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Churchill was Right about Russia and Still Is


ARTICLE MARCH 2015

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John Cody Mosbey
Trinity College Dublin
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Churchill was Right about Russia and Still Is


John Cody Mosbey
7 January 2015
_____________________________________________________________________________________________
The world buzzes with headlines of Vladimir Putin and Russian action and
reaction to world events. On the surface it seems virtually all Russian foreign policy
responsibility is vested in Mr. Putin alone. Certainly the Russian governmental
decision
making process is not bestowed solely upon one man, but it seems that
little happens in Russias name that Putin does not endorse. Russias, and by
extension Putins, actions and reactions tend to confuse and mystify us despite the
rhetoric of various politicians indicating that they clearly understand Russian
intentions. Actually understanding how Russia will act or react is as difficult as it has
always been. In the West we tend to default to Winston Churchill's famous epigram
on forecasting Russian actions: I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a
riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma...
This frank admission by Mr. Churchill about forecasting Russian actions and
reactions holds today. If a politician of Churchills grasp and intellect placed
prognostication of Russian proclivity within virtually impenetrable concentric
circles, why should we assume to be blessed with better equipped political actors on
todays stage? The answer is simple: we should not because we are not.
Churchills observation of Russian predictability is quoted so often we
sometimes fail to remember that he did not stop with merely his observation of
Russian inscrutability, and we can be thankful for it. He left Britain and the West
with an insight into deciphering Russian will with his additional surmise that
perhaps there is a key to Russian reaction to political stimuli. Wisely Churchill
posited, That key is Russian national interest.
Churchills prescient observations were aired in an October 1939 broadcast
and concerned his speculation on how Russia would act throughout the course of
WWII. Offering insight into solving the Russian riddle Churchill shrewdly noted that
1

Russia would not put aside anything that would be contrary to the historic
life
-interests of Russia. It is very important to note that Churchill was not simply
referring to what the Soviet leadership of Russia would do in a specific instancehe
was looking instead to how Russia had historically acted, and he was predicting that
Russias future actions would be in keeping with the major Russian interests
exhibited in the past.
In 1939 Russia was faced with a Nazi threat to establish a physical presence
on the shores of the Black Sea, occupy the Balkans, and subjugate the Slavonic
population in Southeastern Europe. Churchill knew then what we should know
now: Russia will act and react in traditional ways as it evaluates its national
interests. Correctly interpreting Russias historic life
-interests allowed
Churchill to predict Russias future actions only a month into WWII. Nazi Germany
and the USSR had signed a mutual non-aggression pact less than two months before
Churchill stated his conviction that Hitler, and all that Hitler stands for, have been
and are being warned off the east and the southeast of Europe by Russia.
Churchill knew that Russia would not allow its traditional geopolitical
aspirations to be threatened without mounting a serious response. A precursor to
the coming Nazi Germany-
Soviet Russia death struggle came with the 1940 invasion
of Romania by the USSR. This invasion underscored the conflict between the
Russian historic life
-interests and the strategically critical Nazi requirement for oil
and other war material. Hitler had to see from Stalins actions that the USSR would
be a competitor for the Balkans, and this knowledge, correlated with his view of
Slavic racesas Untermenschen and his ambition, propelled Germanys massive
preemptive strike against the USSR in June of 1941.
Hitler sowed the wind with his invasion of Russia, and Germany reaped the
whirlwind of defeat and occupation. German defeat in effect gave Russia the Black
Sea, the Balkans, and rule over the Slavonic people of Eastern Europe. With
Germanys defeat Russias traditional geopolitical interests gained a large measure
of satisfaction.

Russia may be the most traditional actor of all the major and secondary
powers of the earth. But the assertion that Russia acts according to traditionalist
tendencies runs the risk of venturing into an academic definitional fog because of
the strand of religious belief known as Traditionalism. The difference between
traditional and Traditional is largely a spiritual demarcation.
Traditionalism, either lowercase or uppercase, implies a handing down or
generational passing on of beliefs and/or practices and may be applied across a
range of practices from cuisine to courting to fashion. Uppercase Traditionalists
believe that spiritual and religious truths have existed from time
out
of mind and
that only certain groups of selected and initiated candidates have been chosen to
gain and maintain the pure revelations of Truth that Traditionalism possesses.
Traditionalists do not confine their belief system to any specific religious
expression, rather they claim that kernels of original (therefore pure) Truth still
exist and can be discovered within the major religions. Hence, Traditionalists
often embrace selected elements of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and
Hinduism within the exclusive claims of Traditionalism.
Although traditional religious belief and practice cannot be equated
exclusively with Orthodox Christianity, Russia does have a strong and pervasive
embrace of Orthodox Christianity, and Orthodox Christianity is certainly traditional.
Russian culture is a very traditional culture, and Russian geopolitical interests run
along recurring traditional strands. It is understandable that Orthodox Christianity
and other religious expressions are considered traditional, but it would
be a mistake to confuse the correlation of religious tradition between Orthodox
Christianity and other Russian traditions. Although Russian religious and
geopolitical traditions may be related, correlation of religious traditional traits
should not be considered the cause of the traditional geopolitical interests of Russia
a priori.
In addition to the recognizing the definitional fog surrounding traditional
and Traditional (as if the common spelling is not enough) affecting those

