Yeah, yeah, I haven’t been blogging of late, but I hope to return at full throttle soon. In the meantime I couldn’t resist mentioning a story in the NY Times about the US-Russia relations “reset button.” We all now know that the Obama Administration is making some effort to repair relations with Russia. The first sign came with Joe Biden’s “press the reset button” statement in February. Then earlier this week we learned that Obama sent a “secret letter” to Medvedev hoping to enlist Russia in dealing with Iran in exchange for scrapping the missile defense system in Eastern Europe. The Russians received the letter coldly, and you can’t blame them.
Well the Reset Button Doctrine appears to be going ahead though the first problem doesn’t appear to be resetting relations as it is finding the correct Russia word for “reset”. Secretary of State Clinton was in Russia yesterday to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with hopes to warm relations. Now forget that there was little actually “reset” in the meeting, but there was a button. Says the NY Times,
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in greeting Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, presented him with a red plastic button emblazoned with the English word “reset” and the Russian word “peregruzka.”
The gift was a play on Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s call in Munich last month for the two countries to “press the reset button” on their relationship.
“We worked hard to get the right Russian word,” Mrs. Clinton said, handing the button to Mr. Lavrov. “Do you think we got it?”
“You got it wrong,” he replied, explaining that the Americans had come up with the Russian word for overcharged.
What morons. Are you telling me that Clinton’s staff had to “work hard” to find the right word for reset and they still messed it up? Maybe Clinton should be pressing the reset button on her staff. It’s nice to see that the new Administration is continuing the incompetency of the old one.
Photo: Associated Press.
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As Duma and presidential elections approach in Russia, the Kremlin and its supporters like Nashi have amplified their charges that the United States is funding Russian opposition movements. In his 26 April “Annual Address to the Federal Assembly,” Putin added his own take about the increased influx of foreign money into Russia’s political system. “There has been an increasing influx of money from abroad being used to intervene directly in our internal affairs,” he stated. “Looking back at the more distant past, we recall the talk about the civilizing role of colonial powers during the colonial era. Today, ‘civilization’ has been replaced by democratization, but the aim is the same – to ensure unilateral gains and one’s own advantage, and to pursue one’s own interests.”
Given Putin’s own democratic record many have panned his analysis as just another means to justify his authoritarianism. The logic is simple: discredit the opposition by linking it to larger Western, particularly American, machinations at world domination. After all, Western NGO support of opposition movements in Ukraine and Georgia are often cited as crucial factors in those countries “colored revolutions.” The thing is whether one wants to believe him or not, Putin does have a point.
The truth is, as Putin states, American rhetoric about “spreading democracy” is a resounding echo of imperialist powers’ “civilizing mission in the 19th century. Just compare the following quotes;
In carrying out this work of civilization we are fulfilling what I believe to be our national mission, and we are finding scope for the exercise of those faculties and qualities which have made of us a great governing race.”—British Secretary of State for the Colonies Joseph Chamberlain in a speech to the annual dinner of the Royal Colonial Institute, March 1897.
From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth. Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave. Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our Nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation’s security, and the calling of our time.
So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.—President George W. Bush, Inaugural Address, January, 2005.
Only the most na?ve would believe that the spread of “civilization” by the British was and “democracy” by the US is altruistic. Global hegemony is not waged by force alone. As the Cold War proved, ideology is also major weapon. In addition, as Putin well knows, since 1991, post-Soviet space has been one of the focuses for the US’ strategy of “spreading democracy” and “assisting” democratic movements. However, unlike during the Cold War, as Gerald Sussman has argued in the Monthly Review, the State Department relies less on the CIA and more on both public and private organizations. Allen Weinstein, one of the founders of the National Endowment for Democracy, noted: “A lot of what we [NED] do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”
Russians got a taste of American meddling in the 1996 Russian Presidential elections. Then a barely surviving Yeltsin defeated KPRF candidate Gennady Zyuganov through a combination of theft, voter manipulation, scare tactics, and funds from the International Monetary Fund and the American, German, and French governments. And while Putin’s political career has certainly benefited from Yeltsin’s victory, now that he’s vilified in the West, there is no doubt in Putin’s mind that foreign governments will attempt to exercise influence over who will be his successor.
The question is how much and what kind of “assistance” the US government is giving. Moscow’s claims of foreign governments’ meddling have sparked some digging. Writing in a recent article in the Moscow Times, Nabi Abdullaev states that the Kremlin’s accusations are purely to whip up “hysteria.” An analysis of US funding conducted by the Moscow Times found that “for the past four years . . . Washington seems to have given up trying to effect democratization in any significant way, steadily cutting its spending to pennies of what would be needed to foster a change in government.”
