Why America Still Gets Russia Wrong: Self-Inflicted PSYOPS and Redundant Red Lines
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Matthew Crosston

Institute of National Security Studies,
Tel Aviv, Israel
Senior Research Fellow;
Austin Peay Institute of National Security and Military Studies,
Inaugural Director.


Scopus ID: 25221210000


The news covering the Ukraine conflict causes many to pause and wonder if the world is on the verge of a new world war. More likely, it is on the precipice of a false WWIII, provoked by a disingenuous Cold War, with most media organizations in the West serving to intensify panic, rather than dissecting information to make citizens more aware and nuanced with the increasingly hostile rhetoric being thrown at each other. Why is this so and, most importantly, what is to be done?

First off, it must be recognized how much frustration permeates the current situation, fed by politicized streams that have stubbornly continued to overflow their capacity, keeping each side from wanting to engage in real dialogue with the possibility of mutual compromise.

At the heart of America’s frustration with Russia is the irritation of the so-called “winner” not seeing the declared “loser” of the Cold War remain humbled when it comes to global impact.

America will of course not publicly admit that it wants to always see Russia as a feckless state, irrelevant and ineffectual.

But analyzing how America has behaved toward Russia since the end of the Cold War, it is challenging to come away with any other conclusion. For example:

  • Rejecting Russian overtures to become real partners in the Global War on Terror after 9/11.
  • Trumpeting the “Pivot to Asia” as a symbolic reduction of Russian importance.
  • Bringing NATO across Eastern Europe right up to the very borders of Russia while not addressing professed Russian security concerns or attempting to include Russia in NATO expansion discussions.  
  • Criticizing Russia’s desire to play a leading role in regional affairs as hiding a secret desire to “restore the Soviet Union.”  
  • Lambasting Russian support of a longstanding Middle Eastern ally (Syria) during a highly complex civil war as akin to fostering war crimes.  
  • Driving a wedge between improving China-Russia relations as an effort to “keep the global order more stable.”
  • Punishing Russia at least half a dozen times with severe sanctions, even creating the never-before-seen instrument of “individually citizen-targeted international sanctions.”  

This is just a starter list, but a vivid one. The consistency about American policy toward Russia has been a resounding strategy of keeping the country isolated and disconnected from reclaiming a leading role on the world stage.

It is not surprising that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Russia has accused America of wanting to make sure Russia is never at its side but on bended knee.

At the heart of Russia’s frustration with America is the belief that the end of the Cold War in the 20th century should not mean an end to Russia in the 21st. The above-mentioned endured policy irritations are, to the Kremlin, seemingly based on a strategic American vision that Russia must always be portrayed as the villain. This is not just propaganda directed to foreign audiences but is self-inflicted PSYOPS to American ones.

After all, there is obvious value in keeping Russia a demoted and weakened pariah when the United States has more than enough to worry about currently with rising power aspirations in China.

It is quite likely that a new bipolar rivalry between America and China will not have the same adversarial tone that America vs. Russia always did and does. Perhaps this is because America feels more comfortable with China’s embracing of global capitalist prosperity and is convinced that any injury to America will also be an injury to China, so inextricably linked and codependent the two economies have become. Russia, no matter how much it adapts to the global economy and embraces market principles, will always carry the Soviet baggage of backwardness in the American mind. Consequently, this mental block prevents what is to Russia the logical progression of its relationship with America: why can’t it just be a copy of the “friendly tension” that exists between the US and China? Not allowing that to happen is just further affirmation that America has no interest in Russia reemerging successfully onto the global stage.  

This affirmation moves further with the constant decrying of redundant red lines in the West, of promises to take action against inevitable Russian aggression. Truly, if it wasn’t so serious in ultimate consequences, the whole affair would be worthy of political mockery. Think about the unfulfilled warnings: Russia at various times has been accused of impending invasions against Estonia (didn’t happen), Georgia (didn’t happen), Ukraine (part I, didn’t happen), the Czech Republic (didn’t happen), Poland (twice, didn’t happen either time), and now Ukraine again (part II, still hasn’t happened).

Collectively, this narrative in the West has pushed an image of Russia being a warmonger while Russia has not actually gone to war.

