Why is the Capitalist West Fighting with Capitalist Russia?
Alexandr Buzgalin and Paul Jay discuss the antagonism between Russia and US despite the former adopting ‘Jurassic Park capitalism’ since the demise of the USSR
PAUL JAY, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.
Last year, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Russia is endangering world order and undertaking challenging activities at sea, in the air, in space, and in cyberspace. Of course, on the other side after the recent NATO meetings in Warsaw, spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry said the deep divide between the NATO policy of strengthening its eastern flank when the enormous terror threat is coming from the south is evidence of the bloc’s disregard for the critical need to serve and protect the security of the people of the NATO member states. Exaggerated attempts are being made to demonize Russia in order to justify the military measures taken by the bloc to draw public attention away from the destructive role of the bloc and some of its allies provoking crises and fanning tensions around the world. That, again, is from a statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry.
For most of the 20th century, the U.S. and the Soviet Union were supposed to be engaged in a great struggle between capitalism and socialism. So why now that Russia is a capitalist country is a new Cold War developing with similar rhetoric as in the past? What is this contention really about?
Now joining us to help answer that question from Moscow is Aleksandr Buzgalin. Aleksandr is a professor of political economy at Moscow State University. Thanks for joining us, Aleksandr.
ALEKSANDR BUZGALIN: Thank you. I’m very glad to be again in your TV, and glad to give you the answer, if I can do this, of course.
JAY: After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Berlin Wall falls, and so on and so on, why doesn’t Russia become more integrated into Western capitalism? Why doesn’t it become more like a Germany? Why not sort of become part of this Western economic umbrella, become integrated? Why such, why such continued contention?
BUZGALIN: Thank you. I’m sorry for interruption, but it’s really a very big, complex question. First of all, they had [inaud.] in 1990s, when Russia was good friend of the United States, and Boris Yeltsin, president of Russia, was one of the best friends of U.S. presidents, and they had very good relations with NATO. Even 30 years of Putin in the beginning of 21st century Russia was also not bad from the point of Europe-U.S. government and from the point of view of NATO bosses.
What’s happened? There are different [theories]. First of all, there is Russia and Russia. There are different social, economic, political forces inside my country. But first of all, I want to start from geopolitical aspects, where Russia is one country. And here I want to stress that there is, I can say even more, it is, it was, and it will be competition between different capitalist countries. Wars between capitalist countries were normal, if I can say so, agenda for 19th century, for 20th century. I want to remind, the first World War was not war against socialism. It was war between different democratic capitalist countries, like Britain, France, Germany, United States, and so on. Now we are moving in more or less the same direction. After 100 years, we have again situation similar to situation which took place when first World War appeared, and it’s really very dangerous.
Why Russia, why now? [Inaud.] is falling. Russia, especially not Russia as a country but Russian leaders, made some decisive and radical steps. And it was just time when the country’s government said no to NATO.
Let’s just talk about the last examples. War in Iraq. What is [reaction] of the [global] community? I say yes, we applaud to you as government. It’s wonderful war, we like this war, and you are doing fantastic things. One reaction. Second official reaction, [inaud.] but nothing against. In Crimea, in Ukraine, Russia first time said no. Yes, wanted to continue activity and [inaud.] as NATO countries, continue activity in the Ukraine, and to transform Ukraine in the [satellite] of NATO. And Crimea should be part of this NATO space.
But Russia first time said, no. We don’t like any of NATO. We will leave NATO. And Crimea became part of Russia. It was definitely against U.S. and NATO interests. First time, U.S. officials, U.S. capitol, I can say [Brussels] but in less scale. Were [attacked] by another country. Not neutral position, not defense, but attack. And because it was an attack it was a threat. And because it was very big support, by the way, to this step not in the West European countries. A little bit in West European countries. Not in the U.S. A little bit in the U.S. Not all Americans are against Russia, not all Europeans are against Russia. But it was big support for, to this initiative in Arab countries, and this is important for the United States. I mean, support for Putin, Russia initiative in Crimea, and so on. Not because Arab countries like the idea to make Crimea part of the Russian territory. For them it’s not important.
But they said, we are happy that [first time] NATO was defeated. And NATO was defeated, first time in the 20th century, directly. Openly. And of course, it’s not pleasant for Russian [inaud.] and it’s not pleasant for Brussels. I mean, Brussels is headquarter of NATO, now, not as headquarters of European Union. And this is one of the key questions.
