The Paradox of American Russophobia

July 03, 2019
Sean Guillory
This is a summary of an article originally published by The Moscow Times.

The author, an associate of the Center for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, writes:

  • “The Russian government’s current use of Russophobia is nothing new. The Russian charge of Russophobia has been in use since 1867, when Fyodor Tyutchev coined it, ironically in French, to chastise Russian liberals who demonized the autocracy and ‘cherish[ed] Europe.’ Ivan Ilyin argued that Russophobia underpinned European desires to dismember and exploit Russia. Today’s Kremlin echoes much of Tyutchev and Ilyin in its use of Russophobia to discredit its domestic and foreign critics and discursively discipline Russian identity.”
  • “Yet, at the same time, this doesn’t mean Russophobia doesn’t exist. It has a historical genealogy outside of Russia that can’t be ignored. Its origins in the English language trace to the early 19th century. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, one of its initial usages was by John Stuart Mill in 1836. Mill wrote ‘the real cause’ for increasing British military budgets was that ‘Ministers are smitten with the epidemic disease of Russo-phobia.’”
  • “What is Russophobia? This is the crucial question. Not all anti-Russian sentiment classifies as Russophobia. Emphasis should be placed on the phobia part of the word. According to one definition, a phobia is an ‘irrational fear’ and ‘may result from displacing an internal conflict to an external object symbolically related to the conflict.’ … Taking phobia as a means of displacement as a core tenet, I prefer to narrowly define Russophobia as when Russia, its government or its people are positioned as civilizational threats.”
  • “One of the most controversial aspects of Russophobia is whether it’s a form of racism. Russians are not a race. However, Russophobia utilizes racist language and concepts. I’m increasingly inclined to see it as racism.”
    • “The racist moment is best seen in former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s comment that ‘the historical practices of the Russians, who typically, are almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique’ and that it’s in Russian ‘genes to be opposed, diametrically opposed, to the United States and Western democracies.’ Such notions of biologically determined, collective behavior elevate Russians to a racial category.”
  • “It is the slippage between historical stasis and progress that makes Russia so easily slide from an object of American mania to a subject of American menace.”
  • “Interestingly, the denial of Russophobia plays a similar role in American discourse as claims of its ubiquitousness does in Russia: disciplining politics. As British Minister to Washington Sir John Balfour said in 1947 in reference to U.S. congressional reluctance to approve the Marshall Plan, ‘The high pitch of Russophobia should go a long way towards keeping the unintelligent and emotional in line.’"

Read the full article on the website of The Moscow Times.