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) spent $84.27 million in Russia in 2006 but only $60.97 million is allocated for this year (a breakdown of USAID’s 2007 budget for Russia can be found here). This is compared to the $94 million the agency spent in 2004. The decrease of funding for Russia has prompted the NGO Freedom House to recommend in their recent report “Supporting Freedom’s Advocates?” that the Bush Administration restore the $25 million it struck from the 2007 Budget for “civil society” and the $3 million for “human rights.” In a recent interview with RFE/RL, Amanda Abrams, Freedom House’s director of communications, said that “We’re seen an increase in democracy funding around the world, which is great, and we’re also seeing increases in certain regions, but the former Soviet Union isn’t one of the regions that’s really receiving an increase, I’d say, generally speaking.”
However, when the figures are looked at closely, there is an ample increase in the percentage within the budget for democratic assistance programs. And it’s no coincidence that this has occurred on the eve of the Russia’s two big elections. “Combined spending on democracy and governance has grown from 41 percent of the total budget in 2004 to 72 percent this year,” Abdullaev writes. It is also telling that in 2004 and 2005 no money was in the USAID Russia budget for “Strengthening Democracy,” while the 2006 and 2007 budgets saw $3.1 million and $2 million respectively to “Strengthen Democratic Political Parties.” According to USAID’s data sheet, strengthening democratic parties means:
USAID will enhance organizational capacity of democratically-oriented parties, encourage and intensify coalition building efforts for the 2007-2008 elections, and promote cooperation with NGOs. Community-based initiatives in selected regions will teach Russian youth to apply democratic principles and pursue civic initiatives. New partnerships will strengthen Russian policy institutes capacity to analyze campaign and policy issues. Principal partners: National Democratic Institute (NDI), International Republican Institute (IRI), Project Harmony, TBD.
How or who USAID defines as “democratically-oriented parties” isn’t stated. Yet, despite the explicit statement about helping intensifying coalition building efforts for the 2007-2008 elections, the Moscow Times maintains that USAID programs are hardly threatening. Most of them focus on “judge exchange programs, leadership lectures by local professors, finance classes for regional officials, and journalist training.”
Moreover, USAID repeatedly claims that their funding is “non-partisan” and doesn’t go to any political parties in particular, but to strengthening the “democratic process.” This has allowed some unlikely groups to benefit. Not only have activists from Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces attended USAID funded training seminars, lectures, and conferences, so have activists from United Russia, its youth organization Young Guard, and Nashi. All three groups have taken advantage of US funds despite their vehemence about US meddling. When asked about this, spokespeople from both Nashi and Young Guard stated that they were not in control of what their individual members did. And though Nadezhda Orlova, Young Guard’s coordinator for political training programs, thought “it reprehensible to participate in U.S.-financed training sessions after we have accused The Other Russia of taking money from Washington and turning into American puppets,” she herself admitted to accepting a US government grant to study public relations at the University of North Carolina.
Whether any of these US funded programs actually have any influence over politics is difficult to access. Yabloko youth leader Ilya Yashin told the Moscow Times that the seminars were “dull stuff” anyway, adding that “We know the situation on the ground better than any Western expert.”
Still, even if NGOs flooded Russian opposition parties with cash, few think that it would make any real difference. As Gleb Pavlovsky, former editor of the Russian edition of the Journal of Democracy in the 1990s, (JoD Russia was published by the US Congress and funded by the National Endowment of Democracy), told the Times, “U.S. money in Russia is not enough to unhorse Putin” anyway. Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov told the Financial Times the same last month. “The economic and political situation in Russia today is very stable. There could be attempts, but this will be money thrown into the wind. It will be spent in vain. There will be no dividends” he said. The one thing that made “democratic assistance” a success in Ukraine and Georgia was that social discontent with the ruling governments was already present. With a 70% approval rating, such mass discontent doesn’t exist in Russia, regardless of what Other Russia signifies (I should note that the April issue of the Journal of Democracy has an article by none other than Garry Kasparov titled, “Battling KGB Inc.” as well as other articles critical of Russian democracy.) The only thing is, if all this is true and figures like Ivanov are exuding such confidence, then why the crackdown on such a weak and insignificant opposition?
