- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2000

The Russians are getting fed up with us again. The novelty of being friends in the wake of the Cold War we won so decisively is wearing off.

Bill Clinton, who has been making what amounts only to a social call on Vladimir Putin, felt some pain himself when he was heckled throughout his speech yesterday to the Russian parliament and to a lot of empty seats. His hosts had to paper the house with aides, bureaucrats and even a few cleaning ladies.

Some of the things we've done lately have angered the Russians, like the merciless American bombing of Yugoslavia, a Russian ally; the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe, American accusations of corruption and money laundering by Russian thugs, and American criticism of the brutal subjugation of Chechnya.

The warm and fuzzy feelings that followed the collapse of communism in 1991, when many Russians thought they would be rewarded with lots of Big Macs, Coca-Cola and french fries for their part in ending the Cold War, have largely dissipated. Now, like the French, they're suspicious of everything American.

They like our movies and our music (which may demonstrate only how taste has declined in what used to be the Soviet Union), jeans from the Gap, Oakley backpacks, Pizza Hut, Nike jackets and all the other stuff that makes America the world's favorite shopping mall. But we're getting on their nerves and the people who get paid to think heavy thoughts say it's because they don't like our foreign policy.

Neither might other people, including a lot of Americans, if we could figure out whether we have one and, if we do, what it is. But what the Russians really resent, by all the evidence, is that we're America, and they're not.

Public-opinion polls are big stuff in Russia now (which is one perfectly valid reason to resent us) and the Public Opinion Foundation in Moscow asked some questions of Muscovites the other day and came up with some interesting results.

The pollsters asked whether they know why the U.S. Navy recently stopped a Russian oil tanker in the Persian Gulf. Not many Russians do, and only 18 percent take the word of the United States that we did it to enforce sanctions against Iraq stemming from the 1991 Gulf war.

Fifty-seven percent said the Americans only did it to show off. Alexander Oslon, head of the Public Opinion Foundation, thinks the poll result is only a symptom of what really ails the Russians, disappointment over Russian failure to achieve the kind of prosperity Americans have. "The problem is," he says, "the U.S. is one of the symbols of the illusions which we had during the perestroika period and the beginning of the 1990s." That's when the United States became the model, "another planet, a kingdom of reason," for Russians who thought that soon they would have everything Americans have. When they soon didn't, resentment, disillusionment and disenchantment followed.

At one think tank in Moscow, terms such as "the world's policeman," "aggression," "domination" and "hegemony" popped out when the Associated Press interviewed students about their impressions of America. These were not communists nor even provincials, but the educated sons and daughters of the political elite, the old nomenklatura.

A little envy shows up in the media, too. A television documentary about Russia's rusting and deteriorating navy focuses on the fact that the dismantling of missile submarines, under an arms-control treaty popular in Russia, is being paid for by the United States. The ships are shown disappearing to the strains of lugubrious funereal music. Workers are interviewed wondering why Russia takes American money to disarm. Without mentioning that American missiles are to be dismantled, too, the documentary implies that the United States is engineering the dismantling of Russian military might. A popular cigarette commercial on Russian television (the politically correct busybodies have their work to do on the Volga) portrays a Russian cosmonaut out on a stroll in space, painting the cigarette company's logo on the side of the U.S. space shuttle with its slogan: "Strike Back." A bit of irony, lost on the Russians cheering the graffiti vandal, is that the cigarette is a foreign-owned brand.

It's easy to make too much of this. The poor have always envied the rich, the plain girls the pretty, the 97-pound weakling the muscleman flexing his biceps on the beach. The most popular television commercial in Canada, for example, portrays a lumberjack shouting his contempt for American culture, and no nation is more benign, more harmless than Canada. But Russian resentment is a reminder, if one is needed, that good deeds never go unpunished.

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