Perhaps most galling of all is this de facto character assassination takes place while America continuously supports NATO, perceived as an inherently anti-Russian military organization, sliding ever closer to the physical borders of the Russian Federation and criticizes Russia for having a problem with it.

The newest redundant red line (Ukraine, part deux) has already resulted in some American military divisions being deployed over to Europe “just in case” while media broadcasts it as proof of war. Is it just coincidence that many moderate analysts who declare real war between America and Russia over Ukraine unlikely because it is the one result sides agree would be a disaster for all are pushed off the air in favor of other so-called Russian experts charging the Kremlin’s ultimate goal is to reclaim all things once-Soviet and reestablish a true military empire across Europe? Not only are such declarations ridiculously false. They are diplomatically reckless. They create a media expectation of dread amongst Americans and remove any hope of peaceful engagement with Russia. Why is this done? What value is there in fomenting panic when actual evidence doesn’t support it? These questions need to start being addressed more seriously.

In the current situation, consider the conflicting reports that push American fear and confusion:

  • Russian troops were mobilized to the edge of the Ukrainian border, when in fact most were over 150 miles away.
  • When many units were moved back to their home bases, America complained this was to places already nearby, thus meaning remobilization could happen any moment and therefore pulling back from the border was irrelevant.
  • Military exercises were happening in Belarus to open a second front against Kiev, when in fact these drills happen every year.
  • February 16th was the moment of promised invasion, until it wasn’t, and then people were told that wasn’t really the right date in the first place.
  • February 20th was the REAL moment of promised invasion, until it wasn’t again, and then people were still told it could happen at any time.
  • The conflict was all about gaining Eastern Ukraine, until it was actually about invading Kiev, until it was once more about gaining Eastern Ukraine.
  • False flag operations by Russia supposedly abound everywhere, all done to give it the ‘impetus excuse’ to roll into Ukraine for a full-scale invasion. But these false flags never actually result in Russia rolling in. But people still have to be wary of new false flags getting the invasion moving…even if they never come to fruition.

While these flip-flops and face value contradictions don’t get analyzed by media/political analysts in the West, they are easily pointed out by Russian media, which is not insignificant. They reveal the insipid and apparently hopeless silliness of American-Russian relations today in the new-old fake Cold War. Understandably, this inability to get Western partners sincerely to the negotiating table often leaves Russia feeling painted into a diplomatic corner, resulting in sudden political maneuvers to gain attention and catch the West off-guard. This is likely how best to characterize Putin’s “recognition of sovereignty” of the Luhansk and Donetsk Peoples Republics in the far east of Ukraine, on the border with Southern Russia, that took place on February 21.  Will this lead to Russia entering those territories to support their new sovereignty (which will assuredly only be acknowledged by Russia and no one in the West) with a strong military presence? Or will Russia simply acknowledge these republics and then call for more negotiations in a diplomatic venue?

The West will first wait to see what this “sovereignty declaration” means in real terms for Ukrainian-Russian relations and to the territorial integrity of Ukraine. What will the status and condition of Russian military divisions be in the immediate aftermath? How will the authorities within the DPR and LPR react to this declaration? Will their next maneuvers be well-thought and considered or will they be rash and reckless? What will Kiev do in response? The answers to these queries will go a long way to defining how the present conflict unfolds further. The instinctive, knee-jerk reaction to the Russian declaration by the West will of course be one of negativity and dismissal. That is to be expected. So what matters is not what happens immediately but more in the medium-term, over the next few months, when observers can truly see what consequences shake out from this Moscow acknowledgement.

Unfortunately, important to note, many of those observers in America will be “new” Cold Warriors: trained by the old guard to think of Russia as inherently the enemy, not to be trusted, and taught to shy away from innovative or new streams of political and diplomatic consciousness. Until America makes a concerted effort to sweep this old Cold Warrior mentality out and inspires new thinkers, new ideas, and new strategies on Russia, then one of the most important and enduring geostrategic relationships in the world today will remain mired in a morass resembling 1962 more than 2022.

Stakes are High Over Ukraine Crisis, but Putin is “Not a Gambler”
Fyodor A. Lukyanov
The Russian president is a "calculated player" and "very much aware about all dangers," says Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs magazine. On February 3, 2022, he took part in “Conflict Zone” TV program by DW.com.