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

138 thoughts on “Russophobia

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  • Suhayl Saadi

    Here are a couple of interesting overviews:



    From the second link (Excerpted from The Soviet Union– A Country Study, Raymond E. Zickel, ed. (Washington, D. C.: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress, 1989):

    “Although the Soviet Union was victorious in World War II, its economy had been devastated in the struggle. Roughly a quarter of the country’s capital resources had been destroyed, and industrial and agricultural output in 1945 fell far short of prewar levels.”

    Nonetheless, I bow to Uzbek-in-the-UK’s superior knowledge of this area – obviously it would be daft for me to try to argue with them on this subject and it is not my intention to do so! (S)he’s from the USSR and knows it far better than I ever could. I guess the term, “resistance army” tens to conjure up heroic imagery, which does not sit well with the leadership of Djugashvili. I understand that. Nonetheless, such difficulties and paradoxes are littered throughout history.

    The fact is, in spite of its immense power and at various times also ideologies, while Russia has never invaded western Europe, western European countries have invaded Russia at least four times in the last 200 years. THat leaves a legacy of historical/cultural memory. So, actually, in that basis, one would expect Russians to be ‘Europhobic’ and one is somewhat surprised that they are not more ‘Europhobic’.

  • trowbridge h. ford

    Just amazing how the leading trolls on this site, stick together while spreading their disinformation.

    In 1849 Czar Nicholas of Russia, following the conservatism of the Holy Alliance, sent in his forces to crush the Hungarian rebels holding its Parliament, restoring Austrian rule in the rebelous province.

    Just another bad day for chief troll, Habbabkuk.

  • Flaming June

    Peter Frost on what happened to the Rosenberg sons whose parents were executed for espionage.

    The Rosenberg family keep the flame burning
    (you have to scroll down)

    ‘Issues raised by the Rosenberg case echo down to today’s White House.

    WikiLeaks whistleblower Bradley Manning is being tried under the Espionage Act of 1917, the very same act that sent Ethel and Julius to the electric chair in Sing Sing prison.

    Edward Snowden, currently being sought by US intelligence agencies, is likely to suffer prosecution under the same law.’

  • trowbridge h. ford

    Just more disinformation from another leading troll while I was writing my last post..

    Mark was not referring to the famous Whisky-on-the -Rocks incident in 1981 where the Anglo-American plotters tried to make out that a Red Banner submarine accident was another Russian effort to penetrate Swedish defenses – what fanned Swedish paranoia about Moscow’s intentions – but ‘false flag’ operations by NATO forces to play the role of the increasingly cautious Soviet ones.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!)

    @ Suhayl

    “The fact is, in spite of its immense power and at various times also ideologies, while Russia has never invaded western Europe,..”


    Perhaps we understand different things by the word “invaded”, but did not Russian troops get as far as Switzerland and Paris during the Napoleonic wars or their immediate aftermath?

  • Kempe

    Right, so all the alleged incursions into Swedish waters were “false flag” events carried out by the Royal Navy; apart from the one that wasn’t.

  • doug scorgie

    The CE
    25 Jun, 2013 – 1:25 am

    “…that does not mean we cannot learn from history and our democratic partners to be extremely wary of a state that is rarely benign and peaceful in its actions…”

    Are you talking about the USA?

  • guano

    Yes, (sorry I have been busy) plurality of reasons for war. Plurality of individual belief under threat. Radio 4 yesterday at this time was wheeling out Orientalists to repeat the lie that the Alawi cult is part of Shi’a Islam. That’s part of the problem, the Alawis pretend to be part of Shi’a Islam, when this is in fact just being used as a tool for external players to draw on Shi’a support for the Alawi dictator. Alawis believe in re-incarnation like Hindus.

    I am not against plurality of individual belief, but the idea of a remnant of a pre-Christian sect having any legitimacy to protect that plurality is going too far. His family’s persecution of Muslims is legendary. The famous plurality of Syrian society cannot be used as a political correctness to persecute the majority, who are Muslim.

    I understand that there is huge resentment by some parts of Syrian society that people who have sucked up to Assad have been able to become very wealthy. I get absolutely p***d off with foreigners coming to the UK and supporting the Tories to get rich and oppose our Welfare system. It would not be too hard to ignite a civil war in the UK at this time of increasing difference between rich and poor. I do not blame the Syrian people for settling these scores. The main thing is to castrate Alawism permanently and soon as a tyrant over Muslims, and that is why it’s not happening, because the non-Muslim world is reluctant to lose one of its own chosen persecutors of Islam, without imposing A.N Other. Not sure if that will be Israel or Iran or Ichwan, but Blair’s idea of Disneyising Iraq into a Dubai mould is probably off the cards for Syria. Thank God.

