Welcome to the Hall of Mirrors, a weekly digest of recent developments in US-Russia relations as depicted through the lens of Russian-language media and analysis. The name of this blog is a reference to the concept of “mirror imaging,” a subtle form of cognitive bias wherein one draws upon personal experiences and preconceived notions in order to analyze an unfamiliar subject. Mirror imaging often emerges against a backdrop of incomplete data, as the human mind tends to fill in the gaps with preconceptions and personal prejudices when otherwise starved of credible information.
The current state of US-Russia relations – or rather, the public discourse surrounding it – presents an excellent case study of mirror imaging in action. The belief that Washington and Moscow are today engaged in a “new cold war” has gained a great deal of traction in recent years as the Kremlin has embraced an increasingly assertive foreign policy, which has frequently placed it at cross-purpose with the Euro-Atlantic community. Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election has further strengthened this notion, giving credence to the belief that the Kremlin seeks to undermine the US at home as well as abroad.
Yet while all available evidence indicates that a geopolitical confrontation of some kind is indeed underway between Washington and Moscow, relatively few English-language analysts have attempted to understand the deterioration in US-Russia relations from the Russian perspective. This situation is made all the more dire by the concurrent decline in funding for Russian studies at universities across the US; indeed, as one US academician recently confided to noted political scientist and Kremlinologist Andrew Kuchins, today “Russians know more about us than we know about them.”
This lack of comparative analysis is unfortunate, since anyone seeking to make sense of Russian foreign policy towards the U.S. must first appreciate the various ideas and preconceived notions that inform how Kremlin policymakers interpret U.S. actions and declarations. As Ellen Mickiewicz notes in the introduction to her 2014 book No Illusions: The Voices of Russia’s Young Leaders,
“In the international arena what comes from America is split – just the way light is split through a prism – into all kinds of directions and colors. […] Foreign policy moves and statements go out to other countries, but they are bent upon reception in their own ways. It is just a fact of trying to communicate; what gets to the receiver is subject to all of the receiver’s ways of looking at things and the deep, deep roots of history and culture”
Building on Mickiewicz’s optical metaphor, the Hall of Mirrors aims to serve as a resource for those who are interested in studying the combined historical and cultural lens through which contemporary Russians both in and out of government perceive the US and its various foreign polices. To that end, this blog will draw extensively upon news and analysis from a variety of Russian-language sources, regardless of their particular ideological affiliation. As such, even purveyors of so-called “fake news,” like RT (formerly Russia Today), will be subject to interpretation; after all, when recognized and assessed rationally, propaganda can provide tremendous insight into the attitudes and intentions of its political patrons.
As the author and curator of this blog, I will seek to provide challenging analyses grounded in well-cited research, and will do my utmost to suspend personal opinions in favor of more nuanced discussion. Yet while complete objectivity is a noble academic aspiration, it is seldom attained by individual quality control alone, and requires a meeting of minds. For this reason, I encourage readers of this blog to relay their feedback (along with other, more general questions and comments) to firstname.lastname@example.org.