August 30, 2018 Special Dispatch No. 7649

Russian Expert Bovt: Russia Is At War With The US, It Is No Longer About Ideology, It Is About The Conflict Of Values; 'It Will Not End Peacefully. It Will Not Melt Away, It Will Blow Up. And Definitely Before 2024"

August 30, 2018
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 7649

In a long editorial for the Russian media outlet, titled "How We Came To This", Russian expert Georgy Bovt described why Russia-US relations are doomed to be confrontational.[1]

According to Bovt, the confrontation between the two country is no longer about ideology, but has deteriorated into a conflict of values. The Russian expert stressed that the Marxist matrix is still deeply lodged in the mentality of the post-Soviet political class. "And it suggests that there is a material factor at the basis of all conflicts. This factor is now interpreted in a simplified way – as 'money makes the world go round'. Our ruling bureaucracy does not want to see anything beyond 'who stands to profit' or 'who ordered it'," Bovt wrote. He also added that Russian foreign affairs policymakers have always underestimated the idealistic component of US foreign policy.

Bovt stressed that the current confrontation between Russia and the US has been so long in the making. Sanctions have been the main weapon in this confrontation. According to the Russian expert, deep and rooted mutual misunderstanding and mistrust between the two countries won't help ease the situation. "It will not end peacefully. It will not melt away, it will blow up. And definitely before 2024," Bovt wrote.

Below are excerpts from Bovt's article:[2]


Georgy Bovt (

Our 'Hawks' Have Never Stopped Regarding The US As Our Chief 'Potential Adversary'

"Now even Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has pronounced the word 'war'. [It is] an economic one against the US. The ruble and the stock market have felt the gravity of the threat. Although I think it is still too far until the 'logical end', also known as 'rock bottom'. 'The point of no return' was passed in Helsinki at the joint press conference of the two presidents. The summit was the most unsuccessful in the history of our relations if judged by its consequences. But in order to understand just how far we can go in the mounting confrontation, we should take an excursion through history.

"At the foundation of the Russian-American confrontation is deep misunderstanding and rejection (by a vast majority of the political class of both countries) of motivations of the other side. And when they say, for instance, that Trump has surrounded himself by 'hawks' like John Bolton (national security advisor), well, we have plenty of such 'Boltons' ourselves.

"Our foreign affairs policy formulators have long been people who do not trust the West in general and have a pathological hatred of the US. Sometimes they proceed from the most ignorant and clueless beliefs about it, similar to the ones about Russia that are widespread in the US and are no less silly.

"Our 'hawks' have never stopped regarding the US as our chief 'potential adversary'. Even at the time when the American establishment was under the sway of the opinion that it was advisable to try and make us a 'normal country'. This opinion was for the most part sincere, but many in our country refused to believe it then and believe it even less now.

"At the same time, those who determined the US foreign policy after the Cold War were people who had never trusted Russia and never stopped considering it a potentially dangerous threat. But the human and diplomatic factor and even the current dominance in Russian politics of security agencies representatives (and it is easy to see which foreign-policy ideology they profess) cannot explain the zeal of today's standoff. We have been heading towards it for a long time, from both sides.

"It is believed that the opposition between the USSR and the US was ideological in character. At the same time, behind the propagandist dust-jacket lurked a partially traditional geopolitical rivalry, characteristic of big countries in the 19th century and earlier, when the predominantly Catholic and Protestant West was not very fond of the Orthodox Russian Empire, and Great Britain imparted to modern America [the idea of] the traditional 'potential adversary'. In a certain sense, our rivalry in the 20th century and later was a manifestation of a kind of neo-proselytism.

"It seemed that after the collapse of the USSR and the global socialist system, and after the disappearance of the ideological basis for confrontation, when all kinds of [Francis] Fukuyamas proclaimed 'the end of ideology', a time of universal fraternization and unity should have arrived. After all, we are talking about civilizations that are Christian in their basis– Russia and the collective West (with the exception of Japan, which, however, was 'refashioned' by the Americans after the Second World War). But that was not the case. Today, we have arrived at such a deadlock that, compared to it, even the tension hanging in the air after the Soviet Air Force shot down a South Korean commercial jet in the Far East in September 1983 will soon seem negligible.

"It is no longer about ideology. It is much worse. It is about the conflict of values. This is what makes the current confrontation with the US so severe and, alas, so deadlocked.

