poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

June 19, 2014

The Russian Bug, or, An exercise in gratuitously mixed metaphors.

Plus: Odds & Ends, and US-Russia relations as Gogol-esque pathos.

Once upon a time, zhili-byli, this was a proper Russia blog. Back when a pack of cigarettes cost six bucks and the only people who read Russia blogs were those battling PTSD (Post-Transition Sentimentality Disorder.) Now my bad habit puts me back double, every casual nightly news viewer is an armchair Kremlinologist and political blogs have been replaced by celebrity Instragrams. Returning to one’s defunct blog is the internet version of returning to one’s grandmother’s home in middle age. Smaller, emptier and humbler than memory serves. Could use a fresh coat of paint. And it smells weird … like pickles? But its continued existence provides an anchor to the past, and practical reasons for giving up this place – so much work, and no one ever visits anymore – are no match for the insufferable romantic disposition of the writer.

There is no grandmother here to make me soup, but let’s be honest, it’s the indulgence that makes one feel better. And what is more indulgent than one’s own blog? Here I’ve convalesced through feverish delirium brought on by The Russian Bug. “How was Russia?” “It was a living nightmare, poverty, desperation, nihilism, I knew a guy who was killed…” “I’m sorry you had to experience that.” “No, it was soul-achingly beautiful, and the people, the people… and there was just a more sane idea about personal priorities in general, you know? Best thing that ever happened to me probably.” “Oh God. You caught it.” “Caught what?” “The Russian Bug.” Thusly I was diagnosed by the head of a Slavic Department.

People have been known to recover from it, or at least go for long symptomless periods. But there is no cure, only dormancy. Triggers are infinite: melancholia, despair, too many shots of the clear stuff, winter Olympics, Cossacks fighting Nazis in goddamned 2014 and anything that reinforces a belief that nothing makes sense and everything is poetry. Like any addiction, by the time you realize you need help you are already in deep, up at 3am unearthing pre-perestroika Soviet rock from the bowels of the interwebs, re-watching Zvyagintsev’s films for the nth time, reading yet another dry analysis of the collapse of the USSR and practicing personal hygiene worthy of an Intro to Russian Lit protagonist. And as the alcoholic turns to drink to shake the delirium of his torment, the Russophile turns to writing about Russia. Just enough to clear the head and straighten the spine, not so much that one does something they’ll later regret, like start a novel. I can stop writing a Russia blog whenever I want. Lo, look at the sad history of this place – it’s absolutely true. But if I am honest with myself, sometimes all it takes is one bad day, and I’m back to obsessing about souls and international relations and hot Russian men. The first thing addiction steals from a person is shame.

So can I talk about the war?

Is it not a war? A president was forcibly ousted, land was annexed and people are killing each other without even truly being able to explain why. Seems like a war to me. It really pisses me off, war. So I have this thing I am overly earnest about. Everyone has something – usually their children or their art, usually vomit-inducing. For me, it is the load of axes the United States of America and Russia carry around, forever in need of a proper grinding (so they will be ready when the time arrives, and the grinding itself signals to the other that this time has arrived, and it is like the two Ivans, but if they had tanks and nukes.) Especially when those axes are carelessly dropped all over grandmothers and the houses their grandchildren won’t be able to visit again now, and all over the grandchildren too. Ukraine is no innocent victim, but the people who have and will suffer from the policies, military or economic, in play there, or worse, absent there, disproportionately are. These policies have been shaped in no small way by the military and economic axe-grinding of the United States and Russia. No, this is not simply or even primarily a proxy war between Russia and the US or the “West.” The people of Ukraine have their own dysfunctions, grievances, historical luggage, responsibilities, needs, desires, etc. But once you start funneling money, inciting nationalist hatred and outright annexing territory, you are implicated in the instability that follows and must abdicate your “innocent bystander” status. At best, neither the US nor Russia are doing anything to scale back their perceived and/or real involvement in escalating the tensions and violence now witnessed throughout Ukraine and its separatist territories. And the rhetoric from both sides makes me wretch, however legitimate or sincere concerns of the West and Russia may be – and they are. You want to support the development of democracy, be my guest: stop supporting coups, stoking the fires of extremism, ignoring discrimination and giving corrupt oligarchs a pass. You want the world to respect you and treat you as an equal, so do I: start by not engaging in behavior and propaganda that confirms the very worst stereotypes of your nation, that you are lawless barbarians who cannot be trusted.

