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An Enemy The Kremlin Can't Live Without

On November 5, Medvedev attacked "the arrogant course of the U.S. administration, which hates criticism and prefers unilateral decisions."
On November 5, Medvedev attacked "the arrogant course of the U.S. administration, which hates criticism and prefers unilateral decisions."

Following the historic election of Barack Obama as U.S. president on November 4, we asked some of our broadcasters and other contributors to offer the next president their advice in a series of articles on how to proceed in some of the key regions of the world for U.S. policy.

All of the newly empowered Democrats in Washington say -- and many of them sincerely believe -- that the new president will be able to greatly improve the United States' image around the world and, as a result, improve U.S. relations with many countries.

But, realistically speaking, achieving this means looking seriously at the concerns and complaints of the country's partners and opponents in various parts of the world. It means meeting with their leaders and engaging in frank exchanges. It probably also means scaling back the U.S. presence around the world -- particularly, withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq.

Russia is far from being among the top priorities for either the outgoing administration or the incoming one, although almost everyone in Moscow is convinced that it is. Nonetheless, the honeymoon in the United States' relations with the rest of the world that Barack Obama is promising will have serious consequences for Russia as well.

For one thing, the philosophy of the new administration will inevitably and relatively quickly lead to a reduction of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, despite Obama's campaign rhetoric about Iraq being the "wrong war" and Afghanistan being the right one.

Now, however, the situation in Afghanistan is getting worse and worse. Saudi Arabia and China are currently lobbying in Washington with two competing "exit-strategy" projects. The Saudis are calling for a cease-fire agreement with "moderate" Taliban representatives and their integration into the Afghan political process. Meanwhile, the Chinese are floating the idea of sending in Chinese forces to hunt down radical Islamist groups.

The first proposal would bring the Islamists to the borders of Central Asian republics -- returning to the situation before 2001. And the second would seal China's hegemony in Central Asia. In either case the "aggressive NATO bloc," which crawled up to our sacred southern border seven years ago and has since been obediently defending it, will withdraw and leave behind a big hole.

And there is another, more serious problem facing the Kremlin in bilateral relations. In his address to the nation on November 5, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev once again confirmed that anti-Americanism is a fundamental element of the Kremlin's foreign and domestic policies.

The "evil empire" has been blamed for Russia's carefully prepared dismemberment of Georgia and for the unsustainability of the Putin model of insider capitalism that has been exposed by the global financial crisis. The Kremlin doesn't have any other ideology beyond an all-consuming anti-Americanism, and that support is going to be needed more and more in the face of the growing economic and social crisis at home.

Over the years the standard and tiresome bones of contention have been worked out: missile defense, NATO expansion, Kosovo. But the Democrats have always been skeptical on missile defense and aren't likely to push it. Attitudes in Europe and domestic problems in Ukraine and Georgia have made it impossible to move forward with their NATO applications, even under the Bush administration. Progress seems less likely under Obama.

Obama is prepared to begin talks with Russia about a new strategic-arms agreement -- that is, to once again legally affirm our mutual ability to annihilate one another dozens of times over. Moscow has always had quite an anxious attitude toward this sort of affirmation of its superpower status.

And Kosovo? Haven't we already taken revenge on those bloody bastards with the de facto annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia? And they have swallowed this.

It remains to be seen what crimes the bloody Obama-Biden regime will have to be charged with in order to maintain the white-hot indignation of the millions of Russians who are getting up off their knees. And it will be hard if that duplicitous Obama continues constantly insisting on his friendship with the great Russian nation and his desire to meet with Medvedev and Putin in order to immediately mollify their concerns and resolve any disagreements and apologize for any offenses caused these good men during the cursed 1990s when they -- according to their repeated statements -- were down on their knees.

The Kremlin, especially in this difficult time, can never risk losing its imaginary phantom enemy. After all, all the myths of Russian domestic policy are based -- and for a long time to come will be based -- on the Kremlin's heroic resistance to this insidious foe.

Andrei Piontkovsky is a Washington-based political analyst and a regular contributor to RFE/RL's Russian Service. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL