If you study enough history, you will keep coming across tidbits that are surprising. One that surprised me is the alleged long-standing hatred of Great Britain for Russia, later transferred to the USA. I doubted it; why would Great Britain hate Russia?
Surely they were not holding a grudge because Tsar Alexander II sent the Russian fleet to support Lincoln in the Civil War? True enough, the Brits were supporting the South, but that was 1863, a long time ago. How about communism? We would expect them to fear and loathe the Bolsheviks, right? Dictatorship, the Politburo and all that?
Yet the hatred of Great Britain for Russia came long before Lenin was a gleam in Pappy Lenin’s eye. Not communism, then, but something else-what? Dostoevsky took note of it in 1876 when he wrote:
“The fullest breakthrough in Russia’s political life shall occur when Europe realizes that Russia does not really want to conquer anything…it is hard to imagine the degree to which Europe is afraid of us. And if it is afraid it must hate us…it has always viewed us as nettlesome outlanders.”
Dostoevsky mentioned two issues.
- Fear of conquest
- Fear of outlanders
Fear of Russian Conquest
Europe feared that Russia wanted to conquer them? Russia had done some conquering, but nothing compared to the conquering European nations had done. And Russia was, and is, huge-the sun rises on one part as it is setting on the other. It is not running out of space or resources, as Britain claimed to be doing. Russia needed internal development, not more territory.
Did Great Britain fear and loathe the possibility of a developed Russia? Would Russia then become an intolerable competitor on the world stage? Quite possibly. Look at the map, look at the relative size of Great Britain and Russia, and Russia’s location at the crossroads of so much trade between east and west. Furthermore, Russia was regarded as impervious to takeover. They had not been defeated, even in their relatively poor condition, since the Mongols took over the world back around 1230.
But that’s speculation-what did the Brits say? Lord Curzon was Viceroy of colonial India and nearly became the Prime Minster of England. In 1899 he wrote a travelogue, “Russia in Central Asia.” The year, remember is 1899-15 years before WWI and 18 years before the Bolshevik Revolution. Some excerpts:
On the Russian Trans-Carpathian Railway: “Is it innocent? …or “part of a great design that dreams of wider dominion?” Russians have ever, he said, “had a steadfast and sinister purpose…” They desire to “usurp the hegenomy of Great Britain in the markets of the east.” Bingo-there it is. Great Britain has hegenomy, it rules the markets of the east and Russia wants to usurp that privileged position.
Curzon goes on to assert that Russia actually wanted to invade India and wrest it from Great Britain. He suspected they were making war plans at that very moment to do so and offered his own war plans to counter theirs. There is zero evidence that Russia had any such plans, by the way. They had plenty of domestic problems taking up their time.
They are outlanders
Europe, even then, had an East vs. West narrative going-the clash of civilizations. This narrative trickles down to our own time. Think about it: Is Russia “west?” Not really. Is it “east?” Not really. It is a bizarre hybrid that does not fit neatly into the narrative at all, which makes it doubly scary.
Lord Curzon places Russia in the “oriental countries.” He refers to some people he met on the train, who enjoyed the ride because of their ‘inferior’ minds: “the infantile mind of the oriental drawing endless delight…” in train rides. The Muslim Turkomans gave him an idea. He thought it “sound policy…the utilization of the Turkoman manhood…” to harass the Russians. What-use Muslim warlords?
The Russians were repugnant not only because of their oriental minds, but also because they were not “free traders” they had “protective tariffs,” and God forbid, they were “nationalistic.” The Russians, in short, presented a challenge to British imperial dominance of the east.
They couldn’t defeat them outright. They were huge, patriotic and rich in resources. They were disgustingly “other” and this should be publicized. So the strategy was:
1) Demonize them as outlanders
2) make war plans
3) use proxies to gnaw away at them bit by bit
And echoing down the corridors from over one hundred years ago, these ideas carry on today.