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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Friendship Offered on Tough Terms


Yulia Latynina
It occurred soon after reports that the Vostok battalion, a pro-Moscow unit in Chechnya comprised of local recruits, was engaged in a 2005 ethnic cleansing raid in the predominantly ethnic Avar village of Borozdinovskaya. It was there that troops set fire to a car after a local boy, after watching soldiers beat a man in a schoolyard, screamed at them: "If you're men, then settle it one on one." They then set fire to a number of homes and, when the smoke cleared, a 78-year-old man was dead and 11 other people were missing. Local residents later filled plastic bags with the charred remains of people who had burned to death in their homes. It was following these incidents that President Vladimir Putin lashed out at those who abused Russian citizens.

But Putin was referring to Poland, where local hooligans had assaulted the children of Russian diplomats and stolen their cell phones.

Putin's words had an instant effect. Internet sites were soon rife with anti-Polish invective, and two Polish diplomats and a Polish journalist were attacked in Moscow. Then, after the third beating, the violence abruptly ended. Now, with Poland planning to allow anti-missile batteries on its territory, Kremlin officials are wondering to themselves: "What did we do to deserve this?"

Putin's words also inflamed people's passions in relation to Georgians. The moment Putin mentioned the need to protect native ethnic groups -- meaning Russians -- violent incidents against Georgians increased. This is nothing like a war, because true wars are fought against those capable of offering resistance. In this case the people who were being attacked were in no position to fight back. The victims were businessmen, who were deprived of their businesses, and women and children, all of whom are easier to humiliate and harass than an armed combatant.

When Georgia filed a case against Russia to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, Kremlin authorities were sincerely mystified as to the motive.

The most unpleasant aspect of Russian foreign policy is not, however, its inconsistency in applying moral principles. Foreign policy tends to be neither moral nor immoral. It is either successful or unsuccessful. As philosopher Joseph de Maistre once said, the most powerful states behave like the most horrible people. The most objectionable aspect of Russia's foreign policy is its infantilism.

When the diplomats' children were attacked in Poland, Putin was truly offended. So offended, in fact, that people started beating Polish diplomats in Moscow. Then Putin made a comment about "non-native nationalities" in Russia, and there was a rush to carry out this indirect call to action. Nobody stopped to consider the strategic consequences of such behavior.

The most ridiculous part of this is that Russia wants to befriend the West -- but only on its own terms.

Imagine a school bully who has beaten up one classmate and, in the process of attacking another, is interrupted. Out of frustration, he warns his would-be victim, "If you tell anybody about this, you're history." But the student does complain, and the bully is brought before the school principle, where he offers the following explanation:

"I just want to be friends with everyone, but they aren't interested. True, I don't much like anybody around here, but all the same, we could be friends if they would just stop complaining about me."

Don't believe it. If you read between the lines of the Foreign Ministry's latest report describing Russia's desire to establish friendly relations with its "enemies" in the West, you'll find more than a few clues as to what the ministry really means.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.