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Power And Fear, Making Sense Of The Russian State Of Mind

What's nestling inside?
What's nestling inside?


During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump had promised to improve U.S. relations with Russia. His supporters said it was just the kind of bold move the world needed as escalating hostilities between the two nations stood in the way of solving major global issues from Syria to cybersecurity. Trump's opponents, to this day, see his rhetorical olive branch to Moscow as nothing less than a debt being repaid for alleged Russian meddling during last year's campaign — and who knows what other favors exchanged over the years.

But now, six months into Trump's presidency, the prospect of building a strong U.S.-Russia alliance (for whatever motivation) are looking slim. Vladimir Putin announced yesterday that he was forcing Washington to cut 755 diplomatic staff in Russia in what seems to be a tit-for-tat response to the latest sanctions bill against Russia.

Speaking to the state-run Rossiya 1 television network, the Russian president made his disappointment with Washington clear. "We waited for quite a long time that, perhaps, something will change for the better, we held out hope that the situation would somehow change," he said. "But, judging by everything, if it changes, it will not be soon."

Russia in general, has an irrational fear of weakness.

Putin characterized the measures as "biting," and warned that more options were at his disposal. Still, some analysts have a very different reading of Moscow's counter-sanctions. Quoted in The New York Times, Vladimir Frolov, a foreign affairs analyst and columnist, said this was "the least painful response that Russia could have come up with." AlexanderBaunov, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, noted that the timing made the measures look more "like a response to Congress, not to Trump."

Either way, if the move tells us little about the meanderings of ever-more complex U.S.-Russia (and Trump-Putin) relations, it offers an interesting insight into the Russian president's mindset.

Putin is often described as a "bully" with a penchant for macho poses, whose policy in both Syria and Ukraine are signs of an emboldened and imperial Russia. Yet, this is not the full picture. In a piece penned for Le Monde by Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs, explains that Putin, and for historical reasons Russia in general, has an "irrational fear of weakness."

For better or worse, Putin has managed to restore Moscow as a diplomatic and military power to be reckoned with. But to be truly successful, Lukyanov writes, Russia needs "more than military and political force."

A quick glance at the declining rate of U.S.-Russia trade over the past six years, which began even before the first wave of sanctions linked to the Ukraine crisis, can help fill out the picture. From that angle, we can start to understand Putin's mix of tough-guy messages and almost wistful tone in describing relations with the world's biggest economy. Ultimately, for any world leader, the situation on the homefront is what matters most. And, as Lukyanov notes, Russia "is beginning to understand that the efforts it deploys in foreign policy can no longer compensate for its economic and social weakness."

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The Colonial Spirit And "Soft Racism" Of White Savior Syndrome

Tracing back to Christian colonialism, which was supposed to somehow "civilize" and save the souls of native people, White Savior Syndrome lives on in modern times: from Mother Teresa to Princess Diana and the current First Lady of Colombia, VerĂłnica Alcocer.

photo of a child patient holding hand of an adult

Good intentions are part of the formula

Ton Koene / Vwpics/ZUMA
Sher Herrera


CARTAGENA — The White Savior Syndrome is a social practice that exploits or economically, politically, symbolically takes advantage of individuals or communities they've racialized, perceiving them as in need of being saved and thus forever indebted and grateful to the white savior.

Although this racist phenomenon has gained more visibility and sparked public debate with the rise of social media, it is actually as old as European colonization itself. It's important to remember that one of Europe's main justifications for subjugating, pillaging and enslaving African and American territories was to bring "civilization and save their souls" through "missions."

Even today, many white supremacists hold onto these ideas. In other words, they believe that we still owe them something.

This white savior phenomenon is a legacy of Christian colonialism, and among its notable figures, we can highlight Saint Peter Claver, known as "the slave of the slaves," Bartolomé de Las Casas, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Princess Diana herself, and even the First Lady of Colombia, Verónica Alcocer.

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