The Marxist Matrix Is Still Deeply Lodged In The Mentality Of The Post-Soviet Political Class

"The Marxist matrix is still deeply lodged in the mentality of the post-Soviet political class. And it suggests that there is a material factor at the basis of all conflicts. This factor is now interpreted in a simplified way – as 'money induces evil'. Our ruling bureaucracy does not want to see anything beyond 'who stands to profit' or 'who ordered it'. For that very reason the formulators of Russian foreign policy have always underestimated the 'missionary' (idealistic in its own way, but in the American understanding, of course) component of US foreign policy. Which is, by the way, often typical of any empire or large country: it inevitably wants to remodel the world in its own image, proceeding from its own understanding of 'what is best'.

"Such 'idealism' was to some extent intrinsic to Czarist Russia and, of course, the Soviet Union. Many people here think quite sincerely that after the collapse of the USSR, America wanted to 'seize' our oil, gas and other resources, as well as drinking water. The material factor of supporting one's own corporations is, of course, always present. But there was also (no longer is) a very 'idealistic' aspiration to help make the post-Soviet world 'better' in their understanding. After all, this model had brought prosperity to the US itself; let other countries become just like it, and it will be better, simpler, safer for everybody. Those were their beliefs.

"For example, in this way not only formerly militarist Japan and post-war Western Europe were 'improved', but Taiwan as well, which became 'Americanized China'. To this, any Russian conservative will reply that they all 'dance to America's tune' and are on their knees. The standard of living in these countries, however, does not quite match the traditional image of exploited colonial countries that 'are on their knees'. For example, many in our country like to talk this way about modern Poland, which is mostly US-oriented in its politics. But for some reason, this country, while 'being on its knees', has for many years demonstrated quite a decent GDP growth and quality of life by European standards. So it is not that simple. Which prompts the provocative question: the sovereignty of a nation state in the context of global economy – is it more about the well-being of the people or the well-being of the ruling class, even if this ruling class is mostly united in various public (i.e. 'of the whole people') corporations?

"Of course, the US politics after the Cold War inevitably contained an intention to see that war through 'to the bitter end', ensuring that the chief adversary does not bother anyone any more (now these 'hawks' say 'see how right we were'). In this sense, NATO expansion (among other things) was inevitable.

"Many accuse Gorbachev (and [his foreign minister] Shevardnadze in the bargain) of not blocking the option of this expansion in various agreements, trusting the duplicitous promises of his 'partners'. I am sure that such blocking (although it was unfeasible anyway in the context of collapse of the country and the entire socialist system) could only delay the process but not prevent it. When negotiations become unwanted by one of the parties, they are usually broken off under one pretext or another.

"The ruling class of former Soviet bloc members rushed to 'get integrated into the West'; they tried to build their new statehood on rejecting the 'Soviet-Russian' past. In general, the most zealous neophytes are prone to be conformists.

"The prevalent opinion in our country is that Russia during the time of Yeltsin and [foreign minister Andrey Kozyrev was also 'on its knees', and then it got up. Of course, it could be formulated in this way. But during the 'kneeling' process, Russia developed the fundamental elements of a modern market (at a certain cost) economy and modern society. And the resources and riches of the country were not sold to 'Western imperialists' but went for next to nothing to our own oligarchs during loans-for-shares auctions.

"Many in our country also think that the intrusive advice given at that time primarily by the Americans, who really behaved like missionaries in every sense of the word (and like those very 'political proselytizers'), concerning democratic procedures, the supremacy of law, and human rights, was given in order to remodel us and then 'subjugate', i.e. again 'bring us to our knees'. This is the dominant opinion of the Russian ruling bureaucracy, but it is widespread among the public as well. And even the former US ambassador in Russia, Michael McFaul, writes quite plainly and with figures in his recently published book about the way the Golos Association, which fought against electoral fraud, was financed.

We Cannot Even Respond To The Sanctions Properly, We Can Only Give Self-Inflicted Wounds To The Russian Economy

"In light of current almost hysterical accusations of 'Russian interference in the American elections', it is rather amusing to read it. Double standards, as they say. By the way, here is another mutual misunderstanding: The US does not see any double standards; it sees only one – its own, which is also the only right one. On the other hand, weren't there any instances of election abuse (God bless Mr. Churov[3])? Weren't there any rigging, pressure on the opposition, 'administrative resources', attempts to give a figurative buzz cut to the entire political and informational space? Not as 'elegantly', of course, as Hillary Clinton's team pressured Bernie Sanders. And are talks about the supremacy of law harmful in themselves? I will not even try to list numerous testimonies of arbitrariness in the Russian judicial system. Both then and now. All observant people could see them. But doesn't the trial of Butina, a Russian political activist, currently under way in the US, create to somebody looking from a distance the same impression of a fabrication as, say, the trial of Novoye Velichie[4] (New Greatness) in Russia?