The issue might just be less about opposition parties and more about sovereignty. Also in his interview with FT, Ivanov stated that “when the [US] state department publicly says, “We will disburse money to NGOs,” this is practically interference in our internal affairs.” And while western governments lambaste Russia for restricting NGOs, it is not like any Russian money would be tolerated in their countries. As Ivanov told FT in response to whether Russia could fund NGOs in the United States,
No it can’t, because of the laws of the US. We haven’t been able to open a radio station there for the last ten years. They won’t let us. Mayak, I think, wanted to. But their laws won’t allow us, or any broadcasts by foreign media. And I know the laws of France on NGOs, there is such a big tax – almost 80 percent of funds transferred for fighting diseases, for humanitarian purposes. And there’s a check every month on whether it is being used properly. If just one centime did not go towards buying medicine then it is immediately closed. We have normal laws. They are democratic laws. But when [foreigners] begin to finance the political process – imagine if foreign capital financed any US political party, or in Britain, how this would be seen. You would say you don’t like this. And we don’t like it either.
Ivanov words essentially echo most Russians’ complaint about the US and Europe rhetoric about Russian “democracy”: hypocrisy. For centuries, the West has claimed it was spreading “civilization” to the dark masses. The result was to the detriment of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The current prevalence in the West to speak about democracy and freedom, to borrow a phrase from Homi Bhabha, “in a tongue that is forked, not false” is what makes its efforts so disingenuous, not their supposed results.Post Views: 116
The fact that Putin is adept at judo is well known and admired. I got a taste of this admiration a few years ago when I stopped into a Moscow photo shop across from INION to get picture for my library card. Hanging on the wall were two pictures of Putin. One looking all stately and serious; the other in full judo garb with arms steady for a throw.
Little did I know that Putin and a few of his fellow judo enthusiasts penned a manual of their best throws, tumbles, and dodges called Judo: History, Theory, Practice. That is until I happened upon Daniel Soar’s “Short Cuts” in new issue of the London Review of Books. Soar wonders whether Putin’s judo mastery influenced his recent diplomatic jousting with President Bush. The careful observer can see that it indeed does.
As Soar explains:
The excellent thing about judo – in theory – is that you don’t have to be stronger than your opponent to beat him. The idea is that you use the momentum of his attack to keep him moving in the same direction, and then, with a little twist, you send him flying onto the mat. The bigger they are the harder they fall. This should be useful to Putin, since Russia is so heavily outgunned and outspent by the US military machine that it can’t win the arms race the old-fashioned way. Putin provides a striking metaphor to demonstrate the judo master’s technique. He calls it ‘give way in order to conquer’. Imagine you are a locked door. Your opponent wants to break you open with his shoulder. If he is ‘big and strong enough and rams through the door (that is, you) from a running start, he will achieve his aim’. But here’s the neat bit. If instead of ‘digging in your heels and resisting your opponent’s onslaught’, you unlock it at the last minute, then, ‘not meeting any resistance and unable to stop, your opponent bursts through the wide-open door, losing balance and falling.’ If you’re even more cunning, you can stop being a door and stick out a leg, causing him to trip as he sails through. ‘Minimum effort, maximum effect’, as Russia’s effortlessly effective president says.
The evident ingenuity of this technique made me wonder why Putin didn’t deploy it in the run-up to the G8 dojo. It was puzzling. On his way to Germany, Bush went on the offensive. He visited Poland and the Czech Republic to publicise his plan to install ‘exoatmospheric kill vehicles’ – little missiles designed to hit bigger missiles – on sites close to the Russian border. Putin’s counter-attack was very bold. He said that if America was going to play silly buggers with its Raytheon EKVs, then he would point his biggest ICBMs at Western European cities. ‘A new Cold War!’ the papers screamed. The leaders of the free world were righteously outraged, whereas Putin had merely closed the door. Any moment now he would flip the latch and stick out a leg.
But the analogy was troubling. When would the door open, and where was his leg? At first I wondered whether Putin was readying himself for the long game, hunkering down, raising the stakes to force the US to spend more and more money on more and more weapons until it bankrupted itself and went pop. Except, of course, that this would be playing into Bush’s hands, since American military spending is what the US economy depends on. The need for more weaponry would mean an even mightier America. So Putin wasn’t so clever after all: he’d forgotten all his old teaching and had taken up gunslinging in a fight he could only lose. Or so I thought.
On 7 June the full genius of Putin’s strategy was revealed. Earlier, Bush had said: ‘Vladimir – I call him Vladimir – you should not fear the missile defence system . . . Why don’t you co-operate with us on the missile defence?’ Ingeniously, Putin now called his bluff, and unbolted the new Iron Curtain. He quietly suggested that the US base its missile interception system on a Russian military installation in Azerbaijan, an unanswerable solution if – as the Americans claim – the EKVs really are intended to counter an Iranian nuclear threat. Bush’s people, wrong-footed, could only say that his proposal was ‘interesting’ and that the presidents would discuss it further in Kennebunkport, Maine at the beginning of July. But this is likely to be the end of the missile defence plan for Poland and the Czech Republic. Ippon!
