The Damage Done by Manichean Images in Russo-American Relations

Only today it was reported that, having called for the impeachment of President Trump in an interview live on ABC television, Democrat Maxine Waters, arguably one of the least intelligent members of the House of Representatives, then followed up with a call to impeach President Putin!

Poor Maxine, who has retirement accounts invested in the Russian market, had, of course, meant to say Vice President Mike Pence. It was a revealing Freudian slip, however, as she has been one of the most vociferous members of Congress in a very competitive field of play with her hysterical diatribes against Moscow.

Of course, there exist serious conflicts of interest between Russia and the United States; arguably geopolitical rather than ideological (Ukraine, Syria, Iran etc.). And these need thrashing out without resort to war. But they need distinguishing clearly from the clash of political cultures that preceded, underlay and postdates the Cold War.

That clash of cultures was highlighted yesterday in a newspaper that somehow manages to straddle the outspoken assertion of human rights and the maintenance of productive contacts with some in the security services.

Leonid Mlechin, himself formerly a KGB officer and arguably one of the most informative among its historians, lambasts the Russian authorities for seeing relations with the United States as a contest between good (Russia) and evil (United States). He illustrates his piece – evidently an extract from a forthcoming book – with quotations from Party General Secretary Brezhnev’s diary. Mlechin highlights the fight between Chairman of the Council of Ministers Alexei Kosygin (once a businessman under NEP) and the Jewish head of the KGB, Yuri (‘Yuva’) Andropov.

From 1969 both Moscow and Washington were attempting to stabilise Russo-American relations by reducing tension (détente). The Russians sought strategic stability, status as an international equal and much needed trade in technology. Kosygin, focused on arms control and trade, was pressing for an end to restrictions on Jewish emigration from Russia that were prompting American retaliation against most favoured nation treatment in trade with Moscow. Andropov was in turn sabotaging Brezhnev’s attempt to heal the rift with Washington.

Mlechin’s fascinating and outspoken article is entitled “How is one to engage in politics if you believe in your own propaganda. Why the law on sanctions has turned out to be as much a surprise as the Jackson-Vanik Amendment of old” (Novaya Gazeta, 5 August 2017.) Manichean visions on both sides certainly do not make a settling of differences any the easier.