Pravda On The Potomac-18 (What The Washington Post Wrote About Russia In August 2010)

One could reasonably expect that after an avalanche of Russia related publications in June and, especially, July, a sort of fatigue was about to set in in the Post's coverage of Russia in August.  And it certainly did.  Yet Russia wasn't completely forgotten, as a decent number of both articles (8) and op-eds/eds (8) appeared.  

In the absence of Philip Pan (on vacation after extensive summer travel?), the Post had no one else to cover the Russian Disaster of the Year — forest fires in the Western part of the country.  The only piece the Post could muster on the subject was the one by Ariana Cha and Janine Zacharia, who reported that Russia was banning its grain exports as a result of  the loss of one-fifth of its crop.

The vacuum was however filled with op-ed contributions.  Somewhat expectedly for the Post's authors, instead of blaming Mother Nature (which every sane person did in the cases of flooding in Pakistan and the  mudslide in China ), they pointed fingers at the usual suspect:  "the centralized, one-party system" of which Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (but of course, who else?) "is the architect."  At least that was the explanation provided by a William Dobson.  Interestingly, Dobson began his piece by featuring a profile of an environmental activist, Yevgenia Chirikova, the leader of the movement opposing the destruction of Khimki Forest.  But Dobson soon lost interest in the real leaders of the Russian civil society and went on a routine anti-Putin rant whose sole purpose was conceivably a promotion of "a book on the challenges to democracy" he's reportedly writing.

Dobson's opinion was seconded by the famed "limousine liberal" Lilia Shevtsova.  This time around, Ms. Shevtsova abandoned her usual co-riders and shared a seat with David Kramer.  (Congratulations to Mr. Kramer on his appointment as the new executive director of Freedom House!  The House of the world's freedoms will be in good hands.)  The result of this journey was a bona fide horror storyof what-went-wrong-in-Russia-under-Putin.  It's amazing how much stuff Shevtsova & Kramer managed to pack into their medium-size piece: subways,  morgues and rivers full of fainted people,  piling corpses and drawn bodies, respectively; Russian-Georgian war, Chernobyl accident, Hurricane Katrina, Gulf Coast oil spill, George W. Bush, oligarchs, VTsIOM, Levada Center, Silicon Valley, Kursk submarine, and, finally, CNN's Larry King.  And all that to perceptively conclude that:

"Prime Minister Vladimir Putin bears direct responsibility for the dysfunctional system that set the stage for disaster."

Thanks for the ride, guys, that was intense!

At this point, the Post's editors flashed a rare sign of sanity: they have correctly identified the fires in Russia (and floods in Pakistan) as natural disasters and called on Republicans in Congress to get serious about climate change.  Admittedly, that was only a flash: in two weeks, the editors returned to their usual state of mind and condemned Putin for a 3-day imprisonment of human rights activist Lev Ponomarev.  In my humble opinion, this is a stretch: even a "dictator", as Putin is habitually called by the Post's editors, can't be held responsible for every stupidity of Moscow law enforcement authorities.  It's like blaming President Obama for the jailing of a Florida man who sent a Facebook "friend" request to his estranged wife? 

Masha Lipman made, on August 9, her usual call in support of Russia's anti-government movements.  If you think that Ms. Lipman expressed her admiration with Yevgenia Chirikova and other defenders of Khimki Forest (or, for a change, with hundreds of brave volunteers helping firefighters extinguish raging forest fires), think again.  The heroes of Lipman's story are a tiny group of political clowns attempting to stage a rally at Triumphal'naya Ploshchad in Moscow on the last day of each month with 31 days.  The only notable thing about these people appears to be the way they call themselves: Strategy 31.  Strategy!  A strategy of what?  The activities of Strategy 31 clearly show that the Russian "liberal opposition" has no strategy; only cheap tactics to attract attention to themselves.  More, the insistence on rallying in places where no one would listen to them shows that the "strategists" have nothing to say to ordinary Russians.  That's why they prefer to communicate, eight times per year, with the equally empty-headed OMONovtsy

A number of publications covered the ongoing ratification of the New START Treaty.  Mary Beth Sheridan and Walter Pincus reported, on August 4, that the Senate vote on the treaty was postponed until after the summer recess, if not the November mid-term elections.  On August 10, Pincus pointed out that the criticism of the leading Senate opponent of the New START, Sen. Jon Kyl(R-Ariz.), targeted the elements of the treaty Kyl was ready to accept (or ignore) when discussing the Moscow Treaty seven years ago.  On August 17, Sheridan reminded that with the expiration of START in November 2009, "[f]or the first time in 15 years, U.S. officials have lost their ability to inspect Russian long-rage nuclear bases."  (On a somewhat related note, Sheridan described the growing role of women in the field of U.S. national security, including arms control negotiations with Russia). 

