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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Russophile Bozo Anna Arutunyan: Crazed Kremlin Mouthpiece

Moscow News News Editor Anna Arutunyan had a lengthy recent piece in Asia Times discussing the extent of Vladimir Putin's dictatorship in Russia, continuing a theme of asking whether proud KGB spy Vladimir Putin is "really that authoriarian." The whole wretched, offensive, propagandistic screed appears below (in censorial black), with LR's running commentary (in blood red).

The Moscow News is well known to students of Russia and oft quoted in La Russophobe. It is edited exclusively by Russians and the editor in chief, Anton Nossik, also operates the most authoritative Russian language Russia blog in the world, according to Technorati. For whatever reason, the blog rarely deals with serious political analysis.

Arutunyan also contributes to the flaky, extremist left-wing screed The Nation, and in her piece she quotes the husband of Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, namely the crazed Russophile Steven Cohen, who
La Russophobe has previously exposed (his wife is just about the only one goofy enough to publish him these days, it seems, as he regularly appears on her pages). On one occasion, she trashed "Putin's Foes" in the Nation's pages, and trashed hero reporter Yevegenia Albats and hero media outlet Ekho Moskvy in, of all places, the pages of the eXile, edited by lunatic Russophile punk Mark Ames, likewise previously exposed by La Russophobe. She's also the English Editor of the obscure Russian Journal put out by the murky "Russian Insitute" and edited by Gleb Pavlovsky, an ardent supporter of crazed Russophile Ukrainian Prime Minister Victor Yanukovich. In other words, this woman's out there . . . way, way out there. Impressively, Nossik seems to have her under control as far as the MN is concerned; in fact, it's pretty clear that Arutunyan doesn't actually read the paper she edits much, or else she'd never be able to spew forth so much propagandistic gibberish. It's interesting that she never mentions its reporting once in her long diatribe, yet finds time to quote The Nation.

Here, she tries mightly to convince us that Putin isn't as bad as he seems, perhaps just a big misunderstood teddy bear who needs a hug. Allow LR to point out just a few spots where she strays from the path of truth and light, won't you?

Russia, according to the Western news media, is increasingly slipping toward totalitarianism. The man allegedly pulling all the strings is Russian President Vladimir Putin, ex-spy and apparatchik extraordinaire. This misconception of Putin as a powerful dictator whose control over his citizens must be countered through punitive measures is deeply ingrained. The myth is embraced by journalists and politicians alike. According to Le Point, "Putin is endlessly displaying his might." His government, according to The Guardian's Marc Rice-Oxley, is more "brazen and confident" than it ever was in the 1990s. Max Boot reiterated the repetitive claim in another syndicated column: "Having taken power in a nascent democracy six years ago, Putin has been reestablishing authoritarian control." And to "secure" that "control", The Independent editorialized, Putin "knew where to turn for help" - none other than the siloviki (power elite) of the former KGB. He is, in the words of US Senators Lindsey Graham and Joseph Biden, "a one-man dictatorship" who "continues to consolidate power" in Russia. While all myths, including this one, have origins in reality, Putin's perceived might can lead policymakers to dangerous oversimplifications. But how do these perceptions arise, what is the real state of Putin's administration, and how harmful can this myth of total control really be for policymakers in Washington and Europe?

LR: Note the language. "dangerous oversimplifications" and "myths." Know what that means? Translation: "I'm smart and everyone in the world who disagrees with me is a crude, barbaric, unevolved moron." This is exactly, almost word for word, the language Chamberlain used about Hitler. It's because we listened to propagandizing idiots like Ms. Arutunyan that we had to wage seven decades of cold war and millions upon millions of Russians were butchered by the KGB regime of which "President" Putin is so proud. This woman, and people like her, are far greater enemies of Russian than all her foreign foes put together.

Origins of the myth

Journalists covering Russia can hardly be blamed for interviewing the sources closest at hand - usually those with a good command of English, contacts with the West and a deep distrust of the current Kremlin crew. While perhaps well-meaning, such editorial policy, particularly in the case of US media, succumbs to the tendency to dumb down what it cannot grasp.

