There are times when the right book comes by at the right time, giving exactly the kind of insight or boost you need. This is that time, although I wish it wasn’t. Should We Fear Russia? by Dmitri Trenin is more than apropo for our time. As President-elect Trump builds his cabinet with people not just soft on Russia, but directly connected to it along with Vladimir Putin himself, Trenin not only shows us how we got here, but also what we should be careful of going forward.
Early on Trenin explains a key indicator of Russian society that puts it squarely in line with the US. He writes:
Russian society and policy has not yet concluded peace within itself: the “us” (common people) vs. “them” (elites) division runs deep.
There you have a key reason for us now having to use the term “President-elect” in front of Trump’s name. While our divide in the US may not stem from the same source or moment in time, anytime a cavern like that opens between those two groups, big changes are going to come, for better or worse.
Trenin also points out a specific historical pattern that should give any reader pause. He notes whenever a conflict ends and the winning side does not mend the bridge or ingratiate the losing side, you guarantee a new conflict within the next generation. I imagine this occurs because the losing side has no reason to let the hate or distrust in the winning side dissipate. It will only build, fester, and grow until release of that anger is imminent.
Should We Fear Russia? makes another point that what we hear in the news today and the fear mongering over Russia is overblown, unfounded, and dangerous because it distracts us from the real reasons to be immensely concerned. The Russian empire by his account is not making a comeback, but it has also not dissapeared enough to be ignored in the global power struggle. There are moves Putin can make to ensure their place at the table and everyone should watch closely for those.
Yet, as we all know, history tends to repeat itself, and Russia has precedent it needs to be careful of. Russia, unlike the US, does not shift its leaders around by ballot or public referendum. That may give you the impression that the citizens are powerless, yet Trenin dutifully points out the Russian state has been upended twice by its own people. The appearance of power, or lack thereof, can be deceiving.
In one section Trenin’s opinion immediately dates the writing of the book to before the 2016 US election took place. How do I know? Read this excerpt:
In the current climate in Europe and the United States, being linked to Russian interests is a kiss of death for anyone with a public career in mind. Russia is now more appealing to retired actors and sports figures.
Trump and numerous members of his incoming cabinet have links to Russian, going so far as one member even receiving an award from Putin himself. The “kiss of death” has undoubtedly fallen by the wayside, overwhelmed by our own internal disgust with the political class.
Lastly, Trenin looks into the future, warning that a Russian state as it stands is one that needs to be considered, but not feared outright, while a failed Russian state that crumbles under economic and military sanctions, will be even more dangerous. The world at large needs to be careful what it wishes for regarding the future of Russia.
Should We Fear Russia? is intelligent, direct, and incredibly timely. Trenin calmly reasons out all the issues, showing us which fears to ignore and which ones we are not paying enough attention to. If we were really smart, a copy of this book would be sent to every member of Congress. Can we get a Kickstarter set up for that?