Russian Influence on the West

BY MAXIM TRUDOLYUBOV

Regardless of what one can prove in the complicated story of Russian hackers meddling in the institutions of the United States, there is still a story to tell about Russian influence on the West. It has little to do with covert operations or propaganda. Russia seems able to make its mark in the world just by going through its own political cycle. Grigory Golosov, one of Russia’s leading political scientists, noted recently that Russia sometimes acts as a provocateur or a catalyst. More than once Russia’s political challenge has prompted other societies and political leaders to respond and develop reactive political strategies.

The Russian revolution, which happened 100 years ago, was one such contagious event. Seen by some as a historic breakthrough and by some as a dangerous precedent, it proved one of the most fateful political turning points of the twentieth century. Some tried to imitate the revolution, some created equally totalitarian structures to counter it. In the end, it was the Soviet Union’s embrace of the socialist state that challenged the rest of the world to respond and create the modern welfare state, “the bedrock of the world in which we live, a bedrock that is coming apart everywhere,” the historian Stephen Kotkin writes in his book, Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as Civilization.

It is important to keep in mind that the reality of the Soviet state most Soviet citizens experienced was a matter of indifference to those Western politicians who championed their welfare policies. Center-left forces had to act in a world where the USSR was perceived by many as a successful socialist project. Western politicians had to offer their voters an alternative.

Regardless of what one can prove in the complicated story of Russian hackers meddling in the institutions of the United States, there is still a story to tell about Russian influence on the West.

The next time the Soviet project again presented its Western counterparts with an existential challenge was the decade of the 1970s. The Soviet Union was at the peak of its form back then. A space and military superpower impervious to foreign pressure, it commanded a vast empire of socialist allies, stoked anti-Western sentiment all over the world, crushed dissent at home and resistance to its rule in Eastern and Central Europe.

Today’s political turbulence in the West may be reminiscent of the events that took place almost 40 years ago. “What we are seeing today reminds me of the turbulence of the late 1970s, albeit in a mitigated form,” Golosov writes. Quoting former German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s recent opinion piece (the “old world of the 20th century is over for good“), Golosov points out that politicians and pundits of the late 1970s were equally pessimistic.

“Then as now, western politicians had run out of economic ideas. The oil crisis of 1973, which unleashed ‘stagflation’, was their equivalent of the financial crisis of 2008,” Simon Kuper, a columnist with the Financial Times, wrote last year.

BY MAXIM TRUDOLYUBOV

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