What is Russophobia? It is the Russia-centric equivalent of anti-Americanism. It is a persistent attitude of criticism of Russia and hostility to Russian interests, going beyond all bounds of reason or evidence. It is an attitude of blaming Russia whenever there is a choice of whom to blame. It is an interpretation of Russia's motives as exclusively shady and anti-Western, whenever (as is normally the case) there are multiple motivations and compromises at work in Russian policy.
The phenomenon of Russophobia is easy enough to see in Western analysis and commentary on Russia. It expresses itself in drumbeat-style attacks on Russian policies and practices. It shows up in massive counterarguments against any arguments that a Russian might make. It surrounds Russian arguments with pre-emptive strikes not just criticizing them as self-serving (which is only ordinary in political life), but depicting them as intended for manipulation and disinformation, a ploy for turning us all into unwitting agents of the omnipresent Russian power structure. This serves to make it politically risky to agree with Russian comments even when they have an obviously valid point. It tars anyone who says anything similar with a smell of "agent of Russian influence."
Despite the obviousness of the phenomenon, there is a widespread aversion to use of the term "Russophobia." For one thing, it is said, the term belongs to Russian nationalists, who always like to complain about Russophobia. For another thing, the term carries a lot of emotional baggage.
In other words, the term itself is surrounded by pre-emptive strikes on it for having a pernicious character. This can create some obstacles to discussing the actual problem.
Nevertheless, the arguments against the term do not deprive it of its logical significance. The term "anti-Americanism" is similarly abused American nationalists like to complain about it, they use it as a weapon against their opponents, and it has a lot of emotional baggage but the term is none the less valid for that fact. And I suppose it's hardly necessary to say how much the label "anti-Semitism" is abused, but this does not deprive the term of its validity or importance.
The point is that, when the term "anti-Americanism" gets abused by American nationalists, that is of secondary importance compared to the use that actual anti-Americanism gets put to by anti-American nationalists all around the world. Anti-Americanism is whipped up on a large scale, with historic consequences. The whipping up of anti-anti-Americanism is a small thing by comparison.
The same applies to Russophobia. It is a reality. It is put to use on a large scale by anti-Russian nationalists (and internationalists), with large-scale international consequences. The abuse of the term by Russian nationalists is of considerably lesser importance. It is an abuse worth correcting when it happens but not worth putting to polemical misuse in its turn, as a way of silencing the proper use of the term or deflecting attention from the reality of the phenomenon.
It would be impossible to understand some of major events in Russia-West relations without an understanding of Russophobia just as, on a wider scale, it would be impossible to understand contemporary world politics without an understanding of anti-Americanism.
A second argument for throwing out the term is that an essay on "Russophobia" was written by an extreme Russian nationalist and anti-Semite, Igor Shafare-vich. The most important treatise on anti-Americanism, by contrast, is a book under that title by a solid neoconservative sociologist, Paul Hollander.
Here there is indeed a difference. However, a more logical conclusion would be that it is high time to put the two terms on a more even footing by getting a solid treatise on Russophobia to be written by a solid neoconservative sociologist.
And when that happens, I suspect it will be found that Russophobia and anti-Americanism have a lot in common. They are not only opposites, they are mirror opposites. They are not only symbiotic, each inflaming the other in its hatreds something that was already true of their precursors in the old Cold War days of anti-Sovietism and anti-Americanism they are actually coalescing in substance in the post-Cold War era. Both link themselves up to anti-imperialist, anti-Northern ideologies. Both play to political correctness. No matter what the issue, both tend to position themselves on it in such a way as to do damage to the North. Both are horrified by the prospect of a convergence of the Northern powers Russia, Europe, America, Japan. And since this convergence is natural, the two "opposites" become more and more alike with time.
The coalescence of Russophobia and anti-Americanism is as yet mostly invisible to the world public. This is due to the inheritance of Cold War attitudes. However, Cold War relics cannot last forever. Russia and America are natural allies. As nature takes its course and the two countries act more and more like allies, the coalescence of Russophobia and anti-Americanism has been picking up steam. Anti-American ideologues jumped upon the opportunity, after Sept. 11, to denounce America as anti-Muslim because, among other things, America was including a Chechnya-bashing Russia among its allies. Which was this, anti-Americanism or Russophobia? It is hard to say; the dividing line between the two hatreds is getting thinner and thinner. We can expect to see even more blurring in the future.