The doping scandal unfolding in front of our eyes, with the International Olympic Committee this week banning Russia from participating as a nation in the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea, is instructive for those trying to chart Russia’s future.
Read between the lines, and it’s clear that nothing in Russia will change until President Vladimir Putin leaves the scene. Internal corruption won’t change. The way Moscow deals with the international community won’t change. Attempts to cheat at the Olympics won’t end.
There is a very simple reason for this. Mr. Putin, although I don’t believe he still believes in communism, does still believe in the Soviet Union, or, more specifically, in the tactics the USSR used to make Russia great again after the fall of the monarchy 100 years ago.
Mr. Putin grew up admiring the glory of Soviet athletes. To the Soviet Union, sport was one more way to compete with the West, to show the communist way of life was superior, to instill patriotism, and to defeat the adversaries of the USSR on the mat and the track, not the battlefield. In this vein of thinking, anything goes. A state-sponsored, systematic plan to dope athletes is not beyond the pale.
Sport is a favorite pastime of Russians for this reason. Soviet athletes were demigods, promoted by the state to showcase its vitality. This is the genesis of the seething popular anger right now in Russia regarding the Olympic ban. When caught, you deny, deny, deny, and blame the West, accuse America of interfering in your elections, and talk about building the Satan missile that can destroy a country the size of Texas.
Russia’s rapid increase in military spending is also a throwback to Soviet times. Although still way below what the U.S. spends in absolute terms, the Russian military budget is many times higher in terms of percentage of GDP. And as Madeleine Albright, President Clinton’s secretary of state, famously asked, “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”
Russian actions in Syria, Crimea and eastern Ukraine also harken back to the old Soviet playbook. The Soviet Union pushed for influence all over the world, especially along its border with Europe and in the Middle East. Global influence is what Mr. Putin craves, so he is using Soviet tactics to get it back. The use of cyberwarfare against the West, the attempts to discredit our democracy and our way of life, these also are classic KGB tactics.
Many argue it was the West’s fault that Russia did not join the community of free nations after the turbulent 1990s. The argument goes that we did not show enough magnanimity and help the budding Russian state. It is probably true that the U.S. security “deep state” at the time would not have allowed a complete thaw in relations with the Russian Federation. However, it is also true that Russia has an embedded deep state culture as well, one with a natural animosity to democracy, freedom and the U.S.
I believe America should be closer to Russia. I believe we have much more in common than many people realize. Russia experienced the communism our millennials say they long for. They could teach our younger generation a lot. The establishment’s attempt sabotage of President Trump and the rabid, anti-Russia hysteria amongst the Left and our media are both ridiculous and dangerous.
However, Russia also bears some responsibility for our joint future.
There is no way Russia will end the massive military parades, signifying Victory Day over the Nazis, under the current government. And Russia simply can’t bury Lenin. The older, Soviet generation simply won’t allow it. I predict that, when Lenin is buried, when Mr. Putin is gone, when the older generation fades into history, Russia will finally have a chance at a different future. Until these things happen, though, it won’t.
• L. Todd Wood is a former special operations helicopter pilot and Wall Street debt trader, and has contributed to Fox Business, The Moscow Times, National Review, the New York Post and many other publications. He can be reached through his website, LToddWood.com.