The Breakfast Table


Dear James,

Strikes me that Russia’s boycotting the NATO funfest is all part of the Great Pre-Election Primakov/Yeltsin Media Campaign, intended to out-xenophobe the commies, and ought to be taken as seriously as all of the rumors last week that the Russian army would be re-targetting their missiles on us. As I say, my sources tell me that behind the scenes the Moscow leadership is sounding a lot more accommodating. More to the point, I just can’t believe anyone on top over there really cares about the Serbs as such: If pan-Slavism were a genuine movement, the Russians and the Poles would have united in harmony and understanding a long time ago. None of the people in charge of Russia can exactly be classified as “religious” (most of them were members of the atheist Communist Party most of their lives), so I don’t believe in the brotherhood of Orthodoxy either. But anti-Western rhetoric does have a resonance with frustrated voters, if not for the Versace-clad elite. Using it also puts the Russian government in a better position once the fighting is over (OK, maybe no time soon) to step in and arbitrate and be important again, which I expect they also know.

I accept that this view is somewhat eccentric. I voiced it in the one Internet “club” I belong to, a Russia-watchers’ newsletter, and promptly received an e-mail that contained the sentence “It must be liberating to be as stupid as you are.” The rest of the message was barely literate, so I didn’t take it too seriously. More serious, I think, is the sharp, antiwar, anti-NATO language that has characterized the newsletter since the Kosovo bombing began. As most of the contributors seem to work for the Defense Department or the State Department or else to teach Russian history at major universities, I find this another worrying bit of evidence to add to the “American public won’t stand for this very long” theory. Or is there something special about Russophiles?

In any case, while I don’t object to Russia’s finding a little niche in what we so vaguely term “the international community,” I’m certainly not expecting the Russian economy to do anything so exciting as to “revive” any time soon. I’d say there are a few more generations to go. Just wait until their infrastructure really starts to collapse, and their pollution problems really start to kick in.

That’s all for now. I’m looking forward to our next “real” conversation too. In the meantime, my father, a workaholic Washington lawyer, says that as half of downtown DC will be closed tomorrow on account of the NATO summit, he might not bother going to work at all. Hope you decide the same