Konstantin over at Russian Blog has taken exception to my thoughts on the Gazprom-Ukraine dispute and has provided some interesting counterpoints. I urge readers to check it out.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
I stumbled across Artyom Borovik’s The Hidden War in a Santa Monica used bookstore on Thursday. Not knowing much about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, I quickly placed in my stack of must haves. Though I’ve only gotten through the introduction, Hidden War looks to be an excellent read.
Borovik was one of the Soviet Union’s best investigative journalists. Thanks to perestroika he was able to practice his craft to the fullest. In post-Soviet Russia he was an outspoken critic of the Chechen War and ultimately of Putin. He was killed in a plane crash in 2000 while accompanying oil executive Ziya Bazayev. The Guardian wrote of the crash:
‘I don’t think oil magnates use unreliable aircraft,” said Vsevolod Bogdanov, head of the Russian journalists’ union.
Such remarks encouraged speculation that the crash was caused by a criminal plot, though there was no fire or explosion. Commentators surmised that enemies of the oil executive in Russia’s notoriously ruthless business mafias were responsible for the deaths, or enemies of Borovik whose newspapers and television shows crusaded against corruption in Russia’s political and economic elites.
‘Power in Russia is not in the hands of the democrats or the communists, it’s in the hands of organised crime and the mafia,” Borovik once famously declared. He was well connected politically and a respected, outspoken opponent of Mr Putin.
I don’t bring up Borovik to rehash theories of his death. Rather, I wanted to share something he wrote in the introduction of Hidden War. It reads:
Anyone who stayed in Afghanistan for a long period of time, or who was sent there on a regular basis, typically went through four phases.
The first stage (which would usually last up to three months) went something like this: “The war is proceeding on a normal course. If only we can add another twenty or thirty thousand men, everything would be fine.”
Several months later, the second stage: “Since we’ve already gotten ourselves in this jam, we should get the fighting over with as quickly as possible. Adding another thirty thousand men isn’t going to do it. We need at least one other army to shut off all the borders.”
Five or six months later, the third stage: “There is something desperately wrong here. What a mess!”
Then, half a year or so later, the fourth and final stage: “We’d be wise to get the hell out of here—and the sooner the better.”
I went through all these stages too.
I can’t help point out the prescience of Borovik’s four stages. If Iraq replaced Afghanistan and added some lag time (the American polity is still in stage one for Afghanistan) I believe one could say that the Republican leadership is stuck at stage two, the Democrats at three, and the American public, stage four.Post Views: 384
By Sean — 13 years ago
I highly recommend subscribing to David Johnson’s Russia List. Mr. Johnson provides some of the best sources for news on Russia and the other former Soviet states. Today’s edition, JRL #9261, is particularly interesting because Johnson inserts some of his wit into the news roll. Featured are two editorials published today. One, “Mr. Putin’s Clouded Promise,” from the NY Times and the other, “Silent on Putin’s Slide. Bush Ignores Russia’s Fading Freedom,” from the Washington Post. For comparison, he follows them with two editorials from 1993 from the same papers. From the NY Times: “In Russia, Disorder to Democracy?” (October 5, 1993) and “Officials Hail Yeltsin Foes’ Rout,” (October 6, 1993); and the Washington Post: “Weekend War,” (October 5, 1993). Johnson adds this short introductory note:
“In early October 1993 Yeltsin’s tanks assaulted the parliament and the future course of Russian history was decisively altered. I follow the first two items from the Washington Post and the New York Times with items from those papers from October 1993. I’m not sure what lessons can be drawn from this but I suspect there is something to be learned.”
Lessons to be learned indeed. The articles show the typical American hypocrisy when it comes to Russia. When Yeltsin used tanks against “old-line Communist “reds,” fascist-minded, nationalistic anti-Semitic “browns” and other bitter-enders,” this was hailed by the Washington Post, NY Times, and the Clinton Administration as democratic progress. It was a sign of a commitment to “reform and democracy.” Translated: reforms and democracy that are favorable to American interests. Lesson #1: weak dependent Russia is a good Russia. But Putin gets no license or democratic accolades like his drunken former benefactor. Apparently, you have call tanks into the streets to eliminate his opponents to get that. Instead, the Washington Post is tempted to call Putin’s tactics “Stalinist” because “he can reimpose authoritarian rule without a gulag, simply by spreading fear through example.” But his policies, whatever you think of them, are not in the interests of the U.S., but independent of it. Lesson #2: strong independent Russia is a bad Russia.