I’m a peacenik. But I’m not a hippie. My opposition to going around killing our neighbors is a very practical one. When the war is over, after all the death, destruction and trauma, people still have to figure out how the hell to live with each other, and if national borders ensured that, my fair city of Chicago, USA would have neither its notorious murder rate, nor its remarkably peaceful coexistence of Jews, Russians, Poles, Indians, Pakistanis etc. If you need a fence to behave like a decent human being, realize the lack of a fence is not the underlying problem, and that fences can easily be torn down and rebuilt elsewhere. Humans don’t kill other humans because the fences are in the wrong places. They do it because they are angry, afraid and because there is a boatload of money in the military industrial sphere. No arms dealer ever got rich off of our better angels, regardless how often our better angles are invoked in the name of war.

And if I had a dime for every iteration of the “Great Game” explanation I’d be able to pay my rent next month. Sure, there is a great game. But it can’t be played without pawns, and that’s where people like you and I come in. World leaders, oligarchs and their shady intermediaries don’t fuck everything up in a vacuum; they fuck everything up in the petri dish of our anxieties, anger, cynicism and deficit of critical thinking abilities. They need us to be too tired and overworked to care, too impassioned to reason or too helpless to bother either way. Ignorance, apathy and anger are free artillery, charitable donations to the war effort. War is people telling you so sorry but they cannot possibly solve their personal disputes without accidentally killing someone’s mother.
If you think I’m a pedantic idealist when writing on the topic of war, it would blow your mind to hear what I have to say on the topic of US-Russian cooperation.

We are already as ignorant as we need to be, about ourselves and each other. Why go out of our way to cultivate ignorance? Why not … try to understand each other, try to live with each other, accept our differences and celebrate our shared humanity? I recently learned that the name of the original large landmass on Earth, before it broke apart into continents, is “Rodinia.” Alas, the planet is our Motherland, and when we kneel to the ground and kiss the earth in Dostoyesvskian humility, we belong to the same nation. Oh sure a few people would not profit from such an intrinsically spiritual yet astonishingly practical venture – but neither you nor I are among them. (Shout out to the NSA, thanks for reading, I mean you are among them, but you know what I mean.) Invoking the Great Game narrative only gives us a false sense of not being implicated in it. We are.

Look, I am not a beads-wearing, incense-lighting, Kumbaya-chanting happily oblivious stoned wacko. (Though if a pack of cigarettes goes up another dollar, I may begin looking for a dealer.) I don’t generally adore humanity. I’m depressed or angry 90% of the time. I have traumas that freak the fuck out of my acquaintances. I am an American. I am involved in American politics. The fact that you are no saint – this is my point – really is no excuse. The fact that you are a realist is no excuse. The fact that you are angry is no excuse. The problem is not that happy saintly idealists will not make an effort to hear each other out. It’s the bitter, broken, proud, jaded people of the world who need to figure out how to fucking coexist.

They also write the best poetry, you know…

Ok enough about my bilateral frustrations.

I’m only inconsolable because I love you all so much.

When I become inconsolable I behave badly. Sometimes I just lie in bed until noon contemplating the particular shade of blue sky on the other side of the window and wallowing in the lamentations of provincial gulls (Oh, Chekhov…,) sometimes I resolve to end it all and don’t, sometimes I drink cheap wine and watch Scandinavian murder mysteries all night. At this point I am just typically depressed. A dull depression, a stasis, a kind of interminable waiting room of the soul. Nothing is too terribly real. Nothing is too terribly beautiful. It’s canned soup existence, tasting of nothing, better than hunger. Sometimes, however, like an autoimmune disorder activated by a weakened immune system, the Russian Bug bites again. I’m not entirely comfortable classifying it as an illness. For all I know, it is the cure. Certainly it is the cure to canned soup existence. “The mania phase of classic bi-polar disorder,” you suggest, clinically-minded. Mozhet byt‘. No doctor has diagnosed me as such, but it seems as plausible as “the Russian soul, it’s like a vampire and once you are bitten you are doomed to live like a crazy person for all eternity” explanation. Are not both the Gothic monster novel and modern psychiatric classification but crude metaphors for our anxieties and desires?

Hark! Arisen from the crypt of the Poemless blog, cursed, undead, roaming the internet like feral animal and come in through the window to steal your precious innocence:

Odds & Ends: “You’ve read this far – I’ll make it quick” Editon.

Ukraine, Putin, and the West: Putin walks into a bar . . .
By the editors of n+1, a must-read, as in, if you only read one thing, but you are here reading this so if you only read two things about Ukraine, read this. You will be less ignorant for it and people will respect you more. And I’m not even charging you for that advice.

My Mind-Melting Week on the Battlefields of Ukraine Death and disappearance in the foggiest of wars.
By Julia Ioffe. I’m not her biggest fan, but this is a very good, unbiased, on-the-ground attempt to make sense of why people are killing one another in Eastern Ukraine. Spoiler alert: no one is completely sure, but they all have good reason to be afraid.

Who is the bully?
By Jack F. Matlock Jr. Well, you won’t get out of here without being subjected to my usual propaganda about how the US treats Russia like a gaslit mistress and is it any wonder then she acts so unhinged? But this time, it’s written by the former US Ambassador to the Soviet Union. Don’t take my commie word for it. I’m now reading his “Autopsy on and Empire: The American Ambassador’s Account of the Collapse of the Soviet Union.” 900 pages of sheer glorious foreign policy talk. I told you I was sick.

Why Washington must try harder to understand the Kremlin: The chill in US-Russia relations is not just down to conflicting interests on Ukraine – it stems from a deeper lack of expertise of the Kremlin’s logic and actions.
By Alexander Gabuyev. It’s all well and fine to spend ten years of your life online bemoaning the awful state of US Russia policy. Far better to understand why it is just so incredibly awful. This doesn’t explain everything (like why anyone with an average IQ understands Kremlin psychology better than White House advisors) – but it is an exquisite examination of the global cause and effect of Americans not studying Russian like they used to. Oh it is a dreary world, gentlemen! Send your kids to get Russian degrees for the love of all that is holy. The fate of the world is in their hands. Probably not a great idea to place the fate of the world in the hands of those who would rather read very long murder novels than get a decent paying job. I don’t make the rules.

FYI, I stumbled upon this piece via The Guardian’s New East Network: “inside the post-soviet world”, if you’re into kitsch. It’s all Lenin statues and cabbage over there. Go get yer Ostalgie on.

As I said earlier, I was up all night with nostalgia-induced insomnia and probably watched every Akvarium video on YouTube. Admitting you have a problem is the first step. A bit later this binge dove-tailed with an exchange I had with an acquaintance in Moscow about trains and the soul of the Rodina and whatnot, and I recalled a recent situation in which Boris Grebenshchikov (leader of Akvarium, kind of a genius) got rather pissed off that his song “Etot Poezd v Ogne (This train is on fire)” had been used for pro-war propaganda purposes. Unlike me, he really is a pot-smoking, beads-wearing anti-war hippie, and I’m far more surprised that the people who chose to co-opt the song were unfamiliar with his almost cringe-worthy peacnikery than that they were using this song to bang the drums of war. I am yet more surprised that The New York Times ran an article about it. An article which, quite beside the point, describes the existence as a Soviet artist as such:

“It was a shadow society,” Mr. Grebenshikov said. “But in Russia it had a peculiar form, in that you could live for months without really encountering that other world. The only places you needed to go were the wine shop and the book shop.”

Wait. THE ONLY PLACES YOU NEEDED TO GO WERE THE WINE SHOP AND THE BOOK SHOP? Well they sure as hell kept that bit of info from us American Cold War kids. Look, I am not calling for a full return to Soviet society, cough, but forgive me for not taking more pity on your persecuted soul, BG. Anyway, here’s the song: Аквариум – Поезд в огне.

“You said something about hot Russian men, poemless.”

There were some at the Social Security Administration office on Lawrence the other day, and I would like to personally thank them for making that trip worthwhile (and who even knew you still need the actual card?) But for the rest of you, how about a beautiful Russian song? Ok, and a sexy beast of peacenik!

The magical thing about visiting a grandmother is that she will feed you delicious candies while she lectures you, trying to pass on her hard-earned insights while you are distracted with gluttony. I’m no one’s grandmother, but I am so happy you stopped by.

As always, thank you for reading. Namaste, druzya.

August 21, 2010

Odds & Ends: Official Latest Roundup Edition.

Filed under: Odds & Ends — poemless @ 2:26 PM
Tags: , , , , ,

Step right up, folks! Step right up!

I’d abandoned the blog for so long interesting spam began to show up. “Help! I am currently being held prisoner by the Russian mafia and being forced to post spam for p—s enlargement or they will kill me! Help!” I hit the delete button and allowed to poor chump to be offed. Well, he probably should not have been doing whatever he was doing to attract the attention of the Russian mafia, right? Who is worse, gangsters, or the people who do business with them, enable them, and then get all surprised an panicky and morally outraged when their lives start being threatened? I am pretty sure that was the whole Khodorkovsky defense… Well, as if I were not feeling enough guilt about slacking off with the blog this summer, Siberian Light goes and declares my previous post about reading on the subway “Poemless’ latest roundup.” Ack! That was a real life genuine blog post, with original thoughts on one subject and everything! It was no “roundup.” Boo! Also, round up is something you do to weeds and cattle and fractions. I write. Yeah. Anyway… Here’s your damn roundup:

POLITICS

I. Lovely little article appeared on FP this week in which professionals were paid money to make the same observations I make for free everyday and most 10 year olds could school you on. Oh well. I suppose a bit of repetition is required to get basic facts through thick skulls. Probably arranging a mafia kidnapping would be more effective, but journalism is legal.

