A more realistic view of US-Russia relations

I wrote yesterday that the Biden-Putin summit was surprisingly good and devoid of the saber-rattling and threats and ultimatums that Biden had been urged to pose to Putin by the political-media establishment in the US who had demanded that Russia be punished for its alleged misdeeds. Branko Marcetic writes that Joe Biden’s Russia policy has been, so far at least, surprisingly reasonable.

Left-wing critics of the Russiagate madness were often accused of covering for Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and other provocations through “whataboutism.” But the real issue was the need for the subject to be put in context. As they pointed out over and over again — indeed, as we teach children — you tend to lose your moral high ground when you criticize someone for doing to you something you yourself do to others all the time, however wrong and objectionable it might be.

There’s a virtual library of books to read if you want all the scandalous details of Washington interference in other countries’ elections under bow-tied psychopaths like Allen Dulles. Here’s the short version: according to Hong Kong University international relations specialist Dov Levin, the US government has done this kind of meddling more than eighty times from 1946–2000, in almost every part of the world you can think of, from the Middle East (Israel, Lebanon, Iran) and East Asia (Indonesia, Philippines, Japan), to Europe (Greece, Italy, West Germany) and Latin America (think of a country and it’s probably on the list).

That list isn’t exhaustive, mind you. It doesn’t include the time in Mongolia, for instance, when the late Sen. John McCain and a group of Republican operatives got taxpayer funding to oust the country’s ruling, nominally communist party with a collection of even more rabid free-marketeers, who soon opened the mineral rich country up to foreign businesses. That happened in 1996.

And because it stops in 2000, it doesn’t feature any of the more recent marquee cases of electoral meddling from this millennium, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Bolivia and Brazil. Nor does it count the US-backed coups that went beyond merely putting a thumb on the scale for one party or candidate and simply abolished democracy altogether, such as in Chile and Iran. And it also leaves out the international campaigns of terror against the political left supported or facilitated by Washington in at least twenty-two countries.

One of the elections it does feature is, of course, the US government’s fateful intervention on the side of Boris Yeltsin in Russia’s presidential elections, also in 1996, ensuring the continuing plunder of the Russian economy and leading directly to the Putin regime. Meanwhile, Putin’s 2016 interference is widely understood to have been a response to Washington’s “democracy promotion” efforts in Russia at the start of the 2010s.

And US meddling in Russian political affairs still goes on, under front organizations like the National Endowment for Democracy.

Just a few weeks ago, a pair of Russian pranksters fooled the leadership of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) — Washington’s arm for funding political opposition in other countries (including Mongolia twenty-five years ago) — into admitting on camera that they “support many, many groups” and “have a very, very active program throughout” Russia, with an eye on the country’s legislative elections this September. Later, another NED official informed viewers that “we have a very ample program in Russia” that is “very deep and it’s very broad,” and “goes even down to the grass roots in the provinces.”

In standard media coverage of today’s strained US-Russia relations, and in the typical rhetoric of US politicians like Biden, all of this is simply left out. And it’s easy to see why: Russia’s meddling in US elections, whether energetic, as in 2016, or piddling, as in 2020, doesn’t really work as the world-historical moral outrage or near-atrocity the establishment wants people to view it as when you understand it’s a thing powerful countries do to each other quite frequently — and a thing the US government in particular does all the time, including repeatedly in Russia itself.

When such actions are understood as part of a familiar game of geopolitical tit for tat, the case for gargantuan military budgets and foreign wars that line the pockets of defense contractors loses some of its juice.

Marcetic says that Biden has managed to deftly play the warmongering US media and pundit class into making them think that he was more hardline than he was.

What’s funny is if you read most mainstream coverage, you wouldn’t know Biden’s taken a less aggressive approach to Russia than Trump, who vehemently opposed Nord Stream 2 and sent lethal aid to Ukraine for the first time. Biden has talked tough on Russia, but so far governed like a dove, all while having the media portray him as especially aggressive toward Putin. For Trump, it was vice versa on all three counts.