But there are also a lot of very important questions but there are also as far as Russian life is concerned.
JAY: Can I just–Aleksandr, let me ask you a question here.
BUZGALIN: Yes, of course.
JAY: I know the Americans made a big hullabaloo about the violation of international law when Russia took Crimea, and of course one can argue it one way or the other and say if it, say the people that are correct, that certainly on a technical level was a violation of international law. But the Americans don’t care about international law. The invasion of Iraq was clearly a far more egregious violation of international law than what happened in Crimea.
So when it’s, something happens within their camp or within their interest, international law is just something to be brought out or put away depending on the moment. If Russia had been more integrated into Western capitalism, and there wasn’t this kind of contention, Crimea probably wouldn’t have been such a big deal. They would have found a way around it. And in fact it was interesting, because Kissinger said during the real height of the crisis, he said, this is really an exception, Crimea. You shouldn’t say this is the pattern of Russian behavior. And Crimea is a very particular situation because of that history, that it used to be part of the Soviet Union, and so on. Part of Russia.
What I’m getting at here is there’s something deeper driving this contention. And obviously on the American side they like geopolitical tension, they like to have an enemy, they like to have an excuse to spend money on arms and all the rest. But what else is going on here, because there seems to be something the West wants from Russia it’s not getting, and it’s not really to do with peace and such, because I don’t see where there’s really such aggressive behavior to talk about.
BUZGALIN: So first of all, I’m not talking about aggressive behavior of Russia. I said that Russia did not follow through the rules of NATO. It’s not aggression. It’s simply not to follow to the rules of NATO. And it’s the rules of NATO. It’s not problem of international legislation. As you said, the United States and Gaza countries many times made things we charge, certainly opposite to international legislation, international law. By the way in the UN declaration which was signed in the United Nations status, if I’m not mistaken, there are bills every people has right for self-determination. They can’t say we don’t want to be inside this state. We have rallied for self-determination. And this is one law. And not changes boarders its second law. Second part of the same set as the United Nation. So it’s two contradictory elements of legislation on the top level, of the status of the United Nations.
So let’s go back. You said very important rules. United States needs to have enemy. And it was newly invented enemy in the beginning of 20th century when militarism became symbol of this enemy. It was Iraq as a terrible enemy of mankind. Now Russia became enemy. And it’s simple to make Russia enemy because it was I don’t know modern 50 years or 70 years of confrontation between Soviet Union and Russia.
But I want to say that from Russian point of view, situation is not always simple. Inside the whole country we have economic recession. We have very [liberal] in very contradictory ways. Same with [inaud.] same with liberal capitalism, brutal capitalism. Capitalists of the 19th century. I said a few times in New York program and even made a special program about Russian Jurassic Park of capitalism. Capitalism is Jurassic Park in Russia. It’s terrible, brutal capitalism. It’s much more liberal and dangerous for peoples in capitalist system in the United States, even. And the problem is that when our government, our leaders, our president, made this decisive stance in the foreign policy, he received very big popularity. And now for the left forces for really democratic, social democratic forces, communist forces, [inaud.] citizens for all of us is very difficult for us to criticize social and economic policies of our leaders. Because everybody tell okay maybe internal affairs, our leaders are not very good. But they made very good and positive step in foreign policy. I don’t think so. And it’s very important to stress that.
It’s necessary to criticize Russian leaders. But not for [inaud.] mainly or [inaud.] it’s necessarily to criticize, I can say for not [inaud.] but for internal policy, social policy, economic policy, real human rights, defense of human rights, protection of human rights. Essence of real of real democracy. But also this is a lot of general will situation. I had interesting international discussion in [yen] in [Austin] just a few weeks ago. And I said it’s very difficult to say negative words against Putin in Russia. It’s possible but difficult. And Austria and France said but Comrad Buzgalin, Professor Buzgalin, did you hear any time positive words about Putin from just general of [inaud.] or in the New York Times.
I asked this question to my friends from United States. Professors, different intellectuals, militants of social movements, and they said never. So it’s nearly forbidden to say something positive about Putin in U.S. And it’s nearly forbidden to say something negative about Putin in Russia. It is quite negative situation. When one negative situation in U.S. is a [regular] negative situation in Russia. And it’s really important for all of us in United States, in Russia, to make as much as possible real friendship for people. This is all slogan but I think it’s necessary to renew this slogan. To update or reload this slogan. Slogan of friendship of people. Peoples of U.S. and peoples of Russia. We have different peoples in our country.
