Pravda On The Potomac-15 (What The Washington Post Wrote About Russia In April And May 2010)

Call me naive, call me over-trustful, even call me delusional.  And yet, the Post's coverage of Russia has become better.  Hardly more friendlier, but at least less hostile.  Partly, this is due to the fact that the giants of the Post's Russia team have stopped writing full-fledged articles bashing the Kremlin and switched to just mentioning it in passing while blasting President Obama's foreign policy.  Like Fred Hiatt accusing the president in putting "enormous energy into repairing relations with Russia…and less into ties with allies such India, Mexico or Britain…"  Or David Kramer fretting that "[t]he administration seems to have moved toward a "Russia only" approach, neglecting and even abandoning other countries in the region."  (Topping Kramer's list of "neglected/abandoned" countries is Georgia).  Or venerable Charles Krauthammer, who's horrified when watching  "America acquiesce to Russia's re-exerting sway over Eastern Europe, over Ukraine…and over Georgia…(Adds Krauthammer: "This is not just an America in decline.  This is an America in retreat…")

And here we have Anne Applebaum who, on April 6, interpreted the Russian state TV broadcasting of Andrzej Wajda's "Katyn"  — along with the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's attendance of the commemoration ceremony in the Katyn forest – as a sign that Russia might be starting to get rid of its "Stalinist mentality and a Stalinist interpretation of history."   A week later, understandably shaken by the tragic death of the Polish President, Lech Kaczynski, in a plane crash near Katyn — and apparently genuinely surprised by the extent of Russia's sympathy and cooperation — Applebaum conceded that "[c]ountries can change."  But a real shock to me personally came on May 18, when describing  a rescue operation of a Russian tanker captured by the pirates off the coast of Yemen, Applebaum claimed that a Russian naval destroyer acted "accordingly to international law."  Wow!  And although the cynic in me whispers that Applebaum was asked to behave by her husband, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, the incorrigible optimist in me believes that smart people can change too.  Just like countries.

Jackson Diehl was among a few who refused to give up.  On April 27, describing egg-tossing and fisticuffs in Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada (on the occasion of ratification of the new Black Sea naval base treaty with Russia), Diehl told us that Ukraine was "still a democracy" but Russia wasn't (as no eggs or fists were thrown in the Russian Duma on the same occasion).  I like Diehl's point and recommend that folks at the Freedom House take a note and replace their bland, largely meaningless, numeric "freedom" ratings with Diehl's eggs of democracy.  (Say, seven eggs, a liberal democracy; one egg, a bloody dictatorship.)  But even Diehl has rapidly run out of steam, and the only thing he could subsequently muster was to bundle Russia's Dmitry Medvedev with Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei and to call both "adversaries or rivals of the United States."

Robert Kagan extended a helping hand to Diehl , on May 25, by calling the Obama administration's policy of "reset" with Russia hollow.  According to Kagan, this policy has only resulted in "a wave of insecurity throughout Eastern and central Europe and the Baltics, where people are starting to fear they can no longer count on the United States to protect them from an expansive Russia."  The very same day, the Post offered its space to Kurt Volker, the  former U.S. ambassador to NATO, who warned that "…attending the 2014 Olympics[in Sochi]…would make all of us complicit in cementing in practice Russia's changing European borders by force."  Reading Volker I thought that even from the U.S. ambassador to the Moon, save for NATO, one would expect better knowledge of Europe's contemporary history and geography.  First, Volker claimed that Abkhazia was "a territory Russia broke off from Georgia by military force in 2008."  Second, he insisted that "…we need to be clear that in today's Europe, the change of borders by force will not be recognized."  I wonder if Volker has ever heard of Kosovo.  Or he  believes that Kosovo is not located in Europe, but, say, in the midland of Tasmania?

Over the period of two months, the Post's board has come up with the only Russia-related editorial, on April 30, which begins with the following:

"One thing the Obama administration's "reset" of relations with Russia hasn't changed is Moscow's imperviousness to accountability for criminal offenses by its government at home and abroad. The regime of Vladimir Putin rivals those of Iran or Syria for murders or acts of terrorism outside its borders, including hits in London, Vienna and Dubai."

(Could it be that the Post's editors mentioned Dubai by mistake?  And that what they really had in mind was the January 19th killing, by Mossad agents, of a senior Hamas commander in a Dubai hotel room?)

This Shakespearean-grade prelude was a mere introduction to a mundane initiative, by Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), to revoke U.S. visas for a bunch of Russia's police, court, and prison officials involved in the death of Sergey Magnitsky.  Hardly anyone in Moscow blinked at Sen. Cardin's move, and the only thing that makes the editorial marginally interesting is its title: "Keeping criminal Russian diplomats out the U.S."  Diplomats?  I suspect that even Post's editors know the difference between prison officials and diplomats, and this leads me to my perennial question: does anyone at the Post read their articles before publishing them?

