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Press Review November 1, 2001
 
The Great Game Redux
By Matt Taibbi Browse author
 
Page 3 of 4
 

"For the last several years, Russia has been the world's troll—lonely, ugly, unloved, untrustworthy. It's had hardly an ally in the world. It has been reduced to snuggling with Slobodan Milosevic and signing a "friendship" treaty with China, a country it detests and fears—all the while glaring enviously at the United States and Europe. (The West has responded with a fake smile—an "of course we're pals, you have 6,000 nukes" kind of grin.)"

I can't imagine a Russian political analyst coming out in the first sentence and calling the United States that many names in such a short space. A troll? Ugly? Unloved? Untrustworthy? First of all, many of those words don't even fit. Russia has certainly been loved enough to receive billions of dollars in aid from the West, and considered trustworthy enough that that aid kept coming even after certain members of its government got caught stealing $50 million of it or so. As for "cozying up" to Slobodan Milosevic, this isn't quite true, either. After all, it was Russia that effectively sealed our victory in Kosovo by announcing to Milosevic its intention to shut off natural gas supplies to Serbia if it did not surrender. As for the friendship treaty with China, a country it "detests and fears," this fact is certainly no stranger than that of the arch-capitalist United States granting the same communist China Most Favored Nation trading status.

On the contrary, it is the United States that is increasingly isolated in the world—in the military action in Afghanistan, for instance, only our faithful lapdog, Great Britain, has entered the hostilities with us, and even countries like France have hesitated to support our "coalition."

Plotz goes on to sound the familiar theme of a bitterly envious Russia wanting nothing more than to be allowed to tug at the coattails of its white masters in Europe and the U.S. Here he does so with the aid of seeming-Langley operative/talking head Ariel Cohen:

'"He wanted to belong to The Club, to sit down with his friends Tony and George and Gerhard. And now he does," says the Heritage Foundation's Ariel Cohen. That is surely psychologically satisfying for Putin.'

This sentence should have a laugh track to it—the idea of the reptilian Putin deriving "psychological satisfaction" from palling around with "Tony, George and Gerhard" is so improbable as to be ridiculous. Only an American could possibly write such a sentence with a straight face—believing that Putin, a master criminal who robbed, stole and intrigued his way to the top in the world's most ruthless political environment, would actually derive satisfaction from a friendship with George Bush, an utter moron who was handed the throne without having to lift a finger himself, and who could not navigate a chair-lift without outside help. As politicians, they are not even in the same league, and Putin obviously knows this.

For about eight years now, these "Whither Russia" articles have tended to follow one general pattern. On the one hand, the Western journalist makes a series of patronizing generalizations about Russia's desperate desire to Westernize; on the other hand, it blasts Russia for being unable (either economically or, in some way, genetically) to part with its old, primitive, failing ways. Here Plotz addresses Russia's chances of getting into the WTO:

"Russia has a decent opportunity to join the WTO, but Putin is loath to undertake the economic reforms needed for entry. He doesn't dare alienate the bankers, farmers, and other interest groups who can't stomach foreign competition. Russia wants to belong, but doesn't want its economy pried open."

First of all, Putin just passed a new land code, which allows for the sale of land (although not agricultural). Even the sinister conservative Ariel Cohen called the changes "revolutionary." Secondly, Russia certainly can't be accused of not liberalizing its economy fast enough... it went from a completely closed economy to its current state faster, probably, than any other country in history. And every time Russia opened its doors in the last ten years, some kind of disaster has befallen the country—for instance, when prices were freed under Gaidar. It's a lot to expect of the country to let foreigners come in and buy anything they want, particularly when, in the case of something like agricultural land, which would be priced so low that the entire Russian land mass would be within the budget of most Western countries, there is something of a national security issue involved. But beyond that, look at the progression of this article. In the first paragraph, Plotz is calling Russia an ugly troll; later, he's laughing at Russians for wanting to sit at the table with Western hot shots; but then, later still, after all these insults, Plotz is telling the "troll" that it has to open its gates to let foreign capital run amok. What balls!


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