Foreign Policy: Why Russia Matters. Ten reasons why Washington must engage Moscow.

Consider this your talking points memo:

1. Russia’s nukes are still an existential threat.
2. Russia is a swing vote on the international stage.
3. Russia is big.
4. Russia’s environment matters.
5. Russia is rich.
6. One word: energy.
7. Russia is a staunch ally in the war on terror (and other scourges).
8. The roads to Tehran and Pyongyang go through Moscow.
9. Russia can be a peacemaker.
10. Russians buy U.S. goods.

No one ever mentions #9! We only illegally invaded Iraq and then pretended to leave a decade later because Russia wasn’t going to give us the UNSC vote to do it legally. They also one of the (many) reasons we haven’t declared war on Iran. #1-6 are no-brainers but sadly a lot of people are too. #7 is a lame excuse both countries use to get away with things they shouldn’t. #8 sounds like the subtitle of a creepy neocon white paper and #10 is the least palatable reason in my book. And really, what the hell does the U.S. even manufacture anymore? Besides bullshit economic models and Hollywood celebrities? And I am taking the gangster defense on this: if Russians want to buy our stuff, I can’t be responsible for what happens to them.

ARTS

I. A “Who’s Who” of approved entertainment, or a potential blacklist, depending on your sensibilities…

Plucer: Служители Муз, участвовавшие в работе объединения “НАШИ” на Селигере.

художник Анатолий Осмоловский – 2010
художник Николай Полисский – 2009
режиссёр Никита Михалков – 2009
художник Андрей Бартенев – 2010
галерист Софья Троценко – 2009
художник Никас Сафронов – 2010
галерист Елена Селина – 2010
певица Земфира – 2005
группа “Любэ” – 2005, 2007
певец Вячеслав Бутусов – 2006
группа “Би-2” – 2006, 2009, 2010
группа “Серьга” – 2006
дизайнер Денис Симачёв – 2010
дизайнер Леонид Алексеев – 2010
дизайнер Гоша Рубчинский – 2010
фотохудожник Олег Доу – 2010
дизайнер Татьяна Михалкова – 2010
поэт Евгений Евтушенко – 2009, 2010
писатель Леонид Каганов – 2009
писатель Олег Рой – 2009
писатель Елена Кунсэль – 2010
писатель Кирилл Бенедиктов – 2010
писатель Валерий Печейкин – 2010
певица Маша Макарова – 2006
группа “УмаТурман” – 2005, 2006
группа “Король и Шут” – 2006
группа “Кипелов” – 2006
группа “Ночные снайперы” – 2006
группа “Агата Кристи” – 2006
группа “Кукрыниксы” – 2006
группа “Мультфильмы” – 2006
певица Юлия Чичерина – 2006
группа “Дискотека Авария” – 2007
группа “Чай вдвоём” – 2009
группа “Город 312” – 2009
группа “Корни” – 2009
группа “Блестящие” – 2009
группа “Виагра” – 2009
группа “Плазма” – 2009
певец Никита Малинин – 2009
певец Ираклий Пирцхалава – 2009
группа “Пилигрим” – 2009
певица Ирина Ортман – 2009
певица Лена Князева – 2009
певица Электра – 2009
певец Владимир Лёвкин – 2009
певец Александр Киреев – 2010
певица Пелагея – 2010
режиссёр Наталья Бондарчук – 2009
режиссёр Анатолий Прохоров – 2009
каскадёр Александр Иншаков – 2009
режиссёр Тимур Бекмамбетов – 2010
режиссёр Иван Максимов – 2010
режиссёр Сергей Мирошниченко – 2010
продюсер Ренат Давлетьяров – 2010
актёр Валерий Гаркалин – 2010
актёр Андрей Фомин – 2010
дрессировщики бр. Запашные – 2009

I have to plead guilty to not knowing half of these people (and even guiltier to having once attended a Ser’ga concert) but am rather shocked by the mention of Yevgeny Yevtushenko. It just seems a bit vulgar for him somehow. But then Mikhalkov has illustrated that the infamous haughty panache that so defines the Russian intelligentsia is hardly limited to critics of the government. In fact, the “real” Russian oldschool dissidents I know can’t stand Yevtushenko’s guts. So maybe I should be less surprised.

