Russophobia 138

I am in Africa.  Edward Snowden seems to be doing a super job without me, so I have been working on my book and not burdening you with superfluous comment.

I have written this today which is too much of a digression and almost certainly will get cut out of the book, and is in any case a first draft.  But I thought it was quite interesting – and does bear tangentially on Mr Snowden.

We need at this stage to step back and take a look at the wider context in which Burnes was operating, and particularly the question of how British and Russian Imperial expansion threatened to drive the two powers into conflict to the north of the Indian sub-continent.

British people, myself included, have to concentrate their intellectual resources to get a clear conceptualisation of the Russian Empire, which can be obscured from our view by a number of factors.

Firstly, from our own history and geography, we think of colonies as something reached exclusively by ship.  The idea that colonies can be a contiguous land mass with the metropolitan, yet still in effect colonies, is not a pre-received idea for us. Russia’s absorption of the entirely alien cultures of the vast Centre, Siberian belt, North and North-west of Asia was undoubtedly a massive colonial expansion.  Working in Central Asia today, for example, political societal and economic developments could only be understood as a post-colonial situation.  Crucially, the broad mass of people were themselves entirely of the view that they were former colonised1, returned to independence.  But I found a great many western and particularly British officials had much trouble with the concept. 

Secondly, the transmutation of the Russian Empire into the Soviet Union confused the issue, in bringing a spurious equality to the different Soviet Socialist Republics.  In particular, this brought members of the political elite from the Asian areas within reach of holding political power at the centre. But that is not at all unusual for the history of Empires in general, particular as they mature.  The economic relationships within the Soviet Union, with the Asian regions very much operating as primarily exporters of raw commodity or goods with little value added, followed a well-worn colonial pattern even if operated by central planning rather than overt capitalism.  But many, looking at the Soviet Union itself (not including the occupied states of the Eastern bloc) did not realise the Soviet Union in itself was an Empire incorporating colonial structures.

Thirdly, particularly for those brought up like myself during the Cold War, the Russians were distant and feared figures and not perceived as altogether European.  In fact, the Russian conquest of the whole of the North and heart of Asia was a simultaneous part of an almost complete encirclement of Asia by Europeans from the late eighteenth to the end of the nineteenth century, which included of course the occupation of United States Europeans of the American Pacific Rim, and of Australia, New Zealand, East Africa, much of South East Asia and India by the British and occasionally others.  Russian and British expansion into Asia were part of the exact same process, except the British often did not see it:

A long liberal tradition took a sceptical view of Russia’s European credentials, seeing Tsarist Russia as as “Asiatic despotism” too crude and too poor to be “one of us”…A more realistic view would see Russia, like Spain or the Hapsburg Empire, as one of the frontier states that played a vanguard role in Europe’s expansion…behind Russia’s expansion was in fact its European identity…the economic energy that flowed from Russia’s integration into the European economy; and the intellectual access that Russians enjoyed, from the sixteenth century onward, to the general pool of European ideas and culture.  Russians, like other Europeans, claimed their conquests as a “civilizing mission.”2

Britain’s claim that Russia was excluded from the “civilizing mission” of Empire because it was a despotism, when British officials were arbitrarily blowing resisting Indians into many pieces from the muzzles of cannon while practising unabashed despotism in India, is something those of my age and older were educated not to question.  The notion that the culture of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov and Tchaikovsky is not European is self-evidently wrong.  I found that walking around the 19th century Russian cantonments of Margilan in the Ferghana Valley, with its beautiful little theatre for amateur dramatics, its racecourse and mess hall, the architecture could have been a British hill station. It even has its Freemasons’ Lodge.

So Russia and Britain were indeed expanding their colonial possessions in Asia, and their boundaries were pushing ever closer towards each other.  They were both part of the same historical process, and as a non-determinist I find it difficult to explain why in each case the expansion very often went ahead against the express wishes of the metropolitan authorities, but that takes us too far away from Alexander. 

