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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Two States Accusing One Another

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The expulsion of Russian diplomats from Washington, mutual recriminations, belated protests over decisions made years ago — all this and more can't help but remind the world of the atmosphere of the Cold War. However, if you look at the situation closely, it turns out that there are more differences than actual similarities.

The Cold War was, after all, the collision of two ideologies, two superpowers vying for world domination. But today Russia is the country that, more than any other in Europe, has realized the system of values that the administration of Bush the Elder tried so hard to foist on the world. In Russia, profit is the highest ideal and private enterprise is the only principle of economic organization. It is a state that has thrown open its markets to foreign goods and capital. It is a society in which democracy has been boiled down to boxes full of cash and the development of "electoral technologies."

For a decade Russia has obediently obeyed U.S. instructions and, as a result, we've ended up with Putin. Obviously, though, following America's orders has not turned Russia into a second America. Instead, we have developed all America's vices and none of its virtues.

America's present dislike for Russia reflects it's leaders' disappointment with the results of America's own policies. However, openly admitting that one's advice was completely wrong is hard enough for average people and all but impossible for politicians. Therefore, America must explain that it was the incompetent Russians who were unable to successfully implement America's useful suggestions who are to blame for the mess.

Once this view gains currency, the more problems Russia has, the better. Each failure just confirms the "bad nation" and "unsuccessful country" thesis. America gets a political alibi and, as an added bonus, justification for increased military and espionage spending.

At the same time, there isn't a trace of a cold war on the economic front. MacDonald's still churns out burgers, and our televisions spout nothing but advertisements for U.S. products. Russian oligarchs continue to ship their money to Western banks and buy up real estate on the U.S. East Coast.

For Russia's part, our elite needs an enemy that they can use as an excuse to do whatever they want. For instance, former Nuclear Power Minister Yevgeny Adamov told the Duma that Russia's enemies are trying to prevent it from processing Western spent nuclear fuel and so any patriotic Russian must unite and take measure to ensure Russia's right to import foreign radioactive poisons. Likewise, people close to the president assert that foreign enemies stand behind anyone in Russia who dares speak out in defense of freedom of speech.

Despite superficial differences, the U.S. and Russian administrations are surprisingly similar. Both are full of people who are completely convinced of their own competence but who really don't have the slightest idea of what needs to be done. Both administrations came to power through dubious election processes. Both spout democratic ideals but take actions that look a lot more like authoritarianism. In both countries, political provincialism has triumphed against a background of intellectual limitation.

Now both countries stand on the brink of economic crises and their peoples await decisions. Under such circumstances it is a lot easier to catch spies and threaten retaliatory measures. These things distract public attention, but they won't stop the reckoning from coming.

Boris Kagarlitsky is a Moscow-based sociologist.