LR: "Dumb down." Does anyone notice a theme developing? And how about that "perhaps" -- pretty rough, isn't she? Can't we Russophobes even be allowed our good intentions? Nope, not with Russophiles around, we can't.

As such, the news media often censure concepts that fail to fit into the familiar dichotomy of dictatorship vs democracy. Of course, this simplification applies practically to any country outside the West's scope. But given its size and energy potential, Russia is a particularly fertile breeding ground for grandiose theories and myths regarding power grabs and malign leaders. The fault lies not only with simplifying journalists. The myth derives as well from the self-serving perspective of Russia's failed reformers.

LR: Ah yes. Those who seek to reform Russia are its foes. Just what Brezhnev said about Solzhenitsyn before he chucked him into a concentration camp and then out of the country. She's channeling Kremlin propaganda, folks. Luckily, this kind of crap can only make it into the Asia Times.

"Russia's liberal opposition has a vested interest in feeding this myth," said Boris Kagarlitsky, a prominent expert (and former dissident) with the Institute for Globalization Studies. "First, it helps them get help from abroad. Second, it helps explain away the failures of the liberal opposition itself. Instead of saying, 'We didn't offer anything that the people could support and that is why we failed,' they end up saying that a fascist regime kept them from getting there and that everything is so terrible they couldn't have done anything in the first place."

LR: Remember dear Mr. Kagarlitsky? Certainly not a trace of agenda or bias in that man, nosiree!!

Fed these perspectives, the West still perceives Russia's political playing field mainly as a struggle between pro-Kremlin forces and a Western-leaning, liberal, pro-market opposition. Meanwhile in Russia itself, the liberal opposition is marginalized. Its representation in the media, where it still has access to the printed page, exaggerates its influence among the population.

LR: She's right on target here, of course. From Day 1, Russians have utterly repudiated those who dared to suggest reform, starting with poor old Grigori Yavlinsky. They voted for a proud KGB spy because they like the KGB. As is often the case, this clueless, ideologically drunk Russophile has proved the Russophobic point by accident. If a country like that isn't cause for immediate opposition, what would be?

Who rules Russia?

Instead of a one-man dictatorship, experts close to the Kremlin administration, as well as pro-Kremlin ideologues, describe a struggling, fractured corporation that at best is trying to become transparent and at worst is acting directly against the national interest. That the Kremlin's "propaganda machine" is willing to take such a grim view of things should be a signal that Putin's power, and Russia's government, is far less strong and stable than Western observers care to admit. Stanislav Belkovsky of the National Strategy Institute is perhaps the chief proponent of this corporate view of the Kremlin. What is ascribed to Putin's KGB past and his siloviki-saturated government, Belkovsky argues, is actually the legacy of the putatively liberal tenure of Boris Yeltsin. "In the beginning of the 1990s, when the seemingly immortal KGB fell apart, many agents became in demand outside of the system ... because of their value as a qualified ... workforce," Belkovsky writes. "As the post-Soviet security structures continued to fall into disarray, the specialists that had survived physically began to leave Lubyanka [KGB headquarters] to take up civilian posts - not just in the government, but in purely commercial structures as well." As for the allegations regarding Putin's anti-liberal track record, Belkovsky describes how under the current administration "privatization has gone further than [former vice premier Anatoly] Chubais could have ever imagined during the early 1990s". The Yukos affair, in which the Russian government threw entrepreneur and Yukos oil company head Mikhail Khodorkovsky in jail, was less a tightening of political control, Belkovsky argues, than the result of various bureaucratic clans vying for a piece of the energy pie.

LR: Her definition of "expert" is rather . . . bizarre, isn't it? Ever heard of this guy, my dear Russia watcher? Google Stanislav Belkovsky. You get 700 hits. Google the correct spelling Stanislav Belkovski. You get 2,000. Google National Strategy Institute. You get 600 (and that includes lots of different organizations). Now Google La Russophobe. You get nearly 60,000 hits. Nuf said. She might as well be quoting a lemon. Did he really say that under Putin "privatization has gone further than [former vice premier Anatoly] Chubais could have ever imagined during the early 1990s." Guess he hasn't heard about YUKOS or Shell or British Petroleum. Meanwhile, would she care to tell us where the NSI gets its funding? Nope, guess not. Wonder why . . .

