trying, rudely and tactlessly, to kick Russia whenever they can.

This is how a new, toy-like image of the enemy is being born. Russia's enemies today are not a threat but petty bullies. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who apparently shares this view, recently said that, "Russia does not regard any state as a military adversary today. No direct military threat comes to Russia from the CIS states."

In other words, Russia's list of enemies is blank, which suits me fine.

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