How do people get around in Russia


Jens Siegert

To person

Jens Siegert is a graduate political scientist and headed the Russia office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Moscow until 2015. Before that he worked in Moscow as a correspondent for radio stations, magazines and newspapers in German-speaking countries.

In his blog entry, Jens Siegert names sources for the veritable anti-Americanism of the Russian population. The rejection is also mixed with deep admiration, so the EU and the USA remain a "utopia of normal life" for many Russians.

A US flag painted on a brick wall and smeared with graffiti. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

A fundamental rejection of the USA is widespread (worldwide) and has long historical roots (not least in Europe). The simplest explanation is the simultaneous attraction and repulsion of the current world hegemon. Beyond any political evaluation, it can be explained both psychologically and geopolitically. But in some countries, in some phases, this rejection of the USA turns into veritable anti-Americanism. That seems to be the case in Russia today.

I see three main sources for the current, almost pathological anti-Americanism in Russia: the conspiracy theories that are omnipresent in this country, a desire for world power understood as a natural right and a great, double feeling of insecurity. Sequentially.

Conspiracy theories dominate large parts of both public and private discourse. The widespread (directly untranslatable) idea of ​​a "mirowaja sakulisa" ("Google" gives 190,000 entries, the Russian search engine "Yandex" one million), "Wikipedia" lacks one entry - which can be another reason, is legendary American conspiracy), a world domination behind the scenes, so a kind of puppeteer troupe that secretly pulls all the (important) strings. Depending on your choice and preference, it is attributed to the USA, Wall Street, the "Bilderbergers" or world Jewry. Although that is one and the same for many.

Now you can find conspiracy theories all over the world. In Russia, however, they are, firstly, part of the social mainstream and, secondly, also haunt the minds of many state officials. I just want to illustrate this with two of the very many possible recent examples.

Leonid Reshetnikov is a retired lieutenant general in the foreign intelligence service. In 2009, with the support of his former employer, he founded a "Russian Institute for Strategic Research" (RISS), of which he is director. Reshetnikov said in a recent interview for Argumenty i Fakty, a popular national newspaper, the following: "The first time the Americans tried to destroy Russia was during the October Revolution of 1917. The second attempt was made during World War II. The third one in 1991. (…) The USA drove both Germany and the USSR to war. They helped both countries to become stronger so that the clash between these two states became a catastrophe. That is precisely why the USA did itself in the 1930s Years actively involved in the industrialization of the USSR. " (

Reshetnikov could now be dismissed as an old hater of the USA, also because of his origins in the KGB in the 1970s. But on the one hand, such ex-KGB members now occupy a great many high positions in the state, and on the other hand, such and similar convictions can be found across Russian society. Ralf Fücks, director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, for example, discovered this at the beginning of February in Moscow during a conversation with entrepreneurs. In an article for the daily newspaper "Die Welt" he reports on a conversation with employees of an internationally active technology company in Moscow, at first sight all educated and enlightened people: "In the Second World War the Anglo-Saxon powers would have raced Russia and Germany. This game would have been repeat themselves today. Ukraine is just as part of Russia as Bavaria is part of Germany. The collapse of the Soviet Union is a historical disaster, caused by a power vacuum in the center. It should not be repeated. " (

Second example: Last fall, the former head of the FSB's domestic intelligence service and today's head of the State Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, someone from Putin's closest circle, warmed up a verifiably made-up story about former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. As a result, as early as 1999, an FSB employee who was capable of mind reading latched onto Albright's brain and discovered that Albright was not only a "pathological hater of Russia", but also intended to deprive Russia of its Siberian raw materials. President Putin, who was asked about it at a public consultation in 2007, said that although he did not know of such a statement, he knew "that such thoughts are rolling in the minds of some politicians." (

Conspiracy theories are not a marginal phenomenon in Russia. Magazines and books about them are sold in large quantities and in high circulation. State television broadcasts daily programs in which this or that current or historical conspiracy is "cleared up". In particular, people from the security structures, regardless of whether it is the secret service or the military, seem to believe their alleged "truths". Many politicians, right up to the government and the Kremlin, use them publicly.

The second source of Russian anti-Americanism is direct competition. There is a widespread belief in the country that international politics is a constant struggle of great powers for influence and survival. Even the Soviet Union was constantly working on the USA. Only being on an equal footing with the USA corresponded to the self-image. The Soviet Union, however, also had an ideological necessity: if communism was superior to capitalism (after all the justification for the existence of a Soviet Union), then it had to be measured against the leading capitalist power. From today's perspective, the Khrushchev motto of overtaking and overtaking the USA by the Soviet Union (already used by the people in the Soviet era to overtake without overtaking) has its roots here as well. It established and legitimized power.