On the op-ed side, Jack Goldsmith and Jeremy Rabkin discussed, on August 4, an arcane technical issue in the Treaty text that, in their opinion, "could [potentially] erode Senate's foreign policy role."  And on August 20, Stephen Rademaker made a good point by criticizing Senate Democrats for their attempts to rush the Treaty through ratification hearings without paying enough attention to their Republican opponents.  In Rademaker's opinion, slowing down the process would eventually result in a solid bipartisan support of the Treaty.

In other Russia related news, John Pomfret reported, on August 20 and 21, on the decision by a Thailand appeals court to extradite to the United State a reputed Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout.  An August 22 article described the launch of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran. 

The second anniversary of the Russian-Georgian war went almost unnoticed.  The only person who showed up to speak in support of a "friendly Georgian democracy" was Sen. John McCain.  A great fan of Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili, McCain isn't renowned for his love for Russia, to put it mildly, so his displeasure with all things Russian is quite understandable.  (However, I'd argue that when McCain suggests that President Medvedev uses Georgia as a "model for political and economic modernization", he goes a bit too far).  Yet even McCain could memorize that Tbilisi's de facto loss of control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia didn't occur in August 2008; it goes back to 1992-1993.  (Admittedly, not an easy thing for the aging statesman who famously struggled to learn the difference between Sunni and Shia and still finds Czechoslovakia on a world map).

Towards the end, McCain's piece becomes even more interesting.  He calls on President Obama to deny Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization if "Russia does not make progress" on Georgia.  He proceeds with demands to supply Georgia with "armored vehicles…antitank capabilities, air defenses, early-warning radar and other defensive systems."  I thus strongly suspect that McCain wasn't the true author of the piece.  The real one was Randy Scheunemann, McCain's foreign policy adviser and a paid lobbyist for the Georgian government, who seems to have just received a fresh infusion of cash from his masters in Tbilisi.

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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10 Responses to Pravda On The Potomac-18 (What The Washington Post Wrote About Russia In August 2010)

  1. Alex says:

    Thanks, Eugene – I have not been reading WP much recently- was waiting for your installment to save time [ & the effort]🙂
    Your “equally empty-headed OMON” was good. Especially, if one extends the description to whoever orders the OMON around. I would have used a different link http://newtimes.ru/articles/detail/14721 as the reference, explaining what the Russian OMON really is..

  2. Hi Eugene
    As I might’ve already said I don’t read The WaPo as much as I otherwise would on account of your overview and the fact that there’s plenty of other stuff (good and bad) out there.
    On Kramer’s Freedom House appointment, I suspect he will soon author an article spinning the line about Ukraine’s growing authortitarian streak. Using Freedom House as a source, that effort has begun at this link and elsewhere:
    http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexa-chopivsky/prognosis-for-ukraines-ebbing-democracy
    The situation in Ukraine is problematical. However, there’s also the agenda of some to spin a way that is reasonably open to second guessing.
    From that same venue:
    http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ukraines-new-regime-first-200-days/ingo-petz
    Excerpt –
    “But, as opinion surveys reveal, Ukrainians are much less ready than Russians to sacrifice, or restrict, their civic liberties for a promise of prosperity. This may result from a different historical legacy. I don’t mean only the western part of Ukraine that, until WWII, had never been part of Russia or Soviet Union. I mean also Central Ukraine, which was historically part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and was only fully incorporated into the Russian Empire at the end of the 18th century.”
    ****
    In conjunction with the rest of the interview, the suggestion in the above excerpted is that Russian influence on Ukrainian territory hasn’t been as beneficial as that of the non-Russian variant.
    Several points:
    – Not mentioned is the Rus period which predated the Polish dominated occupation era. Modern day Ukraine, Russia and Belarus are descended from that Rus period in a way that Poland isn’t.
    – If Polish dominated rule was so beneficial, why did the Orthodox-Christians and to a certain extent converted Greek-Catholics oppose it? Why is Russia more popular in Ukraine than Poland?
    – The Cossacks are considered a historical/cultural symbol of sorts for Ukraine. Generally speaking, the Cossacks remain among the most pro-Russian of elements in Ukraine. The Polish encouraged Greek-Catholic denomination didn’t see many (if any) Cossacks leaving the Orthodox Christian faith. The Polish encouraged Greek-Catholic denomination remains a minority among Ukraine’s Christian faithful. These observations aren’t expressed to encourage anti-Polish and/or anti-Greek-Catholic sentiment. Rather, they’re stated to balance out historically/culturally biased observations made against Russocentric sentiment in Ukraine.
    – Note a poll cited in the above linked article which is stated for the purpose of distinguishing Ukrainians from Russians. Not mentioned are polls showing Ukrainians to generally favorable of their country having closer ties to Russia.
    – Regarding the overview on the direction of media in Ukraine, consider the slant of the source stating such. There’s no mention of how during Yushchenko’s presidency a “Hero” status was accorded to World War II Galician Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera. One poll gives Bandera a popularity rating of 28% in Ukraine. Another not so popular move by Yushchenko was his attempt to have Ukraine in NATO.
    – There’s a comment below the linked interview noting how Yushchenko contributed to a not so democratic situation in Ukraine. A follow-up comment notes the basis for perceiving Yanukovych as less democratic than Yushchenko, with the latter explained as a weak leader who reflected good (as in Russia unfriendly) stances.
    Best,
    Mike