For the on-the-ground coverage of Russia, there were enough "disasters" to report.  On April 10, Peter Finn reported on the tragedy near Smolensk, killing the Polish President Kaczynski and almost a hundred top Polish officials.  Edward Cody covered a Mass celebrated in their memory in Krakow.

Philip Pan produced a series of reports on the events in Kyrgyzstan writing about the subject on April 10, April 11, April 12, April 14, and April 16.  (Walter Pincus added to the subject on April 23, criticizing the U.S. government for its cozy relations with the deposed president of Kyrgyzstan, Kurmanbek Bakiyev). In parallel, Pan dealt with a disaster of a different kind: Russia's suspension of adoptions of Russian children by U.S. families in the aftermath of Artyom Savelyev's case: on April 15 and April 16 (with Donna St. George).  On May 6, Pan profiled Russia's ombudsman for children, Pavel Astakhov.  Finally, describing what the Post's board undoubtedly considered "the disaster of the month", Pan reported on the Black Sea Fleet deal between Russia and Ukraine and asserted that the "extension of Russia base's lease may challenge U.S. goals in [the] region." 

A number of articles were devoted to different aspects of U.S.-Russia relations.  On April 9, Michael Shear and Glenn Kessler wrote about a conversation between Presidents Obama and Medvedev in which Medvedev pledged to support a new U.N. Security Council resolution on Iran.  Mary Beth Sheridan reported, the same day, that the U.S. and Russian governments reached an agreement to dispose large amounts of plutonium from their nuclear weapons.  She continued, on April 19, by describing the difficulties the Obama administration is facing when pursuing its nuclear disarmament agenda, including future talks seeking deeper reduction in the U.S. and Russian arsenals following START.  On April 20, Walter Pincus reminded us about the uncertain future of the New START treaty in the Senate.  Later, on May 18,  he stressed the importance of the "fine print" included into the 170-page treaty protocol (in addition to the 17-page treaty itself) along with 174 pages of annexes.  (On the editorial page, on April 11, David E. Hoffman argued that "[d]espite new START, the U.S. and Russia still have too many nuclear weapons.")  On May 21, Colum Lynch and Glenn Kessler reported that the Obama administration lifted sanctions against four Russian companies accused in illicit weapons trade with Iran.

Two people made their debut as the Post editorial page's contributors: a Julia Ioffe and Russia's most famous inmate (Inmate-in-Chief, so to speak), Mikhail Khodorkovsky.   Julia Ioffe, a self-appointed "Russian repat", does seem to have the major qualities of a successful Post's columnist:  a bordering megalomania arrogance and a blatant ignorance of basic facts.  Just read this excerpt from her April 25 opus tastefully titled "A Russian American's uneasy return to Moscow":

"I…have been born here, speak the language, and have Russian family and friends, but I no longer have Russian citizenship.  Instead, I am back as a representative of the American press…I am, in other words, a traitor. "

Traitor?  Why not "an enemy of the people"?  In fact, busy with their everyday lives, constantly meeting "repats" from all over the world, sending kids to study and live abroad and having them back, the last thing that an ordinary Muscovite would be concerned with is the color of Ms. Ioffe's passport.  And what she might think about their country as well. 

The topic Khodorkovsky chose for his Post appearance can't help but raise eyebrows: corruption (which he calls "the world's biggest threat").  A man who used to openly brag about how skillfully he bribed the members of the Russian Duma is now concerned that "corruption is going to stop the development of humanity."  No more, no less: the development of humanity.  Well, I guess, people can change.  Just like countries and some Post's columnists.

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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21 Responses to Pravda On The Potomac-15 (What The Washington Post Wrote About Russia In April And May 2010)

  1. Alex says:

    Entertaining reading, as usual, Eugene.
    Applebaum’s article in April indeed was very good – and surprisingly informative.
    While I applaud your idea to measure democracy in eggs, this indicator might be correlated with the current conditions in the particular country’s poultry industry sector. What about throwing shoes?
    And Julia Ioffe .. IMHO, she should not try to publicly identify herself with the nation/country she is selling for pennies (sorry – dollars)in FP & WP. Then, perhaps, the Muscovites (and others) indeed would not care which passport she carries. (and even with the backing she, apparently, has, it would not hurt for her to learn a bit more about *foreign* (for her) culture – Russia is not Brighton Beach). Cheers

  2. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Thanks Alex,
    I’m afraid that learning “foreign” cultures would disqualify you from being a WP contributor. Clouds your ideological judgement.
    Cheers,
    Eugene

  3. Eugene, Alex & Co.
    Like Russia, Brighton Beach is by no means monolithic when it comes to politics.
    This point is easy to overlook when seeing the kind of views propped in mass media.
    Regarding a prior discussion, this issue relates to the kind of Ukrainian views typically represented in English language mass media.
    Applebaum and Sikorski can easily change course. This is likely to happen, given that Russia-West relations (more accurately put, Russia’s relations with individual Western countries) are probably going to have some ups and downs.
    Regarding what Applebaum said, Russia has changed and continues to change. Therefore, she’s off for suggesting that this is a sudden development.