  • Flaming June

    What a plonker and yet more of the licence fee payers’ money evaporates into thin air. How much is a ticket from Moscow to Caracas via Havana? Deduct the amount from Patten’s and Hall’s screw.

    Edward Snowden: Futile flight from Moscow to Caracas via Havana
    By Daniel Sandford

    BBC News, Caracas

  • Flaming June

    I hope Putin keeps to his word.

    ‘Putin rules out handing Snowden over to United States

    President Vladimir Putin confirmed on Tuesday a former U.S. spy agency contractor sought by the United States was in the transit area of a Moscow airport but ruled out handing him to Washington, dismissing U.S. criticisms as “ravings and rubbish”… ‘

    There was rubbish on the World Service overnight from Hayden who was calling Snowden a ‘narcissist’ and ‘tortured’, the latter rather a poor choice of words I thought.

    He was I/c of the NSA and CIA in Bush’s time and I see he has joined Chertoff, the Homeland Security honcho. Nice.

    The Chertoff list includes John Reid and the ex QinitiQ chief Graham Love. Enough said. They did have a base in this country at Culham but the 2011 links are now dead. Their address is now SW1.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    They FSB will be debriefing him, getting all the info. they can about the NSA’s secrets, on condition of allowing him safe passage to South America. That was probably part of the deal.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!)

    “Just amazing how the leading trolls on this site, stick together while spreading their disinformation”
    In line with Jon’s appeal to depersonalise comments and to stick to genuine discussion, could Trowbridge please let us know which ‘disinformation’ he’s talking about and to refute it in a calm, rational and factual manner? Thank you.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    “The main thing is to castrate Alawism permanently…” 6:09am, 26.6.13, Guano.

    No doubt it’ll soon be on youtube.

    The truth is, this Syrian war has absolutely nothing to do with theology.


    Perhaps we understand different things by the word “invaded”,

    Habbakuk, thanks. That is true – you are correct. Yes, I think it is possible to understand different things by the term, “invaded”. I have never seen the transient presence of Russian troops in Paris in 1814 as part of the coalition of powers characterised by any historian as an ‘invasion of Western Europe by Russia’. I think to characterise it thus would be a distortion.

  • Abe Rene

    The Russians officially appear to be regarding Snowden as an embarassment and a nuisance, whom they would like to leave voluntarily ASAP. But given wikileaks’ talk about him being in safe hands etc, I wonder what is going on in the transit area of Sheremetyevo airport.

  • Komodo

    @ Anon:
    “In any case, I would like not to deal with such issues because it is like shearing a pig: there’s lots of squealing and little fleece,” he said.

    Radio 4 actually carried that quote this morning!
    Someone during the Cold War – forget who – summed it up well: the Americans are playing checkers/draughts while the Soviets are playing chess. Putin’s very much of the chess-playing tendency. He’s awful…but I like him…

  • John Goss

    Flaming June at 6.37 am, I liked that BBC report and it amused me to think of all those MSM journalists cramped up in economy class while Snowden did not take his reserved seat. And now they’re stuck in Caracas, one assumes waiting orders. Luverly. Luverly.

  • Herbie

    “Putin’s very much of the chess-playing tendency. He’s awful…but I like him…”

    I know. They still haven’t mastered that propaganda presentation thingy.

    Putin looks and acts like a gangster. What you see is what you get.

    Cameron and Blair, Bush and Obama look like insurance salesmen, but are by far the most dangerous gangsters on the planet today.

  • Flaming June

    Well written by Finian Cunningham.

    US Rulers Fear American People

    June 25, 2013 “Information Clearing House – What the disclosures of former CIA contractor Edward Snowden show perhaps above all else is just how petrified the leaders of the United States have become – of ordinary citizens both in the US and around the world. When we say “leaders” we mean the ruling elite – the top one percent of the financial-corporate-military-industrial complex and its bought- and paid-for politicians.

    The international manhunt by the US authorities for Snowden, which has accelerated with his flight to Moscow to evade extradition from Hong Kong, is indicative of the desperation in Washington’s elitist establishment to quash him and what he is revealing about their despotic rule.


    ‘American, and Western, democracy is, for all intents and purposes, a dead corpse.’ An illusion but dead none the less, a ghost.

    As Thomas Drake noted, “Since the [US] government unchained itself from the constitution after 9/11, it has been eating our democracy alive from the inside out.” Add in the UK and some others.

  • Abe Rene

    I reckon that the next time we hear of Snowden, he may be in Reykjavik. You saw it here first.

