Thanksgiving special: As Americans gather with their families this week and give thanks, here are five reasons why Russia should be thankful to the U.S.
U.S. President Barack Obama laughs with his daughters Sasha and Malia (R) as he pardons National Thanksgiving Turkey. Photo: Reuters
Even on Thanksgiving, a sense of gratitude to the United States is not the most common emotion in modern Russia. Propaganda efforts by the government, combined with deeply-ingrained notions of the U.S. as a crafty enemy and an ideological opponent since the Cold War, have transformed any arguments in the format of "Russia should be thankful to the U.S." into something highly questionable at best.
However, even the fiercest critics intuitively understand that there is something wrong with this uniquely negative representation of the U.S. Russia, like other countries, has been charmed by America and has learned a lot from it. Russia’s "love-hate” relationship with the U.S. is often a powerful incentive for development or progress and many Russian achievements have been directly related to the role played by the United States in the world.
In the field of technology, America has traditionally been a trendsetter. It is accepted that today Russia is going through a phase of technological decline and is totally dependent in this respect on the outside world. However, there are still some achievements. For example, the launch of the GLONASS satellite navigation system, as well as a highly-developed telecommunications sector.
What would these projects be, however, if we didn’t have American GPS, or the development of the World Wide Web by companies in Silicon Valley? Most likely, they would simply not exist.
It was the slogan of "catch up with America and overtake it!" that was the key motive for the successful implementation and launch of the Soviet space program. We can say that Yuri Gagarin’s spaceflight would have been impossible without U.S. competition.
The construction of Russian national identity
Another example of the same kind is the role played by the U.S in maintaining Russia’s reputation of a great power. The opposite view – that the U.S. seeks to humiliate Russia and "dismember" it – can be heard much more often, but you can look at the problem from another perspective.
For the Russian leadership, the benefits of a diplomatic and foreign policy that is based on confrontation with the United States are extremely important. Let's be honest: It is not something abstract like global security, but Russia’s status of a great power that is the main prize. This is what President Vladimir Putin is counting on when he leads a complicated diplomatic game around Syria, Iran or North Korea. This game would be meaningless without the participation of the U.S. in the role of an international hegemon, which periodically upsets Russia and "puts it in its place."
Global security and counterterrorism
The role of the United States in ensuring international security is seen by many as ambiguous today, but it should not be denied either. When the decision to invade Afghanistan was made in Washington, some Russian officials explicitly stated that it went in line with their country's best interests, because the Americans took the responsibility of standing up to radical Islam along Russia's southern frontier.
The emergence of the “Pacific Pivot” in Obama's foreign policy, which had a veiled purpose of containing China, did not cause much discontent in Moscow either. Russian and U.S. special services have been successfully fighting against international terrorism together for many years. Does all of this deserve gratitude? Probably yes, since Russia has not seen as much support from its so-called friends and allies, as it has seen from the United States.
Human rights doctrines and freedom of speech
Of course, you can thank the United States not only for its role as a sparring partner, but also for the way the nation has extended its influence in other ways. It is thanks to the efforts of the United States during the 1980s and 1990s that the doctrines of human rights and freedom of speech were injected into the Russian political consciousness.
Despite the difficulties with their implementation, the understanding that freedom and humanism are needed to move forward has become part of Russia’s normative status and, as such, is periodically reflected in the statements of senior leaders, including President Putin’s. Hopefully, with the change of political generations, this immunity to totalitarianism will not be lost.
Civic society and social institutions
The influence of the American historical experience on modern Russia’s social institutions is widely noted. Watching the development of Russian civil society structures, sometimes you can feel like a time traveler and see the amazing similarity between American progressive muckrakers of the early 20th century and modern Russian fighters against corruption, between Russian oligarchs and American "robber barons" of the "Golden Age," between the 1925 U.S. "Monkey Trial" and the ongoing discussion about the role of the Orthodox Church in Russia. Russia could thank America for this priceless historical experience worthy of careful study and use.
Of course, you can easily continue this list of reasons why Russia should give thanks to the United States, especially if you forget about politics. Russian tourists, musicians, film and television viewers, doctors and engineers can easily find plenty of reasons to express their gratitude for the opportunities that America has opened up for them. Unfortunately, the current political atmosphere is not always helpful for expressing such gratitude.
Read “5 reasons why the U.S. should be thankful to Russia” here.