II. And speaking of Bekmambetov, who once had me kidnapped and forced to watch the filming of Wanted, it sounds like he’s about to make the most brilliant(ly titled) movie ever:

About.com: Wanted Director Signs on for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

And it is not a comedy! Is this from the same people who brought us the video game Eugene Onegin: Devil’s Mercy, which “sought to provide a lesson in literature by rendering the hero of Alexander Pushkin’s masterpiece as a zombie killer”? Is there some “historical-figure-becomes-monster-hunter” genre I am unaware of?

Well, I wasn’t kidnapped exactly. Just exiting a building smack in the middle of a stunt scene and swiftly corralled into the “safe” zone on the set. And not allowed to go home until they got the shot. So, kidnapped, basically. Movienapped, we’ll say.

III. Despite rumors of my darling BG once colluding with Surkov, I didn’t see his name on the list of celebs willing to publicly kiss up to a political party to get the kids to buy their records. Of course – he is taking the high road:

Far from Moscow: New from Akvarium’s Archives: “Our Life as Seen by the Trees.”

Yesterday a remarkable document from the history of Russian rock music was made available to the general public – in ways that might actually help that same social body. In other words, ten songs from the archives of St Petersburg ensemble Akvarium have been released via the music service Kroogi for charitable ends. Proceeds raised by the sale of these songs, known en masse as “Our Life as Seen by the Trees,” will be used to help victims of the recent forest fires in Russia. Kroogi is requiring downloaders to pay nothing more than one cent; hopefully fans of the band will feel obliged to offer more. Information about the charitable organization involved, headed by Dr. Elizaveta Glinka, can be found at the same online venue.

You should read this nicely written article, which includes some of Grebenshchikov’s own words about the time and place in which the songs were recorded, some history of the band and some heavy-handed reflection on the past and future or Russia.

P.S. If you are a fan of Akvarium, I’m putting in a plug forThe Bodhisattvas of Babylon, recently revamped. Checked it out.

IV. Apropos of nothing, Gary Shteyngart has a new book out, “Super Sad True Love Story,” and was just on PBS’s Need To Know.

I have a real love-hate relationship with Shteyngart. I think his novels lack any redeeming qualities, but I keep reading them for the Russian kitsch and for other reasons I am consciously unaware of but subconsciously probably just unwilling to admit to myself. I’d never seen him interviewed before and am glad I did. He seems much more decent and likable than his characters…

V. Finally, you can go check out some olden days fotos of Russian intellectuals who were Russian intellectuals back when that was a brilliant thing to be:

Babs71: Ленинград. Групповой портрет культуры. 1920-30е.

ODDS

I. WTF is going on in Japan?!?!

I honestly don’t pay any attention to Japan. Why would I? I mean, besides Banana Yoshimoto? But I keep coming across these INSANE stories about missing old people. Not as in “old people who wander off.” As in, “old people who are killed or whose deaths are not reported by relatives so they can collected their pensions!”

Slate: The Rise of the Parasite Singles.

Didn’t the Japanese used to kill themselves when they ran out of money?

A nationwide search for missing elderly people in Japan is turning up more macabre and mysterious stories every day. The hunt began earlier this month after Tokyo officials found the mummified body of an 111-year-old man in his bed, 30 years after his death. On Aug. 10, the city of Kobe admitted that the last registered address of the woman who at 125 years old would be Japan’s oldest citizen has been a public park since 1981.

With almost one-quarter of the population over 65 years old, Japan has more than 40,300 centenarians, about 87 percent of them women. Government officials suspect that more supposed centenarians are dead, and at least some of the deaths went unreported by family members so they could continue to claim the elderly relatives’ retirement benefits.[…]

The relatives (usually children) of the missing Japanese centenarians located thus far have all been of retirement age, people old enough to be getting their own social security checks. But a growing number of younger Japanese citizens are depending on their retired parents for financial support. On Aug. 12, police arrested a 56-year-old unemployed man in central Mie prefecture on suspicion that he starved his mother to death two years ago and has been living on her pension ever since.

But wait! There’s more!

BBC: Japan man ‘kept dead mother in a backpack’

The remains of a Japanese woman have been found in a backpack, in the latest gruesome discovery by investigators searching for missing old people.

The woman’s son told police his mother died in 2001 but he had not been able to pay for a burial.

A similar discovery weeks ago sparked a search for people who are registered as being more than 100 years old.[…]

“Because I didn’t have money for a funeral, I didn’t report her death,” the Sankei Shimbun newspaper quoted him as saying.

The AFP news agency reported that he told police: “I laid out her body for a while, washed it in the bath, then broke up the bones and put them into a backpack.”

But the woman’s pension continued to be paid and police are now investigating the son on suspicion of fraud.