Is Putin, then, a powerful chief executive officer taking charge of his company or a weak corporate leader held hostage by an increasingly powerful bureaucracy of institutional players? "The bureaucracy is spreading," Kagarlitsky told me. "It is very involved in business. And in the West this is understood as lack of business freedom in Russia - as though all business is controlled by bureaucracy. In reality it's the other way around - the more the bureaucracy is involved in business, the more each bureaucrat becomes a hostage of the business interests he's involved in."

LR: Do you notice how this malignant little jellyfish doesn't even try to give her readers the slightest bit of background either about (a) how obscure or (b) how utterly biased and corrupt by Kremlin influence and blind Russian nationalism her so-called "sources" are? Gee, I wonder why that could be . . .

In the end, it is hard to say whether Putin controls Gazprom and Lukoil or whether Gazprom and Lukoil control Putin. Viktor Militarev, a colleague of Belkovsky at the National Strategy Institute, also argues that Putin's possibilities are limited. Although conceding an increase in authoritarian tendencies during Putin's administration, Militarev points out that "a majority of the population would be willing to forgive Putin this 'managed democracy' if those very authoritarian tendencies were directed at raising the standard of living".

LR: Yeah, and it's also real hard to decide who's in a Siberian labor camp, Putin or Mikhail Khodorkovsy. Russia is such a mysterious country! By the way, would it be too much to ask that the third "source" was not a functionary of the second? Who does this wacko think she's fooling, anyway?

As for Putin's alleged consolidation of vertical power, Militarev added, "That is all Western nonsense. Putin can't even fire [Mikhail] Zurabov," the current minister of health and social development, despite a series of corruption scandals and demands for his sacking by the ruling party in the parliament.

LR: Who says he can't? What evidence is there that he wants to? A kindergarten student could so better reporting than this. In fact, many do!

If this is true, then Putin's control over his ministers is considerably limited. He can't issue directives for his ministers to follow in part because his ministers don't control their people either. The chain of command, in other words, is broken. This failure to assert vertical hierarchies of authority can be seen in the new practice of appointing regional governors rather than electing them. In this view, the new governors face the same problem at the regional level that Putin faces at the top. As Kagarlitsky put it, "Either the new governor has to fire everyone and appoint his own people, or he must come to terms with the fact that he only controls what's going on in his office, while real life is in the corridors, and he has no control over that." The Stalinist system of one-man rule and even the Leninist concept of partiinost - following the party's directive - simply do not apply. Instead, several bureaucracies of power based in personal clans contend for power. And whatever authority Putin once commanded to forge coalitions has been significantly diminished by his announcement that he will step down in 2008.

LR: IF it's true? And suppose it's NOT true? I mean, she's admitting it might not be. Do you notice how she doesn't say ONE SINGLE WORD about what we should do if she's wrong, or what the consequences of following her advice would be in that case -- i.e., we'd be dropping our guard and allowing a new Stalin to consoldiate his power. Have you ever seen such brazen, shameless dishonesty? THIS woman is telling us that OTHER people have a one-sided or simplistic view of Russia? Yikes.

The near abroad

Another perception in the West is that Putin's Kremlin is taking a more muscular stance toward the post-Soviet territories known in Russia as the "near abroad". The current government has reinforced this perception that it is attempting to re-establish influence in former Soviet republics - particularly the more Western-leaning ones such as Georgia and Ukraine - with aggressive rhetoric of its own. Russia's approach to its neighbors has proved more worrisome to Europe and Washington than the president's harsh policies at home. But some analysts in Russia are questioning this stance as well. According to political analyst Alexander Khramchikhin, who writes for Russky Zhournal, which is run by the pro-Kremlin think-tank Foundation for Effective Politics, Russia's foreign-policy clout declined not during the Yeltsin era but under Mikhail Gorbachev and his foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze.