The Russophobes therefore were not talking absolute nonsense.  Nobody knew how far North-west the British might push and how far South-east the Russians.  Nor was it physically impossible for a Russian army to invade India through Afghanistan and/or Persia.  Babur, Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah had all done that. The logistics were difficult, but not impossible.

Where the Russophobes got it seriously wrong was their political analysis.  A successful Russian invasion of India would have taken enormous resources and been a massive strain on the Russian state, and would certainly have precipitated a major European war.  Russia’s economy was still recovering from Napoleonic devastation.  Her foreign policy priorities were focused on the richer and more central lands of the Mediterranean and Caspian. Russia’s desire to divest Persia and Ottoman Turkey of vast provinces and to become a Mediterranean power was the consuming passion of the Tsar’s ministers, and Nesselrode in particular.  Bringing Central Asia into play may occasionally be a useful bargaining chip with Britain, but was never more than that. 

It is a peculiar fact that for two hundred years, fear of an attack by Russia has been a major factor in British foreign and above all defence policy, and was for much of my lifetime the factor that outweighed all others.  Vast sums of the nation’s money have been squandered on guarding against this illusory threat, and that is still the unacknowledged purpose of the ruinously expensive and entirely redundant Trident missile system today.  Yet on any rational analysis, Russia has never had any incentive to attack the United Kingdom, and never has remotely intended to attack the United Kingdom.  However an awful lot of arms manufacturers and salesmen have become exceedingly wealthy, as have an awful lot of politicians, while the military have had pleasant careers. 

British Russophobia is an enduring historical fact.  Navigating his path around it was now a key problem for Alexander Burnes in 1833

1 Olivier Roy, The Creation of Nations, pp87-9

2 John Darwin, After Tamerlane, p.21

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138 thoughts on “Russophobia

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  • Herbie


    It’s not a question of better. What’s interesting for those of us in the West is that Putin is presenting a limit to Western power.

    We’re better off with that balance of power than we are with the unlimited Western power that our gangsters have enjoyed since the early 90s.

    We saw how they used that.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Love this drivel by the site’s misinformers to build up Russophobia by wrongly debating Russia’s distant past.

    For centuries, Russia has been a European power, with its capital located either in St. Petersburg or Moscow, both in Europe, so any wars with its neighbors like Sweden could not constitute invading Europe.

    It started in Europe, and you are just feeding Russophobia by acting as if it is some Asian one.

    Anything relevant to today’s Russia?

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Now The Telegraph reports that Washington’s application to HK to extradite Edward Snowden referred to his middle name being Joseph when, in fact, it’s James, and it did not include his passport number.

    Obviously, Washington is deliberately lousing up its efforts to get him back for some unknown reasons.

    Any ideas why?

  • John Goss

    Flaming June, you can bet Karl Rove is behind the poor showing in the Maduro election. I notice they have an electronic voting system which was what Rove used to manufacture new figures on the recount that got George W. Bush unfairly elected. It’s like going back to the Rotten Boroughs of the Eighteenth Century where candidates bought votes in the pubs, except the boroughs have become countries. It’s very depressing. It’s particularly depressing because Venezuela has oil.

  • Edward Snowdon

    Yes I am the Edward Snowdon with an ‘O’, if I used an E everyone would become really very confused. Even more so if Edward Snowden turned up here.

    I have some very important things to say about him.
    Firstly, his name is Edward.
    Secondly, he has a beard. It may not be a large Taliban beard. But none the less it is a beard. And we all know, real men have beards.

    But what you all need to know is what happened to me, when I went to Snowdon.
    I went up to the top, very quickly. And once there I realised, my Mobile Phone had very good reception. So I phoned my gran, because I didn’t manage to phone her ever since I went to Wales because the rest of wales has shiit reception.

