To put into perspective how a great number of Russians regard their first president and his policies, imagine the governor of Illinois striking a deal with the leaders of New Mexico, Texas, and California and offering them support for their independence in order to oust his personal rival, the president, from the White House and take over the rump United States. Imagine, in addition, that he dissolves the US Congress by sending in tanks, resulting in the deaths of over 150 citizens. These patriotic activities then lead to hyperinflation, wiping out the citizens' personal savings. The economy in now in shambles, and high-tech gives way to raw-material extraction. Silicon Valley infogeeks are escaping to China, Europe, and Brazil. Lucrative businesses are "privatized" and handed over to the president's cronies. His reformist economists attempt to fix the economy by not paying wages - for years. Law enforcement virtually disappears, and US cities become the battlefields of endless gang wars. The life expectancy of men falls to 57 years.
Meanwhile, US foreign policy becomes subservient to China, and American troops abroad are withdrawn in a matter of months and settled in the Mohave Desert. Washington renounces any interest in Americans abroad, so the Anglos of Phoenix and San Diego are forced to flee the newly independent states, penniless.
Replace the United States with Russia, and you'll have a moderate description of life under Yeltsin.
When communism was falling in the former Soviet Union, Russians were very positive toward the United States. Soviet anti-American propaganda was crushed by American pop culture. By the late 1990's, anti-Americanism was again on the rise, thanks to the bitter disappointment engendered during the Yeltsin epoch. In those troubled years, instead of suggesting a Marshall Plan for Russia, Washington encouraged Russian liberals to destroy the country's economy by adopting enlightened Harvard theories.
At the same time, Washington was constantly hailing the Moscow regime, and foreign support helped Yeltsin stay in power. So the Russian public got the message, loud and clear: Americans like Yeltsin because America enjoys seeing Russians suffer. That is the joinlegacy of Boris Yeltsin and his Beltway buddies. (Egor Englehardt, on the April 25 death of Yeltsin, in the July issue of Chronicles.)
I can confirm that this is, more or less, give or take a few nuances and emotional inflections, the general Russian perspective on that period of their national history, and America's involvement therewith; being married to a Russian, having Russian in-laws, and coming into contact with many Russians here and abroad has only strengthened this impression. However, it is not quite right - not even for beleaguered Russians - to state that Americans, presumably the American establishment, simply relish the thought and reality of Russian misery. It is rather the case that they are utterly indifferent to such matters, provided that American geopolitical interests are advanced; if Russians can somehow adapt to the Unipolar Moment, so much the better for them, but if they sink in squalor and misery, well, too bad. America, since those halcyon days of the close of the Cold War, has sought, and not surreptitiously, both to discourage the emergence of geopolitical rivals, and to diminish those potential rivals that might conceivably thwart American ambitions. The infamous (at least for foreign policy types) Wolfowitz indiscretion, in which, in 1991, the then Undersecretary of Defense for Policy leaked to the press a draft document which openly avowed that the aim of American policy was to preserve and expand upon America's 'sole superpower' status, was only an indiscretion because it disclosed the truth, and not because it misrepresented it. In reality, this has been the strategic aim of American policy since the close of the Cold War, and this has meant several things where Russia is concerned: the expansion of NATO, despite previous assurances that this would not be undertaken, the encirclement of Russia's vulnerable southern flank by means of alliances and basing agreements, the promotion of neoliberal economic policies which served American interests by serving the interests of American corporations and bankers, though not those of Russians, and the openly incoherent embrace of the Chechen cause. (The Chechen cause being an Islamist undertaking, funded lavishly by the usual suspects in the Middle East, and the Chechens even being the pioneers of the modern jihadist snuff film.)
The American interest in precluding the re-emergence of Russia as a great power is, as in all things geopolitical for America, not merely a matter of strategic maneuver, a grimy realpolitik struggle for influence, power, and wealth - though it is all these things - but also a matter of ideological self-validation. The American establishment cannot endure the rebuke implicit in the rejection, by Russia, or any other nation, of incorporation into a world political and economic order. Such rejection is a repudiation of our (in truth, affected) universalism, and the thought of historical particularity terrifies. And so, the American preference for Russian liberalism, itself a veil drawn over a sordid and sanguinary process of insider dealing, gangland assassinations, and unfettered primitive accumulation (If one wants to understand something of what the dispossession of the Church and the peasantry, and then the enclosure of the commons was like, 1990's Russia is a passable analogue; Russians actually held stakes, as a result of Glasnost era reforms, in various state enterprises; this emergent order of property rights, needing legal elaboration, was swept away in a Great Barbecue of "privatization" and shock therapy.). The Yeltsin era served American interests because Russia was prostrate, geopolitically; economically, with power diffused from the center, and the economy itself concentrated in the hands of oligarchs - men who, as thinkers as different as Jefferson and Marx would recognize, being capitalists above all else, had no loyalty to anything save money - American interests would be able to arrange favourable concessions for Russian resources. The oligarchs could take their cuts, the American (and other Western) corporations would move their profits offshore, and Russia would be reduced to an extraction economy. But because this could be sold as the free market at work, it would have been a validation of the American Way. History does not repeat as farce, only as renewed tragedy.
In brief, the reversal of these trends under the Putin regime is the principal cause of the negative press Russia receives. The Great Barbecue has ended, and oligarchs are no longer permitted to weaken the nation, least of all by allowing Western nations to extract natural resources and take the profits home. And the halt called to the dissolution of the Russian state, along with rising demand for energy resources, has given Russia some geopolitical space, some clout to throw around. This is not supposed to happen, not according to the American narrative. Which brings us round to recent nefarious doings, such as poisonings and diplomatic rows. While I hesitate to do so, I must take issue with the take of James Poulos on the Litvinenko affair. In the first place, the casual assumption that this assassination was ordered at the highest levels of the Russian state requires some demonstration, which has not really been forthcoming. The assumption rests upon a misconception of how government in the former Soviet Union actually functions, even when it is authoritarian; the assumption is that everything we think is notable or important happens because the Leader willed that it happen. To the contrary, in these systems of government, the authoritarianism really only extends to a few matters of state policy; beyond these, there is room for maneuver, which is why the whole "Kremlinology" thing still has a role to play: there are still factions operating within the consensus policy. In the second place, Litvinenko's sources for his outlandish claims of Russian complicity in terrorist actions attributed to the Chechens and the operation of death squads most probably have no basis for their claims. In a security apparatus riven by factions, each vying for advantage over the other, anyone attempting to drop a dime in this manner, identifying the "real culprits", would have more to worry about than finding new work. And on the assumption that this was the handiwork of the Russian state, an authoritarian state in which nothing happens unless Putin wills it, it would be incoherent to imagine that the highest echelons of the FSB would be so riven with dissent as to have friends of a supporter of the Chechens and associate of Boris Berezovsky within them. Come to think of it, no one in the FSB would wish to be associated with either cause, the latter that of a man embittered by the fact that he is no longer given free rein to enrich himself at the expense of his countrymen - so the assumption is doubly implausible.
Someone must speak the Derbyshirean hard truth here, which is that someone who makes a name for himself as a defector and associate of a man loathed and wanted on criminal charges in Russia, and as a tacit apologist for the Chechen cause, just is liable to get whacked on someone's orders - or even by freelancers or rogues. Contrary to the idea that the Russian policy, whoever applied it in this case, was unduly concerned with one man, that policy was very much concerned with an entire nation: the pet causes of the West have no purchase in any corridors of power, because they are bad for Russia.