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Moscow's nostalgia for the bad 'ol days

Jill Dougherty

By Jill Dougherty
CNN Moscow Bureau Chief

December 20, 1999
Web posted at: 10:33 a.m. EST (1533 GMT)

This news analysis was written for CNN Interactive.

musings at the millennium

(CNN) -- Forget the millennium for a moment. Let's go back to the Cold War.

Moscow, November 7, the annual Revolution Day military parade. You're standing in Red Square, dwarfed by posters of Marx and Lenin and deafened by the rumble of tanks and mobile launchers carrying mock-ups -- super-realistic ones -- of intercontinental ballistic missiles, their cigar-shaped noses snubbing the gray skies.

For Russians a decade ago, it was a stirring sight. No doubt about it, the Soviet Union was a superpower. One with a vast arsenal of real nuclear missiles, with multiple warheads, capable of hitting New York or Washington in half an hour.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T. That's what you got. Respect mixed with fear.

Fast forward to late 1999. No more Red Square parades featuring nuclear missiles. No more Soviet Union. Your nuclear stockpiles have shrunk, with 60 to 70 percent of your ICBMs beyond their shelf life and facing deactivation. Your military budget is a small fraction of the Pentagon's budget. Your economy seems permanently stuck in low gear. Chechnya seems to spin out of control, a portent of possible national disintegration.

Worst of all, that hard-won respect is slipping away. Superpower? No longer. The United States still claims that title, but now it's effectively one by itself. NATO bombs Belgrade, you scream and shout, and no one seems to listen. You bomb Chechnya, and the West threatens to withhold loans.

But here's one thing the world still respects: nukes. "It seems Mr. Clinton has forgotten Russia is a great power that possesses a nuclear arsenal," an aging President Boris Yeltsin recently warned.

more musings

Politicians in Moscow publicly scoffed at his remark -- the ravings of an old man, they said.

Behind the scenes, nostalgia grows for Russia's nuclear security blanket. A new millennium dawns like the pale Slavic sun, casting shadows of nuclear missiles on Red Square.



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