There are more than 40,000 registered centenarians in Japan, according to government data, but the number of missing has raised concerns that the welfare system is being exploited by dishonest relatives.

Analysts say there is dismay in Japan that a rich, efficient society could have lost track of its senior citizens to such a degree.

I am in dismay that a rich, efficient society cannot afford proper funerals…

II. I am also dismayed by other stuff I found on Slate.

Slate: Here, Kitty, Kitty, Kitty: Is it legal to eat your cat?

When police in Western New York pulled over Gary Korkuc for blowing off a stop sign on Sunday, they found a live cat in his trunk, covered in cooking oil, peppers, and salt. Korkuc told authorities that his pet feline was “possessive, greedy, and wasteful” and that he intended to cook and eat it. Korkuc has been charged with animal cruelty. Is there a legal way to cook and eat a cat?
Maybe in some places, but not New York. Few states have specific laws barring the use of pets for food. […]

California’s anti-pet-eating law has a broader reach. It bars possession of the carcass, so having bought your cat steaks from someone else wouldn’t be a useful alibi. The California law also protects “any animal traditionally or commonly kept as a pet or companion,” rather than just Fido and Fluffy. The statute is somewhat untested, though, so no one really knows which animals are included. Pigs are not, even though they are commonly kept as pets, because they are farm animals. Horses are specifically covered by a different section of the code. There’s no precedent on iguanas, goldfish, or boa constrictors.[…]

On the other end of the spectrum are states like Missouri, where very few restrictions are placed on when, why, and how an owner can kill his pet. In these areas, it would be difficult to lock up a cat-eater, unless his chosen means of slaughter were particularly inhumane.

Ah, Missouri… I’ve often thought about this issue, the double standard. My cat sinks his teeth into my flesh on a regular basis, and I am pretty sure if he were starving, he’d look at me and see dinner. But even if I were starving, I could not eat my cat.

III. If you think the previous two stories were disturbing … and enjoyed that, let me alert you to the website http://www.Christwire.org. There you will find stories about Chinese pandagators, gay pets (do they go to heaven?) and many, many far more deranged and offensive items. Parody, perhaps, but your boss won’t know that, so a NSFW warning is attached.

IV. Lastly, and remaining on the topic of pets and ethics:

AP: Russia marks 50th anniversary of space dogs flight

MOSCOW — Russia is marking the 50th anniversary of the space flight of two mongrel dogs — Belka and Strelka — who became the first living creatures to circle the Earth and come back alive.
The August 1960 mission helped test the equipment which was used to carry the first human, Yuri Gagarin, into space on April 12, 1961.

Belka and Strelka were part of a Soviet program of animal tests intended to pave the way for human space flight. They followed Laika, a dog that flew into space on Nov. 3, 1957 but wasn’t meant to survive and died.

The successful flight of Belka and Strelka had showcased the Soviet lead in space exploration and turned the dogs into global celebrities. Russian television stations topped their newscasts Thursday with anniversary reports.

Belka & Strelka!

June 3, 2010

LQD: “Rethinking Russia” by Stephen Cohen.

By now most of you who will read anything I write will have read this. But I’m reposting for several reasons: 1) In the vain hope that my American friends, family, etc. who are not interested in Russia will read it, 2) Because it appears a few people in Russia -like, actual Russians and not smug expats- read this blog, and I want them to know that some Americans have sane takes in U.S.-Russia relations, and 3) I’m in love with Stephen Cohen. And his wife.

It’s not completely accurate to suggest he says anything terribly new in this interview. He’s not only re-thinking, but re-peating. But let us forgo the easy standards of blogland and learn to value wisdom over novelty. I do recommend you read the whole thing. But it is 11 pages long. Below are just the parts I really appreciated.

[Emph. mine.]

Rethinking Russia: U.S.-Russian Relations in an Age of American Triumphalism

From an Interview with Stephen F. Cohen, Professor of Russian Studies and History at New York University and Professor of Politics Emeritus at Princeton University. Journal of International Affairs. Spring/Summer 2010. Reprinted by, Russia Other Points fo View.

Journal: The world recently commemorated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. How has this event been received in Russia?

Cohen: […] Under Gorbachev, modernization therefore meant both political and economic modernization. After the Soviet Union ended in 1991, Yeltsin continued Gorbachev’s democratization in some respects but his policies resulted in the beginning of Russia’s de-democratization, which in the United States is usually, and incorrectly, attributed to his successor, Putin. The way Yeltsin abolished the Soviet Union, like a thief in the night, was not constitutional or democratic. There was no referendum on it. If you want to create democracy, you do not abolish the only state and homeland most people had ever known with the stroke of a pen, without consulting them. Yeltsin could have done what Gorbachev had done in March 1991 hold a referendum on the Union. Yeltsin might have won it, ending the Soviet Union consensually and without the widespread bitterness that remains today, and the 15 republics would have gone their own ways. Then, in October 1993, Yeltsin used tanks to abolish a parliament popularly elected in 1990 when Russia was still part of the Soviet Union. This too was a Russian tradition the destruction of a legislature in a nation with a long history of overwhelming executive power but without a tradition of strong, independent legislatures. Russia has a parliament today, the Duma, but it is neither.

