Back in the 1990’s – after the disintegration of the Soviet Union - if you were one of those optimistic Americans

who thought the Cold War was over and the US had won; it’s time for a reality check. The Cold War actually never ended – it just seemed to go into hibernation for a spell, while Russia experimented with this new-fangled concept of democracy. Needless to say, that experiment is now officially buried; and the Russian bear is growling as loud as before. To most Americans who grew up during the era of Khrushchev and Brezhnev, the Cold War was best symbolized by hulking big, nuclear-tipped Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles pointed at the USA. Well, guess what? They still are. Just a few days ago, Russia test fired an ICBM, with multiple warheads, in response – according to Russian President Putin – to provocative actions by the US. He was referring to the proposed anti-missile shield the US is proposing to set up in Eastern Europe. “(The US) is stuffing Eastern Europe with a new base in Bulgaria, another in Romania, a site in Poland; radar in the Czech Republic…what are we supposed to do? We cannot just observe all this” Putin said. Russia says the US missile defense shield is a threat to its security; and will change the strategic balance in Europe. I hate to admit it, but he does have a point. Washington, on its part, says the shield is intended to counter ‘rogue states’ – which presumably includes Iran – but Putin is not buying it. George Bush and Putin are scheduled to meet on July 1 and 2 in Kennebunkport, Maine – but I doubt whether Bush’s down-home charm offensive is going to cut much ice with the Russian President. What most Americans perhaps do not grasp is that to expect the US and Russia to be friends and allies, in the conventional sense, would be really stretching the envelope. The Slavs of Russia (I’m not talking about the Russians who emigrated to America in the last century; and became American citizens) are a fundamentally different race from the melting-pot that is the USA. They really have nothing in common – least of all, their concept of ‘democracy’. The truth is that Russians have – historically and traditionally – been more comfortable under an authoritarian system of government. Prior to 1991, they have been ruled by figures demanding total, unquestioning obedience, for over a thousand years. Even the Communist Revolution merely replaced the Czars with even more tyrannical dictators. And the common people didn’t seem too resentful of the yoke really. So long as they had a roof over their heads, food on the table and a steady – even low paying – job, they did not bother their heads with alien concepts like freedom of expression or artistic license. Sure, occasionally, a Solzhenitsyn burst forth like a beacon, but free thinkers like him were few and far between. The Soviet Union collapsed so rapidly that the Russian population did not get a decent period of transition to adjust to the new order. Suddenly they had ‘freedoms’: freedom to speak their minds; freedom to vote in elections whose results were not rigged and a foregone conclusion; and freedom to travel outside their borders – although very few could actually afford to. But these freedoms came with a price. As the rouble, whose value was kept artificially by the Communist bosses (it was a matter of pride, after all), found its true value in the international currency market, Russian citizens discovered that it was almost worthless; and inflation went through the roof. As government subsidies on food – that most Russians had been used to all their lives - were withdrawn, just having two square meals a day; of anything, became a struggle. Suddenly, your job could not be taken for granted; you had to compete for it. The Russian mafia – which had been kept under control by even more ruthless Communist masters – was suddenly let loose and was free to commit acts of mayhem.

A lot of Russians took a long hard look at this ‘democracy’; and decided that they did not much care for it. The once-hated Communists began to look like the ‘good guys’. So, when Putin took over the reins; and inexorably dragged Russia back to the old ways, not many protested. Some even welcomed it. An authority figure was what they were comfortable with. And make no mistake, in everything but name, Vladimir Putin is the new Czar of Russia. And America needs to be very wary. This new Russia is infinitely more dangerous than the Communist one. The Soviet Union called itself a superpower but, in fact, the only thing ‘super’ about it was its military might. Its economy was a mess and – as all great leaders know – wars are eventually won by economic clout. Putin’s Russia, flush with petro-dollars, can be a much more formidable opponent. It’s still a military power. Yes, I know the Russian army is filled with conscripts and, man for man, a Russian soldier is no match for an American GI. Thing is, it doesn’t need to be man for man. The Russian military has a five to one superiority over its US counterpart. The Russian KGB – under new initials – is back in business and as powerful as ever. And meanwhile, the richest country in the world is spending over a hundred billion dollars on a war it cannot win. Unlike self-sufficient Russia, the US depends for its oil on a part of the world: one of whose nations is part of George Bush’s axis-of-evil; and the other is threatening to descend into a full scale civil war. I’m not saying there is any immediate threat but, if I was an American, I wouldn’t let my guard down.