LR: Well, now at least she's following the basic rules, and disclosing the identity of her source. So who does she choose for her next "source" after quoting a bunchh of Russophile propagandists? Why, the pro-Kremlin think-tank Foundation for Effective Politics, of course. No possible reason THEY'D lead us astray, right? I mean, if Putin WAS the next Stalin, they'd tell us, right? Don't you just want to vomit?

Yeltsin, not Putin, re-established Russia as a prominent player in the world arena. Khramchikhin cites such "achievements" as Russia's membership in the Group of Eight and the use of Russia's Black Sea fleet to quell unrest in Georgia in the autumn of 1993. "It was then that Russian peacekeepers appeared in the Commonwealth of Independent States [CIS], and showed themselves to be the only effective peacekeepers in the world," writes Khramchikhin. "Russian soldiers were prepared to kill and be killed, and that is exactly how they were able to quickly stop the bloodshed in Georgia, Moldova and Tajikistan." Whatever the validity of Khramchikhin's assessment of Yeltsin's operations in the near abroad - as well as Russia's minor standoff with North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops over Kosovo - such activism does contrast sharply with Putin's administration, which has made concessions to withdraw bases from Georgia and other CIS countries.

LR: CONCESSIONS? Well, I guess by that definition Hitler made the "concession" to vacate Russia after he invaded it, and the South made the concession to end slavery after the Civil War in the U.S. Gosh, LR never realized what a nice, reasonable fellow that Hitler was. Of course, there was that little matter where Putin tried to overthrow the elected governments of Ukraine (with a poisoning) and Georgia (with a coup d'etat). But those are probably just minor details, right?

"It was Putin who made Washington the source of legitimacy for post-Soviet regimes," concurred Belkovsky. "Even under Yeltsin the source of that legitimacy was Moscow: not a single leader in the former USSR could feel safe if he had deliberately turned his back to the Kremlin. Now ... the position of the Kremlin doesn't really interest anyone."

LR: Right back to Belkovsky again! Does this woman have ANY shame? Is she EVER going to quote the analysis of ANYONE who is even A LITTLE BIT critical of the Kremlin, or at least not paid by it? By the way, lady, tell that stuff about how harmless and unfeared the Kremlin is to Victor Yushcheko, Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko, you crazed wombat.

As for the recent "gas wars" that are widely viewed as Russia exercising its energy muscle, analyst Mikhail Delyagin, who actually laments Russia's loss of control in the post-Soviet sphere, writes in Yezhednevny Zhurnal: "The principal approach of Russia's bureaucracy toward the CIS is absolutely correct: if you are truly independent, then pay for your gas like independent countries and not like satellites." According to the Western argument, Russia is "bullying" its neighbors by threatening to raise the price of the gas it sells to the near abroad. But this argument gets it backward. By the time the "gas wars" are over and the agreements are signed, Ukraine and Belarus walk away without the subsidized energy benefits that they enjoyed as satellites. In the economic sense, Moscow loses leverage. By weaning Ukraine and Belarus from Russia's gas and gradually forcing these "sovereign states" to pay for their energy resources like any other country, Moscow is undermining the cohesion of the CIS and giving a clear signal to its former "satellites" that they are on their own. Without the concessions of cheap gas, there is little that Moscow can demand in return.

LR: Oh, now she's really gone over the edge. Is she REALLY saying that Russia threatened to cut off gas supplies to Eastern Europe and doubled the price those countries pay because it was GOOD for them, and Russia was looking out for their best interests? How do these countries become "independent" of Russian power if huge new quanties of their budgetary revenues get transferred to Moscow to pay for energy? Isn't it even POSSIBLE that the Kremlin's goal is to put so much financial pressure on these states that they face bankruptcy and beg to be readmitted to the Russian fold?

It is certainly open to debate which policy - Yeltsin's or Putin's - was the wiser. But given its professed fears of expanding Russian influence, the West appears to be responding not so much to theKremlin's muscular policy as to its muscular rhetoric. That rhetoric, in turn, may actually reflect a loss of control rather than a surge of power.