  • Flaming June

    Abe Rene If his intended final destination is South America, there did not seem to be any direct flights from Reykjavik to say Caracas when I looked the other day. They all seemed to have 1 or 2 stops, with 1 in the US.

  • Abe Rene

    Flaming June: “if” is the operative word. Then there’s also African countries *without* extradition treaties with the USA, where one can fly direct from Moscow … 🙂

  • Uzbek in the UK

    Suhayl Saadi

    You gave example of Afghanistan but this is inaccurate to measure comparative military force. Yes Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989 despite having the largest land army on the planet. Yes it was demoralized but it still possessed largest land army, largest air force and larges stockpile of nuclear weapons. For instance 2 years from now NATO will leave Afghanistan (defeated) but this does not change their military force projection capacity and the fact that NATO would in 2 years from now remain dominant military force on the planet.

    You said Stalin chose socialism in one country to global spread of communism. But for some reason he ended up surrounded by Communist states from Europe to Asia, in most cases communist regimes in those states were forcibly supported by brutal force of Red Army. It is not since end of WWII but since inception of Communist state in Russia/USSR Communist movements in Europe were actively supported by soviets. This intact forced Europeans (London and Paris) to support Nazis in Germany to counterweight increased popularity of Communist movement in that country. The last Commintern (Global Communist Movement) issued communiqué stating that only when Communist came to power in Germany Communism will succeed in Europe. Since then it was major objective for Communist in Moscow to establish their grounds in Germany. One of the major factors of brutality in war between Nazis and Soviets is a fact of complete opposition of their idealogy and that only one can be dominant in Europe. There was no room for negotiation between two, and both Stalin and Hitler realized that 10 years non-intervention treaty between them was a farce. The question was only one, who will be the first to break the treaty.

    You said that in last 200 years European invaded Russia but Russia never invaded Europe. Both are wrong here. First of all Europeans invaded each other many more times than they all invaded Russia. It was the time of Balance of Power politics. Wars were perpetual in Europe and Russia was (since Peter the Great) very active participant of this policy. It fought many wars in Europe. For instance in Seven Year War in 1762 Russia not only invaded Europe but occupied Berlin (capital of then Kingdom of Prussia). In 1805 Russia along with Austria fought France and actively participated in post Napoleonic Balance of Power in Europe. Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812 (first European invasion into Russian mainland) but this was in response to increasing Russian military capability and risk of Russian intervention into Poland and alliance with Austria and Britain against France. Some call Crimean War of 1853 intervention to Russia where in fact in was Russia who was keen to expand its maritime capacity in the expense of Ottomans (again Balance of Power). Hegemonic notions of Nicholas I (Russian Emperor) were well known in Europe and Russia at that time was called Gendarme of Europe. Allied intervention in 1918 (the second intervention into Russian mainland) had main objectives to prevent Germans getting their hands on weapons stockpile in Russian Arkhangelsk and support for anticommunist forces within Russia. Both failed at the end. And of course 1941 Nazi intervention in USSR (the third and so far the last intervention into Russian mainland). Russia yet again emerged as superpower number 2 colonising half of Europe and third of Germany itself.

    Summarising all these (3) interventions conclusion could be that all 3 of them were preventive measures and as it turned out Russia (USSR) emerged victorious from all of them. It is still very strong legend spread by many historian and so called political analysts that Russia is building up buffer zones along its borders because it fear invasions. But none of this explains the fact that all these invasions were direct results of Russian foreign policy (that was always imperialistic even in case of spreading communism). Russia ended up colonizing countries around its borders and this intact explains why Eastern European nations were so keen to get accepted into NATO after collapse of USSR as experiencing centuries of Russian colonization (especially brutal in second half of 20th century) there were keen to secure their sovereignty even by choosing yet another master in the face of US.

  • Uzbek in the UK


    May I suggest to conclude that your likeness of Putin derives from the fact that you do not live, never have lived and have no relatives who lives in Russia and/or former USSR? This is so called passive sympathy is what is driving men like you to support oppressors. Some say that evil prevail when good men fail to act, then here it is a good example of passive sympathy. It is absolutely astonishing to me that on this blog some commentators accepting that Stalinist USSR that starved to death, deported to death, tortured to death, used millions as cannon meat, turned 20 million into slaves and further 200 million into slaves in waiting is accepted as better party.

    There are no words in any language spoken by humans that could convince me that Stalinist USSR was any better than Nazi Germany, in fact I am absolutely convinced that it was much worse. Probably because I grew up in USSR, country where shadow of Stalin was on everything long after his personality cult was denounced, matured in Uzbekistan country run by pure Stalinist (breed and educated in the best Soviet traditions by the best Soviet Communist Party).

