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western propaganda re: Russia

by slaboymni Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 10:47:09 AM EST

from the diaries

The following is an attempt to provide the Russian point of view of the prevailing western bias against Russia.  I highly recommend the intelligent.ru site I link to below.  It has English-language analysis of current events from Russia (and Russian) commentators.  I think the quality of the discussion is much higher than Johnson's Russia List.


Not long ago, John Edwards (yes, the supposedly progressive Democrat who ran for VP) chaired a Council on Foreign Relations committee with Jack Kemp to look at US-Russia relations.  The title of the report - "Russia's Wrong Direction" - sets the Russia bashing tone from the outset.

Following is a link to an article by Russia scholars discussing the report: Untimely Thoughts' Weekly Russia Experts' Panel: Defining the US-Russia relationship.

The bolding and emphasis are mine.


Sergei Roy, editor of intelligent.ru

Russia's Direction: What the United States Cannot and Should Not Do

The Council for Foreign Relations, USA calls itself a "nonpartisan center for scholars." As one reads its latest report, "Russia's Wrong Direction: What the United States Can and Should Do," one shudders to think what it would have been like if the Council's task force had really let itself go and went "partisan."

As it is, it's as biased and bigoted as you please. One gets a distinct sense of déjà vu -- as if one was reading a Pravda editorial, only instead of bromides about world imperialism and a picture of the US as a country where folks did little except oppress the working class and lynch Negroes (sorry, Afro-Americans, only this word never figured in those editorials), the task force members rattle the clichés, worn thin by now, about the "rollback of pluralism" in Russia, "de-democratization," Putin's authoritarianism, "recentralization," "intimidation of nongovernmental organizations," etc. etc.

One of the more unpleasant aspects of the report is its resort to obvious, easily disproved lies. Take this passage about Russia using energy exports as a policy weapon and in the process curtailing its supplies of gas to Europe -- though it is not clear from the report what vile purpose (except losing millions) might be served by this "curtailing." Russia has been complaining for years that Ukraine has been stealing Russian gas from its pipelines ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union. This past harsh winter, far from curtailing its supplies to Europe, Russia increased them -- the increased volumes being promptly siphoned off by Ukraine, in addition to all the other stolen gas. Ukraine's prime minister admitted the fact, very publicly -- yet the CFR report unashamedly repeats the lie.

But the centerpiece of the report is "de-democratization" of Russia under Putin, the stale nonsense about this country going through a period of efflorescence of democracy under Yeltsin and suppression of the same under Putin. That is why Russia's direction is "wrong," according to the CFR task force.

This talk makes one wonder whether the authors themselves have any notion of what democracy is. It is something to do with the people, is it not? Something done by and for the people, among other things? So why not ask the people of Russia what they think of that period of efflorescence of democracy?

The answer would come loud and clear: the people remember that period with feelings that are nothing short of horror. For them, it was a time of endless highway robbery perpetrated by the cohorts of "democrats" surrounding Yeltsin: Gaidar's shock therapy and the loss of all of the people's savings in the ensuing hyperinflation; Chubais' privatization -- another version of robbery that produced a whole class of parasites known as the New Russians; endless Mavrodi-type financial pyramids that fleeced the people as soon as they had some savings they wanted to invest and save from inflation; Berezovsky's mammoth frauds at AvtoVAZ and elsewhere; the state-run financial pyramid called GKO that ended in the August 1998 meltdown and the loss of people's remaining savings; TV channels shamelessly used as instruments of fraud and financial clan wars; piles of corpses left in the wars of redistribution of property among Bykov-type Mafiosi; wage and pension arrears that left tens of millions on starvation rations; and a great deal else that would take (actually has taken) volumes to describe.

The report does not question these facts of Russian life in the 1990s and even mentions some -- but it still insists that it was a time of flourishing democracy, while "taken as a whole the political balance-sheet of the past five years is extremely negative." So what do we do to make it positive, dear CFR? Tell Yeltsin to come back to the Kremlin and give us yet another dose of his type of democracy? Plead with Berezovsky, Gusinsky, Nevzlin and others who have escaped the clutches of the Russian legal system to come back and fleece us some more? Give them back the TV channels, to help them install Khodorkovsky in the Kremlin, instead of doing time for tax evasion, fraud, and other peccadilloes?

Come to think of it, the report is not concerned with what we, the Russian people, could do about the various ills afflicting Russian society -- like pervasive bureaucratic corruption. The authors obviously have no hopes at all for Russian society in this respect. Their formula for ridding Russia of this ill is different: using the WTO as an instrument for penetrating the Russian economy, or rather the one promising sector of the economy -- oil and gas production. This would lead to the liberalization of trade -- and of society, and consequently -- hey presto! -- to cleaning up corruption. Some might call this recommendation a plan for the colonization of Russia in an attempt to force it to increase world "energy security" by producing more oil and gas -- especially oil. This at a time when renowned Russian economists insist that Russia would do well to husband its oil resources, save them for future generations, and save the economy now from the Dutch disease -- too much windfall money that the Russian economy cannot digest.