BUZGALIN: Between peoples are better for all of us.
JAY: Aleksandr, how much penetration and freedom does U.S. capital have in Russia? How much access do they have to ownership of say natural resources, oil? And if they have not as much as they would like to the Russian market and resources, is that part of what’s driving all of this?
BUZGALIN: This is also important aspect to move across the wall just 200 meters from the room where we have our dialogue there is the biggest McDonalds in Europe. So in this place there is Pizza Hut, there is [Burger King], Kentucky Fried Chicken, we have [mega malls with metro] with I don’t know [inaud.], all this [inaud.] are in Russia. This is important. But really we have our government makes some restrictions for interventions in oil and gas business. Maybe this is not very pleasant for western corporations.
This is important—there are difficulties for westerner business in Russia but this is not something special for westerners. Russian business also have a lot of problems with corruption, bureaucracy, and semi-feudal model of Russian economy. What is important, Russian business, our native business, is also willing to connect with the west. Still a lot of transactions are in dollars. A lot of accumulations are in dollars. Majority of [world’s rations] have accounts even if it is bail bonds in Russian bank. They will have account in Euro or U.S. dollars, up to 100 billion. Korea is leading Russia in going to offshore zones. Very often from offshore zones is capital is going to U.S. economy or to transnational corporations which can have business everywhere including China and so on.
So really we don’t have so bad relations, In fact, between business in U.S. on in business in Russia. Still in friendship relations and daughters of our oligarchs and sons of our oligarchs have education in Britain or in the [inaud.]. So it’s not real confrontation. It’s more game but very dangerous and very unpleasant and I want to repeat, dangerous game. Confrontation is mainly in this fear of ideology. And as a result of this confrontation, we have in Russia, growth not even of [inaud.] but of a great power [inaud.] and this is also negative for internationalism, for friendship of people inside Russia, for our friendship with Europeans, with U.S. citizens and so on. That’s why all this games of U.S. government first of all internal government may be from replaced [inaud.]. All these games are really very, very negative for all our country.
JAY: Aleksandr the Chinese have a policy for a few decades now of no direct confrontation with the United States. They do very little about asserting any kind of military footprint outside of Chinese boarders. Of course there’s some points of confrontation, Taiwan and South China Sea. But generally speaking it’s all kind of economic expansion. But Russia’s increasingly playing a role militarily, globally, obviously in Syria. But even apparently the Russians reopened 10 bases in the Arctic that had been closed but were originally Soviet Bases. They’re apparently doing more long range flights towards the American boarder and I’m just wondering, how is that in Russia’s interests to project that kind of a presence. I’m not suggesting they don’t have the right to. I’m just wondering why it’s in their interest to do so?
BUZGALIN: I’m afraid that these steps are mainly a result of two contradictions. First contradiction is contradiction between ideological propagandistic slogans of U.S. leaders in Russia. And as I said this propaganda war or ideological war, geopolitical confrontation is important take to modern life. And for our government, for our leaders, ruling party United Russia, it’s profitable to have this say military game to show that we have own muscles and Russia is big state. It’s not really big state if you look on the colony it’s very contradictory state. If you look on socials here but it’s good game to at least create image or at least image of some power in military sphere and because Russia has really heroic past, especially war against fascism and so on, this is pleasant for feelings of many Russians.
JAY: In the United States there is a tremendous amount of money to be made out of conflict and militarization and a lot of people suggest, a lot of experts suggest, that a lot of U.S. foreign policy is driven by the idea that feeding the military industrial complex and such it’s the same kind of thing going on inside Russia that some of these confrontations help justify expenditures in the military sector.
BUZGALIN: You are right. This is second contradiction I which I wanted to [destroy]. And second contradiction is contradiction between two countries military-industrial complex. Growth of military-industrial complex in years, provokes the same for Russia as U.S. In the United States it is very profitable for corporations and not good for people. The same in Russia. Except one detail. In Russia, growth of military-industrial complex gives money mainly not to oligarchs but to—from one hand bureaucracy and some state enterprises, state corporations. A little bit for private business.
