Kosovo is a reminder that despite the end of history, most of the world still resents the westby Bruce Clark / June 20, 1999 / Leave a comment
Published in June 1999 issue of Prospect Magazine
The “westernisation” of Russia’s most talented and energetic young people is almost complete. They speak fluent English, take a discerning interest in American rock music, surf the internet and understand the financial markets. But for the first time since their parents’ country collapsed, many of Russia’s golden youth have something other than hedonism on their minds: it is cold, steely rage against the US and its allies, and determination that the western powers should be made to pay for their “aggression” against Yugoslavia.
If the bombing of the Chinese embassy was the most disastrous military mistake in the war against Serbia, then the worst political miscalculation was the failure to anticipate the intensity of Russia’s reaction. These two errors may yet prove to be horribly self-compounding. Until recently, the idea of a “Russian-Chinese front” against American domination of the world was little more than a twinkle in the eye of Slavophile ideologues. But the war against Serbia has had the effect of pushing the two giants even further into the same anti-Nato corner.
It now looks almost inevitable that Yeltsin’s successor will be far more ruthless in asserting Russia’s perceived interests, even if that means sacrificing economic advantage or human life. No one should draw false comfort from the notion that any Russian government will be constrained by its financial “dependence” on the west. There are more and more voices inside Russia calling for a unilateral rupture in relations with the international financial institutions, and a return to autarky. The fact that such a policy could have disastrous short-term consequences for Russian living standards is no guarantee that it will not be adopted. Nor should anyone in the west be reassured by the fact that Russia’s military budget is only a tiny fraction of Nato’s, and often seems insufficient to pay soldiers’ wages, let alone launch new wars. Once Russia’s military establishment is stirred out of corruption and lethargy by the emergence of a perceived adversary, there are many ways in which it could cause intense pain to the west without incurring any significant cost. Russia could, for example, supply Serbia, Iraq or other “pariah” states with more sophisticated air-defence systems. It could (and probably will) proclaim a new military doctrine based on the use of tactical nuclear weapons. Or, perhaps the greatest nightmare of all, it could wink at the acquisition by terrorist groups of non-conventional weapons.