But what does the CFR care about Russia's future generations? Energy security (in plain US, the price of gas) is paramount, and if talk of Russia's "de-democratization" and the continued application of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, WTO accession notwithstanding, can be instrumental in kicking Russia into line and ceding its oil resources to multinationals, then we are sure to expect more reports about the rollback on democracy in Russia. The "nonpartisan" CFR is by far not the only source of such talk -- it is just a part of an ongoing, orchestrated campaign. The only thing for Russia to do is to ignore this snapping at its heels and follow its own direction, whether it appears right or wrong to whomsoever.

If John Edwards, who styles himself a progressive friend of the working man, releases such an outright piece of propaganda, it is easy to see how mainstream and accepted the progaganda has become.  When this report was released, there was nothing but unanimous agreement with its conclusion in American and European political circles.

This is the uphill battle a modern-day Sisyphus would face in trying to "enlighten the EU" about Russia.  America and the EU are only too happy to place Russia in the USSR's previous role of boogy-man.  It gives them a convenient foil when their own questionable democratic policies are debated.  After all, they can always say, "things may be bad, but they're better than they are in Russia/USSR", regardless of whether the situation in Russia is actually as dire as they claim.

Display:
"nonpartisan" has a specific meaning in the US - not officially allied with either of the two main parties. You should see some of the shills who call themselves nonpartisan. The use of in this article indicates a complete lack of understanding of that.

Their formula for ridding Russia of this ill is different: using the WTO as an instrument for penetrating the Russian economy, or rather the one promising sector of the economy -- oil and gas production.

That sounds familiar.

If by "the EU" here you mean some of the member governments, you might be right. If you mean the people of the EU - sceptical Poles notwithstanding - then I think you're wrong. We don't want a boogyman. We'd like a nice comfortable, peaceful, well-off Russia that gave us a secure border and good trading partner. What else would we want? That's not what we hear about in the media though.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 11:10:04 AM EST
Of course, I meant the political entities.  As you allude to, however, these entities control what their populations believe, to a certain extent, by controlling the media's representation.
by slaboymni on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 11:12:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And how would you suggest counteracting their control?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 11:13:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't believe it would be possible to counteract their control directly.  Even at a human level, the owners of the media are usually citizens of the given country.  As such, they reflect (or rather magnify, given their higher platform) the cultural biases ingrained in the population.  Besides, they have everything to gain politically, financially, and personally by maintaining the status quo bias.

The only means I can see to change bias is through widespread personal contact.  You'd be surprised at the number of American's who have never personally met a Russian, much less held an intelligent conversation with one.

by slaboymni on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 11:18:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As such, they reflect (or rather magnify, given their higher platform) the cultural biases ingrained in the population.  

They sometimes create them.

The only means I can see to change bias is through widespread personal contact

Sure. Which is roughly what ET counts as: low level personal contact. With a thousand people a day and rising. And even if you don't convince them, that's a thousand people more who can at least say "well, the Russians don't see it that way ...". It's an improvement.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 11:35:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's why I'm still here ;-)
by slaboymni on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 11:39:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Write more diaries please. Just pointing us at discussions like those on intelligent.ru as they come up would be useful. Providing context on stories about Russia would be even better.

I expect I'll get around to reading up on Russia sometime in about 2008 given the speed I'm getting through Islam, Turkey and China. Not to mention Ireland.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 11:43:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Wow, you're library card is going to be in shreds!
by slaboymni on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 01:03:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's worse than that: I tend to buy the books.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 01:04:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Uh, uh, you sound worse than Mrs. Slaboymni...
by slaboymni on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 01:06:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In the US it is also common to conflate bipartisan and nonpartisan.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 11:15:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for writing this. I'll hope to return some comments later on today.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 11:18:51 AM EST
You'll see that to some extent, your comments, in particular about the control of the energy sector, are quite similar to those brought forward here on ET about the "common wisdom" of liberalisation, third party access to pipelines and competition.

I don't think you can find me arguing against some form of control by the State of such an important sector of the economy, and quite the opposite, your efforts to contradict the "common wisdom" about Russia here nicely fit with my position.

What we disagree about is in our evaluation of Putin and the people around him. I am saying that I am skeptical that what has been going on in terms of recentralisation of power and control of the oil and gas sector is for the benefit of the State; I see it as another re-appropriation of assets by a small number of people; I see it a simply a reversion of the bureaucrat/entrepreneur relationship of the Yeltsin era: under Yeltsin, the entrepreneur called the shots, but gave something to the bureaucrat to run his department and make some money of his own and kept the rest for his company and himself; now it's the bureacrat calling the shots, letting the company boss keep some money for the company and himself, and keeping the rest for his department and himself.