But from another hand it gave very contradictory but in some ways its progressive—have progressive influence because as a result after 20 years of collapse of high tech education and science because of military industrial complex we have now growth of technical education. They have growth of research centers in physics and mathematics and many other spheres. We have reconstruction of industrial enterprises. Not only military-industrial enterprises but also civil-industrial enterprises which mass produce [inaud.] of military-industrial complex.
This is contradictory situation. Of course from our point of view, point of view of alternatives of my friends, it’s much better to make investments in peaceful high-tech not in military high-tech. Peaceful education not education for military purposes. Science for peace development. Not science for military development. Of course it could be much, much better. But now in Russia I said we have such type of development which is dangerous in geopolitical negative. In political and ideological aspect, negative. But create some positive economic results. See this is big, big contradiction.
JAY: And just finally, why is Putin so interested in involvement in Syria? He says that it’s essentially that American policy is such a disaster it’s leading to the spread of ISIS and Russia had to intervene to prop up Assad’s government as the only way to fight ISIS. I mean is that what it is or is there more to it?
BUZGALIN: I think there are 3 main reasons. First but the not the most important. There are some interests of Russian [gas] corporations in Middle East and in Syria in particular. It is interconnected with [geographic] specific position of Syria as key country in these crossroads, oil movement and gas movement.
Second reason which is more important. It’s internal reason. When Russia made some decisive actions in Syria, Putin government, all leaders—officials in our country received big new wave of support. First time Russia became world player. Global player and we showed that we can do something. Not only on our boarder but we can help the Arab people to establish peace. This is model how it is presented in Russia. And there are some real true in this expression but there are also a lot of propagandistic slogans.
And third reason also was important. Russia received not small support in many political forces, social forces in Arab countries. I cannot say governments but social and political forces in Arab countries now had some hopes. I think they are not realistic. But there are hopes among Arab people that Russia will behave as Soviet Union and will partake Arab countries against U.S., Israel, and so on.
Again, I don’t think that Russia can do this and will do this and even I am not sure our officials want to do this. But such hopes already took place. And this is also very profitable for our officials for foreign policy of Russian government and state in general.
JAY: The Russian role in Syria is positioned by many as being quite confrontational with the U.S. kind of a—it was important for Russian foreign policy to block the U.S. there and have kind of counter weight. But I think a lot of American professional opinion both in the Pentagon and other places and even the White House actually see Russia perhaps as helping save America’s bacon in Syria. They certainly saved Obama on the chemical weapons thing by helping intervene on getting rid of chemical weapons at a time that Obama was on the verge of having to bomb Syria and I don’t think wanted to. And also in terms of helping actually direct the fight against ISIS. But is this—inside Russia is this played as a very big piece of nationalistic pride that Russia is standing up to the United States in Syria?
BUZGALIN: No it’s not nationalistic pride. It’s more pride of Russian peoples and pride for the country, for the state, which can help to establish peace. At least this is the picture translated from Russian TV, radio, and types of mass media for ordinary people. There are as I said, some elements of truth. I am not the expert. I don’t have enough information about real situation in Syria. But what I heard is positive in general. Of course there’s a lot of negative aspects but in general positive role of Russian military forces, air forces, in Syria in the struggle against world terrorism and against this transportation of oil to Turkey and so on.
This is vision from Russia. Russia is playing positive role in order to help 2 Arab countries to fight against terrible Muslim terrorist—radical Muslim terrorists. This is picture in Russia. As I said, not only is this positive mission, [is reality]. [Reality] is also interest so far of gas and oil corporation. Real interests of Russian state to receive more support of Arab countries and I think it is also work into victory into the [inaud.] Russian officials to have ruling forces of modern Iraq and those will continue to be the leaders of the country because they are pro-Russian. This is very contradictory situation because it’s forces are very authoritarian and corrupt. But this is reality. What can I say more?
JAY: Okay thanks so much for joining us Aleksandr. We’ll continue this soon.
BUZGALIN: Okay I’m very glad to talk to you and as conclusion I want to stress again, in all this situation, the key task is to help to U.S. and Russian peoples to develop friendship or to rebuild friendship. This is extremely important and the more we have negotiations, the more we have [inaud.] not only about geopolitics but about culture, science, education, mutual interests in this field, the better for all countries in the world. Not only for U.S. and for Russia. And thank you for opportunity to tell you this.
JAY: Thanks very much. And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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