    Whether you agree with what he did or not. What he did takes guts. Remembering what America does to whistle blowers when they get caught.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Look, I’m not suggesting one should be complacent wrt Russian power. My posts earlier in this thread wrt KGB/SVR sleeper agents and the systemic criminality of the FSB in particular make that clear. It’s the biggest country in the world and for long periods in its history also has been an imperial(ist) entity. But ‘Russophobia’ in Britain has served, and continues to serve, specific political purposes. Russians as people get a bad press in this country and that is unfortunate and undeserved. Are there any Russians hereabouts, on this blog, btw?

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Look, have never suggested that you have been complacent about Russia.

    I have said that you have blamed it for the ‘false flag’ operation that NSA/GCHQ cooked up to make it look like the KGB/SVR had long term plans for spying on Washington – what involved 11 naive Russian Americans to work under CIA handler Christopher Metsos, and to be hurriedly exposed by GCHQ hacker Williams opening their lap tops, especially Anna Chapman’, confirming who they were.

    When Williams discovered the crude set-up, he started to arrange going to Russia, to expose the horrible misuse of Western intelligence by its eavesdropping thugs, but NSA’s Special Collection Service thugs beat him to the punch, seeing to his horrible murder.

    When Putin determined how the Manhattan ii had been so horrible used, he took in the ‘Russian’ spies without question or punishment.

    This just shows how pervasive Ruusophobia is!

  • technicolour

    With the U.S. demanding his return to America, The Onion looks at what Snowden’s current options are:

    * Set everything right by returning leaked NSA secrets to their original owners
    * Flee to a nation with widespread public hostility to the U.S., such as the U.S.
    * Found a new country on a piece of land no one has discovered yet
    * Point out to U.S government how expensive court battle would be for both sides
    * Cackle and deliver defiant speech at federal agents from inside hall of mirrors, leaving them completely confounded as to which one’s the real Edward Snowden
    * Apologize to the 254 Americans who actually had a problem with what he did
    * Maybe a new haircut?
    * Head to international waters, where the only master is the sea
    * Get rid of giant fish tank that will probably only slow him down from here on out
    * Indulge his thirst for truth with a variety of courses offered under Carnegie Mellon University’s adult-extension programming
    * Accept that no matter how far he runs, he’ll always be just like his father
    * Hide in a backyard boat, maybe
    * Reflect and reach the clearly evident conclusion that Americans should never under any circumstances know what their government does behind their backs, and then do the correct thing by turning himself in

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Can the public get any more flakey with Bill Blum comparing himself to Snowden, and making out that Philip Agee is the greatest leaker of all when the Agency is bigger and more lethal than ever?

    Now there is Technicolour’s most unfunny jokes in black-and white.

    Think it’s time for a summer hibernation.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    So now we learn that four years ago, in January 2009 when Obama had just taken over from GW, Snowden said that leakers, especially Assange’s Wikileaks, should be shot in the balls for leaking information about secret negotiations with the Israelis about how to deal with the problem of Iran developing nuclear weapons.

    Just then, the problem of how to deal with the 11 sleepers who Christopher Metsos was minding to see what the Russians were planning to develop was growing, and new DCI Leon Panetta, an incredible Russophobe, decided to set them up as Russian spies – what required the hacking skills of not only MI6/GCHQ agent Gareth Williams but also American ones like Snowden.

    SWhen this fiasco finally hit the press, Putin cleverly played damage-contol by taking back the alleged Russian spies, but Williams wouldn’t settle for that – collecting all the info he could, and attempting to flee to Mocow, but the NSA’s Special Collection Service got to him first.

    Then there was not only the murder go his GCHQ associate Gudrun Loftus but al\so cyber expert John Wheeler III whose murders were also covered up.

    That made Snowden Chang his mind completely about leakers ands leaking.

    For more, see the article about the vast transformation, though, of course, no attempt at explaining why, in the WP

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    See that the Obama White House has taken on board the WP’s disclosure that Snowden was a complete hawk about secret communications between governments, and killing leakers of it until shortly after Leon Panetta took over at CIA.

