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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Zaxi on the Russian Patient

Zaxi Blog puts Russia on the couch and finds many bats in the old girl's belfry (her doctor, unfortunately, is not doing too well either):

Condoleezza Rice looked like a graceful princess visiting a terminally ill patient as she met Russian human rights activists at the Spasso House this weekend. "How is it going?" the mourning-black-clad Rice asked the haggard-looking bunch in a motherly tone. “That's what I want to hear. How is it going and what can we do to help Russia to build strong institutions that have these universal values?"

Her tender approach to the wheezing campaigners seemed both genuine and in part affected by her treatment at the hands of President Vladimir Putin the day before. Rice actually looked like she could better sympathize with what the activists were up against daily: she had just been forced to wait an unsubtle 40 minutes for a chance to be lectured by Putin out of protocol at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence. The US papers said Rice looked “annoyed” and “angered” during Putin’s public hectoring – which concluded with yet another threat to withdraw from one of the myriad disarmament agreements that once buried the Cold War. She appeared to be telling the rights group both in body language and message that this was where US diplomacy felt home.

It may do little but charge them with enough spirit to carry on once the Americans go home. It has come to this – the mostly elderly ladies crawl out of hiding to be received by a visiting foreign dignitary who dared disobey Putin. They then return to a routine consisting mostly of avoiding arrests of selves and property. These meetings have gained the political currency of a get out of jail card. The elderly ladies are not forgotten. Last week it was Nicolas Sarkozy. This coming one it may be Angela Merkel’s turn to raise the subject – although Germany has been two-faced with Russia for so long that her preference to keep Gazprom in mind instead when she greets Putin in Berlin would not be a shock.

Rice’s open hug of the dying rights movement may be read as a mea culpa of sorts. Enough words were wasted on pretenses of Russia still averting a totalitarian relapse that the Kremlin not only went on marauding but eventually agreed that it could get away with making Putin its eternal patriarch. The West had been biting its tongue waiting for a 2008 election that could give Russians not a choice but a chance to briefly break from their Soviet séance and look around. Yet no one in Washington predicted the Soviet Union’s collapse. And no one in Washington thought that Putin would erase all meaning from the 2008 vote by staying on in a new role. No one – still – thought Putin would dare.

“We didn’t really think through the possibility of him staying on in this kind of high-profile position,” a senior US official told The Washington Post a few days after Putin kindly accepted the Kremlin party’s invitation to make himself prime minister next year. “Another frustrated official” asked the Post: “What are we supposed to do?”

All that is sadly clear now is what Washington was not supposed to do. Rice lobbied against expelling Putin’s Russia from the G8 because she preferred to keep an increasingly worrying Kremlin “engaged” – better to know what the enemy is thinking than be stuck with another Pyongyang. So Putin was invited to diplomatically degrading – for Washington – visits to George W. Bush’s private ranch in scenes that uncomfortably recalled Neville Chamberlain. Washington concluded a bilateral agreement on Russia joining the WTO one month after the murder of Anna Politkovskaya and one week after the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko – although his case had been unknown at the time and his death only came two weeks later. Rice said there was “some trouble but this is not the Soviet Union” a few days after Russia refused to extradite Litvinenko’s suspected killer and three days before it forced the United Nations to abandon a resolution on Kosovo. Washington watched Putin threaten Europe with rockets and order his strategic bombers to patrol the Alaskan coastline. It watched Putin call on his military intelligence to step up spying on the United States and test a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile – apparently “for the first time since the Cold War.” That phrase could in fact be applied to almost every new turn in Russia-US relations this year.

Washington welcomed Putin’s announcement on keeping power with official silence.

The alternative to Rice was Dick Cheney. His one speech in Vilnius in May 2006 did more to arrest Russia’s attention than all other Western efforts combined. Read it again – you might shrug. Cheney said Russia “has unfairly and improperly restricted the right of her people” and was using oil and gas as “tools of intimidation or blackmail.” He concluded: “None of us believe Russia is fated to become an enemy.” But Cheney’s choice was to confront and draw lines in the sand. It would have meant no WTO membership and likely expulsion from the G8. It would have meant fewer visits for Putin abroad and an open courting of… Whom?

And here was the paramount problem for everyone in Washington. A policy based carrots and sticks required at least some Putin alternative for Russians to rally around. The Kremlin took care of that from its first raid on NTV television more than seven years ago. The democrats themselves did not help. The roomful that still had access to a couple of newspapers and web sites decided to fight over those instead of rallying around one man and one message.

