Pravda On The Potomac-6 (What The Washington Post Wrote About Russia In June 2009)

As the U.S. economy showed welcomed, if timid, signs of recovery, the Washington Post's coverage of Russia has recovered in June, too, after hitting a hard bottom in May.  In June, staff writers produced 8 articles, and the Post's editors and op-ed contributors added 6 more (compare to 8 total in May). 

Philip Pan began on June 11 with reporting on President Medvedev's visit to Dagestan in the wake of the assassination of the Dagestan Interior Minister, Adilgerei Magomedtagirov— and a day before the murder of a deputy chief justice of the Ingushetia Supreme Court, Aza Gazgireeva.  Pan continued the Northern Caucasus theme on June 23 with  coverage of the attempted assassination of the president of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov.  

Somewhat surprisingly, Pan didn't write about Pikalevo, but instead traveled to Vladivostok to recall January protests caused by the imposition of tariffs on second-hand Japanese cars.  Pan's good homework — he collected interesting numbers on the economic value of the imported car trade for the city of Vladivostok and also interviewed a number of local people — allowed him to make this rather old story newsworthy.  (And let's forgive Pan, who usually avoids sweeping and cheap generalizations, for making claims like this one: "The decision to impose the tariff is an example of how the authoritarian system built by Putin has struggled to forge an effective response to the crisis.")

On June 23, Pan wrote  about a report presented by the former German minister of justice, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, who sharply criticized the Russian judicial system for what she called "widespread political abuse."

On June 13, Colum Lynch reported on the U.N. Security Council's resolution to impose a broad set of sanctions on North Korea in response to its recent nuclear and ballistic missile tests.  Lynch quoted Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, as saying that Russia "…had agreed to support the resolution only after the United States and its partners agreed to add language that would exclude the possibility of using force to compel compliance with the Council demands."  On June 15, Lynch wrote about Russia's veto of another U.N. Security Council's resolution, the one authorizing continued presence of U.N. peacekeepers in Georgia.

Walter Pincus described, on June 17, a congressional testimony by Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III, in which Lynn spoke about the Obama administration's desire to  integrate Russia into anti-missile defense system — by possibly using two Russian radar installations (in Armavir and Gabala, Azerbaijan).   

Sarah Marcus wrote, on June 28, about upcoming Russian military exercises in the Caucasus region, Kavkaz-2009.  Marcus quoted a Cassandra-in-Chief, Pavel Felgengauer of Novaya Gazeta, as warning that Russia may be preparing for another war with Georgia. 

Georgia does seem to preoccupy the Post's editors' minds: the only (!) Russia related editorial in June was devoted to the troubled Russia-Georgia relations.  Published on June 4, the editorial is full of usual speculations of "Vladimir Putin…contemplating another military operation to finish off the Georgian government of Mikheil Saakashvili…" 

Although the timing of the publication is somewhat questionable — after all, nothing newsworthy happened between Moscow and Tbilisi around June 4, its logic is obvious.  Moscow's recognition of the independence of two of Georgia's breakaway territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, is undeniably the most painful entry on the U.S.-Russia agenda.  By bringing up this subject at every opportunity, the Post is doing whatever possible to poison the atmosphere of the upcoming Obama-Medvedev summit in Moscow.  And while on its surface, the editorial sounds concerned about a possible Kremlin's "intervention" in Georgia this summer – warning that "another Russian advance in Georgia would be devastating for U.S.-Russian relations" – it's difficult to shake off the impression that this is exactly what the Post's editors dream about the most.   

The most memorable op-ed of June has been a piece, "False Choices For Russia", published by Lev Gudkov, Igor Klyamkin, Georgy Satarov, and Lilia Shevtsova.  Modestly calling themselves "intellectuals and liberal Russians", the authors unleash a vicious attack on American "realists" — singling out Thomas Graham in particular — for their attempts "to build a new relationship with Russia based on common interests and common threats.""  Well, what is wrong with that?  Ah, here we go:

"…[W]e do not understand how one can hope for cooperation while ignoring Russia's internal development and the principles on which the state functions."

This sounds awfully familiar, for as I argued on a number of occasions, the Post is trying to push the domestic situation in Russia — along with Georgia – to the very forefront of the U.S.-Russia dialogue.

Gudkov & Co. and the Post's editors are certainly not alone in this attempt: a few days back, a bunch of American "intellectuals" called on President Obama, in a letter published by The Weekly Standard, to focus on human rights in his talks with Medvedev.

Gudkov & Co. — whom Anatol Lieven has shrewdly dubbed as "Russia's limousine liberals" — make one more interesting claim:

"Russian society views its national interests differently than does Russia's leadership."

OK, I understand why Russia's national interests are being defined by its leadership.  But I wonder who is supposed to define national interests on behalf of "Russian society."  "Independent pollster" Gudkov?  A recipient of U.S. taxpayers' money Shevtsova?  After all, the job of defining Russia's national interests has been delegated to Russia's leadership by its citizens in the process of democratic elections.  But whom do Gudkov & Co.  (a.k.a. "intellectuals and liberal Russians") represent except for themselves and their Western paymasters?

Make no mistake: Gudkov & Co. do have a reason to worry.  Any real improvement in U.S.-Russia relations resulting in a close direct dialog between both countries' leaderships and civil societies will make their "translation" service — and themselves — irrelevant.