Ippon indeed.Post Views: 130
I promise to get on to other topics but with all the drama, which I am an avid sucker for, I feel compelled to continue. I am the moth to the flame.
It appears to be Berezovsky-fest in the Western press. A Google News search reveals hundreds of articles on the alleged assassination plot against BAB. Unfortunately, there few concrete concrete details. RIA Novosti is reporting that British police lacked enough evidence to arrest the would be killer. According to an article published in the Independent, “One reason why the man was not charged was because he was not armed,” the paper said. “Although intelligence had led the security agencies to believe that a plot was being organized against Mr Berezovsky, there was not enough presentable evidence to put before a court, according to security sources.” The man police detained is said to be in his thirties and British intelligence had been tracking him for a week after his arrival in the country. Suspicion heightened when the man attempted to buy a handgun. Police detained him for two days and then handed over to immigration services. He’s since been deported. Nothing more has been said about the alleged kid the assassin was to use as a human shield. Too bad. I thought that was the most compelling part.
My question if there was not enough evidence to charge this man with attempted murder, then what evidence do the British have? Do they even have any?
No one, and I mean no one, is surprised that some powerful people want Berezovsky dead. Even Edward Lucas admits that he “wanted to strangle him.”
Whether the plot was real or not, what it has done is given BAB yet another platform to mouth off. I mean could this guy be even more of a narcissist?
“I am one of the most important witnesses in the Litvinenko murder. They are trying to reach me because I concentrate a group of people who create real opposition, an opposition able to act, and I have enough money to support this opposition.” He then admitted that he’s dumped $300-$400 million into it.
Kommersant claims that in an interview with the French paper Le Figaro, Berezovsky is claiming that he “pioneered Russian capitalism.”
Sure if by Russian capitalism, you mean crony capitalism. Hey BAB, checkity-check yo’self before ya wreckity-wreck yo’self. Is this what Chappelle meant by when keepin’ it real goes bad?
BAB did say in an interview with RFE/RL that he would accept being tried in a third country. “There are actually many countries that fit that description, such as Denmark, Norway, Germany, and one can name at east five or six other such countries in Europe,” he said. One country chomping at the bit is Brazil, whose Public Prosecutor, Rodrigo Di Grandis, issued an arrest warrant yesterday for BAB if he enters Brazil.
In other related news, Russia has expelled four British diplomats and promises to “act reciprocally” on visas in response to the British move. This tit-for-tat reminds me of “I know you are, but what am I . . .” To think that these countries are actually considered world powers.
I must say the repeated statements that “cooler heads will prevail” is getting stale. If they will, will someone please say were the hell are those cool heads gonna come from? Certainly not the US or the EU. US Secretary of State Rice and the EU are just fanning the flames with their categorical statements that Russia cooperate with the British. The EU statement evoked “unpleasant surprise” says Russian Permanent Representative to the EU Vladimir Chizhov. “We would not like the principle of European solidarity to be applied selectively to Russia. That will inevitably harm Russia-EU relations,” he added. This doesn’t bode well for Rice’s doublespeak about not “isolating Russia.”
This, of course, doesn’t mean that Russia can stand there innocent and perpetually play the deck of victim cards it appears to have. Consistently claiming “russophobia” and “western plots” sounds more pathetic everyday. I think the Russians would have done well to just listen to Andy at Siberian Light and respond by giving no response to claim the moral high ground. Or they can take some advice from Don Corleone, who told a whining Johnny Fontaine, “You can act like a man! What’s the matter with you? Is this how you turned out?” But the Russians didn’t, to virtually no one’s surprise.
As many will point out at issue here is law and politics. And it is no surprise that when one side claims law, the other charges that it is really politics. True, Britain does have an obligation to solve a murder committed on its soil, especially one involving radioactive material. And Russia does have an obligation to follow its Constitution and protect its citizens from extradition.
But since Russia is certainly tired of being damned if they do and damned if they don’t, I think that they are going to hold to their guns and test how far Britain is willing to take this. Putin’s mantra is sovereignty and it appears there is no compromise on that. Considering this, we should remember whose audience Russia is more interested in addressing here: its own citizenry. Russia clearly has enough geopolitical clout to thumb its nose at the illusion that is the “international community” with little repercussion. Losing a bit more international capital is nothing compared to the domestic political capital gained from telling your people, “Look we are no longer a defeated nation and we aren’t going to take it any more.” Putin’s on a roll and with Parliamentary and a Presidential elections coming up, he’s not going to change course for anyone, let alone the British. Plus it all seems to be working. According to a recent poll conducted by VTsIOM, 90 percent of Russians polled approve of his foreign policy. Perhaps there is some Russian muzhestvennost’ at play here after all.Post Views: 174