Russia-bashing has become the staple of the Western mainstream media in recent months. Some headlines suggest a level of paranoia not seen since the Cold War: “Russia is the world’s biggest threat to democracy.” “Our freedom under assault.” “Nato must strengthen its defenses.” It is unlikely that Russian tanks will be rolling into Western Europe any time soon. Instead, a steady stream of Chinese freight trains is rolling in from the Far East. They make a 12,000-kilometer journey across the Eurasian Land Bridge to Germany, where they unload Chinese flat-screen TVs, notebooks, and tablets. European consumers will use them to watch the news with its daily dose of Russia-bashing.

As the sun rises in the United States, a new day of Russia-demonizing begins. There are new revelations about Russian super hackers, spying Russian diplomats and “bad actors with connections to Putin.” The ostensibly liberal media and formerly dovish Democratic senators have suddenly turned into hawks while repeating a now-familiar mantra: Putin stole the US presidential election from Hillary Clinton. The Democrats had a billion-dollar war chest and overwhelming support from the media, yet a handful of Russian hackers and Internet trolls were able to steal the election. A look at recent history suggests the anti-Russia hysteria is part of a failing attempt to isolate Russia and derail the Eurasian Land Bridge.

Let’s rewind to the Yeltsin years of the 1990s. The end of the Cold War was supposed to be the start of the democratization of Russia and the integration of Russia into the global economy. A team of the best and the brightest American economists descended on Russia to teach the newly liberated Russians the ways and means of democratic capitalism. The only path forward for Russia, the economists told Russian planners, was cold-turkey reform and large-scale privatization. The Russians took the bait and the results were devastating. Within a few years, a handful of Yeltsin cronies stripped Russia’s state enterprises to the bone and moved hundreds of billions of dollars to tax heavens in the West. Prices of mansions on the French Riviera, prime London real estate, and European soccer clubs went through the roof.

The Grand Chess Board

While the newly minted Russian billionaires sailed the Mediterranean in super yachts, impoverished Russian grandmothers appeared on the snow-covered streets of Moscow trying to sell their medicine to buy food. They learned the hard way that democratic capitalism has winners and losers if the deck is stacked. Millions of Russians fell into poverty. Russia was a wounded giant, barely able to feed and defend itself, but Nato expanded right up to the Russian border. Money from the West flowed to former Soviet republics in support of various “color revolutions.” With the huge wealth transfer to the West, unrest at the border and the encirclement by Nato, many Russians concluded that the real enemy was within.

With the alcoholic Boris Yeltsin in charge, they were partly right. The other part was Russia’s place in Western geopolitical designs. In 1997, Jimmy Carter’s former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote The Grand Chessboard, in which he predicted that the struggle for “world supremacy” would be played out at the “Eurasian chessboard.” The trip wire in this geopolitical minefield: Ukraine. Brzezinski wrote: “If Moscow regains control over Ukraine, with its 52 million people and major resources as well as access to the Black Sea, Russia automatically again regains the wherewithal to become a powerful imperial state, spanning Europe and Asia.”

Derailing history

Brzezinski protégés remain influential in the US State Department, American think tanks and among European Atlanticists. Implicit in the Brzezinski doctrine: Russia is too important to leave to the Russians. With an economy smaller than California, Russia may not have the wherewithal to become “a powerful imperial state spanning Europe and Asia,” it does have a crucial asset. The country is the Land Bridge between industrial giant China and the EU. Linking these two enormous economies would create a Eurasian economic area and would make China and the EU less dependent on the United States, and thereby less dependent on the US dollar.

Used by permission from Merics (Mercator Institute for China Studies)

History has a way of defying the grandest of grand strategies. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), so-called free-trade agreements but conveniently designed to economically isolate Russia and China, are virtually dead. Their demise illustrates the stunning role-reversal of the American left and right. President Barrack Obama actively promoted the free-trade deals, while Trump and many of his voters are against. Not surprisingly, Obama has since been exposed as a closet hawk in liberal clothes.

The mantra that Russia stole the US election will probably continue until the next election (or until evidence is found that it was the US government under Obama that interfered with the US election to help Hillary Clinton – see here and here). For now, the political establishment and its compliant media have succeeded in tainting Putin enough to forestall any plans President Donald Trump may have had for rapprochement with Russia.

But is it a Pyrrhic victory? A recent article by Michael Hudson, Trump is Obama’s Legacy, explains how the political left, the former champions of the poor and the working class, sold its soul to the billionaire class while perfecting the art of political expediency. Not without irony, Hudson quotes Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotski to sound a warning: “Fascism is the result of the failure of the left to provide an alternative.”

China, unperturbed by it all, is playing the long game. It is implementing the 13th iteration of its five-year plan and rapidly expanding the One Belt One Road. The giant network, probably the largest infrastructure project in the world today, will ultimately connect more than 60 countries with four and a half billion people. Nothing focuses the mind like a five-year plan, and thinking 10 or 20 years ahead to set priorities for the common good. Once the Russia bashers get over their tantrums, they should try to formulate a few five-year plans themselves. China could send some of its best and brightest economists to help them get started.

Jan Krikke is a former Japan correspondent for various media, former managing editor of Asia 2000 in Hong Kong, and author of Creating a Planetary Culture: European Science, Chinese Art, and Indian Transcendence (2023).

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