Improbably, Biden has become, for once, a lonely voice of reason in this nationalistic and hawkish political atmosphere that’s prevailed since 2016. We’ll see if it lasts. In the meantime, whether it comes to cyberattacks, election interference, or anything else, let’s hope we can put the actions of US adversaries into perspective, and not succumb to the “hyperbolic atmosphere” Biden warned about in Geneva.

The political establishment will not give up its Cold Warmongering easily. Right on cue, right wingers accused Biden of being taken advantage of by Putin. Seth Meyers looks at their reaction. To his credit, he also acknowledges the many times that the US hs meddled in other countries that Marcetic talked about.

You can can expect to see them using new developments to demand that the US issue threats to Russia again.


  1. brucegee1962 says

    I can forgive Russia for trying to meddle in our election, for the reasons you give. I have a harder time forgiving Trumpublicans for studiously looking the other way while they did it, or even encouraging their behavior.

  2. jrkrideau says

    You can can expect to see them using new developments to demand that the US issue threats to Russia again.

    A great quote in Sputnik from Canadian former USSR/Russian analyst and blogger Patrickarmstrong

    “So demented is the state of mind in the United States that domestic coverage will be nothing but partisan disputes over whether he insulted Putin properly and adequately,”


    I think he got that right.

  3. Who Cares says

    The thing is that the US is still stuck in the era before 1989.
    We (as the west) had a chance to yoke Russia to our interests when they asked to join NATO. The people who could accept or deny that in the US flipped out since Russia was a) THE ENEMY and b) conquered territory to be plundered/governed by them or their proxies.

    Now look how well that worked out. In 30 years from most of the army of Russia and China positioned on the Amur/Heilong Jiang river to actual co-operation even if it just to stop what they consider the relentless assault of the US on their sovereignty and in the case of China the attempts by the US to almost literally fence them in. At least their road and belt initiative is facing set backs.

  4. mnb0 says

    “Russia be punished for its alleged misdeeds.”
    Nothing as nice as loaded language.


    But hey, why would American alleged progressives listen to inhabitants of other democratic countries? Why should they care about Hungary having turned into a Chinese agent?


    Why would they care about LGBITQ rights in that member country of the EU? Let me guess, America first.
    The USA needs a more realistic international policy indeed. Bernie Sanders didn’t provide one yesterday; Branko Marcetic doesn’t either. And MS isn’t aware of or neglects the news that really matters in this respect.


    Perhaps JoeB’s advisors are better informed:


    If this is going to work I’ll have to withdraw several of my standpoints during the last presidential elections.

  5. mnb0 says

    @3 Who Cares: “The thing is that the US is still stuck in the era before 1989.”
    The thing is also that many Americans who should know better are equally stuck in that era. As a result they don’t care about solid democratic countries like the Baltic states and Taiwan. As a non-American it worries me that JoeB will listen. The results are potentially more disastrous than four years Donald the Clown -- but of couse not for those who voted JoeB into the White House.. Remember: due to his incompetence Donald the Clown didn’t attack any country, unlike most if not all of his predecessors. I’m far from convinced yet that the world has become a safer place. Talking is nice, but when was the last time dictators like Putin and Xi Jin Ping were impressed by sweet words?
    Like the Dutch saying goes: first see, then believe. The B3W strategy at the moment (see my previous comment; right now it’s awaiting moderation) is nothing but ink on paper.

  6. says

    The US spent decades prepared to eradicate human life in the USSR, based on a fictional “missile gap” -- I can understand and forgive Russians for being afraid of Americans and wanting to rein us in wherever they can. The US’ language regarding Russian hacking is the language of warfare, and we just deployed a new generation of first strike stealth weapons. Putin is a statesman of great skill, and he’s doing a delicate maneuver in the face of massive threat. It drives me crazy when American politicians act like China and Russia are threats, when combined they are hardly a threat. The US is the threat.

  7. says

    I love how conservatives keep pointing at Venezuela as an example of what would happen under socialism as if conditions there aren’t a result of the US punishing the country for electing Hugo Chávez who started nationalizing several industries (the demonization of Chávez was so complete that more than a handful of right wing Americans thought he had something to do with election machines being rigged against Trump in 2020, over 7 years after Chávez’s death). Do I think elections have been fair there since? No, but considering what pressure the Americans have been putting on them there is no way any election is going to be fair anyway.

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