Westerners carefully distinguish between Russians and the Russian state, showing sympathy to the former and concern about the behavior of the latter, the kind of distinction even Stalin made between the Nazis and the German people but one the Putin regime does not, instead exploiting the basest nationalistic feelings, Vladislav Inozemtsev says.
In an RBC commentary, the Moscow economist and analyst writes that the Russian government is “teaching Russians to be afraid of the surrounding world and, therefore, politicians in Moscow tell tales about how people in this world hate Russians” (rbc.ru/opinions/politics/28/06/2017/59539f189a7947230ea53eb7).
“In my view,” Mr. Inozemtsev says, “such rhetoric discredits the Russian political class by demonstrating both the low level of understanding of what is taking place today in the world and a general inadequacy of the [Russian] political elite, which is living in a reality invented by itself” rather than in real reality.
Everyone must remember, he continues, that “the term ‘Russophobia’ refers precisely to Russians… and not to the Russian state.” But the Kremlin wants to conflate the two in order to force Russians to think that the West opposes them and not just the policies of Vladimir Putin and his entourage.
Any Russians who have travelled or lived abroad can confirm that ordinary people in the West are not hostile to the Russian people. Indeed, many of them are extremely sympathetic. What they are hostile to is the aggressive actions and statements of Mr. Putin and his team – moves that they quite reasonably see as a threat to the world and “are beginning to fear.”
The distance between these two views, about the Russian state and the Russian people, is great. But many Russians do not distinguish between the rulers and the ruled – a failure that helps the Kremlin keep them in line and supporting whatever the leadership chooses to do, regardless of how outrageous.
By talking about Russophobia in the West, Mr. Inozemtsev argues, “the Russian authorities are appealing to the lowest most nationalistic feelings of their own citizens: they are attempting to show that the West does not oppose Russia politically and ideologically, but almost has given rise again to ‘the Slavic-hating’ times of the Third Reich.”
Of course, he continues, “it would be naïve to deny that many peoples relate to the Russian people with distrust and suspiciousness.” How else would one expect the peoples of the Baltic countries or Poland to feel, given their histories? But even in these cases, the situation is far from that described by the Kremlin.
For example, Mr. Inozemtsev points out, “Latvia, one of the most ‘Russophobic’ countries according to the Kremlin, is the absolute champion in terms of retaining the fraction of ethnic Russians in its population. In 1989, Russians formed 33.9 percent; by 2014, they had fallen to 27.3 percent, while in extremely friendly and ‘non-Russophobic’ Kazakhstan, the Russian share fell from 37.8 percent to 20.6.”
Paul Goble is a long-time specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia who has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau, as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The article above is reprinted with permission from his blog called “Window on Eurasia” (http://windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/).