The fact that there is so much more money sloshing around (10 times more oil & gas exports, in dollar terms) means that it is much easier to be more generous with the State, but it does not change the fundamental nature of the flows.

More later.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 11:44:43 AM EST
under Yeltsin, the entrepreneur called the shots, but gave something to the bureaucrat to run his department and make some money of his own and kept the rest for his company and himself; now it's the bureacrat calling the shots, letting the company boss keep some money for the company and himself, and keeping the rest for his department and himself.

I believe this is the crux of our disagreement.  Whereas under Yeltsin the state got nothing in the way of taxes from business, Putin's simplification of the tax code, increased enforcement (e.g. Yukos), and stability have prompted business to at least fulfill their duty to pay taxes.

I know you are also in favor of taxing business, so I really don't see why you are disagreeing so vehemently.

by slaboymni on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 11:54:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Because I was there, I had access to the internal accounts of a couple of the oil&gas companies (well, at least one layer deeper than what the financial world usually had) and I know what was paid or not.

Again, I am not denying that there was large scale theft under Yeltsin, and that the State has more money today under Putin, but that does not mean (i) that there is no theft in Putin's Kremlin, quite the opposite, and (ii) that the same would not have happened with Yeltsin still at the helm.

In 1997, a couple of Western banks provided a several hundred million dollar loan to Gazprom, it was disbursed on a Friday; over that same week-end, the Sberbank opened its doors especially to disburse (some) overdue pensions. This was not an election year.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 12:42:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was also there.  And, because I wasn't hobnobbing with the elite, as you apparently were, I got to know a lot of normal, everyday Russians - not New Russians.  I had friends who were school teachers who had not been paid their salaries for 8 months.  Can you imagine that?  When they were finally paid, they were not given cash.  They were given 1,000 boxes of matches.  When they asked what they were supposed to do with them, their boss said, "Go sell them on the corner and keep the money".  They were only able to get $20 dollars for the matches, as everyone else had been paid in matches and was also in the process of selling them for whatever they could get.

Under these kind of circumstances, Yeltsin knew that, unless he paid some portion of salaries/pensions, it was very likely that he would be hung in Red Square.  This did not prevent him, however, from paying as little (and as rarely) as possible.

I am not saying that there is no theft under Putin's watch.  What I'm saying is that at least he is spreading the wealth more than Yeltsin.  Russia is a country with incredibly rich natural resources.  Even in the 90's Yeltsin could have found a way to pay salaries and pensions.  This just wasn't his priority.  He was more interested in giving away Russia's state resources to his friends (e.g. Aeroflot {the state airline} to his daughter).

by slaboymni on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 01:01:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Why do you assume I was only "hobnobbing with the elite"? I've been going to Moscow since 1987, I lived there on my own (as with friends's babushkas) in 1988, 1991, 1993 as a student or a plain visitor (as in: shopping for my food), and I know a little bit about ordinary life over there.

Putin is spreading the wealth around more because there is 10 TIMES MORE MONEY to be spread around. Don't idealise him. Order is better than chaos, but order is easy with so much money, and anybody in his position, including Yeltsin, would have done the same. Everybody now says that he did absolutely no reform of the economy, which is more dependent than ever on natural resource extraction.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 01:32:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I guess I got that impression from previous posts/diaries in which you mentioned working with the directors of Gazprom.  And you don't know about "ordinary" life in Russia, if you've lived in Moscow.  That's like saying you know ordinary Americans because you've lived in New York ;-)  But seriously, Moscow always got (and still does) the best of everything while the rest of the country suffers.

Why do you keep assuming that I "idealise" Putin.  You keep repeating "Yeltsin would have done the same".  No, he wouldn't - and he didn't.  Even when oil/gas prices weren't so high at the start of his term, Putin promised that he would not allow huge arrears of salaries and pensions.  He kept his word.  I don't think I'm idealizing a politician for not breaking his promise - although you must admit it is a novelty.

by slaboymni on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 01:41:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oil was above 30$/bl in 2000. He got a nice windfall just when he started as president. And yes, Yeltsin would have used it the same way.

And yes I know the difference between Moscow and the provinces.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 01:49:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeltsin could not have used it in the same way.  He was not collecting anywhere near the taxes that are being collected today.
by slaboymni on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 02:01:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... the one main thing there seems disagreement about is whether Yeltsin would've given money if he had the same amount Putin has today...

And that's a nice 'What if...' story no one will ever answer.

by Nomad on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 05:20:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you, Nomad.  I agree.
by slaboymni on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 06:29:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Fair enough.