  4. In case anyone missed it, here’s Sikorski’s 6/16 NYT op-ed piece:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/17/opinion/17iht-edsikorski.html
    While being comparatively more restrained from some other instances, this article nevertheless maintains the same old/same the old onus is on Russia bit.
    Best,
    Mike

  5. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Mike,
    Thanks very much for the Sikorski’s link, which I’ve missed. No Russia-hailing, to be sure. However, in a sense, the op-ed is very balanced as in addition to usual shots at Russia, it’s critical of Germany and France too (“In areas like energy and military cooperation, some E.U. members act unilaterally…”). And what about this passage? “What we now have is a chaotic E.U. policy toward Russia, with some member states holding the others hostage.” Isn’t he speaking about Poland?
    Best,
    Eugene

  6. Eugene
    Which gets back to an earlier point on how “the West” isn’t monolithic.
    The belief of who is holding who “hostage” is an example of the kind of divide evident on these kind of issues.
    Best,
    Mike

  7. Alex says:

    Indeed, Mike – thanks for the link – highly unusual tone from Sikorsky. Even “..hence Polish support for Russia’s accession to the W.T.O., visa facilitation ..”.
    What I still hate to see are the attempts of perverted Pavlov’s dog training of Russia – “jump up here [i.e. to where our understanding of democracy is] and we will permit you to sell us this or that on beneficial for us terms”. Cheers

  8. Alex says:

    Indeed, Mike – thanks for the link – highly unusual tone from Sikorsky. Even “..hence Polish support for Russia’s accession to the W.T.O., visa facilitation ..”.
    What I still hate to see are the attempts of perverted Pavlov’s dog training of Russia – “jump up here [i.e. to where our understanding of democracy is] and we will permit you to sell us this or that on beneficial for us terms”. Cheers

  9. You’re welcome Alex.
    Within the realm of the Polish political spectrum, Sikorski seems to be positioned as not being among the most negative of the negative when it comes to Russia. This observation concerns the relative circumstances regarding Polish perceptions. At the same time, there’s a Russophile wing of Poles, as well as those who aren’t necessarily Russophile, while seeking to bury the hatchet.
    I sense that the Russians take a diplomatically cautious stance with Sikorski.
    On a matter pertaining to Russia-“West” relations, it’s not only Russia with elements who could do some fessing up on the past.

  10. The “democracy” point mentioned by Alex can get idiotic. A Russia governed by Kasparov and Khodorkovsky wouldn’t be more democratic for the simple reason that “Putvedev” are considerably more popular.
    The idea of “democracy” leads one to the idea of a good representation of views being expressed. This point leads to the kind of Russian and non-Russian views of Russia typically getting the nod in some circles. It’s not like there’s a shortage of effective analysts/journalists running counter to writing a series of things like:
    – highlighting a “crappy Russian airplane” (concerning the tragic Polish plane crash in Smolensk)
    – utilizing “Russian” rather than “Soviet” in relation to the murder at Katyn
    – seeming joy at needling the Russian winter Olympic team’s performance in Vancouver
    – belittling Vladimir Posner for bringing up Kosovo to Hilary Clinton, by rhetorically suggesting that Chechnya should get independence consideration (never mind that the independence bug has noticeably declined in Chechnya and that putting Russia aside, there’s plenty of hypocrisy which could be directed at the independence position on disputed former Communist bloc territories)
    – describing bigoted Nashi youths on the Moscow subway, while not (to my knowledge) showing ANY sympathy against the anti-Russian imagery out there
    – viewing herself/himself as someone risking her/his life by her/his described role as a journalist in Russia
    – becoming an icon for anti-Russian elements who’ve been accepted within some mainstream circles.
    ****
    Regarding “danger” and “journalist”, how “safe” (from an employment standpoint) is it for a qualitatively assertive pro-Russian journalist to function as such in English language mass media? Put it this way, there doesn’t seem to be as many of them, when compared to others taking an opposite stance. Why? Self censorship? An understanding of what certain influential sources desire?
    As stated, “pro-Russian” doesn’t mean supporting everything the Russian government does, while acknowledging the various flaws within Russia.

  11. Pardon the hat trick, this piece in today’s WaPo isn’t surprising:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/21/AR2010062103696.html?hpid=opinionsbox1
    Regarding The WaPo and some others, it’s okay to be optimistic, as long as there’s a sense of realism on what will probably continue to dominate.

