James George Jatras
Director, American Council for Kosovo
A Google English-language search of “Arab Spring” and “Putin” yields almost seven million hits. A large proportion of them originate in the hopes of American officials, think tanks, and NGOs that the supposedly “democratic” movement boiling through the Arab world will soon reach Russia.
Notable was the Tweet by a Republican Senator known for his anti-Russian views and hostility towards current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin: “Dear Vlad, the Arab Spring is coming to a neighborhood near you.” The not-so-subtle message is that Putin might end up like Hosni Mubarak – or like Muammar Qaddafi.
Such expressions horribly misread the relevant facts both in the Arab countries and in Russia.
The disorders in the Middle East are hailed by the administration of President Barack Hussein Obama, and by many U.S. Republicans, as a triumph of American policy and the march of human freedom. Washington acquiesced in (and perhaps aided) the removal of our longtime clients in Tunisia, Yemen, and even Egypt, where Mubarak represented America’s best guarantee for Israel’s security. Now, in concert with Turkey’s Islamist and neo-Ottoman leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, we are witnessing the region-wide rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood as the supposedly “moderate” alternative to even more radical Salafist elements.
Islamic extremism has been the tool and beneficiary of American policies for decades, not only in our recent support for supposed Arab “democratization” but in a series of armed interventions supposedly on behalf of Muslim peoples. First, in Afghanistan in the 1980s, in alliance with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan we supported the anti-Soviet jihad of Osama bin Laden and played midwife to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Later, in the Balkans, we sponsored al-Qaeda’s and Iran’s protégés in Bosnia and Kosovo, where the establishment of two Muslim-dominated “countries” in the heart of Europe is touted by American officials as a noble achievement. Then came Afghanistan (again) and Iraq, followed recently by NATO’s armed intervention in Libya.
Old habits die hard. Notwithstanding the al-Qaeda boomerang that hit America on September 11, 2001, and repeated attacks on Americans by (presumably grateful) Muslims from Kosovo and Bosnia, Washington is still certain it can control the jihadist genie and direct it on a selective basis. As the region to Russia’s south becomes increasingly radicalized, so will the internal danger to Russia in the Caucasus. (And, it should be noted, to Ukraine in Crimea.)
Whether intended by Washington or not, the result of each intervention has been the same: Sharia law, anti-Christian violence, and diminution of the status of women. The majority of Kosovo’s Serbian Christian population has been uprooted from their homes, under the complacent eyes of NATO occupiers. Most of Iraq’s million-strong Christian community, which was relatively secure under the secular socialist Saddam Hussein, has been terrorized into emigration. Egypt’s 10 million Copts now face the same fate, as will Christians in Syria if Washington can overcome Moscow’s resistance to a Libya-type operation against the government of Bashar Al-Assad. (Meanwhile, no unsightly democracy breaks out to inconvenience our jihad-funding friends in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies.)
In short, U.S. support for supposed Arab “democratization” is either cynical geopolitics or a complete misreading of the internal dynamics of Islamic societies. Possibly, it is both.
Likewise, calls for an Arab Spring in Russia are doubly misplaced. First, they have nothing to do with any genuine U.S. desire for democracy, in Russia or anywhere else. As in the Arab world, “democracy” is a codeword for geopolitical subservience to Washington, plain and simple. However valid Putin’s reelection to the presidency will be, western capitals are ready to denounce it as illegitimate and to cheer on a mobilization in the streets. This will have nothing to do with how democratic the vote is, just the fact that Putin believes that Russia has legitimate national and regional interests and is prepared to defend them. Contrast that to Washington’s approval of Boris Yeltsin’s “democratic” theft of the 1996 elections. Or of our oh-so-legitimate Saudi friends, who tolerate no elections at all. Or of the interchangeable “Kosovo Liberation Army” gangsters and organ-traffickers who run the pseudo-state administration in Pristina.
Second, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone in Washington that Russia is not a Middle Eastern country. Yes, there likely will be controversy over the conduct of the elections and perhaps their results. Yes, some people may take to the streets to protest claimed violations of legal process, and there may be some merit to their charges. (Such developments are expected even in what we like to call with too much self-flattery “developed” democracies. Hasn’t anyone noticed the “Occupy” disorders in the United States? Riots in Greece?) As Russia continues to find her own way after the agony of the 20th century, this is to be expected.
But no matter how much money and effort western governments and NGOs put into it, what we won’t see is a violent, intolerant religious ideology seizing power under the guise of democracy, as we see in the Arab countries. Anyone in Washington who thinks so has yet to learn the first thing about Russia.