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Monday, September 11, 2006

The Valdai Club Betrays Democracy, Many Dance as Putin Pulls the Strings

Last Friday, the Moscow Times carried an article by its former editor Lynn Berry. The article relates how she and a group other Western Russia-watchers (whom she misleading refers to as "experts") talked with "a senior Kremlin official" (whom she refuses to identify) during this year's round of meetings in Russia by the so-called "Valdai Discussion Club."

In reality, this "club" is a propaganda ruse. It's merely an opportunity for the Kremlin to wine and dine foreign Russia commentators (who the Kremlin flies to Russia at its expense and allows to hobnob with bigwigs in the Putin administration, stroking their massive egos) and hence win favorable publicity and commentary in the future as the Neo-Soviet Union consolidates its power. La Russophobe has already documented the sycophantic drivel spouted by the JRL's David Johnson after attending one of these soirees. Unfortunately, the participants who report on their activities make little effort to disclose the perks they received much less to ask whether this results in bias. The mere fact that the participants choose to refer to themselves as "member" of a "club" speaks volumes about their objectivity. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours, is apparently the slogan of this "club."

Now, Berry allows the Kremlin to dupe her into reporting that unless Russia is given WTO entry "bad things" will surely happen. In other words, she allows herself to be the mouthpiece for blackmail. La Russophobe dares to wonder how many tins of caviar and glasses of expensive champagne Ms. Berry was plied with before this "interview" took place. Notice how there is not one critical word about Putin, the Kremlin or anyone associated with it in the piece, and at the same time a strident attack on the Kremlin's foreign "enemies." Berry, incidentally, is the MT editor who booted out MT columnist Pavel Felgenhaur, one of the Kremlin's staunchest Russian critics.

Here's what Berry wrote about the incident:

By failing to reach an agreement with Russia on its accession to the World Trade Organization, the United States is undermining President Vladimir Putin and strengthening the hand of the siloviki, a senior Kremlin official said Thursday evening.

The official denied that the siloviki in the Kremlin had won the struggle for power over the more liberal camp represented by Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin. The siloviki, he said, had no role in government strategy, only in its implementation.

But if the United States refused to sign off on Russia's WTO bid soon, it should not be surprised if the siloviki win, the official said, speaking to a group of foreign Russia experts on condition he not be further identified.

"For us young reformers, Putin is our hope," he said in response to a question from Andrew Kuchins of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"The WTO game is directly related to the siloviki," the official said. "These people who are playing the game don't understand what's going to happen if we don't get a deal at this time."

Expectations had been high that an agreement on the WTO would be signed in time for the Group of Eight summit in July, but talks broke down on the eve of the summit over the issue of U.S. meat imports. Both sides expressed hope at the time that a deal could be reached by late October, but tensions have only grown since, with Gref warning U.S. trade negotiators that Russia would scrap agreements on all meat imports if the October deadline was not met.

Russian officials have denied that decisions on the participation of U.S. oil companies in the development of Gazprom's Shtokman field and on Boeing's bid to sell planes to Aeroflot were linked to a WTO agreement. But the Kremlin official said all three issues were tied in the sense that it was wrong for the United States to expect favorable treatment from Russia on the issues it cares about while denying Russia entry into the WTO.

When asked by Angela Stent, professor of government at Georgetown University, how the WTO negotiations should play forward now, he said a political decision was needed from U.S. President George W. Bush.

"We have to get the message across to Bush: 'Boys, stop drinking Russian blood,'" the official said.

Ariel Cohen of The Heritage Foundation followed up on the issue, and he and the official traded barbs on the degree of pressure each president was under at home from the agricultural lobby. Cohen said Bush was in a relatively strong position because he was leaving office soon. The Kremlin official said Putin also was leaving office, but there was a difference: "Putin has to leave a person who will continue his policies."

The group of visiting Russia experts, part of what has come to be called the Valdai Discussion Club, was expected to meet with Putin on Saturday.

Indeed. WE have to get the message across, you and me, Lynn baby. We have to tell the world that the U.S. is "drinking Russian blood." So, forget about the fact that Russia has the world's 9th most corrupt economy. Forget that it is obliterating human rights and democracy. Ignore the fact that is providing nuclear technology to Iran, financial support to Hamas and weapons to Venezuela and Hezbollah, while seeking to block U.S. sanctions against those foes. Force the U.S., that "blood sucker," to admit Russia to the WTO even though it's not in America's interest, so that Russia can pretend to be a democracy while "President" Putin consolidates his hold on the nation's throat.

Pretty please, won't you be so kind?

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