And indeed, for a few decades the Soviet Union managed to maintain recognized, if not parity, at least competition with the USA at a high level. But that went so far beyond her strength that she collapsed and, according to Putin's dictum (and in very many Russian minds), became the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century". But the claim remained, even if it is no longer ideologically justified, but based on a being supposedly peculiar to the country. Russia therefore has a natural (sometimes also historically) named right to be a great power because it is so big, because it has (so many) nuclear weapons and because (here it gets a little mystical) it has the will to be a great power (In contrast to the other former European great powers, which were optionally viewed as weak, worn out, effeminate).

The gap between claim and reality results in a narcissistic hurt of such enormous proportions that it demands not only justification but also satisfaction. In order to be able to endure this phantom pain of no longer being one of two superpowers, (almost) the whole country, but above all the political leadership, fantasizes that this fixation on the USA is mutual. So (almost) everything that the USA does (or does not do) is viewed from the perspective of whether it is done out of competition with Russia, in order to weaken Russia or to harm Russia.

Most recently, this became very clear again in the winter of two years ago, when the upheaval in Ukraine was interpreted in the Russian mainstream and by the state media primarily as an attempt by the USA to prevent Russia from returning to great power status. Accordingly, the triumph after the annexation of Crimea was that the Americans had been shown it. It is similar with the Russian intervention in the Syrian civil war. Immediately after a ceasefire was negotiated bilaterally (!) With the USA there last week, President Putin personally addressed the people via an otherwise very rare direct televised address to announce the agreement (the triumph!). The message: Now that the USA has recognized Russia's equality and the great powers have come to an understanding (again), everything is going back to normal.

A third source of Russian anti-Americanism is what the great American expert on Russia, Georg Kennan, called Russia in the middle of the 20th century "traditional and instinctive sense of insecurity". This feeling of insecurity stems, on the one hand, from the centuries-long existence of Russia (and its predecessor, the Grand Duchy of Moscow) as a state without natural borders, which was allegedly repeatedly exposed to hostile attacks from all sides. It is true, at least since Grand Duke Ivan III. began collecting Russian soil in the 15th century, but this alleged "limitlessness", the alleged vulnerability that goes with it and the consequent need to be absolutely defenseless is perhaps the most important basic myth of the prevailing historical narrative in Russia. Both the expansion of the Grand Duchy of Moscow and then the Russian Empire in all directions as well as the "necessity" of a belt of influence in countries around Russia are justified.

The insecurity is also fed by a long-standing, very deep feeling of civilizational inferiority, first Europe, then, from the 19th century, towards the West (including the USA) as a whole. In surveys (including by the Levada Center), which I mentioned in these notes last December, shows "the knowledge that one's own country does not get there [where the West is civilized, JS]. As a result, the West becomes negated and denounced as a concept of life and transferred his own inadequacy to him. Psychologically, probably a protective reaction "( This feeling of inferiority was always accompanied by a simultaneous fascination, and by the longing for a synthesis, as Dostoyevsky had already dreamed, between Western culture and Russian down-to-earthness. From the first half of the 20th century to the 1930s, Russian intellectuals admired the USA above all for the dynamism, the skyscrapers (which Stalin himself had copied in Moscow), the technology, the American speed. The consequence of this relationship, which has always remained a little unequal, is a kind of love-hate relationship towards the USA to this day (while towards Europe it is more like the somewhat wistful memory of an unfulfilled childhood love).

Now briefly to the second part of the initial question: How deep does that go? What predominates, hate or love? And consequently: is this for a long time?

Maria Snegurowa, a Russian political scientist who works in the United States (and to whom I owe the above reference to Georg Kennan), concluded in a recently published article that Russian anti-Americanism is "real and sincere" and "... that the beliefs of the elite will probably stay the same, as they are based on deep psychological and historical grounds "( -antiamericanism-sne govaya). I am more skeptical, that is, more optimistic.

There are several reasons for this. For one thing, there are phases in Russian history when that was not the case. Interestingly, this includes the period immediately after the October Revolution and before Stalin, see above, but above all the period from the beginning of perestroika to the early years of Vladimir Putin's presidency. Second, the US's rejection is traditionally mixed with ample admiration. In this perception, the USA is on the one hand decadent to the west and an opponent of Russia, but a thoroughly worthy opponent. Thirdly, and that seems most important to me, there is an "unbroken basic identification" (according to Lev Gudkow from the Levada Center) with the West among the population (less among the political elites). The EU and also the USA remain (again Gudkow) the "utopia of a normal life". Even the massive propaganda of the past 10 years or so has not been able to break this "basic identification". As soon as the propaganda subsided, the image of the USA improved significantly in surveys and was again approaching the long-term, predominantly positive average values ​​measured by the Lewada Center. So there is reason to be hopeful.

You can find this and other texts on Jens Siegert's Russia blog