LR: It's certainly true that Russia's attack on Georgia, Ukraine and Belarus gives the West a chance to drive a wedge between Russia and those states, and to help further democratize them. Notice how she doesn't say ONE SINGLE WORD about that? What she wants, and what the Kremlin wants, is for the West to back away and allow Russia to try to consolidate its sphere of influence.

The dangers of misinterpretation

Russia is neither the first nor the last country to be direly misunderstood in the West. In this case what makes Russia unique is its size and its energy potential, and also the fact that Putin's government still faces westward, whatever it mumbles to domestic television audiences. A destabilized Russia after the 2008 elections means a destabilized world oil producer, which has major implications for the global economy.

LR: Just a question, my dear. Is the West at ALL misunderstood in Russia? Is it even remotely possible that YOU misunderstand it? By the way, your veiled threat that if we in the West do anything to oppose Putin's autocracy Russia will cut off our oil supply was music to the Kremlin's ears. So congratulations on pleasing your master. But didn't you just say that Russia wasn't dangerous to the West?

The dangers of misinterpretations are twofold. First, a weak argument often generates an equally weak counter-argument. With the abundance of negative spin in the Western media, some nonconformists are apt to wax apologetic about a Russian president who allegedly is no more authoritarian than his US counterpart, and to accuse the United States of judging Russia according to double standards.

LR: That's not the danger of misinterpretation. It's the danger of disagreeing with this Russophile nutjob if she's right. Do you notice how she doens't say ONE SINGLE WORD about the danger of disagreeing with her if she's WRONG?

Instead of assessing Russia on its own terms, such apologists turn Russia's government into a mere argument in the slew of accusations against the administration of US President George W Bush. Neil Clark of The Guardian writes, for instance: "Even though Putin has acquiesced in the expansion of American influence in the former Soviet republic, the limited steps the Russian president has taken to defend his country's interests have proved too much for Washington's empire builders." According to this argument, the first thing to consider when joining the "current wave of Putin-bashing" is whose cause these "Russophobes" are serving. When dialogue comes down to either criticizing Putin for being a dictator or defending him for being a dictator, there is little room left for a sober assessment of where Russia as a whole is heading.

LR: Do you notice how the only Russophile she criticizes is a non-Russian, and the only reason she criticizes him is for being too hard on George Bush, who looked into "Pooty-poot's" eyes and saw a reasonable fellow? How neo-Soviet can you get?

Second, when Western op-ed columnists call for a tougher stance toward the Russian leadership in advance of summits and state visits, and when newspapers like The Guardian publish editorials with titles like "The rise and rise of Putin power", the signal to Western policymakers is clear: there is much to fear from a strong Russia with a control-freak president. In the end, this overestimation of the might of Putin and the Kremlin in dictating the fate of 140 million people obscures the very real dangers of a weak, dilapidated Russia. Amid talk of a nation turning into a police state, the recent ethnic clashes in Kondopoga, rampant crime and corruption and a demoralized army that is in the news only on the occasion of brutal hazing incidents - all suggest that the police have a great deal less control over the state than either Western pundits or Russian law-enforcement officials themselves would like to believe.

LR: And the underestimation of Putin might allow a new Stalin to consolidate power and launch Russia on a new Cold War. Which is the lesser of two evils? How in the WORLD does it get to be evidence of Putin's weakness that racism is rampant? Putin has said virtually NOTHING to oppose racism publicly, for all we know he APPROVED of Kondopoga.

Most important, however, policymakers and Western businesses are themselves unwittingly buying into a deterministic, top-down management system for Russia - and hence perpetuating it. The rights abuses decried by watchdog groups and the media do exist, and Putin, as president, inevitably takes the blame. The problem arises, however, when this belief in the dictatorial nature of Putin's government translates into the belief that if he wanted to, the Russian president could make all the "murky murders", journalist arrests and big-business muscling disappear. The bleak reality is that pressuring Putin will not alleviate problems that have other causes besides Putin himself.

