Friday, January 02, 2004


Whenever I absolutely can't stand being American, I remind myself that it could be worse: I could be Russian. As much horror as the United States is responsible for in the world, Russia is responsible for so much more. We might be bad, but we're no where near as fucked up as Russia. After all, we've only been able to screw things up as a nation for something over 200 years. Russia has been at for centuries upon centuries, all the way back to Kievan Rus'.

I'm reading Black Earth: A Journey through Russia After the Fall. This is my third book on Russia in two weeks, and I'm starting to forget which stories belong to which book at this point, but the main theme of them all is clear: Russia has never tolerated anyone from the outside very well. Not Russian? Then I'll shoot you. Not Soviet? Then I'll shoot you. Not Russian again? Then I'll shoot you.

I thought Meier's chapters on Chechnya were a little fragmented and difficult to follow, but then again, the entire history of Russian interference with the region is impossible to follow, so he probably couldn't help it. I understand--in the geopolitical sense of things--why Russia wants to dominate the Caucuses and environs, especially Chechnya (really, anywhere that will serve as an access point to the Baku oilfields and other natural resources), but Putin hasn't a chance in the world of winning this war. He should have done the right thing last time, after the Chechens won the first war, and seriously supported Chechen independence. Instead, he puts Russia back into it with another war, and it's not a war he's going to win, at least not until he kills every single Chechen on the face of the planet (he's trying pretty hard, so maybe he can do it).

The problem is, in between the first war and Putin's War, global politics shifted. This is an entirely different kind of war. The first one was for independence. Putin's War is a holy war. In the few years between the two wars, Islam--always present, but sort of low level--really caught fire. Now Allah (or at least the Wahhabi) is behind the Chechen independence movement, and who has ever been able to win a war against a religion? Well, really, it goes both ways. The Chechen independence movement gets some power from the jihad-ic aspects, a real desire to fight and beat the "westerners." But on the other hand, it's kind of good for Russia, because even though they can't win, they can now sell the war to the world as a fight against Islamic terrorism, which perfectly explains why the U.S. sits on its hands and does absolutely nothing as the Russians obliterate entire Chechen villages. That and the fact we stand to benefit from Russia's oilfields if we find the right Russian "businessman" to sell us shares in his oil export company.

I think Russia continues to underestimate the south. If the Chechens were going to just roll over and die, they would have done so a long time ago. I mean, my god, the Russians have been fighting the south *forever*. Slog through the Igor' tale and you'll know what I mean--the Caucuses have always been a sea of blood and bones. Fast forward to the 19th century, and it's hard to miss Lermontov's "zloj Chechen'". And if you miss his, certainly you'll see Tolstoy's. Look at the Soviets--they knew what they were doing when they divided up the southern areas--split the ethnic groups, resettle them, separate them, do anything to oppress them, because otherwise they'll do what they always do, rise up and kill themselves a few Russians before breakfast.

Anyway, Black Earth is a good book, and it's helpful to step outside of U.S. politics every once in awhile and remind myself that there are other nations and people involved in the fate of humanity, not just the United States and Americans.

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