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‘Russia doesn’t have a good side’: More xenophobic bile spewing forth from Western ‘experts’

Danielle Ryan
Danielle Ryan
Danielle Ryan is an Irish freelance writer based in Dublin. Her work has appeared in Salon, The Nation, Rethinking Russia, teleSUR, RBTH, The Calvert Journal and others. Follow her on Twitter @DanielleRyanJ
‘Russia doesn’t have a good side’: More xenophobic bile spewing forth from Western ‘experts’
Pretending to ‘understand’ Russia has become quite the lucrative business for Western media professionals in recent years – and “leading” Russia expert extraordinaire Keir Giles is the latest to believe he has cracked the code.

Generous Giles has published a list of 10 “ground rules” for befuddled Westerners seeking to unravel the enigma that is Russia – but before we delve into the finer details, let’s add some important context. This Russia whisperer is a “senior consulting fellow” at Chatham House – a British think tank receiving funding from the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO), the UK Ministry of Defence, the British Army and the US embassy, as well as an impressive array of arms manufacturers.

Very often, those posing as ‘experts’ on Russia pepper their analysis with outright xenophobia. Yet, this problematic and bigoted language is rarely noticed by their admiring peers because, as I have written before, “the Russians” are an exception to current cultural rules around political correctness. Xenophobia, when it is about Russians, is never condemned in Western media and ‘think tank’ circles. Rather, it has become an essential component of any celebrated ‘analysis’ of the country and its actions. 

Recall a recent New York Times article which claimed corruption is in the Russian “DNA” and sharing is “not the Russian way.” Before that, there was James Clapper, former US Director of National Intelligence, telling NBC that Russians are “genetically driven” to lie and cheat. Now, enter Giles.

1. A different hymn sheet

He begins with the fairly reasonable observation that just because Russia’s actions might not make sense to Westerners, this does not mean they don’t make sense to Russia, which is working from a “different understanding of history, geography, social policy and relations between countries.” 

This, however, is where the sense begins and ends.

2. No excuses for Russia (ever)

It’s unclear whether Giles was going for irony with ground rule number two, in which he warns that “the conviction with which [Russia’s] views are expressed does not necessarily make them right” so there may be “no excuse” when Russia acts in ways the West finds “repugnant.” 

Translation: The West’s actions can always be justified and its views and values (expressed with utmost conviction) are always sincere and correct – but Russia’s never can be. Case closed.

3. There are no answers (ever)

“Dealing with” Russians requires accepting that there are no answers because Russian behavior is so inherently mysterious and nonsensical that one must be comfortable with only “paradoxes and contradictions,” rather than clear, rational explanations that might make sense to normal, non-Russian humans (i.e., superior Westerners).

4. Bluster and bravado (a Russian thing)

We’re back to unintended irony for ground rule number four, where Giles explains that Russia “defaults to threats and feigned outrage” to “improve its negotiating position.” 

Threats and feigned outrage does sound familiar alright, but that couldn’t be right. Western politicians would never threaten to obliterate other countries or wipe them“off the face of the earth.” They’d probably also never invade and destroy multiple countries and then play the victim of the century when someone posts divisive memes on Facebook. They would never engineer military coups or cripple struggling populations with deadly economic sanctions, either. That would just be totally repugnant, wouldn’t it?

5. Russian ‘beliefs’ are a problem (always)

Giles reminds us in ground rule number five that Russia does “not consist of just one man” – an astute point from our new Russia guru. Unfortunately, however, he does not take this opportunity to point out how wrong it would be to tar all Russians with one brush. Instead he offers that it doesn’t matter which Russian occupies the Kremlin, because if they are being “driven by persistent Russian beliefs and imperatives” they will still cause problems. Presumably, Guru Giles would like the Russian president to be driven by Western beliefs and imperatives?

6. Russia is bad, but might get ‘far worse’

Political change in Russia might not “be an improvement” because remember, Russia is intrinsically awful. Russia is “reprehensible” now, but things could get “far, far worse,” Giles warns. 

Translation: We must never stop seeing Russia as an enemy and threat because my Chatham House war-hungry benefactors would see their profits decline. 

7. Russia is fundamentally indecent

Good things like “values and standards” were “invented elsewhere” so don’t expect Russia to ever be embarrassed by being backward and barbaric. This is the crux of Giles’ ground rule number seven. In fact, Russia “places no value on its reputation”so it is incapable of feeling the “shame” that Western governments might feel for their wrongdoings. 

This is a totally legitimate and foolproof argument, because everyone knows just how inundated victims of Western imperialism have been with expressions of sincere regret and shame from Washington and London.

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8. Russia doesn’t have a good side

There is no point trying to appeal to Russia’s “better nature,” says Giles, in xenophobic ground rule number eight, because it “doesn’t have one.”Russia sees “compromise and cooperation” as “unnatural and deeply suspicious”unless it has evident and immediate benefits to state or leadership interests. Another truly insightful point, and indeed such a stark contrast to selfless Western leaders who act out of pure altruism.

9. No common ground

The West has been valiantly searching for things to compromise with Russia on “since the end of the USSR,” according to Giles. But this common ground can’t be found because everything about Russia is “entirely incompatible” with Western ways. 

Translation: Russia and the West can never work together and this suits the Pentagon and UK Ministry of Defence just fine. Why try to upend this financially lucrative stand-off now? It has worked for so long, after all.

10. No surrender!

De-escalating tensions “equates to surrender” Giles says – and the West must never surrender because Russia will never want to be “at peace” with the world. You can’t just “choose whether to be at war with Russia or not” – because war and hostility is Russia’s “default state throughout history.” 

For a "full explanation" of these ten ground rules, Giles points interested individuals to his new book, where on page 113 he explains that “untruth and deception are a fixed principle of life in Russia.” What a treat.

Xenophobia aside, to argue that Moscow is inherently opposed to compromise and partnership with Western powers requires a broad disregard for recent history, during which Russia has bent over backwards fruitlessly attempting to incorporate itself into Western structures – even hoping at one point that it might join NATO.  

As journalist Bryan MacDonald noted on Twitter in response to Giles’ diatribe, this pursuit proved to be pointless and that realization culminated Vladimir Putin’s infamous 2007 Munich speech, during which he ferociously scolded Western leaders for failure to cooperate with Russia and lambasted an “almost uncontained hyper use of force” that is “plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts.” 

Moscow’s overtures toward the West were repeatedly rebuffed in favor of continued saber-rattling and Cold War-style scare-mongering, not because Russia is inherently incapable of compromise, but for the simple reason that Russia as the eternal “threat” is a far more profitable state of affairs for Washington’s warmongers.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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