attempting to predict Putins future actions, it is important to recognize that


distinctly anti
-Modern, therefore anti
-Western, sentiments are distinguishing
elements in some contemporary adaptations of Traditionalism. Some influential
members of the Russian political right, especially those identified as the Russian
New Right, assert a connection with the Traditional strand of religious belief and
practice.
Alexander Dugin, for example, is a Russian political philosopher who has
been very closely associated with the ideas and teachings of the controversial Italian
self-
proclaimed Traditionalist, Julius Evola. Documentation of Evolas association
with Fascism is extremely alarming to some students of Traditionalism. Mark
Sedgwicks provocative history and commentary,
Against the Modern World
,
devotes considerable attention to Evola, hence to the reasoning of Dugin and the
anti
-Modern bend of Evolas disciples.
To an adherent, Traditionalism is right belief, and right belief guides right
actions. If right belief and right actions include a distinctly anti
-Western
characteristic, then Russian actions under Putin should be of serious concern based
upon Putins reception of Dugin and others of the Russian New Right. Leaders and
diplomats of the West would be well advised to study the works of Dugin and other
seriously right-
leaning writers and thinkers and their influence on Putin and his
political actions.
The West should not be so naive as to believe that the Traditionalist factions
evident in Russia today are not significant forces. Evola and his interpretation of
Traditionalism influences Dugin and the Russian New Right; thus Putin is influenced
in turn. Important manifestations of the contemporary Russian New Right thought
include beliefs that the West is dangerously materialist, morally corrupt, and
godless. The Western tendency toward more direct democracy is viewed
as promoting these damnable traits. Does this characterization of the West sound
familiar? There is a certain resonance between these views and accusations in
many Islamic criticisms of the West. It is hubris of the worst sort to treat these

accusations of Russia or the Islamic world in any flippant wayperhaps a too light
consideration even borders on the suicidal.
Russian traditionalist perspectives (its historic life-
interests) are certainly
geopolitical. The Russian Empire long coveted the Balkans and the warm water
ports of the Black Sea and other access points to the Mediterranean and
other seas. Imperial Russia aspired to become the single great Eurasian power -- an
empire stretching from Western Europe to India and perhaps farther. Does
contemporary Russia under Putin aspire to less? One needs only to look to the plans
and purposes of the Eurasian Economic Union to realize that there is an elephant
(more appropriately a bear) in the room and that the bear is attempting to rearm in
the grand style of the USSR.
It is a cultural and historical fallacy to project Western inculcated responses
onto Putins Russia. A Coca
-Cola sign displayed at a market in Moscow does not
necessarily mean Russia is eager to be just like us perhaps it means nothing
more than there one may purchase a Coke. Russia (under Putin) will act and react
purposefully, not as a Western actor, but as the Eurasian imperial power it aspires
to be. Putin may, or may not, be genuinely influenced by Traditionalist beliefs of the
Russian right, but he will act traditionally (that is, within Churchills historic
life
-interest understanding) as a Russian imperialist.
Some experts on Russian political behavior credit Putins actions to his being
a practitioner of realpolitik, others to Putins having pronounced megalomaniac
tendencies, still others to Putins being a product of KGB culture. While expert
opinion should be considered, no opinion affords the traction provided by viewing
Putin as a Russian leader steeped in Russian geopolitical tradition who is open to
the aspirations of Dugin and the Russian New Right. Putin does not, as some
pundits proclaim, desire a 21st Century return of the USSRhis imperial desire is a
return of the Czarist Empire constructed to his specificiations -- a Czarist Empire
wielding the might of the USSR in its glory days and fulfilling the historic
life
-interests of Russia in a very real and recognizable way.

Mr. Churchill was right. Where geopolitics are concerned, Russia will act in
historically traditional ways. To predict how contemporary Russia will behave,
forget reading of the Enlightenment and the ideals of the French Revolution
instead read Alexander Dugin.