Gudkov, Klyamkin, Satarov, and Shevtsova want us to believe that their concern is about democracy in Russia. 

No. 

The only thing they really care about is their continued employment funded by our money. 

The rest of the June op-ed coverage of Russia oscillated between entertaining to boring to outright ridiculous.  When speaking of entertaining, I have in mind Mikhail Gorbachev's assay, "We Had Our Perestroika.  It's High Time for Yours."  Although Mikhail Sergeevich's own account of "glasnost" and "perestroika" in Russia appears to be a bit more polished compared to how I personally remember them — and who could blame him? –  this following statement makes a lot of sense to me:

"Washington will have to play a special role in…new perestroika, not just because the United States wields great economic, political and military power in today's global world, but because America was the main architect, and America's elite the main beneficiary, of the current world economic model. That model is now cracking and will, sooner or later, be replaced. That will be a complex and painful process for everyone, including the United States."  

When speaking of boring, Masha Lipman's almost 1,000 word "Russia, Again Evading History" is a fair, albeit belated, report on President Medvedev's ill-advised decision to create a government commission to fight "the falsification of history" (the "Naryshkin Commission").  Describing Russia's yet another attempt to deal with its "unpredictable history", Lipman makes her best to sound "objective":

"To Russian officialdom, the fact that the Soviet Union defeated Hitler preempts critical analysis of all other pre- and postwar developments. But while no one would deny Russia's victory over the Third Reich, the Soviet role as an occupier and oppressor cannot be erased from the national memory of Eastern European and Baltic countries. This perception of the Soviet Union is used (and sometimes abused) by those countries to strengthen their national identities and senses of statehood." 

As is typical for Lipman's opuses, a major point of her piece comes at the very end: Lipman expresses concern that the Naryshkin Commission's actions will "marginalize even more organizations such as the Memorial Society."  Perhaps, but I cannot but wonder: how many of the Post's readers, including its editors, have ever heard, much less cared, about Memorial?  Does Lipman recognize the difference between writing for the Washington Post and, say, the Moscow Times?

When speaking of ridiculous, I mean a bizarre piece by Peter Carlson, "Welcome, Dear Leader!"  Carlson is a former Post's reporter who happened to write a book about  Nikita Khrushchev's 1959 visit to the US.  (Carlson imaginatively calls Khrushchev the "fat-bellied, thin-skinned, cranky communist dictator." )

I find it highly commendable that the Post is helping one of their own to earn an extra buck by promoting book's sales.  At the same time, I find completely laughable Carlson's painful attempt to prove that Khrushchev's long visit ("10 days of absurd adventures", in Carlson's words) had such a lasting impact on the Russian leader that upon returning to Moscow, Khrushchev "cut the Soviet military by 1.2 million men."    

And what is the point of Carlson's piece, anyway?  Well, Carlson suggests that President Obama should invite the North Korea dictator, Kim Jong Il, to the United States.  For, Carlson believes that Kim Jong Il (with his "well-documented fondness for American pop culture") will become so enamored with our country that he'll immediately change his "behavior." 

Provided, I guess, that Carlson knows how to transform such a visit into an "absurd adventure." 

Surprisingly enough, the Post's heavyweight Russia "experts" have stayed largely mum in June, providing only a slight indication that Russia was still somewhere in their deep thoughts.  Thus Jim Hoagland expressed his sadness that President Obama "has been…more enthusiastic about his meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April — calling it "terrific" — than any of his contacts with European leaders."  And here comes Charles Krauthammer with his exotic claiming that "Iran today is a revolution in search of its Yeltsin."  Yeltsin?  Why not the usual suspects as Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr.?  

Or take Michael Gerson's newest neocon poem ("No Choice but Democracy" is a title), in which he praised American presidents for their willingness to deal "with the devil" when on the mission to promote democracy.  And who is this "devil"?  You bet:

"Franklin Roosevelt sat with Stalin while defining…freedoms that apply "everywhere in the world." Ronald Reagan dealt with a Soviet leader even while he foresaw and hastened the downfall of the Soviet empire."

Should we assume that Messrs. Hoagland, Krauthammer, and Gerson are simply waiting for the results of President Obama's visit to Russia?  Hardly.  They know that the visit is a "failure" even before Air Force One takes off for Moscow.

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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5 Responses to Pravda On The Potomac-6 (What The Washington Post Wrote About Russia In June 2009)

  1. Responding to the last paragraph, I can’t help but think that Obama is vastly different that either FDR or RR in every way. Plus, not being a NeoCon Hero, we may find that the “Devil” this time around is on the U.S. side of the room. The restructuring certainly is ongoing here, the Titanic has only just now settled in the water. Only time will tell…

  2. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Kermit,
    Thanks for your comment. What really troubles me is a habit by American presidents to undo what their predecessors have done in the past — like GWB abrogating the ABM treaty Reagan signed.
    No one knows who’s going to be the next US president. That means that Obama not only has to repair the damage done by GWB, but also to build such a solid base for the future US-Russia relations that even a hard-core hawk had trouble to dismantle.
    Best Regards,
    Eugene

  3. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Thanks for the links Mike.
    Best,
    Eugene

  4. You’re quite welccme Eugene.
    I suspect there’s nothing earth shattering in them for you, while they nevertheless serve a reference purpose.
    Best,
    Mike

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