Russian state propaganda labels any suggestion that Russia might be blamed for some wrongdoing as Russophobia. Does it mean that Russophobia is solely the fruit of imagination? No, alas it doesn’t. Russophobia exists, argues journalist Leonid Ragozin. The myth about an omnipotent Russia which meddles everywhere, obscures the fact that Trump and Brexit are the product of impotency that span entire Western societies.

russophobia nanette hoogslagImage Nanette Hoogslag

by Leonid Ragozin

In the age of victimhood exhibitionism, it is a norm to abuse people’s trust by playing victim, individually or collectively. But you’d be hard pressed to find someone do it as blatantly as Russian state propaganda. From its perspective, any suggestion that Russia might have been involved in some wrongdoing - be it Salisbury attack, attempts to influence US elections or shooting down Malaysian airliner - constitutes Russophobia. This line of defence seems hapless in the face of abundant evidence pointing towards Russia-linked culprits in all of these cases, but the Kremlin keeps using it since there is always an audience that will give it a benefit of doubt.

There is a longer history of this term being abused to the point of becoming a laughing stock for Russia-watchers and Russians themselves. Employed by the crypto-fascist Pamyat movement in the late 1980s, Russophobia became a battle cry for the 'red-brown' coalition of communists and nationalists who tried to undo Boris Yeltsin’s government in the 1990s. For them, the ruling 'Russophobes' were intent on wiping out Russian nation and gifting all of its riches to the Western, or indeed Jewish, oligarchy.

That sentiment has been inherited by Russia’s modern far right who - sense the irony - routinely describe Vladimir Putin as the chief Russophobe because he has opened floodgates for mass migration from Central Asia, which has altered the racial composition of large Russian cities. The perceived 'Russophobic' nature of Putin’s regime is a commonly cited rationale for dozens of Russian ultra-nationalists to join Azov and suchlike volunteer formations in Ukraine and fight against their own compatriots in Donbas.

So does it mean that Russophobia is a fruit of Russians’ own imagination which doesn’t exist in real world? That’s an assertion many in the anti-Russian camp seem to support, but that turns them into, well, Russophobes in the eyes of Russians and Russian-speakers in other countries who encounter xenophobic attitudes regardless of their political views or relationship to Putin’s Russia.

'Russian lice'

These xenophobic sentiments exist in objective reality. It would be very strange if they didn’t, now that Russia has occupied Crimea and staged all sorts of other subversive operations, including in leading Western countries. But it is important to put things into perspective. Unlike Islamophobia, a much stronger phenomena in today’s West, Russophobia is rarely manifested by hate speech and never by violence. Crucially, it mirrors anti-American, anti-Baltic, anti-Ukrainian and other phobias which Kremlin propaganda has been sowing for many years. But it’s also wrong to dismiss it, because it does affect policies in the West. That helps no one else but warmongers on both side of the current standoff.

Understandably, much of the open Russophobia originates from Russia’s neighbourhood affected by Moscow’s aggressive policies. When Ukrainian TV anchor and blogger Serhiy Ivanov writes that the Nazis were killing a wrong people in gas chambers (meaning it should have been Russians), is that an excusable emotional reaction to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine? For many of those who rushed to defend him at time, it was. I bumped into him at the July 4 reception in Kiev in 2016, which suggests that US diplomats see no issues with his rhetorics (or simply don’t follow his popular blog).

Russophobia helps no one but warmongers on both sides of the current standoff

It gets harder to find a reasonable excuse for Latvian politician Edvins Šnore who wrote in an op-ed, approvingly quoting a 1930s Latvian official: 'If you let Russian lice penetrate your overcoat, it will be hard to get rid of it.' People he is referring to are not even Russian nationals, but his Russian-speaking compatriots in Latvia. Šnore is an MP from a party that was a part of various government coalitions ever since 2011 and successfully pushed legislation severely restricting education in Russian language. A minister representing the same party has recently proposed strangling Russian-language media in Latvia by heavy taxes. Members of his party leadership defended Šnore’s statements at the time.

Across the Atlantics, some people wear their Russophobe badge with pride. 'How can one not be a Russophobe?' wrote John Sipher, former CIA Moscow station chief, now one of the most outspoken Russiagate 'experts' who makes regular appearances on the main US and international TV channels. The rhetorical question was addressed to a Twitter audience of 126 thousand. The tweet, which went on to list out Russia’s alleged crimes, received thousands of likes and retweets.

It’s easy to attribute the emergence of this new sincerity amongst the American, East European and, to a much lesser extent, West European commentariat to the aggressive posture adopted by the Kremlin in the last decade, but even before the 2008 war in Georgia, one of the most prominent and, admittedly, insightful blogs discussing Russian politics and run by US journalist Kim Zigfeld, was called 'La Russophobe'. Its official motto was 'Russia is the best country in the world… except for all the others'.