Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Bear Growling

Edward Hugh begins his worthwhile analysis of the Russian economic crisis with the famous first line of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." That is, Russia's crisis differs in relevant and interesting ways from our own.

The Russian family analogy seems particularly apt today - a day on which Russia's Supreme Court formally recognized its last ruling family, the long-maligned Romanovs, as victims of political repression (hat tip: DJ). The effort to restore the name of the Czar reflects a general return of Russian nostalgia and nationalism, certainly on display with the Georgia crisis.

Russia's long westernization has largely been halted by Vladimir Putin, with the backing of oil and gas money. Russia is turning in and looking back, asserting historical hegemony and rehabilitating its traditions, with a former KGB agent leading the way. Now, it faces an economic crisis. This is a profound moment in Russia-United States relations.

We need Russia's help to pressure Iran. We must work with them to contain the very real threat of loose nuclear weapons, materials and information. This is a complicated issue and deserves a thorough and honest debate. If ideas like a League of Democracies and removing Russia from the G8 have merit, it is not as sound bites.

We should be careful and pragmatic at this moment, much can be won or lost. And in reflecting on Tolstoy, we should also remember the ominous, fragmented biblical epigraph that lies just above Anna Karenina's famous opening: "Vengeance is mine, I will repay."

(image credit: Wikipedia, Coat of Arms of the Russian Empire)