"If our relations with the US were deeper, on a larger scale economically, more diversified, if they were not reduced (just like in Soviet times) only to political contacts on the top level, many mutual misunderstandings could be cleared up.

"The gradual scaling back of humanitarian contacts and exchanges, the expulsion of USAID and then of foreign NPOs, then the laws about 'foreign agents' and 'undesirable organizations' – all this played an important role in bringing the situation to its current state. And not only because in the US, this purge (as well as the 'Dima Yakovlev law')[5] was felt with a lot more distress than we tend to believe (it was back then that the foundation for the 'mirror-image response' and retaliation was laid). But also because there was 'nobody to talk to anymore'. Who could know then that the law about foreign agents would backfire on the Russia Today TV company in the US? And the 'Dima Yakovlev law' would come up, in a bizarre way, in Special Counsel Mueller's investigation of 'Trump's collusion with the Russians'?

"Did they "interfere" into internal affairs, as they used to say back in the Soviet times? Of course. Did they try to influence political processes? Yes. Actually, in the modern world everybody interferes into everything and tries to influence everything. But if the "iron curtain" fell some time ago, that is not necessarily the area where renovations are needed.

"Should all ties have been broken off in the spirit of special forces raids? Or should some area have been left not only for competing ideas and influences, but for some multilateral interaction which is critically lacking now and the absence of which only exacerbates the confrontation because it aggravates the failure of one side to understand motives and arguments of the other? After all, we cannot even respond to the sanctions properly, we can only give self-inflicted wounds to Russian economy. We used all our leverages a long time ago.

"Moreover, by getting rid of 'foreign agents', we have with our own hands given fuel for attacks on our 'soft power' representatives abroad. They have all become 'toxic' after 2014, but the effect could have been milder if their "agents" continued to work here.

"In the same way, a freer entry of foreign capital into Russian economy would have created the groundwork for such economic interdependence as would make many sanctions against us impossible.

"The US and we have no channels of communication left, except for the presidents' 'hot line'. Unless Steven Seagal comes to Maria Zakharova's aid. But that is more in the realm of tragicomedy.

"While our relations with the US were critically dependent on high-level contacts, our standoff with the 'Yankees' continued on lower levels, both where it was necessary and, what's more important, where it was not. Endless butting of heads on the most trivial pretexts.

"Just as 'pathological Russophobia' has deeply stuck in the minds of many American politicians, so has 'pathological anti-Americanism' become a guiding light for our diplomacy in the early 21st century. Alas, often it is a goal in and of itself. Just to 'bring the Yanks down a peg'. Just to 'show them' that we have 'gotten up from our knees'. But if one tweaks the tail or the whiskers of a drowsy and slow-to-react predator for too long, sooner or later it will become angry and will take you on in all seriousness. Which is what is happening now.

"It looks like there is not a single sane expert on Russia in the US now, who would be unbiased and could rationally explain the motivation of the Russian leadership in recent years to the American decision makers. Russian experts, political analysts, economists, journalists who have relocated to American think tanks only make it worse. Many of them feel wronged, to say the least. Many were, in fact, forced out of our country, deprived of the opportunity to do their job in their homeland. This 'overreach' did not happen after the incorporation of the Crimea and introduction of sanctions, but earlier – as a response to the Bolotnaya Square [protests against Putin's election], which was obviously an overreaction.

"Exactly to the same degree, I personally think that if on the American side, the Helsinki summit was conducted in the context of sabotage on the part of Trump's team and the state department (the vast majority of the establishment view the mere idea of improving relations with Putin's Russia as heresy), then the Russian side committed another fundamental and grave mistake (which is also indicative of the absence of a sober, accurate image of modern America).

"Russia should have responded in some way to the issue of the so-called 'interference into the election', which is driving the American political elite crazy. Saying something like: we do not admit anything but we understand your concerns and will watch such actors more carefully in the future.

The Current Confrontation Between Russia And The US Has Been So Long In The Making And Is Based On A Deep Mutual Misunderstanding And Mistrust

"Of course, we know that there were no meetings of the Security Council of Russia dedicated to the question of how to ruin the election for Hillary Clinton. It is most likely that there was a phenomenon completely incomprehensible in the US as applied to modern Russia: the 'individual initiative' of certain organizations. Those organizations acted in large part at their own risk and peril, but they were taking their cue from the overall atmosphere of rampant anti-Americanism in our country (as a minimum, such activity is unpunished, and as a maximum, it is tacitly encouraged), hoping to find favor with the bosses. And make money with this favor. That's it. In a normal country, that is not criminal in itself. You never know who may fool around on the internet. Just like (this is my assumption and also my value judgement) some representatives of security services (the investigation into the case of suspects from the FSB and an employee of Kaspersky Lab arrested in February 2017 is confidential) could call themselves Shaltai Boltai [Humpty Dumpty] and blackmail government officials – it was hardly done at the command of the Kremlin – other security service officials, similarly on their own initiative, could decide to 'take out old Hillary'. Just for fun. Acting – for quite a long time – as "independent economic entity". And training to manage social networks into the bargain.