  12. Alex says:

    The content of that Kramer’r piece in WP – IMHO – is much more moderate than the title. Before the start of Eugene’s regular review column, it seems it was the opposite :)) A balancing act between what people read and for what the Editor pays?🙂
    Cheers

  13. Alex says:

    The content of that Kramer’r piece in WP – IMHO – is much more moderate than the title. Before the start of Eugene’s regular review column, it seems it was the opposite :)) A balancing act between what people read and for what the Editor pays?🙂
    Cheers

  14. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Alex, Mike-
    Many thanks to both for comments.
    Alex, you’re spot on with your latest post: Kramer writes that Russia’s foreign policy “isn’t pro-West”, while the title states it’s “anti-West.” Kramet vs. Editor?
    Regards,
    Eugene

  15. Eugene, Alex and Co.
    Periodically, a mass media outlet will insert its own title in a way that can conflict with the content. Such a contradiction is probably due to oversight, which is understandable given the limited time frame allocated for reviewing such material. On a regular basis, qualitatively timely journalism stands out in its ability to put out a good product within a short period. (Having backup like good fact checkers/copy editors helps.)
    Upon another glance (see the third and next to last paragraphs of article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/21/AR2010062103696.html?hpid=opinionsbox1), Kramer’s most recent piece describes the referenced Russian military statement as (in Kramer’s view) anti-West and the “leaked” foreign ministry comments as a diplomatic version that (in Kramer’s view) doesn’t differ much.
    The idea of hawk WaPo versus comparative dove Kramer highlights the limits of views often found. I’m reminded of a National Review article which characterized Russia as being neither friend nor foe, while providing an overly skewed perspective. Anti-Russian advocacy can deny being anti-Russian with the Howard Cosell “telling it like it is” delivery.
    Some might see this piece as a viable alternative to Kramer:
    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0610/38808.html
    I remember when Kerry was trying to out-hawk Bush on Russia when they were dueling for the presidency. Such manner relates to the theme of a one party system divided between Repubs and Dems.
    I greatly appreciate this discussion.
    Best,
    Mike

  16. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Thanks Mike,
    I’ve just posted another piece heavily featuring Kramer. My problem with him isn’t that he’s a “hawk” or a “dove.” My problem with him is that he’s got an agenda and to boost this agenda, he’s using any material currently available, even if this material doesn’t really fit his own agenda. Sometimes, this turns out plain silly.
    I’ve enjoyed our discussion too.
    Best,
    Eugene

  17. Two beauts from you this week Eugene.
    Note how Kerry and Kramer bring up Russia’s presence on former Georgian SSR territory in a way suggesting that such manner serves to hinder US-Russia ties.
    Not mentioned is the comparatively greater NATO presence in Kosovo and limited recognition of Kosovo’s independence in contradiction to UNSCR 1244.
    Kramer and Kerry seem to hypocritically understand the last matter to be non-problematical.
    The Russian view as stated by Lavrov notes how since the wars of the 1990s, Serbia, Moldova and Azerbaijan haven’t launched military action on the respective territory they claim. This contrasts from the 2008 Georgian government strike on South Ossetia.
    Has this observation ever been made in The WaPo, Foreign Policy and National Interest?
    Whether “neocon,” “neolib,” “realist,” “Russophile,” “Russophobe,” or something different, the clannish monopolization of sources utilized has qualitatively sacrificed the analytics.

  18. Leo says:

    “It is in the E.U.’s interest that Russia get richer, that it keep pumping oil and gas”.
    Those eloquent Oxforders…

  19. Leo says:

    The above was a quote the 06/17 NYT op-ed by Sikorski (educated at Oxford, incidentally), just keep pumping guys or “pilite, Shura”. But he is still a notch above his predecessor who saw her job in developing a close alliance with the US and confronting Russia and Germany (is the EU anywhere in this picture?). Now I read that Jaroslaw K. running for president is positioning himself as a foreign policy “cuddly-duddly” by extending his hand to Russia and Germany. While I don’t dispute that Russia’s repentance about Katyn was long overdue, I can’t help thinking there is something else in play here.
    Cheers,
    Leo

  20. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Thanks Leo,
    I don’t follow closely European politics, but wasn’t there a potential gas deal in the making between Poland and Russia?
    I don’t try to be cynical. I sincerely believe that bad relations between Moscow and Warshaw are costly to both countries.
    Best,
    Eugene

  21. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Thanks Leo,
    I don’t follow closely European politics, but wasn’t there a potential gas deal in the making between Poland and Russia?
    I don’t try to be cynical. I sincerely believe that bad relations between Moscow and Warshaw are costly to both countries.
    Best,
    Eugene

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