Initially I wanted to write this column about the December 4th Moscow Duma elections. Though hardly sensational, in the end the campaign provided some really entertaining moments, mostly unknown to the English-speaking world.
But I got distracted. You see, there is yet another case of panic-attack and mean-spirited rants currently sweeping the "Kremlin-watching" cabal and the American establishment in general: Putin's government decision to ban foreign funding for the political activities of NGOs operating in Russia. The legislation on NGOs is still in a somewhat incomplete stage but it is clear that foreigners, namely Western institutions, will have much tougher time directly messing with Russian politics. They don't like it at all.
During the 90's they used to meddle a lot, not even comprehending that there should be some limits to their interference. Consider just one episode, during the 1996 presidential elections. There were apparently three highly paid American "consultants" in Yeltsin's campaign team, the buddies of the Triangulator-in-Chief Dick Morris of the Slick Willy era, now turned hurrah-patriot slob frequently seen on Fox News. Whether they did anything remotely useful for the Yeltsin campaign is highly doubtful, but the very next day after the presidential elections the American "advisors" started bragging at every corner that they alone were responsible for Yeltsin's victory. They even were featured on the cover of the Times Magazine that week and later had a feature film Spinning Boris made about their shenanigans. The whole thing was so utterly disgusting, especially such shameless bragging and gloating, how they made the stupid Russkies do anything they wanted.
American influence in Russia has steadily eroded since the financial crash of 1998, the Kosovo war, and the coming of the Putin regime. Now it is about time to put a final nail in this miserable coffin. A large part of the American political class is seething and kvetching about exactly this.
On the Johnson's Russia List, the watering hole of the Russia-watching crowd, there was a discussion initiated by David Johnson himself over whether the western journalists "get Russia right."
No, they don't. I wrote a message explaining my point, as I have participated on the JRL several times, but it was a bit too aggressive for that forum. So I decided to print it here in the eXile:
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Do western correspondents actually believe what they write? For example, that if only the "true democrats" were given more access to the media and fair electoral conditions, Russians will "see the light" and vote for them instead of the "Putin dictatorship"? That Garry Kasparov, for example, is a credible politician, able to gather a significant popular support, if not for the Kremlin interference - after all he was mentioned in the Guardian article, featured in a recent piece in the Atlantic Monthly, had his OpEds published in the Wall Street Journal, and the Newsweek?
The question asked in JRL 9308 was - are western journalists too harsh on Russia? Frankly, I feel that it is more basic than a value judgment such as "harsh" or "soft." Do they have minimal capability for independent thinking? Can they actually communicate with anybody other than the so-called "democratic opposition" and few tired figures of the political beau monde, who are only good at feeding them what their editors want to hear? Are they able to understand just how marginal all these "pro-western liberals" are in today's political landscape, and that it is entirely their own fault? By all indications they still receive much more media exposure (down from the near monopoly 10 years ago) than they should, considering how low their genuine popularity or relevance actually is.
Which is not to say that everything in Russia is just fine. People are widely dissatisfied with the colorless, bureaucratic "United Russia," with the rampant corruption, and with the government's inexplicable inability to utilize its huge budget surplus to address acute social issues.
But the important thing that the Western media fails to understand is that there is a broad consensus in Russia that only Russians themselves will be able to solve their problems. Outside interference is at best irrelevant and at worst directly harmful, and will be progressively less tolerated in the future. The rapid economic growth of recent years will undoubtedly continue. It is not even particularly dependent on the price of oil, but rather is driven mostly by developing consumer and service sectors. In all realistic future oil-price scenarios, the biggest difference will be between a roughly balanced budget and an enormous surplus, not the rate of economic growth.
Civil society is fast developing, though not necessarily meaning Western-funded NGOs that produce reports with predictable conclusions and fear-mongering about "dictatorship" or "collapse." Instead it includes new government-sponsored structures, emerging grass-roots movements, youth organizations, and the hugely vibrant country-wide blogoshere of which most Western observers don't seem to have a vaguest idea.
Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian, for example, claims that there is a bargain offered to the world by the Putin government - to allow it rein in "democracy" in Russia and crackdown in Chechnya in exchange for a steady supply of oil and gas. Mr. Freedland is mistaken. Russia doesn't need to offer any such bargains, it can do just fine without them.
First, let's drop all the pretense about the "world." What these authors really mean is a large part of the US and British political establishment, with occasional additions from other Western countries. Sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but you ain't no "world." It is about time for America to take a hard look in the mirror. What much of the world sees is the delusional, stumbling empire, completely entangled in its own lies, badly losing the war against a poorly organized, and not particularly numerous insurgents in Iraq, and yet is still pretending it can teach and preach to the rest of the world about "freedom and democracy"? It's not even funny to watch any more. The economic agenda which US pushed on the emerging market countries during the 90's crashed and burned in so many places - from Russia to Argentina and elsewhere. The pragmatic, home-grown economic policies that came in these countries after that, proved incomparably more successful than following the Washington's line. The image of America everywhere took a very dramatic downfall in the last few years.
Consider just one recent event - the New Orleans catastrophe in the aftermath of the hurricane Katrina. What the whole world has seen is incredible amount of lies, incompetence, cronyism, and disorganization worthy of the poorest banana republic, not of the country pretending to lead the world. And then came the ultimate insult, which the US media was too embarrassed to even notice: when later another hurricane, Wilma, crashed on the Mexican coast with much greater wind impact than either Katrina or Rita, the resort towns like Cancun were able to withstand it incomparably better that the US Gulf coast. In fact Wilma made more damage rapidly passing through Florida as a Category 2 weakling, than raging for 3 days over Mexico as a Category 5 monster storm. Just how more banana can the United States get?
If the rest of the world is not willing to confront American empire more than it does now, it is only in the hope that, like a drunken bully in its last throes of consciousness, it will fall down in a corner before breaking into too many plates, and snore for the rest of the night.
Chechnya? You've got to be kidding. One week in Iraq produces much more violence than a whole year in Chechnya - and it gets worse. The situation in Chechnya is not satisfactory in many respects, but it is almost idyllic in comparison to the monstrous mess in Iraq.
Most Russians in fact want the government to take a tougher line with nefarious meddling from America and other Western establishments. If the US wants to retain a minimum of goodwill and sympathy to its cause from the majority in Russia, it will have to significantly alter its policy. And, judging by the depth of the hole it dug for itself in the last few years, it can be a pretty steep climb out.
Kirill Pankratov, Ph.D.,
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That was in fact as mild as I could put it. Frankly, you Americans are bigger pussies than I thought if you find that too aggressive. Do you even understand how much of a joke you've become in Russian politics?
What're you gonna do about it? Give another lecture by some twerp at the Carnegie Foundation about the "importance of following the democratic principles"? You're so pathetic. We just hired the retired Chancellor of the biggest European economy as a chief Gazprom lobbyist-how about that for sticking to democratic principles? And we're selling some anti-aircraft missiles to Iran to fry your asses in case you get stupid ideas. Because we won't be seeing much of you in the neighborhood soon-next year you'll be running away from Iraq with a boot print on your ass. Hey, Condi, there is a job for you-a catering one, walking with a champagne tray at Kremlin banquets. It would be a nice break from having to play piano accompanying the minstrel negro band that you perform in for Bush in the White House every other night.