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Targeting Russia

by Berry Friesen (August 7, 2017)

The new US economic sanctions against Russia are a very big deal because they cement in place a stance of hostility against a nation with enough nuclear weaponry to resist. From here on forward, US intent is clear: destroy Russia’s ability to build a successful society that stands before the world as an alternative to the US-led empire. From here on out, Russia has little choice but to stand ready to defend itself.

Thus, the fate of the world again depends on the reliability of a hair trigger and the countless, split-second judgments of men and women in the nuclear chains-of-command in Russia and the US.

My sympathies clearly are with Russia.  I’m an anti-imperialist; based on what I see in the Bible, I can’t see how I could be anything but an anti-imperialist and still claim to be a faithful follower of Jesus.  So no, I do not support US efforts to dominate the world and destroy all political alternatives, nor do I find its claim to moral superiority to have merit.

Do you?

This US escalation of hostility toward Russia—this declaration of economic war—is another gut-check moment:  will we finally recognize the criminal character of US policy in the world?

True, the enactment of sanctions pales before the horrors we’ve somehow brushed aside previously.  That list of horrors is long.  It includes the US wave of terror unleashed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki 72 years ago this week.  It includes wars that claimed millions of lives against the Korean, Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian peoples.   It includes the persistent destabilization of African and Latin American nations.  It includes the wars of aggression against Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen.

So what’s the big deal about economic sanctions?

Perhaps I’m making too much of this.  At this point, it isn’t anything comparable to the killing fields just mentioned.  My elevation of this moment to epic status depends entirely on pessimistic projections into the future.  But maybe Russia will quietly accept US dominance. Maybe US policy will evolve in a less aggressive direction when someone less imperialistic than Donald Trump is in office.  Maybe Russia and the US will work things out; after all, that’s what competing nations usually do.

Okay, let’s consider each of those possibilities.

Yes, there is some chance Russia will quietly accept US dominance, re-open its economy to rank Western exploitation and become a vassal state like other European nations have become. That’s how Russia functioned during the first 15-20 years of the post-Communist era, and it’s conceivable Russia will return to that stance again.  After all, its economy is organized along the lines of oligarch-led capitalism, just as the US is. Money and wealth dictate many of Russia’s public policies, just as in the US. Given these similarities, why wouldn’t Russia accept the status of an important vassal state rather than risk annihilation?

However rational that may sound, there is another worldview that values matters of the spirit above all else.  There is little evidence of such a worldview in the West; by-and-large, we have drunk the cool-aid and absorbed the neo-liberal view that “value” is measured in dollars and moral “legitimacy” is measured in military firepower. But in Russia, it seems a spiritual view of life maintains a strong foothold.  By “spiritual” I of course include religious faith, but also an abiding trust in values largely abandoned in the West: culture, loyalty, solidarity, tradition.

From our Western perspective, these are “conservative” values (in a cultural rather than political sense). So what I’m saying might be rephrased this way: Russia is likely to resist US hostility so long as it is led by culturally conservative leaders, men and women who believe there is something in life more important than money and that Russia’s way of being in the world is a treasure, something worth dying for.

The second possibility for a peaceful end to the current hostility doesn’t merit much discussion.  The new sanctions were not driven by President Trump; it was an initiative coming out of Congress.  Every Democratic member of the US House and the US Senate voted for this policy. Every one!  Only four Republicans opposed (three in the House and Rand Paul in the Senate). No, there is no hope on the horizon within the US political system; it fully and enthusiastically supports this escalation.

The third possibility (that the new sanctions are merely part of the routine jousting between competing national states) drops away when contextualized within recent world history.

It was the US who broke the promise made by President George H. W Bush to not move NATO east toward Russia’s borders.  It was the US that withdrew from the ABM treaty with Russia, thereby declaring its intention to neutralize Russia’s ability to deter attack. It was the US that repeatedly interfered in Russia’s elections, most notably 1996 when US agents basically ran the campaign for the inebriated Boris Yeltsen and bought his electoral victory, but in recent years as well. It was the US that enabled al-Qaeda terrorists to foment rebellion and war in Russia’s Muslim populated provinces, especially Chechnya and Dagestan. It was the US that precipitated the current crisis in the Ukraine by organizing a February 2014 coup against the duly-elected government. It was the US that conspired with Saudi Arabia to drop the price of oil and push the Russian economy into depression. It is the US that is installing missile batteries in Poland and Romania targeting Russia. It is the US and its NATO military allies that have positioned thousands of troops on Russia’s borders.

And it is the US that now is committed to using sanctions to destroy Russia’s commercial investments, steal its customers in Europe and ruin the Russian economy.

This is not routine competition; this is war, now endorsed by the entire Democratic membership of Congress and all but one handful of Republicans.

And the only two sources of “evidence” supporting this outright hostility toward Russia are (1) Democratic National Committee computers that have never been examined by a competent public agency and (2) an intelligence assessment compiled by Obama Administration holdovers who hand-picked employees within the CIA, NSA and FBI to do the research and failed to include any specific evidence, only conclusions.

So how exactly is President Putin supposed to “work things out” with the US? If he believes in anything beyond money and military power (and there is ample evidence he does), Putin must resist.  I expect he will resist; every day he does so increases his popularity among the Russian people.

So where do your sympathies lie in this epic struggle? With the empire or with those resisting the empire?
*  For background reading, see Robert Parry’s “Neocons leverage Trump-hate for more wars” and Bernhard Horstmann’s “New Sanctions Against Russia – A Failure of U.S. Strategy.”  For more on the biblical view of empire, see If Not Empire, What? by John K. Stoner and me.


  1. I think there is no chance of the Russians again accepting US-predominance. The years with Gorbachev and Yeltsin were traumatic and they will do all they can to prevent a return to that kind of subsistence. Furthermore - I would not describe Putin as anti-imperialist. As you say, the ideology is essentialy the same as in the US. But Russia and China are on the other end of a geopolitical struggle and my sympathies are essentially with them.
    Bill Yoder, Gvardeysk/Russia

  2. The Biblical record is one of lonely prophetic voices whose power was derived solely from their unmasking truths that most in their societies had hidden from themselves. In our own, so blindly thinking that progress has cast all previous examples on the ash heap of history to which no heed need be paid, there currently seems a particular delight derived from believing the most outrageous lies, shout outs that by their volume drown the prophecy. Have we grown to love the lies so well that there is no listening to the truth and turning back from coming disaster in which guilty and innocent alike will suffer? The one advantage the lonely voice of truth has against the many megaphones of deceit is that there is truth, which no multiplication of deception can change. Will it be enough to soften hardened consciences in power that have veered into severe dysfunction, to avert disaster? Perhaps what now looms like a great defeat by the Adversary is about to be turned back upon him, if only our lonely prophets will persevere.