The NY Times and the Washington Post can cry all the want about poor Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Don’t let his metrosexual visage fool you. The truth of the matter is that he is a crook just like all the Russian oligarchs, and that most Russians rightly see him as such. It is only the American press that had made Khodorkovsky into some beacon of freedom and example of a “political prisoner.” I wish the Bush would use that kind of state power and arrest some of our corporate crooks. But wait, that would mean arresting all of his friends!
Sure, Putin’s actions against Khodorkovsky are selective. They are authoritarian. I’m not apologizing for that. But to say that Russian democracy is “slipping” is utter fantasy. It’s never stood up.
To be fair, the Washington Post does point to some real concerns:
“[Putin] can fire one editor for putting a negative story on the front page and other editors get the message. He can have one or two judges dismissed without pension and other judges toe the line. Threaten a few human rights organizations, allow the murders of a few journalists to go unsolved, open a criminal investigation of the one politician who mentions challenging you in the next election, throw a few businessmen into tuberculosis-infested prison cells — and word gets around.”
But Johnson’s transposes these articles to make a different point: American interpretations of democracy and reform in Russia are just as hollow as Putin’s claims to them. And this is why, I’m afraid, Western reporting on Russia should always be taken with a dash of politics and a pinch of Russophobia.Post Views: 342
By Sean — 12 years ago
Here’s a kicker. Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev is visited the United States this Friday. While having his government run ads in response to the sure to be hilarious movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, Nazarbayev is getting the royal treatment by the Bush Administration. On Friday, Bush had the audacity to say that Kazakhstan is a “free nation”. What an idiot. Even the conservative National Review called Bush’s embracing of Nazarbayev as such:
But like too many visitors to the White House these days, Nazarbayev is an autocrat. He is not democratically elected, he allows little leeway for his opponents, and he is working to keep political power centralized in the hands of his own family. For Nazarbayev, who visited the Clinton White House twice but has not met Bush in Washington, D.C. since December 2001, the invitation is a victory. He will use the Bush White House to confirm that his autocracy has substantial U.S. support. This couldn’t come at a worse time, as a predominately Muslim Kazakhstan teeters on the brink of turning into another Saudi Arabia: corrupt at the top, with ample cause for discontent at the bottom.
But I guess that according to Bush’s definition of “free”, Kazakhstan is probably a shining beacon. I also think that we can translate “free” as geopolitically vital to US interests. If you are willing to make deals with the US, like Nazarbayev is, then you are placed in the ideological clear no matter what you do to your citizens.
As a LA Times editorial put it,
[T]here are few nations more strategically important to the United States than Kazakhstan. Its mineral resources are vast; by 2015, it is expected to account for nearly as much oil production as Iran. It is a stable U.S. ally in a region marked by shaky friends, rivals and foes, such as Russia, China, Afghanistan and Iran. It is a majority-Muslim country that sent troops to Iraq and opened its airspace to U.S. flights during the invasion of Afghanistan. It is a model for nuclear disarmament, having agreed to destroy the missiles it inherited from the former Soviet Union.
. . .
Yet Kazakhstan is too important to ignore or keep at a distance — and the reasons go far beyond its oil wealth. If Bush confines himself to meeting only with leaders who have perfect democratic records, he’ll have to rule out the heads of most countries in the developing world.
True enough. The US has to deal with these countries but it can certainly do so without such silly hyperbole. Such statements are just embarrassing and further undermine the little credibility Bush has left.
Nazarbayev’s visit was of course overshadowed by Borat and the genius publicity campaign for the upcoming movie. Borat attempted to crash the White House meeting, only to be turned away by the Secret Service.
I just hope the movie is still in theaters when I get back to the States in late November.Post Views: 440