A few hours after the United States launched its first missile attack against Baghdad, I spoke to 400 students and faculty at Moscow’s largest university of commerce and economics. The mood in the packed hall was tense. My theme: the loyal opposition to war in America. The eager questions came in rapid-fire sequence: Will this war destroy the United Nations? How can a democratically elected President wage an unlawful war? Why does the Bush Administration treat us like a province of a new American empire?
These students are Russia’s Westernized elite–the country’s future leaders of commerce and business. Yet their anger at America was palpable, and expressed most vividly in the antiwar resolution they had drafted and unanimously adopted earlier that morning. “We demand an end to the war…. We demand the resignation of the Bush Administration, and the exile of George Bush and his family from the United States.” It continued, “Bush and his team of aggressors should be brought before an international tribunal and charged with crimes against humanity.” The resolution was delivered by hand to President Vladimir Putin that afternoon.
There are various opinions in Russia’s political elite and media about the factors behind America’s “imperial” war against Iraq. But one of the most startling for an American draws a sharp parallel with the former Soviet Union’s behavior abroad. The Brezhnev Doctrine, as it was called from the Soviet invasion of Prague in 1968 until the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, asserted that countries in the Soviet orbit–primarily in Eastern Europe–had only “limited sovereignty,” and therefore that Moscow alone had the right to decide the nature of those countries’ political regimes. This was, it is pointed out here, an early version of Washington’s current doctrine of pre-emptive war and regime change, and thus the talk in Moscow about “Bush’s Brezhnev Doctrine.”
While Russians overwhelmingly oppose the war–a poll taken hours after it started shows that 71 percent view US actions against Iraq as the greatest threat to world peace and 93 percent opposed the bombing of Iraq, while positive opinion of the United States has fallen dramatically, from 68 percent to 28 percent in the past month–few have taken to the streets to protest. The weekend after the war began, about 2,000 members of the pro-Kremlin youth group Walking Together braved Moscow’s subzero temperatures to rally outside the US ambassador’s residence. They carried several thousand blue containers of oil. “We are ready to bring as much as is needed,” the group’s leader said, “to meet American needs and stop the war.” Across from the US Embassy, about 300 largely elderly demonstrators waved banners and placards reading Veto to War and USA–International Terrorist No. 1. A small group of schoolchildren later joined the crowd and sang a song written for the occasion: America parasha, pobeda budet nasha, or “America is trash, victory will be ours.”