It’s easy to look and sound good when you’re standing next to President Bush. Unfortunately. Putin obviously has a higher verbal IQ than Bush and is capable of speaking both convincingly and amusingly. Unfortunately. What Putin needed from Bush was a good bang on the head, really. Not as the Russian leader in general but as an accessory, at least, to the infamous and idiotic Yukos pillaging. (A court in Houston dismissed Yukos’ bankruptcy protection claim hours after the Bratislava meeting closed.)
What Putin needs from Russia’s citizens is a much harder bang on the head, of course. It would be appropriate for someone who has the respect and trust of millions (or am I talking about an empty set here?) to stand up and deliver the trashing. He wouldn’t be speaking about Yukos or abstract human rights, though. The fundamental problem with Putin’s government is that it continues to ignore the depreciation of Russia’s human capital, basically ignoring Russians as human beings. That is, oil and gas proceeds do not get invested into public health and education, and the reform of the judiciary, the military, the police force doesn’t seem to be going enywhere — exactly the kind of reform that could much improve the quality of the average Russian’s life. One can argue it is all impracticable under the Yeltsin–Putin system, but have they tried?
It will take a Russian to say that, and one who cannot be accused of pro-American sympathies. Russians don’t like things pushed down their throats; they would not take advice condescendingly dished out by some spoilt rich kid. Bush had better praised abortion, drug use and promiscuity: Russians would then abort fewer fetuses, shoot up less crap and sleep with STD-free partners. I am even considering how what the NYT would call the notorious, centuries-old Russian xenophobia can be used to foster national health. Instead of the ironical Soviet slogan, “You smoke? You drink beer and wine? You’re an accomplice of Tel Aviv!” we should have “You drink vodka? You abet the f—ing Chechens!” and “Every aborted Russian baby makes that Bush monkey smile.”
If it could really work, I wouldn’t mind the xenophobia. But it won’t, and nothing will. Short of a miracle.