"If a president in the style of 'Yeltsin-2.0' was in power in Russia now, insinuations would have probably appeared in the American press about KGB agents allegedly scheming against a democratically elected president. But this image of Yeltsin's Russia was erroneous even back in the 1990s.

"Now, however, the image of our incumbent president in the West is surrounded by so many myths, sometimes completely mendacious and ludicrous, and by such misunderstanding of motives for his actions, which leads to Putin's demonization, that it seems that none of the decision makers is capable of assessing the situation rationally.

"For example, recently CNN showed an excerpt from some boisterous Russian talk show on one of the federal TV channels, where Vitaly Tretyakov was very emotionally persuading the audience to start doing exactly what we were accused of — to interfere into the American politics and subject it to hacker attacks. CNN news analysts gravely conclude that this must be the Kremlin's official line. On the other hand, in our country those who espouse similar, let's say, conservative opinions, have never been called to order even on higher levels. In this area, we have freedom of speech and discussions. But in other areas, one can go to jail for a repost.

"The improvement of relations with Russia will not bring any political dividends to Trump. That is why he can so easily sign any, even the most severe, sanction package.

For the vast majority of the US establishment, war with Russia (only economic, for the time being) is no longer a tool for the achievement of any foreign policy goals. It is a goal in itself – a revenge on sixty million "wrong American voters" for electing some upstart with dubious reputation as the president of a super power. They want to finish us off and are working towards the toppling of the regime; moreover, many sincerely believe in the feasibility of returning the Crimea to Ukraine. After all, Saddam Hussein did give Kuwait back. This is how 'sane and rational' they are.

"So far, I can see no scenarios that would reverse the situation in a more favorable direction. Maybe a miracle will happen and they will appear. But so far, there has been no miracle.

"Therefore, the forecast is dismal so far. The Congress will pass a law about new tough sanctions until the end of this year. This will include sanctions against state banks and the state debt. Aeroflot will stop flying to the US, but it is the most innocent thing there. After all, Delta has already stopped its flights to Russia, the last of all American companies (it simply has nobody to carry anymore). So, Russians should not have that right either. The next 90-100 days have been given to investors to withdraw from their Russian investments. As for the other sanctions (those of the State Department – 'for the Skripals'), we will most probably not make any concessions, especially on the issue of allowing international inspections in our chemical and bacteriological installations.

"This is indeed too humiliating. Saddam Hussein allowed those inspectors in, and what did he get in return? Thus, the second package of sanctions related to the alleged 'violation of the law' banning chemical and bacteriological weapons will be most likely introduced in a very harsh form (in November). With all that it entails. Our diplomatic relations will move to a lower level and, possibly, will be broken off completely (I wrote about it a year ago). The Russian authorities will happily close American consulates that are still left in our country, because people have no business going to America at all. Actually, the initially clandestine and then overt ban introduced at some point for security officials and some civil servants on going abroad (except to Vietnam and Cuba) in the present context quite naturally presupposes extending this limitation in some form to other categories of population.

"I think that the issue of including Russia in the list of countries sponsoring international terrorism, which would threaten us with a complete blockade, is not something that will come up this year. We shall wait and see. The current confrontation between Russia and the US has been so long in the making and is based on such a deep mutual misunderstanding and mistrust, that it will not end simply like that. It will not melt away, it will blow up. And definitely before 2024 [the end of Putin's term]."


[1] Georgy Bovt is Editor-in-Chief of "Russkiy" The magazine, which he heads since 2007, focuses mostly on culture, history and literature. He is also a columnist with, the Vechernyaya Moskva newspaper, and a commentator on "Business-FM" radio.

[2], August 13, 2018.

[3] The reference is to Vladimir Churov, who headed Russia's Central Election Commision for nine years and in some cases clumsily falsified the results.

[4] A group of teenagers accused of plotting the overthrow of Russia's constitutional order.

[5] The law in retaliation for the Magnitsky Act blacklists certain American citizens from entering Russia and allows the government to freeze their assets.

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