  3. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Thanks Alex,
    Sure, I have no illusions about content of the heads giving the orders.
    It’s long become absolutely personal between Luzhkov and the “strategists.” No relevance to the Constitution or to the rule of law.
    Kosa na kamen’ – make your pick who’s who🙂
    Best,
    Eugene

  4. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Thanks Mike,
    I already read the article (from the link you sent earlier). Well, we knew it before: “pro-Russian” leader can’t be democratic by definition. But call Putin “dictator” and you immediately become a “beacon of liberty” yourself.
    This is something that we all predicted in advance: the more Yanukovich reverses Yushchenko’s policies vis-a-vis Russia (in the direction of more cooperation), the more talk there going to be that Ukraine is “less democratic.”
    Best,
    Eugene

  5. You’re quite welcome Eugene and thanks go to you as well.
    On the openDemocracy run commentary, pardon the re-circulation of sorts from a mailing of mine.
    In some circles, certain sources are more equal than others, in a way that can be legitimately second guessed. As a result, other options can be utilized to get the word out.
    Best,
    Mike

  6. Mark says:

    An excellent piece, Eugene; full of wry humour, and if there’s a more effective counter to political posturing and the “look at me, LOOK at me” stunts of the nutsi than wry humour, I’ve never heard of it.
    John “Grampie” McCain, AKA Muttering John’s Georgia policy comes whole and breathing from the lips of his good friend and hand-up-the-back-of-his-shirt, Randy Scheunemann. A key adviser to his failed presidential campaign, Mr. Scheunemann was also an American adviser to the Georgian government in 2006, during which period he suggested the Bush government’s Georgia policies as enunciated by Condoleezza Rice were “weak appeasement….sold out the Georgians”. As you’re aware, the Bush government briefly considered sending military aid to Georgia in 2008, and its policies were rather hawkish.
    Not enough to suit the bloodthirsty Mr. Scheunemann, though: my, no. He was a director of the Project for a New American Century, and led the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, he’s quite the busy advocate for war and foreign entanglement. In many cases, such a war would benefit him personally without his having to personally be a part of the military phase of liberation – as in this case, since he is a registered lobbyist for Georgia.
    You can read these and other interesting facts about Mr. Scheunemann here;
    http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/Scheunemann_Randy

  7. Alex says:

    Eugene – just wanted to express my approval of your choice of word – “Kosa” – very fitting to the Moscow’s mayor (even without the second part).
    Cheers

  8. Eugene says:

    Mark,
    Thanks much for your comments and the link.
    I agree, many people can make money on blood, but few can do that with such a bloody efficiency as Scheunemann.
    I suspect that should the Committee for the Liberation of Iran be ever formed, one won’t have to look long for the Chairman. With Scheunemann at the helm and David Kramer as the head of Freedom House, you won’t be able to run and hide from “democracy.”
    Best,
    Eugene

  9. Eugene says:

    Thanks Alex,
    The “great and powerful” Russian language provides us with almost unlimited ways to define “stupidity”🙂
    Cheers,
    Eugene

  10. Igor, AU says:

    Eugene, your humor is not just wry – it is dangerous – to call Kosa Nostra “stupid” is to risk one’s life!🙂
    Cheers

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