The Russians Think We're Wrecking the World on Purpose

"In Russia, most analysts, politicians and ordinary citizens believe in the unlimited might of America, and thus reject the notion that the US has made, and continues to make, mistakes in the [Middle East]. Instead, they assume it's all a part of a complex plan to restructure the world and to spread global domination," writes Fyodor Lukyanov on the Al Monitor website today. Lukyanov, who chairs Russia's Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, laments what he derides as a "conspiracy theory." Nonetheless, he reports, President Vladimir Putin and the Russian elite think that the United States is spreading chaos as part of a diabolical plot for world domination:

From Russian leadership's point of view, the Iraq War now looks like the beginning of the accelerated destruction of regional and global stability, undermining the last principles of sustainable world order. Everything that's happened since — including flirting with Islamists during the Arab Spring, U.S. policies in Libya and its current policies in Syria — serve as evidence of strategic insanity that has taken over the last remaining superpower.

Russia’s persistence on the Syrian issue is the product of this perception. The issue is not sympathy for Syria's dictator, nor commercial interests, nor naval bases in Tartus. Moscow is certain that if continued crushing of secular authoritarian regimes is allowed because America and the West support “democracy,” it will lead to such destabilization that will overwhelm all, including Russia. It's therefore necessary for Russia to resist, especially as the West and the United States themselves experience increasing doubts.

It's instructive to view ourselves through a Russian mirror. The term "paranoid Russian" is a pleonasm. "The fact is that all Russian politicians are clever. The stupid ones are all dead. By contrast, America in its complacency promotes dullards. A deadly miscommunication arises from this asymmetry. The Russians cannot believe that the Americans are as stupid as they look, and conclude that Washington wants to destroy them," I wrote in 2008 under the title "Americans play monopoly, Russians chess." Russians have dominated chess most of the past century, for good reason: it is the ultimate exercise in paranoia. All the pieces on the board are guided by a single combative mind, and every move is significant. In the real world, human beings flail and blunder. For Russian officials who climbed the greasy pole in the intelligence services, mistakes are unthinkable, for those who made mistakes are long since buried.