Man Is Broad!

The burgeoning Russian economy has brought with it an exaggerated strength of self-esteem, and the return of a zero-sum mentality with regards to America. Both understandings are shaky, and bound to be tested as Russian dependence on the US unravels in the background of recession.

Resurgent after years of decline, Russian society has an understandable tendency to read too much into this long-awaited success. Naturally, too, it has also played on a syndrome that has long affected Russia - the feeling of being a great power temporarily diminished in stature.

As a result, the economic achievements of the past several years have been accompanied - and occasionally outstripped - by a parallel groundswell of nationalistic sentiment. What we see is a heady blend of exaggerated self-esteem, expectation of an imminent "breakthrough" from oil exporter to hi-tech superpower (talk of nanotechnology is particularly fashionable), and occasional aggressive resentment of US policy.

The latter is particularly noteworthy. Confrontation with the US was the main content of the policy and ideology of the USSR. Today, though there is no Cold War and no real basis for confrontation, some sections of the Russian elite are trying their best to resurrect it. Their rhetoric is invariably met with approval in Russian society.

The old Soviet view of the world as a "zero sum game" between the US and the USSR has made a partial comeback in Russia. Many (if not the majority) of people in this country are convinced that a political or economic gain for the US is an automatic loss for Russia, and vice versa.

Sure, there are those in Russian society who take the view that the fortunes of all countries are interconnected, rising and falling with the "ebb and flow" of the global economy. But such people are very much in the minority. At least they have been until now.

With the current threat of economic recession in the US, Russia now faces the "moment of truth". There are two possible outcomes. If the "zero-sum" theory is correct, a recession in the US is to Russia's advantage, and it will ride high on the crest of the wave caused by a decline in the "enemy's" economy. If the "global tide" view is true, the reverse is the case: a decline in the US economy would herald a similar downturn in Russia.

Thus far it is hard to say which way things are going, especially since nobody knows how serious the American recession will be. But one thing is certain: the most vocal critics of "American imperialism" have wilted and fallen strangely silent. This should be their field day. Yet they do not resemble moral victors so much as mischievous children suddenly afraid that they will be left without grownups.

The speeches of those who used to revile the US have taken on a tone almost of panic: they paint lurid pictures of the possible consequences of the American crisis for the Russian economy (the most frequent scenario is that shrinking consumption in the US would slow down China's growth, which would hit the Russian economy because its exports of oil and metal would drop).

So, "suddenly" it appears that it is not America's strength, but its vulnerability, that poses a danger to Russia. Yet an awareness of our dependence on the US economy has done nothing to quell anti-American sentiments.

As Dostoyevsky once said say, man - and especially the Russian man - is full of inner contradictions. "Man is broad; indeed, too broad".

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