Note: This is part of a larger discussion about modernization. If you are interested in that topic, read the interview. Me, I suspect “modernization” is code for something (isn’t the history of man the history of modernization? why is this issue such a 3rd rail when it comes to Russia?) but I’m not sure what yet. They continue:

Journal: What opportunities exist for re-democratization in Russia?

Cohen: The main obstacle to democratization in Russia is not contrary to American political and media opinion Vladimir Putin or the KGB, or any single leader or institution. It’s the way the nation’s most valuable state economic and financial assets were “privatized” between 1991 and 1996. The idea of state or commonly owned property was not just a communist idea; it was a Russian idea, with origins long before 1917. The Soviet state property fell into the hands of a relatively small group of insiders not just the billionaires we call oligarchs and created an extremely wealthy class very quickly.

Polls show that a majority of Russians still think that property was taken and is held illegitimately. The people who own that property and who are part of the ruling elite, will never permit free elections or a freely elected parliament, knowing that such elections and such a truly representative legislature would endanger their property, endangering them personally, as well as their families. For evidence, look no further than how they have moved their families and their assets abroad.

Vladislav Surkov, a top aide to both Putin and Medvedev, referred to the existing elite as an “offshore aristocracy.” It’s a remarkably evocative formulation. By moving their assets and families abroad, the very rich show that their first loyalty is not to Russia and its future. Surkov said Russia needs its own real national bourgeoisie, which links its own future to Russia’s future. There is much truth in what he said. After all, you can’t modernize Russia by buying English soccer teams or American NBA teams.[<–Oh, snap!]

The essence of democracy anywhere is a free representative parliament however badly it may work. You can’t have this without free elections, but the Russian elite that holds vast property and controls part of the political system will never permit free elections as long as it fears for its wealth. The United States, by supporting Yeltsin’s privatization policies, was deeply complicit in the way that property was acquired. The Clinton administration and outside advisers called it a transition to a market economy and cheered it, and Americans went to Russia to guide the process. They unknowingly created a kind of firewall against democracy. Thoughtful Russians understand this conflict between ill-gained property and the lack of democracy. Some have proposed solutions, such as a one time super tax on this property, which would go into pensions, healthcare, and education in order to create a new social contract. According to this proposal, the people would forgive the rich and acknowledge their property as legitimate, and then their resentments would diminish over time, making democratization again possible. Social justice is a profound Russian belief. Without it, there will be no Russian democracy.

Is this seriously being considered, does anyone know? This is the first I’ve heard of the one time rape and pillage your country tax…

Journal: Despite the failure of the 1990s, do proponents of western-style liberalism remain a formidable force in Russia?

Cohen: They barely exist at high levels. From 1991 to 1994, they were perhaps the strongest faction in the Russian government due to the carry-over of Gorbachev’s westernism and the belief of Yeltsin’s political team that the United States was its true political partner and would provide generous financial assistance. Then came the calamities of the 1990s associated with shock therapy, which Russians thought had “Made in America” written on it not an unreasonable belief since they saw legions of American economists and other advisers encamped in Russia. I published a book, Failed Crusade, about the consequences of this ill-conceived U.S. policy and behavior.

Thinking in Russia about its relationship with the West has become more diverse. I simplify a bit, but there are essentially three groups. One says, “We are Eurasian; our civilization, our security, and our future are not with the West.” These political forces advocate minimal relations with the West. They are not urging a new Iron Curtain, but are arguing that Russia cannot stake its national or economic security on the West. Russia, they say, tried that in the 1990s and the early 2000s and was exploited and cheated. Its territory was endangered, promises were broken, and the country was left in ruins. [This would be the scary nationalist types, I think.]

Then there are those who still argue that historically Russia has been backward mainly because its citizens have not been given western-style political and economic freedoms and that the country’s future lies in the West in western models, alliances, and economic integration. To attain this, they hope for partnership with the United States, which they think still exemplifies the West. By the way, this small and diminishing group is the only one that still welcomes U.S. “democracy promotion” in Russia its funds and crusaders. [This would be the liberal intellectuals, then?]