LR: So she knows why Politikovskaya got killed and she knows how to stop it, but she won't tell because we're not good enough to hear her wisdom. Double yikes.

Russia may indeed be using strong rhetoric. But a sound foreign policy needs to mind its inherent weaknesses. A government that, in the words of Viktor Militarev, is suffering a "crisis of corporate management", could use better medicine than constant reminders about a "democratic course". If such a crisis is indeed imminent, how can Washington help correct it? Ironically, by understanding that the best it can do is doing nothing at all. Russia expert Stephen Cohen wrote in The Nation last summer, "Do no harm! Do nothing to undermine [Russia's] fragile stability, nothing to dissuade the Kremlin from giving first priority to repairing the nation's crumbling infrastructures." In his view, it is Washington's own muscular stance in Russia's "back yard" that has generated protectionist rhetoric in Moscow. By continuing to meddle, the West may just be provoking the kind of suspicious, isolationist attitude that it is decrying.

LR: Ah yes, Steven Cohen. ANOTHER ardent Russophile, writing in the propaganda screed where, as noted above Arutanyan also publishes her drivel. Seriously, this woman has absolutely no shame at all.

Whatever Putin's shortcomings and the weakness of his administration, regime change is by far not the best option for further stability and domestic growth in Russia. Putin's government has made progress, however small, in rebuilding Russia's infrastructure in his seven-year tenure. It is hard to imagine how a more liberal and pro-Western successor, whose top priority will be a total overhaul of the government apparatus, could successfully continue this process. It is even harder to imagine how such an overhaul could ameliorate the immediate problems of corruption and lack of accountability. In this sense, foreign-sponsored non-governmental organizations aimed at strengthening various supposedly liberal opposition forces are at best a waste of time and resources, and at worst a potential catalyst for instability. Programs aimed at stimulating Russia's internal development would do better by de-emphasizing political opposition and stimulating small business and grassroots organization.

LR: Did you get that? If Putin's policies go, then Russia will fall apart. Putin is Russia, and Russia is Putin. Stability depends on Putin, and the West's happiness depends on stability. Now WHERE have we heard THAT before?

Finally, the West is understandably worried by the perceived isolationist tendencies of Russia. But once again, the current gas wars reveal the complexity of Russia's energy-driven integration. The recent price hike in gas supplies to Belarus - and Europe's reaction - points to a paradoxical, twofold problem. On the one hand, already dependent on Russian energy, the West is dealing with a seemingly integrated world power, a major player that the West depends on. But on the other hand, Russia's relations with Belarus, and their impact, show just how incomplete the transfer from a Soviet power to a loose confederation really was. We can view Russia as a bully using its energy muscle to discipline a former satellite. Or we can look at the conflict as a last attempt to draw badly needed boundaries of sovereignty and thus establish Russia's identity by redefining relations with its former holdings. In the latter case, whatever side is right, self-interested meddling by outside powers will only perpetuate Russia's long-standing, oftentimes tragic, paradox: its constant struggle to be a major player in the world arena at the expense of domestic development and national identity.

LR: In the former case, sitting idly by as this crazed Russophile maniac suggests will allow the Kremlin to consolidate its power, destabilize and seize Belarus, start a new Cold War and begin another century-long period of abusing and destroying Russian population for parochial, insular, oligarchial "gain" that will ultimately destroy the country. Notice how she doesn't say ONE SINGLE WORD about that variant? It's for you, dear reader, to choose the lesser of two evils.


James Kimer said...

What a sickening piece of propaganda.

La Russophobe said...

Yeah, seems to be a virtually inexhaustible supply, maybe the one thing Russia will never run out of (until there no longer is a Russia, of course).

Anonymous said...

Anna Arutunyan called Politkovskaya a prominent journalist (which is opposed to Putin's comment) but blamed her for "sloppy reporting" and "desire to make a difference". As in the case with Svetlichnaya's allegations after the murder of Litvinenko, this kind of discrediting opinions paints Russia's portrait depressing.