Let' also stipulate that the situation is better today for ordinary Russians than it was 10 years ago, and that Putin, whether lucky or competent, is genuinely popular.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 07:01:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wiki'd.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 12:18:27 PM EST
That's a really useful page. Thanks.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 12:21:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's not like I created it or anything.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 12:28:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As Robert Bruce Ware writes:

"Who do these people think that they are kidding? Who is listening to America anymore? The people that are behind this Council on Foreign Affairs report are the same people who have squandered America's moral leadership in the world, plus a clutch of academic experts who are desperately vying with one another for a spot on the National Security Council of the next administration. If these people were not so dangerous, they would be embarrassing."

The only thing I would add to this is, right after "America," the names of the U.K., Italy, Ireland and every other country in Western Europe that continues to collaborate with the Bush Regime. I certainly agree that no one in any of these countries, where the electorate has been gleefully turning back the clock on human rights and democracy, has any right to consider themselves superior to Russia, much less a potential source of "moral leadership."

But all this begs the question: does the fact that Bush, Blair, Ahern, Berlusconi et al are just as evil and anti-democracy as Putin somehow make him okay? Speaking for myself, I loathe all these leaders and think they ALL should be sent to The Hague. But I fail to see how their corruption excuses Putin's.

by Matt in NYC on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 02:09:24 PM EST
I completely agree - both about all the leaders being frog-marched to The Hague and that their corruption in no way excuses Putin's.  I would also add Clinton to that list, by the way.

You have to look at Russia, however, in a historical context.  As bad as Putin is, he is an improvement.  Russians, who tend to be very pragmatic, recognize this and have given him very high approval ratings.  It seems to me that they are trying to encourage him to keep doing better by showing more approval when he does something good and witholding approval when he does something negative.  For example, his approval ratings dipped sharply after the Nordost hostage taking and during the Beslan standoff.

by slaboymni on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 02:16:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But I fail to see how their corruption excuses Putin's.

It can't.

I think there is a tendency on both/all sides to make this more black and white than it is, to react more defensively than is constructive.  I happen to think that Putin is both a foe of democracy and a vast improvement over Yeltsin.  I happen to think that Putin has worked hard to earn all his critics, but that there is still a global reaction to Russia's offenses that is disproportionate to the reaction to, say, Berlusconi's.

There is some validity to responding to those Westerners who criticize Russia by saying, well, how can you ask us to, why whould we reform when you aren't willing or able to?  But there is also some validity to keeping a close eye on Russia and asking for democratic reforms regardless of our own nationality.

The one thing I am pretty sure about is that we need to try to act in the best interests of all the people of this world and not the best interests of our own country.


Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Mon Mar 13th, 2006 at 02:30:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
great post slaboymni, really outstanding.  I hope you can find the time to write more,  And thanks so much for the url
by wchurchill on Tue Mar 14th, 2006 at 02:36:23 AM EST
That's a new one for me...

Slaboymni, I'm grateful for this entry. It just shows me once again that there is far more to learn than common wisdom tells us. I'd sincerely appreciate a greater influx from our eastern neighbours to dispel beliefs and debunk propaganda. As I said, ET is an ever growing platform to debunk shills, and marketistas (as they've been coined). Or so I believe.

In my little span of life I've not gone further east than Romania and Czech and then only as visitor - I know there's a whole world behind those countries I've not the slightest notion about. Some social mixing on the web seems a fine starting point. Your diary to the pragmatic approach of the Russians on their road to a better nation is absolutely insightful. Good stuff to ponder. In evolutionary biology, the eye was invented several times.

Finally. I've been quite harsh on you in the other thread, but I mean no harm done. I wrote partially as taunt to challenge you to write. Whether it worked I can not say, but I meant no offense.

It has been, stealing the closing line from one of my favourite Spanish contributors, a pleasure.

by Nomad on Tue Mar 14th, 2006 at 04:47:52 AM EST
<shhhh>Catalan

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Mar 14th, 2006 at 05:00:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I finally got around to read your thread.

Not much to add, but thanks for sticking around! What I regret is that the 'real' (not just married :-)) Russians seem only to stick around as lurkers (skitalets, blackhawk), and the 'truly real', e.g. resident in Russia Russians were so far only represented by someone with a grudge. I hope one day someone reading, say, the cartoon debate, and seeing it didn't tear ET apart, will decide s/he can bear some friction too, and we'll get more 'insider' perspectives from Russia.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 12:19:23 PM EST
Thanks, DoDo.

My wife and will be making a reconnaisance trip back to Russia late this summer - our first trip back in 10 years.  The purpose of the trip is for me to convince my wife to move back there.  If it works out, I'll be able to give the "inside" perspective.

by slaboymni on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 01:31:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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