The Post's coverage of Russia in April was, well, bland. I was especially disappointed with the lackadaisical efforts of the Post's editors and op-ed contributors. It seems that they spent all their energy back in March explaining to the world why the "resetting" of U.S.-Russia relations was a bad idea.
But business means business, and here comes Jackson Diehl, who, in an April 5 op-ed, accused President Obama(whom Diehl calls "too passive, even weak") in the betrayal of "principal American concerns." This is how Diehl interprets the decision by the Obama administration "to devote the next four months of U.S.-Russian relations to an intensive effort to complete a new START treaty [whereas no] such cooperation on Iran is on the horizon."
In Diehl's opinion, arms control negotiations with Russia don't make much sense at all, because "…strategic arms control is of much greater interest to Russia — whose nuclear arsenal is rapidly deteriorating — than it is to the United States."
(On April 20, when criticizingagain Obama's foreign policy, Diehl opined that "…Russia remains determined to restore its domination over Georgia" and that "[t]he threat of another Russian attack on Georgia seems to be going up.")
Russia's "deteriorating" nuclear arsenal and one-sided benefits from arms control negotiations are becoming recurrent themes for the Post's authors. Anne Applebaum, in an April 7 piece, wrote that "[the Russian] government does want arms reduction talks, but only because its nuclear arsenal is rapidly deteriorating. By agreeing to start them, we've unnecessary handed Moscow a bargaining chip."
(Charles Krauthammer concurs: "[Disarmament] talks are a gift to the Russians for whom a return to anachronistic Reagan-era START talks is a return to the glory of U.S.-Soviet summitry." The glory of U.S.-Soviet summitry! Sounds like Krauthammer compares, even subconsciously, Obama to Ronald Reagan and President Medvedev to Mikhail Gorbachev.)
Applebaum's piece is actually worth reading, for she makes a number of interesting claims. First, she seems to be asserting that Iranian nuclear weapons "are not of immediate strategic threat to Europe or the United States." Good for her! Second, she argues that nuclear weapons, "while terrifying in the abstract", are less dangerous than biological ("more lethal") or chemical ("far cheaper to produce"). Hmmm. Lastly, she claims that all of the world's problems — like "prevent[ing] large authoritarian states from invading their smaller neighbors" – could be solved not through the arms control, but, rather, through "the promotion of democracy." But of course.
George Will doesn't write about Russia too often, and after reading his April 19 opus, "Potemkin Country", we should feel grateful to him for this restraint. A brilliant point-by-point rebuttal of Will's lengthy, eclectic scribble was provided by Anatoly Karlin on his blog. I'll only add that Will brings forward another "reason" not to engage in arms control with Russia: Russia's "deteriorating" demographic situation. Following Will's bizarre logic, the fact that by 2030, Russia may (not will, may) lose up to 30 million of its population makes thousands of the nukes it has today irrelevant.
Carnegie Moscow Center's Masha Lipman made her second appearance of the year. Lipman is a fine journalist and obviously knows Russia well, but she lacks this vicious combination of arrogance and ignorance that characterizes a "typical" Russia author at the Post. So her pieces are, honestly, boring. In the one she published on April 8, Lipman writes about the beginning of a new trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev. As if unsure of what to fill the editorial space with, Lipman plunges in a lengthy and repetitive description of the whole Khororkovsky affair. (If you know the story, you don't need to read Lipman's piece; if you don't know who Khodorkovsky is, you'll fall asleep in the middle of it). Finally, at the very end, Lipman suddenly discovers what she really wanted to say:
"Although President Medvedev claims to support the rule of law, if he continues to stay out of this affair [the trial] he will bear responsibility for Russia's continued plunge into lawlessness."
(Lipman should try twittering.)
As if sensing that Lipman didn't do a good job, an April 11 editorial elaborated:
"Mr. Medvedev…could call for the charges against the defendants to be dropped or issue pardons to Mr. Khodorkovsky or some of his associates."
It would appear to me that, legally speaking, Medvedev cannot issue a pardon to Khodorkovsky because the latter never asked for one. As for Medvedev calling the charges "to be dropped", is this how the Post understands judicial independence in Russia?
It definitely looks this way as Sarah Schafer — writing about Medvedev's interview with Novaya Gazeta— repeats the newspaper's demand for Medvedev to "call judges…to remind them they are independent."
To call judges to remind them they are independent. Brilliant!
The other Russian guest-columnist for April, Boris Nemtsov, took time off from his campaigning for mayor of Sochi — on the very eve of the election — to tell the readers of the Post that "Sochi is simply not capable of hosting the Olympics." What an optimistic statement for a person who, had he been elected, would have been responsible for the organization of the 2014 Winter Olympics and overseeing more than $12 billion of budget money.
With an attitude like this, it's little wonder that Nemtsov lost the election. Which didn't prevent Philip Pan and Sarah Schafer from looking for the Kremlin's hand in Nemtsov's defeat. Characteristically, Pan and Schafer filed their report from Moscow and apparently didn't interview any other candidate but Nemtsov. (In the interview, "Nemtsov compared the tactics being used against him to those of Hitler's propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels." A lesson in Russia's domestic politics Pan and Schafer may want to learn: one doesn't win elections in Russia by comparing Putin to Hitler.)
Pan does travel. He went to Mozhaisk to write about Dmitry Belanovich, who beat a candidate from the United Russia party to become mayor of Mozhaisk. Says Pan: "The surprise victory showed that, despite a decade of tightening political controls by the Kremlin, it is still possible to take on Putin's ruling party in a local election and prevail." And do so without writing op-eds for the Washington Post, I'd add.
Pan then went to St. Petersburg to profile Anton Chumachenko, a young member of United Russia who won a seat on a local legislative council in St. Petersburg, but publicly renounced his victory after having learned that the vote had been falsified.
I like Pan's writings. Although unavoidably biased (goes with the affiliation!), they report on things that do happen in Russia and matter to the majority of ordinary Russians. But as I already mentioned, on a different occasion, the Post's editors don't seem to read what their field reporters write.