June 4th, 1989. Tiananmen Square, Beijing. A protest largely orchestrated by students. Suppressed. Per the government, 200-300 died.
Years later, we learned that the actual death toll topped 10,000.
August 21, 1991. Red Square, Moscow. A coup d'etat was attempted by members of the Soviet government against Mikhail Gorbachev. Apparently inspired by the leader of the resistance movement, Boris Yeltsin, the army refused to fire on it's citizens. The coup attempted failed. By the end of 1991, the Soviet Union was history.
Why one coup attempt succeeded and one failed is a conversation that continues to surface. The Chinese militia that gunned down their countrymen, later bayoneting wounded women, was allegedly 60% illiterate. Unlike Russia, there was no single leader opposing the Coup.
Unlike the luckless Chinese, 99.9% of the Russian military was literate. When facing their countrymen, the human side prevailed. They refused to fire on their own citizens, disobeying orders from above.
I recall watching the Moscow development live on CNN. Young male soldiers were confronted by middle aged women, bluntly telling them to "shoot me if you must, but I am not moving." In spite of threats from above, the soldiers refused to accommodate their party bosses.
In actuality, these young soldiers had taken a giant step.
At first glance, today's China looks less threatening than Russia. But is it? There are more than one billion Chinese. Russia has but 139 million, down from 149 million twenty years ago.
Russia claims to be Democratic. Few believe it. In the eyes of most Americans, President Vladimir Putin is a "KGB thug and dictator." But make no mistake! Two thirds of the Russian people are solidly behind him.
On February 25th of this year, China's CCP(Communist party) announced that they were dropping term limits, allowing President, Xi Jinping to stay on indefinitely. China offered no explanations or apologies. Few, if any protests evolved.
For those who would like to see the electoral college abolished in the U.S., a quick look at Russia might motivate them to rethink their position. The country has a popular vote. But, the large cities(Moscow has more than 20 million people) control the outcome.
As a result, the standard of living is much higher in the cites. There are more millionaires in Moscow than in New York. Meanwhile, the national household income in Russia is slightly north of $2200 per year.
China does have a "protected place for the privileged few." There was an elite class in the former Soviet Union, as in China today. The idea that Communism levels the playing field for all is a misnomer. Most of the people are "equally poor! But there was always an extremely affluent upper crust of party "Apparatchiks" who had scaled the mountain.
China did slightly modify itself with injections of capitalism, but did it on a controlled basis. Much can be attributed to the expiration of Great Britain's lease on Hong Kong in 1997.
Russia's former party bosses took advantage of their positions and actually lead the transition to a market economy. As would be expected, there was high handed corruption.
Unlike China, there continues to be resistance in Russia. To hear the average Russian retort, these resisters are "mainly Gennady Zyuganov inspired Communists" who "aspire to reimpose the old order on the country."
Did I hear this right?
Isn't Putin a Communist? Didn't he say that the "breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest tragedy of the 20th century?"
No and Yes.
No. Putin may have been a member of the Communist party in 1989. Everyone in the KGB was in 1989. Today, he is thoroughly inoculated from that ideology. He has seen the numbers in his personal bank account explode and now appreciates the virtues of capitalism.
Putin has always regretted the breakup of the Soviet Union. Texas sized, Ukraine has 45 million people and is the traditional "break basket." The former Warsaw Pact countries are now NATO members. When combined with Ukraine's population, Russia is outnumbered; by people to the south and west who hate and fear them. Thanks to the United States, they are now heavily armed.
Here is another detail that the media has quietly ignored. The official religion of China's Marxist government is "Atheism." However, many Chinese continue to practice Buddism, Confucianism or both.
Russia has completely returned to the Russian Orthodox religion that was predominant prior to the Bolshevik revolution. For those unfamiliar with Russian and Eastern Orthodox, it is very similar to Catholicism. The main difference is the Metropolitan of Moscow and not the Pope is the spiritual leader of the church.
In the mid-1990's CNN produced a series called "Cold War." It included interviews with everyone who was involved, from George H.W. Bush to Gorbachev. One question that was answered by the latter, was revealing.
The former Soviet General Secretary admitted that "our youth were becoming robotic." He had come to agree with Yeltsin that the idealized Communist man was a myth; that people were not meant to function in that manner. Gorbachev thought that he could save the system by putting a "human face" on it.
What he did do was to arrest the trend toward young people becoming "robotic." Perestroika resulted in more "individualistic" and less "robotic" Russians. The Chinese were never granted that option.
As history proved, "robotic" people will gun down fellow countrymen, no questions asked. Individualistic people won't; if they believe that those giving the orders are mistaken.
Unfortunately for the countrymen of China, there have been no reformers like Gorbachev or Yeltsin.
True, Russian citizens remain uncomfortably(by American standards) deferential to their government. 70 years of Communism left behind it's residue. But, things are changing. Slowly. What is difficult for non-Russians to ascertain, "is the deference to Putin based on fear of Putin or fear of Communism?" If Putin is seen as their best defense against those advocating a return to the old system, things become crystal clear...
Telltale hints may come from two key Obama holdovers. Valerie Jarrett, an Iranian and a member of Obama's inner circle, admitted that the two historical figures that she admired the most were "Mao Zedong and Mother Teresa.." Former C.I.A. chief, John Brennan is an avowed Communist. Both loathe Russia.
Why does any of this matter to the United States? One side meddles with our elections. The other steals our intellectual property.
It may come down to a choice between choosing between a Communist Country and a country that was previously Communist and now will do anything to keep from returning to Communism.
The contrast between China and Russia is actually quite stark.
In China, you have secular, global socialism/communism. There are certain attributes of Capitalism found. But the country remains a solidly totalitarian state.
In Russia, you have largely "faith based, nationalism" that is and has been moving away from the old Soviet welfare state, in favor of Capitalism. In many ways, the country resembles a gangster state. Yet the country retains many pre-Soviet traditions, such as Christianity.
On the down side, religious minorities such as Jehovah Witnesses are being singled out for prosecution. Russia is arguably the "most homophobic" non-Arab country in the world. When it comes to anti-semitism, Russian hands aren't exactly clean. They have shared the recent anguish of radical Islamic acts of terror.
In many ways, the Russia-China contrast is reflective of our own differences in America. We have "Faith based, National Populism" on one side and "Secular, Global Socialism" om the other.
As dangerous as Russia may be, many conservatives conclude they are the lessor of two evils.
A secular, robotic nation with more than twice the numbers of the United States and Russia, combined, should be cause for concern! The problem rests with our own countrymen. They are quick to point out Russia's ugly tendencies. Yet, they've been slow to take exception to China's. Until now.
Donald Trump has made fair trade an issue, much to the chagrin of globalists. Starting a trade war with China is being positioned by the main stream media as a dastardly act, ultimately hurting the American middle class.
While Russia has "mountains" of weapons of mass destruction, their economy is no larger than Italy's. U.S. sanctions are taking their toll. Inside the country, there is hope that things will change, with Trump at the helm. But the President faces pressure from both sides.
Democrats naturally resent his undoing previous Obama initiatives, ranging from the Iran Nuclear deal to the Paris Climate accord. The "Occupation" of Crimea was unacceptable, never mind the circumstances.
Republican Neo-Cons concur. Can you ever remember any preemptive war that a Neo-Con didn't like?
In short, America is at a crossroads diplomatically. It comes down to "which" seemingly bad actor represents the biggest threat to the U.S.? This apparently depends on which side of the American fence you reside.
I only know that I am more comfortable with the President doing my bidding that John McCain or Lindsey Graham.