    I take it you are lucky enough to be born and breed in another country, thus I understand BUT do not share you passive sympathy of Putin.

  • Uzbek in the UK


    Interesting thought you have there.

    Let’s suppose (hypothetically) that you have 2 neighbors. One has raped 10 women and killed 10 of them. Another has rapped 8 and killed 8. The question: Which of your (hopefully hypothetical) neighbors is better? Could it be that word ‘better’ is not applicable to both evil neighbors?

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Habbabkuk, you dismissed my discussion of the build-up of Russophobia by the Anglo-American plotters who planned to end the Cold War with a quick non-nuclear war, triggered by the assassination of stats minister Olof Palme in Stockholm – what occurred, and would have resulted in armageddon if it had not been for spying that Putin had developed about what London and Washington were preparing, and took counter measures to prevent – as boring conspiratorial lunacy by a poster who should go elsewhere.

    Seems that Putin is just going to rely upon similar Russophia to kill off the Snowden story who has now gone elsewhere, apparently North Korea, and he volunteer nothing more to his limited hang-out of NSA/GCHQ crimes, especially murders of whistleblowers Gareth Williams, Gudrun Loftus, Steve Rawlings, and even John Wheeler unless Washington starts a war over it.

    In the meantime, just keep reading The Guardian et al.’s efforts to keep the dying story alive.

    Love its list of similar whistleblowers, starting with the absurd claim that Mark Felt, the FBI stooge who did everything that Nixon wanted to become its next Director, was ‘Deep Throat’. AS a most cursory reading of All the President’s Men would establish, he was an insider in the White House, not someone wiring for the Bureau.

    Just expect similar absurdities to keep the Snowden cover up going.

  • Komodo

    Uzbek – Be assured I treat your comment with the seriousness it deserves, and I certainly take your point. As I think you have taken mine. Putin undoubtedly sees himself as a reimagined Tsar. As an ex- KGB man, he is probably devoid of any morals at all, and life in Russia is nothing like the propaganda picture we see from both Russian and Western sources.

    On the other hand, he’s probably the only entity capable of holding Russia together at the moment, he has considerable popular support – ok, he’s not a democrat, but it helps – and he doesn’t talk undiluted bullshit all the time like our own revered and not-particularly-democratic leaders do. (Granted, he doesn’t have to, as he’s not a fan of the Western democratic system). And blaming Stalin’s extensive atrocities on Putin is, I think, taking the blame game too far.

    Is that passive sympathy? I think it’s a realistic, if sketchy assessment, in which “…I like him” might be better read as “I think his personal qualities and abilities could well be studied by our current bunch of incompetents”. Hell, we’ve got the oligarchy and the surveillance state here already. All we need is some leadership – and yes, it would hurt.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    “You said that in last 200 years European invaded Russia but Russia never invaded Europe.” Uzbek in the UK.

    No, I didn’t. I said that Russia had not invaded Western Europe in the past 200 years. This simply is reiterating Craig’s point, made earlier in this thread wrt the geographical and geopolitical difference b/w Lublin and Ramsgate.

    You give the example of Prussia in the mid-18th. But Prussia was not in western Europe, nor was Berlin. Indeed, Berlin, surrounded by the DDR, was closer geographically to Poland than to (the old) West Germany. In fact, as you’ll know, what was East Prussia now is part of Russia (and was part of the USSR). Germany and Austria were central European powers – hence the term, ‘Axis’. And the Crimea had been part of the Ottoman Empire and could not by any stretch be described as being situated geographically or politically in ‘western Europe’.

    There vis no comparison, actually b/w the current overwhelming global military dominance of NATO (largely, in fact, of the USA) and the incipiently imploding USSR circa 1989. The largest miliraty force on earth was unable to stop the USSR from imploding. There is no real comparison in geostrategic terms and not even in relation to the importance/impact of Afghanistan on respectively, the USSR and the USA/NATO.

    And finally, I agree that Russia/USSR has tried/tries to surround itself with client buffer-states and reacts violently to any attempts to weaken its outer sphere of influence/dominance and I gave the fundamental reasons why that is. There was much obsession during the Cold War with the USSR’s supposed need to obtain a warm water port – specifically, Karachi. It was argued that the invasion of Afghanistan was partly to facilitate this. But there was no evidence that that was the case. In fact, there really is no evidence that Russia/USSR’s territorial expansionist ambitions (as opposed to its global political and economic) extended beyond its perceived ‘buffer-zone’ of eastern Europe, whence most invasons agianst it had been launched/facilitated.

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