    After that there was the joint CIA-FBl effort to entrap the Manhattan 11 as Russian spies, the horrible murders of Gareth Williams, Gudrun Loftus, and John P, Wheeler III, and the Bureau’s effort to entrap me as ‘jihad jane’s (aka Colleen LaRose and Gwrhyr) assassin/lover of Islamophobe cartoonist Lars Vilks after the Agency’s attempt to assassinate even me had been stopped by Sapo with its assurance that I would be found out as someone’s spy or a deadly leaker, thanks to the break-in and surveillance that it was conducting on me with the FBI.

    Fortunately, the efforts against me didn’t succeed, but I am still writing about it, and they are still trying. (Just got another call from it, asking yet again if I am Steven Nickerson who somewhere fits into this mess.)

    In this context, it is hardly surprising that Obama is cutting back on the hot rhetoric in Africa, claiming that Snowden is essentially a common variety spy, and the US won’t be taking any aggressive steps to get him, like forcing a plane in international airspace he is allegedly on to land. The President now expects all countries to act as America’s good friend in just helping see that he is brought to justice.

    Looks like covert Washington is expecting its forces, like those who got Osama, to get Snowden.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Now we learn from The Guardian that the Obama administration, though it supplies no possible reason for the change, stopped its massive data mining of Americans after little more than two years in 2011.

    This was after the terrible incidents occurred that I cited above.

    Was it because the White House feared that it might tip off researchers like me about what was going on, and help lead to more leakers like Snowden?

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Sounds to me more like a deep effort by MI5 and The Telegraph to give Putin a black eye over the continuing Manhattan 11 fiasco

    More to the point would be America’s attempt to cover up who reallly leaked the Stuxnet virus attacks on Iran’s nuclear program when it should be looking into the murders of John P. Wheeler and Emperor in Exile Ali Resa Pahlavi rather than pinning the consequences on retired Marine General James Cartwright.

    And don’t overlook that it all may make Snowden go to Tehran.

    Will say more about this elsewhere as the CAPTCHA check stops anything more detailed.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Hope the site moves on from its eternal bickering about just how insulting, etc. one can be in dealing with fellow posters, and provide some vehicle for discussing Snowden’s potential as a leaker/spy or for General James Cartwright’s role in heating up NSA’s problems.

    Seems Cartwright knew of John Wheeler’s opposition to locating the Cyber Command at NSA in Fort Meade, and attacking Iran’s nuclear program with the Stuxnet virus – what the then Mitre employee knew caused worldwide damage to all kinds of computer systems

    To take Wheeler out, NSA fed John Shiffman of the Philadelphia Inquirer with all kinds of information about the setbacks it caused Iran getting any kinds of weapons, resulting in his series called Shadow Wad.

    in it, there was so much discuss of activities around where he lived – in Newark, New Castle and Wilmington – that readers, especially me, suspected that Wheeler was one of the big wigs overseeing ICE’s covert operations against Iran.

    Once such chatter was picked up in its massive data mining operations, his killers, apparently the Special Collection Service, took him out after Christmas 2010, in a fashion reminiscent of how the Shah’s SAVAK dealt with his enemies.

    To complete the process, the SCS, it seems, killed the Shah’s most reformed-minded heir, making and claiming it was suicide, in order to make it look like more SAVAK-like retribution.

    When Cartwright learned of his probable leaking of what had long stopped being investigated by the DoJ, starting in August 2012 – what was clearly intended to make him the focus of attention instead of what had happened to Wheeler, he resigned from the Defense Policy Board last January in the hope that the disgusting process would be forgotten about, but the threats from Snowden’s continuing disclosures has obliged Holder’s crew, especially the Assistant US Attorney David I. Hall, to go ahead with it,

    Hall, along with Vice President Biden’s son Beau, did everything they could to cover up Wheeler’s murder in Wilmington.

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