Washington’s policy did not matter in the end. Cheney or Rice – Politkovskaya would still be dead and ExxonMobil and the rest would still lose their energy contracts. The fate of Kosovo would still be partially decided by Gazprom. Russia would still withdraw from all the military arrangements it has and treat Georgia and the Baltic states like menservants. Iran would be where it is today and so would Putin.

All that really did matter over these eight years was the price of oil. It stayed high and the Kremlin rebuilt the Soviet state around the cult of a somewhat telegenic man and a policy balanced between North Korea's Juche and strong-state chauvinism – fascism.

Should the price of oil fall below $40 while Putin is still alive – call in the Russia hands. The economy will crumble quickly.

Open invitations to Spasso House are all that remain until then.


Catherine Davis said...

Tanya Lokshina, the chairwoman of a Russian human rights organization, the Demos Center for Information and Research, was among those who met with Ms. Rice on Saturday. She said that given the focus on security matters, the meeting with rights campaigners had been mostly symbolic.

She contended that the United States had “lost the high moral ground,” and thus should join with European countries to make it clear to Mr. Putin that a drift further away from democracy was unacceptable diplomatically.

“The American voice alone doesn’t work anymore,” she said after the meeting. “The Russians are not influenced by it.” She said Ms. Rice had bristled at the criticism, replying sharply, “We never lost the high moral ground.”

La Russophobe said...


If you think Vladimir Putin doesn't care that the U.S. Secretary of State meets publicly with those seeking to oust him from power, your understanding of the Kremlin is quite pathetic. He does, and that's why these groups met with the American representative. They didn't have to, you know, and took serious risks by doing so. But they did.

And the American voice isn't alone. As we recently reported, the President of France was also snubbed by Mr. Putin and met with his opposition, including Svetlana Gannushkina, one of the Kremlin's most hated foes (you may not have heard about it, but Anna Politkovskaya was actually murdered, as was Alexander Litvinenko).

The US holds a UN security council veto and leading membership in NATO. Russia is obsessed with our plan to install ballistic missile defense in Europe, and a presidential election is imminent that will result in a new administration.

These are just a few of the facts your one-sided "analysis" leaves out.

Artfldgr said...

The nice thing about being a despot, is that world opinion no longer matters. and what these people there and here dont get is that their "rights" organizations have always been symbolic. they are allowed to exist, beacause their existence can show, in a potempkin way, that they are like us. like cargo cult culture, their is no substance, but the form is perfect.

Anonymous said...

The blogger's daydreams about how will the Russian economy crumble quickly "should the price of oil fall below $40" have little to do with reality. At present, the Russian state budget is based on the assumption that the oil price is equal to $26, all the extra profits are pumped away to the Stabilization fund, the Investment Fund and the Future Generations Fund.

La Russophobe said...


You've misunderstood the blogger's point, perhaps because you are lost in daydreams of your own.

The blogger is referring to the economic basis of the Kremlin, not the country. He knows full well that the Kremlin is hoarding the nation's wealth to wage a new cold war, just as its predecessor regime did, and to maintain itself in luxury. That is the stability which would collapse if the Kremlin's oil revenues were diminished. The stabilization fund would not last long then, especially not if a price downturn meant the ruble had to be supported to avoid crushing inflation.

In future, if you want to be taken seriously (which perhaps you don't), some advice:

(a) Think of a name. Otherwise you might not even see the light of day.

(b) Post a link to support your claims, lest you seem like a daydreamer.

(c) Try being a bit more respectful to somebody who didn't attack you. After all, he's been published as a post on this blog and you, well, haven't.

Anonymous said...

Orthodox church has much apology to make in Western World:
protocommunist massacres by Palamite Zealotes under Hesychast
hyperventilatory halucinations, Cantacuzene taxation driving farmers
to embrace Turks, Komyakoviac Obshchina giving birth to soviet
communism as reactionary casuistry opposing Napoleon's
defeudalization, Cosmus Aitalius being patron originator of of modern
genocide as seen by the massacre of Turks in Crete by Venizelos. Is
all masochistic because reject Original Sin.

Anonymous said...

Brother, you are right. The Greeks are sending Catholic jobs to India to avenge Serbia. Sarbanes, like Gorbachev, is an archon. Archons are the Greek Politburo, officially "The Knights of St Andrew of the Oecumenical Patriarchate" ( They are a worst conspiracy than, or