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March 2, 2005 by AK

Back to Russian politics

I suppose I don’t write up Russian political developments as profusely as I should, given that most bloggers and plenty of journalists who do are next to clueless on the subject. Consolation is to be found in that the bloggers on my link roll, at least, belong to a knowledgeable minority. I am interested more in long-term development and developments than in the hermeneutics of canine corpses emerging from under the iron carpet.

Sometimes I can’t resist, especially after a healthy mug of coffee. Number one–

1. What did Putin say to Bush about the firing of Dan Rather? Turns out — that is, Andy tells us — it’s a hot little topic. According to Time Magazine,

when Bush talked about the Kremlin’s crackdown on the media and explained that democracies require a free press, the Russian leader gave a rebuttal that left the President nonplussed. If the press was so free in the U.S., Putin asked, then why had those reporters at CBS lost their jobs? Bush was openmouthed. “Putin thought we’d fired Dan Rather,” says a senior Administration official. “It was like something out of 1984.”

The senior official’s interpretation reveals more about his lack of clue than about Putin’s ignorance. As I agree with Andy, our Vlad he ain’t no bloomin’ fool — but what did he actually mean? I offer this: Putin meant “you, the politico-media establishment, fired Dan when he broke the rules,” the unsaid implication being, “we, the masters of Russian politics and media, fire those who break our rules too.”

More than that, Putin would have said that with tongue in cheek, in a saucy provocation. Bush could have countered, “Come on, Vlad, you know you’re talking nonsense.” “Sure I am, Georgie dear — do you know why? I’m sick and tired of this free press sh*t! Let’s go back to real business, buddy.”

2. Yulia Latynina has penned a smashing piece, A Real Opposition Fights Rigged Votes. So good that even Zimbabwe Star carried it. Smirks aside, it’s excellent, (almost) none of the usual Latynina craze.

3. A high quality review of the Russian press by Vladimir Shlapentokh of Michigan State University. He does a clean job summarizing the views of the “realists” and the “pessimists,” which adds weight to his conclusions. No, I’m not endorsing them, but so much for the revolution:

The Russian liberals’ predictions about “Putin’s Waterloo,” to use the reflections of Evgenii Kisilev [Kiselev? Kiselyov?], who estimated the remainder of Putin’s political career at two years at best, and nine months at worst, are likely incorrect. However, their gloomy diagnoses of many of the developments in the country are sound. […]

With a weak state machine and army, Putin’s regime will not present a serious threat to the West, or to its neighbors, including the former Soviet republics. As the Ukrainian events again confirmed, Putin, despite his rhetoric, always ultimately retreats from any serious action that could jeopardize his relations with the West, and particularly with the United States. In spite of his belligerent response to his Western critics, he found the opportunity to praise Russia’s relationship with the United States, asserting that “our relations are not those of partners, but of allies.” Moreover, he praises President Bush as “a very decent and consistent man.”

The major problems with Russia for the West stem not so much from the internal political evolution in Russia, which the West cannot influence, but from the need for the country’s collaboration in the fight against international terrorism, the safety of nuclear and chemical weapons on the Russian territory, and the nonproliferation of these weapons.

But it’s the last paragraph, unquoted here to keep the suspense up, that looks particularly poignant.

More later: the caffeine is wearing off.


3 comments »

  1. BDM III says:

    I find the relationship between free press in Russia and the US unusual. I lived in Moscow for 9+ years, some of which were when it was still the USSR, and now I live in DC working in politics. While we both try to hinder the ability for those who critisize us, it seems that Russia does so more in a public fashion by a control of the press while the Bush administration does it through manipulation (i.e. taking away White House credintials or granting interviews to every other news agency). The question is, while both aren’t necessarily democratic, which one is worse…

  2. AlanK says:

    Alexei

    has nothing come out since the protests about the changes in the welfare for pensioners. I remember they were being billed here as mass protests against putin and that his popularity was damaged by this

    as for free press, at moment I would say that as long as people are free to criticise then that will be no problem

  3. Alex(ei) says:

    Alan, the protests forced the government to reconsider the reform’s implementation (I love this bureaucratic word), particularly to check that the regions preperly dispense compensation payments. In their public appearances, Putin and his ministers were keen to show how concerned they were with the pensioners’ discontent.

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