A spoof on the 19th century Anglo-Russo "Great Game" rivalry in Central Asia
An October 13 RT (no longer officially known as Russia Today) segment discussed some international issues regarding Afghanistan and Russia. The following viewpoint is expressed in that segment: "When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan they were viewed as being hostile by everyone, while the US is really not viewed as an occupier. The Soviets were always viewed as an occupier."
Afghans at large deserved better than the Soviet supported regimes in their country. There were Afghans who collaborated with these regimes. The last Afghan Communist regime lasted three years after the Soviet military withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989. (This length of time is not so different from how long the South Vietnamese government lasted after American forces left Vietnam.) Besides the foreign meddling, Afghanistan has had other problems, which were to become more evident after the Soviet forces withdrew from there in 1989. At the height of the Soviet military intervention in that nation, I recall a buried in the back of The New York Times piece on how a good number of the armed anti-Soviet Afghans opposed Western values, Israel and women's rights.
During a CBS 60 Minutes feature on Afghanistan (originally aired in 2007 and updated a year later), an Afghan said that the Soviet armed forces behaved better than the current foreign military presence. This opinion was stated with translation and no disagreement among up to twenty or more other Afghans who were present. In this feature, 60 Minutes made it a point to express disagreement by noting the considerable level of suffering during the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan.
What does and does not get followed up on can relate to the knowledge and sympathy that is in place. The documentary War Made Easy discusses this matter. This film includes a critical overview of the coverage of the present foreign military activity in Afghanistan. (The 45:48 mark at this hyperlink has a War Made Easy portion, that is somewhat related to the clarifying manner which 60 Minutes took towards the mentioned comment by an Afghan. The particular example given pertains to a different situation at another network, CNN.)
The English language mass media's coverage of Russia's counterattack against the Georgian government's armed strike in South Ossetia did not emphasize the comparatively (to some other recent wars) low level of casualties. On the other hand, there was some chiding of the initially stated Russian casualty figure resulting from the Georgian attack. This figure appears to have been greater than the actual number. In contrast, Western mass media has not highlighted the way that it generally tended to readily accept trumped up casualty figures from the wars of the last decade in former Yugoslavia.
American television news hosts Lou Dobbs (who recently left CNN) and Bill O'Reilly were clear in singling out Russia as the main instigator of last year's war in the Caucasus. These presentations included such background bylines (on the television screen) as "Russia's Aggression," (as stated on Dobbs' show) without emphasizing the Georgian government's military buildup and comments about seeking to gain control over South Ossetia, prior to its attack on that disputed territory. In comparison to Dobbs and O'Reilly, no major American television news host was as forceful in supporting Russia's counterattack.
The referenced "Russia's Aggression" byline reflects the predominating bias on some foreign policy issues. This slant would not be so gung ho to a byline reading as "NATO's Aggression," in relation to the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia.
During the Cold War, one periodically heard reference to the post-Vietnam war presence of the Soviets in Indochina as "Americans without money." I do not recall any follow-up noting how the Soviets arrived without militarily causing great damage to that part of of Southeast Asia. In the Vietnam war, the Soviets supported the side going against a major power.
Within reason, a reply to this comment can note the humanitarian shortcomings of the forces opposing the United States in the Vietnam War. Keep in mind what was said earlier in this essay about some of the anti-Soviet Afghans. In the aftermath of great suffering during the Cold War, Vietnam has fared better than Afghanistan.
That said, it is an inaccurate oversimplification to spin this reality as proof of the belief that Soviet aid against American military involvement was a better alternative to American opposition towards Soviet armed actions. The Cold War areas of conflict had varying circumstances. There is fault to be found with the undemocratic recipients of Soviet and/or Western support, as well as the basis for providing some of that aid. The significantly freer and wealthier position of the West, in conjunction with Soviet bloc flaws, contributed to the Cold War's end.
Pardon a repeated digression to an ongoing criticism. Vis-Ã -vis, Arab-Israeli matters, it is not uncommon to see pro-Israeli advocates make comparative points to highlight the issue of reasonably applied standards. When some others take this approach, there are derisive claims of "whataboutism." The so-called whataboutism is appropriate, as long as it does not get out of hand, in the form of evading valid questions and opinions. By no means should this article be construed as suggesting that media elsewhere are not free of biases. Rather, the intent is to underscore what often gets downplayed.
Regarding present day Russians, the October 13 RT segment included these opinions:
- "The younger people are better educated and view foreign policy within a very different context. They are not products of the Soviet era; they are products of the post-Soviet era."
- "They travel more and interact more with their Western counterparts. They are accepting the fact that they are not dealing with the situation that they are surrounded on all sides which could have posed a threat to the country's future."
Whether in the East or West, the Cold War influenced many into an us against them mindset. Since the Soviet breakup, this feeling lingers on with some in the West and former Soviet Union. In some circles, there exists a suggestive historical overview of Russia and the West being at inherent odds. This last view cherry picks past instances of disagreement, while downplaying the previous situations of cooperation.
Perhaps Russia-West relations are improving along the lines of a bar graph of fluctuating up and down trends, where the former trend is gradually becoming more pronounced.
The Obama administration's scrapping of a missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic was welcomed in Russia. When compared to other options, this decision was influenced by the projected possible lack of effectiveness and high cost of that program. In addition, the scrapping served as an "olive branch" to the Kremlin.
Elements within Russia remain concerned about the possibility of implementing some major defense oriented upgrades in the non-Russian parts of the former Warsaw Pact. This view relates to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's call for a new trans-Atlantic security agreement.
The differences over Iran continue to be problematic but workable. Meantime, there is reason to believe that Iran's nuclear capability might be (at present and in the not too distant future) less (noticeably or otherwise) from what some have suggested.
Unlike the last Ukrainian presidential election, the upcoming vote in Ukraine appears (at least for now) to not be as great a focal point of geopolitical confrontation. For now, the existing differences seem better managed and less confrontational. A November 19 Russo-Ukrainian agreement on Russian gas to Ukraine arguably serves (especially in the short term) to lessen the chance for another European gas crisis, as had previously occurred. On this issue, the potential for a future breakdown, nevertheless remains evident.
The row that was triggered by a contentiously written August OSCE resolution on (among other things) the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact saw a frank exchange of views in a civil enough way. The disagreement concerns what was not emphasized as contributing factors to the start of World War II. (These issues include the Western appeasement of Czechoslovakia in 1938, which encouraged the Nazi, Polish and Hungarian dismemberment of that country, as well as consideration to how the Versailles Treaty might have contributed to the extreme nationalism that developed in Germany.) Another sticking point to the August OSCE resolution had to do with the suggestion of Stalin being on par with Hitler. While both were brutal, there exist sufficient differences to consider when comparing the two dictators.
Since August, the Russian government has increased efforts at critically assessing the Soviet period. In September, the Russian government announced that excerpts of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago will be required reading in high schools. Last month, President Medvedev pointedly rebuked the oppressive method utilized under Stalin's rule.
The 2008 Russo-Georgian War has not led to a significant breakdown of exchanges between Russia and the West. Georgia's opposition Labor Party recently made a unique appeal for Russia and the United States to drop their respectively divergent independence recognition positions on disputed land involving Serbia and Georgia. A significant number of countries throughout the world have not recognized the independence of Kosovo, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Michael Averko is a New York based independent foreign policy analyst and media critic.