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The Kremlin's Cold War Dreams

  • Brian Whitmore

An anti-U.S. demonstration in Moscow

An anti-U.S. demonstration in Moscow

Activists in St. Petersburg harass and film guests arriving at an Independence Day reception at the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg, peppering them with questions about sanctions and same-sex marriage.

Teenagers in the town of Bratsk in the Irkutsk region mark Youth Day by kicking a cardboard cutout of U.S. President Barack Obama. Those who managed to kick him in the face got five points; those who could only reach his midsection got four.

And a man in the village of Brekhovskaya in Yaroslavl Oblast kills his friend after becoming convinced that he is an American spy. Afterward, he called the police himself and told them that he had neutralized a dangerous foreign agent.

Anti-Americanism in Russia is, of course, nothing new. A poll by the independent Levada Center earlier this year showed that more than 80 percent of Russians have a negative view of the United States -- a post-Soviet high.

But it all appears to have become more hysterical, more absurd, and more lethal of late.

And it is not only being fed by the predictable rabble rousers like the bombastic State Duma deputy Yevgeny Fyodorov, who recently said "the United States wants to kill me and hang my child."

It is also being encouraged by top Kremlin officials like Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, who said in an interview last month with Kommersant that the United States "really would like it if Russia did not exist as a state at all."

Patrushev's remarks did seem to cross a line. In an editorial, the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta called them "unprecedented" for a senior Russian official, adding that they indicated that the cresting wave of anti-Americanism is not just tactical -- and certainly not just rhetorical.

If this is not just "a maneuver, but a strategic choice," the paper wrote, it means Russia's conflict with the West is approaching "the point of no return."

Part of all this is just performance art and Kremlin dramaturgia. The key plot line in the movie that Vladimir Putin's regime is showing the masses to legitimize their rule is that of a Russia encircled by a treacherous West bent on destroying the motherland. And the main villain in the film, of course, is the United States.

And some of it is explained by sincere anti-American sentiments (which are always latent among part of both the elite and the masses) that have become manifest -- and more intense.

But the driving force behind it is an insatiable need by those in Putin's Kremlin to reclaim what they believe they are entitled to: their lost status as a global superpower.

Russia can't have a real Cold War with the West. It isn't strong enough -- not militarily and certainly not economically. And it lacks a viable alternative to democratic liberal capitalism.

But what it can do is create the illusion of a Cold War -- a blockbuster movie about a superpower showdown -- if only for themselves.

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or


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