Gerber on ‘Russia and the Near Abroad’

BY CHRIS FRYMAN

Dr. Theodore P. Gerber of the University of Wisconsin-Madison delivered a lecture entitled “Russia and the Near Abroad: A New Cold War?” as a part of St. Norbert’s Great Decisions lecture series on Wednesday, March 25.

The lecture began with a brief recapitulation of where Russia has come from in the last thirty years, when Dr. Gerber introduced his lecture with background information on the Soviet Union and its most infamous dictator, Joseph Stalin.

He continued by elaborating on the differences between capitalism and communism through the words of Karl Marx, saying “capitalism was thought of as an exploitative economic system and that the leaders of the Soviet Union believed that communism was a better solution.”

The Soviet Union, in existence from 1922 to 1991, was run by the Communist party, which was inherently an organization, unlike the political parties in the United States that existed solely to run the country unopposed.

In the next part of his lecture Dr. Gerber addressed the Cold War, which occurred for several decades after World War II had ended, discussing events such as the nuclear arms race, which he said had “given the U.S. a good scare in the fifties,” along with the rise of Gorbachev to power, the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 and the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992.

Russia, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, still maintained its status as a major world power, according to Dr. Gerber, because of the fact that it maintained nuclear weapons and military might, along with other tremendous resources. He also did say, however, that “Russia faced serious problems,” mostly due to the economic failures of communism and what he called “political chaos and instability.”

According to Gerber, post-Soviet Russia operated under the thought that the world would want them to be powerful because “Russia is one of the only countries in the world capable of standing up to the United States” based on size and military power. He also stated that the world was becoming too unipolar, which was the cause of Russia’s desire for multi-polarity.

When Gerber addressed modern Russia, he used examples from Russia’s not-so-distant past to give some insight on how Russia functions, including a very quick recap of the Second Chechen War, where he explained how Putin crushed the rebellion and, afterward, cracked down on democratic reform by returning Russia to its previous, authoritarian state.

He further explained that Russia had growing perceptions of bad intentions on the part of the United States, primarily directed toward Russia, citing the NATO expansion to Russia’s borders, several military interventions, the United States’ criticism of Russia’s human rights record and the assistance of color revolutions to remove previous political parties in favor of a new, democratic government.

While Gerber said that the United States had stopped taking Russia seriously after the Cold War had ended, there have been recent events which have forced Russia back into the Western spotlight, including obstructions of the United States in Iran, Iraq, Syria and North Korea and the invasion of Georgia in 2008, not to mention what Gerber called “massive political corruption and election fraud.”

When the issue of the hour was finally addressed, Dr. Gerber gave the “tortured history” of Ukraine in the 20th century. In March of 2014, Russia annexed Crimea through what can only be described as dubious means, when Putin launched a hybrid war on Ukraine, where he sent in troops and repeatedly denied that anything was going on. According to Gerber, Putin’s rationale was that Ukraine was becoming too Western and wanted to respond to Euromaiden, banking on the hope that the Western world would not respond.

Dr. Gerber earned his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California-Berkeley in 1995 and is currently a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has several works on topics such as: family formation, economics and school issues, many of these dealing with social issues in Russia.

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