The Breakfast Table

Sympathy for the Russians

Dear Anne:

Thanks for setting me straight on Tony Blair. Did you see the cruel picture of him that last weekend’s New York Times “Week in Review” dug out? Bad hair, bad hat, and very goofy grin. Not the kind of stuff that any head of state wants hauled out, especially at times of great moment.

I’m surprised, and I suppose encouraged, to see a sometime resident of Warsaw with a soft spot for her eastern neighbor. The Russkies have a right to be pissed. After all, first we tell them (depending on whom you believe) that NATO won’t be expanded to the east if the Germanies are reunited. Then, after saying that NATO is a purely defensive alliance, we start bombing a sovereign country facing a situation that reminds the Russians of Chechnya, politely telling them to get stuffed when they protest. I did see the news about Chernomyrdin’s trip to Belgrade. Perhaps something will come of it, though it’s not clear to me how much influence over the Serbs Russia really has. Still, you left out another part of the story, which is that the Russians also announced that they were boycotting this weekend’s NATO meeting. (As a sign of how low the ex-Soviet empire has fallen, many of Russia’s CIS neighbors decided to go ahead and attend anyway.) I think that’s going to make it harder for any Russian plan to gain traction, and more likely that NATO will go its own way.

But while I generally agree with you that it would be nice if Russians could be part of the solution, I wonder what the world will look like if they actually get their act together. Suppose their economy revives and their polity fixes itself. How would Russia behave? Like a bigger Germany? Or does this go under the heading of be careful what you wish for?

Let me know when your book comes out, and if we’ll ever have the opportunity to turn our virtual mealtime conversation into a real one. Who knows, maybe by then Kosovo, Iraq, and North Korea will be resolved, Bill Clinton will be picking up a Nobel, and Hillary will be the new junior senator from New York. But let’s hope it’s sooner than that.