Not like xenophobia
Russophobia is not a mental ailment like agoraphobia, claustrophobia or even xenophobia. Its nature is political, not psychological or ethnical. Russophobia can on occasion express itself as morbid fear (in accordance with the Webster definition below), but the cause is rarely mental disorder. In these cases the morbidity is rather caused by an incomplete, unfounded or mistaken analysis. On the other hand, Russophobia may sometimes turn out to be the result of a perfectly sound analysis, and hence be a reasonable reaction to an acute political situation.
A class of its own
Russophobia belongs to the same class of phobic phenomena as Germanophobia, Japanophobia, Francophobia, Israelophobia, or for that matter Americanophobia: a class of more or less well-founded fears of political or military actions by powerful nations.
I will try to list a few factors contributing to geopolitical fears of Russia, to the phenomenon of Russophobia.
Size matters, huge size matters even more
You don’t very often hear of Swissophobia or Monacophobia, fear of Switzerland or of Monaco. Today you don’t hear of Austrophobia of Swedophobia either. However, a few centuries ago, when the Austrian Habsburg Empire was a superpower and Sweden was an important geopolitical player with a dreaded military machine, fear of Austria and Sweden formed the groundwork of the foreign policy of many nations, among them Russia, Denmark, England and France.
So size and might matters. Russia is a huge country with enormous resources. It has repeatedly proven in the past that it can use its resources to overrun its neighbors. In this respect -- looking to size, resources and past performance alone -- Russophobia on the part of Russia’s neighbors, which in our global age are all nations on Earth, may seem rational and well-founded. Nevertheless, at present the “might-based” fear of Russia is low, because the downfall of the Russian Soviet Empire has temporarily left the country weakened.
Democracy, federalism and anti-militarism
Might alone does not necessarily give cause for geopolitical alarm. Japan and Germany are economically vastly mightier today than they were at the outbreak of World War II, but they are not feared at all. Germanophobia and Japanophobia have once and for all become spectres of the past. The reason is that both have a solid democratic foundation and a 60-year record of staunch anti-militarism.
A contributing factor in the case of Germany, making a new warlike Germany virtually unthinkable, is its federal, de-centralized administrative structure. This makes it difficult for an occasional adventurer (who might happen to be elected even in a democratic society) to start military adventures, which normally require central control of the whole country.
Centralism, deficient democracy, and potential militarism
In Russia many of these safeguards are deficient or lacking. On paper Russia -- officially called Russian Federation -- has a federalist structure, but it is in fact still governed in the centralist fashion inherited from the Soviet Empire. On paper Russia is a democracy, but the country has neither democratic traditions, nor any political parties in the Western sense. Whether the latest elections can be called democratic is debatable. The rudiments of a free press, that sprouted after the Soviet collapse, have been largely eliminated by the Putin regime.
The Russian armed forces are presently weak as fighting units, but the military establishment plays an important and increasing role in Russian society. The existing Russian nuclear weapons and other WMD’s should probably cause more international concern than their non-existent counterparts in Iraq.
Rational fears require rational remedies
The factors listed suggest that even today a certain degree of Russophobia seems rational. What should be done by Russia’s global neighbors to allay their fears? One thing is certain: to follow the age-old recipe and start re-arming would be completely counterproductive.
The ideal way would be to try to influence Russia’s political development so that Russia will follow a similar path as Germany and Japan have done since World War II. Whether this is feasible or not is a different question.
It would in any case require keeping all possible communication channels open, not only to the Russian government, but even more importantly to Russia’s intellectuals and moulders of public opinion, in order to draw them -- and by extension the whole Russian population -- into the international social and political debate. With a little help from Russia, Russophobia may turn out to be a curable condition.
Countries which have exhibited a pronounced degree
of Russophobia at some point in their history:
Rationally reasoned Russophobia has unfortunately increased in recent months. Here are two contributing factors, among several:
- President Putin's announcement that Russia is developing a completely new kind of nuclear weapon and intends to deploy it as soon as possible, probably during 2005.
- President Putin's endorsment of Viktor Yanukovitch as the new president of the Ukraine, in spite of blatant cheating and manipulation of the election results, indicating Putin's determination to keep the Ukraine in the Russian sphere of influence by any means.