I’m dedicating this to Nancy Sinatra, (yes, Frank Sinatra’s daughter). I’m a Sinatra fan, and last Saturday watched The Manchurian Candidate for the first time in years. Nancy has been tweeting heavily about Russia and what’s going on in the Trump Administration, so the Political Science and History major in me thought to add a very basic essay about Russia, with the theme of, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.
“Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” That’s a quote from Winston Churchill. I won’t be able to unravel it, but give a basic historical idea of what makes Russians tick in certain situations.
The geography is basic. For the Roman Empire, this was a region they called “The crucible of peoples.” Ancient groups such as Scythians wandered across the wide open region. I will start with a silly look as to why Russians as a culture are paranoid. I’m a baseball fan and am reminded of an interview with the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals star Pepper Martin. Some sports reporter asked, “Mr. Martin, why do you run so fast?” The response? “Well sir, I grew up in Oklahoma, and once you start runnin’ there ain’t nothin’ to stop you.” Now the punchline. Could you imagine if it was Usain Bolt? Don’t want to give Putin any ideas. Jamaicans don’t want to invade Russia, except for the crazies, who became the Jamaican Bobsled team. Putin doesn’t need more people to fear, but I digress.
Geography can be destiny and make people function a certain way. The point is Russia is wide open and can be invaded on land.
When I was a kid, my father told me the two hundred fifty years of Mongol rule created a psychology in the Russian people, they never recovered from and a Russian friend confirmed much of what Dad said.
My Dad was a chemist and had Eastern European colleagues and friends. I learned to dislike the Soviet Union early in life. Two were like uncles to me. Marek Krygowski and Piotr Tomasik. I learned all about living in a Communist state, without having to be there. My parents did attend professional chemists meetings in the Eastern Bloc, (Mom is a chemist too).
I got to stay with these gentlemen after the collapse of Communism. They don’t think highly of Russians. Members of their families were murdered by Russian soldiers. They had me looking East toward Russia, with a wary eye.
My ancestors are originally from what is now Ukraine. There is a reason Ukraine is in the news. It was always a borderland. What Uncles Marek and Piotr kept out of the story was the fact that before Ivan The Terrible was Czar, Poland was stronger than Russia. Russia had just sent the Mongols packing across the Steppe.
The Steppe is six thousand miles long, from Budapest to Manchuria. Different people came and went. Scythians, Huns, Mongols, Poles, Swedes, Napoleon, Hitler. The point? If you have to defend your territory, it’s a heck of a place.
It’s the old joke about, you may not be paranoid, they really are out to get you.
Historically, Russia wanted to reach out to the West, just enough to compete, but didn’t want to have Western Europe “corrupt” them. A good book to read is Peter the Great, by Robert K. Massie. Peter dragged Russia kicking and screaming to change in certain modern ways. His real goal was to protect his empire with that knowledge.
What saved Russia from Napoleon and Hitler? Well they did make it to Moscow, but then miscalculations and something called Winter took over. I suspect an ancestor of my Dad was a Napoleonic soldier, who got tired of hiking with Napoleon. A friend reminded me of the Napoleonic quote, “An army marches on its stomach.” Maybe, my ancestor smelled hot food and seeing as his stomach was dragging in the snow, he fell out of line.
OK, what does this have to do with Donald Trump? To start, I need to explain Vladimir Putin.
Putin grew up hard in St. Petersburg, (called Leningrad in the Soviet era). He lost an older brother during the German siege of the city. He joined the KGB, and rose through the ranks, then ending up unemployed in Germany, when his employer, the Soviet Union went out of business.
What drives Putin is the humiliation he and many Russians feel the West heaped on them with the collapse and loss of many of the old Soviet Republics. He doesn’t want to rebuild the Soviet model of trying to force an ideology on the world, but rebuild the traditional Russian involvement they feel they need for their protection.
OK, why would Vladimir Putin interfere in our election? Well he will interfere in other elections, where he feels he needs to, with tools, he wishes he had in the KGB. It begins with an intense dislike of Hillary Clinton, from when her husband was President and more so from her term and Secretary of State. I don’t think he cared at first which Republican won, but I suspect Donald Trump fits the bill the best.
Putin has been feeling especially threatened lately by European Union and NATO expansion. The NATO expansion is knocking on the door, and many other troops from other countries are in Poland and the Baltic States. This tends to make Russians nervous.
In a perfect world, HA HA, Putin would dearly love to reconquer Poland. Why? Not out of any ideology, but the easiest defensible place in the North European Plain, the narrowest gap between the Baltic Sea and Tatra Mountains is in Poland. It’s another way not cure Russian fears, more keep them in check.
Putin likes what he hears from Trump about the European Union and NATO. If those two go down, you can fill in the rest.
Are Trump and his friends been taking money from the Russians? It wouldn’t shock me. Are Trump and company being paid to undercut NATO and the EU? Maybe, but with Trump admiring Putin, may not have to pay him. Putin probably sees Trump as a useful idiot neither here nor there.
Did Putin fix the election? Not the voting itself, because he would have had to have many operatives all over the country. He certainly hacked various candidates.
Russia is now the most open it has ever been, and that’s not saying much. . Why I need my Russian friends to explain it to me.
I hope this helps. I wanted to make it general for now, but will cheerfully answer questions and try to fill in blanks. Much of Russia will always be a riddle, wrapped in an enigma.