The most interesting group emerging in Russia today, I think, is the one that says, “We are a Eurasian country, but that means we are in Europe and in Asia, and the United States is not a European country.” Their perceived western ally is Germany. It is often forgotten that, though Russia and Germany fought two wars in the 20th century, between those wars they had close relationships, along with a cultural affinity dating back to Tsarist times. That relationship is re-emerging. Look at German Chancellor Merkel. She came to power as an anti-Russian she grew up in Communist East Berlin but has emerged as one of Putin’s strongest European partners. [This would be the people actually running the country. They’re the sane and sober ones! Go figure!]

Germany does not want to be an American protégé. Germany is beholden to Moscow for reuniting it in 1990-91: It wasn’t the United States that made reunification possible, it was the Kremlin leader, Gorbachev. The economic relationship between Berlin and Moscow is strong and growing. Russia is providing some 40 percent of Germany’s energy. They are building new pipelines together, and neither liked Ukraine’s disruption of supplies through its existing pipelines. Indeed, it was Berlin that blocked Bush’s attempt to bring Ukraine into NATO. This emerging Moscow-Berlin relationship, verging on an alliance, is one of the most important new bilateral relationships in the world, and almost no one in this country is paying any attention to it. In fact, for Moscow, Berlin and Beijing its new Eurasian relationships are more important than Washington, though Washington seems not to have noticed.

Stephen takes it personally, but to be fair, this is but a drop in the bucket of matters Washington seems not to notice. Or notices and chooses to ignore because they don’t have a place in the standard narrative we use to justify our actions and inactions. Cohen goes on to discuss China. Then,

Journal: This leads us to foreign policy. What is behind the deterioration of Russian-U.S. relations in recent years, in your opinion?

Cohen: There have been, I think, four major conflicting issues since the end of the Soviet Union between the United States and Russia […]

First, we assumed we could and should instruct Russia on how to create a market economy and democracy, which Washington and legions of American crusaders tried to do in the 1990s. The reality is that Russians themselves know how to do both. More eligible voters have voted in Russian presidential elections than vote in ours. When Gorbachev began democratization in the late 1980s, Russians responded in enormous numbers and positively to the opportunity to participate in democracy not only to vote, but to attend debates and rallies, and argue as citizens. Furthermore, Russians have been buying and selling on the black and gray markets for decades, so they understand market economies. It was arrogance on our part, and the advice we gave was bad. Yet the notion persists it’s now called democracy promotion that every American president must actively throw his support to who we think are democrats in Russia. This not only creates hostility between America and Russia’s elites and people, but it is self-defeating. No good has ever come of it.

The second conflict involves NATO expansion eastward, which was for Moscow a broken American promise. No matter what former U.S. officials now say, Gorbachev was told by Bush and Baker in 1990-91 that if he agreed to a reunified Germany in NATO, the alliance would not move, in Baker’s words, “one inch to the east.” When Clinton expanded NATO eastward, for Russia he had broken a solemn promise involving its national security. That was only the beginning. The triumphalist notion that, “we won the Cold War,” seemed to make Washington think it had the right to break any promise to Moscow.

Americans forget, for example, that after 11 September 2001 Putin did more to help the second President Bush defeat the Taliban on the ground in Afghanistan than did any NATO country. Russia gave us intelligence, over-flight rights, and the Northern Alliance its fighting force in Afghanistan, which saved American lives. Putin assumed that in return, after ten years, a real partnership with Washington would result. And what did the second President Bush do? He expanded NATO a second time and withdrew unilaterally from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, which Moscow regarded as the bedrock of its nuclear security. The Kremlin had done all this for us on the assumption of finally attaining a partnership and equality, and therefore felt, as Putin and Medvedev have said, “deceived and betrayed.”

The third post-1991 conflict is stated like a mantra by American policymakers: Russia cannot have the sphere of influence it wants in the former Soviet territories. This issue, the fundamental, underlying conflict in U.S.-Russian relations, needs to be rethought and openly discussed. The United States had and has spheres of influence. We had the Monroe Doctrine in Latin America and tacitly cling to it even today. More to the point, the expansion of NATO is, of course, an expansion of the American sphere of influence, which brings America’s military, political, and economic might to new member countries. Certainly, this has been the case since the 1990s, as NATO expanded across the former Soviet bloc, from Germany to the Baltic nations. All of these countries are now part of the U.S. sphere of influence, though Washington doesn’t openly use this expression. […]

And that has created the fourth major conflict with Russia since 1991: Moscow’s perception that U.S. policy has been based on an unrelenting, triumphalist double standard, as it has been. Washington can break solemn promises, but Moscow cannot. The United States can have large and expanding spheres of influence, but Russia can have none. Moscow is told to make its vast energy reserves available to all countries at fair-market prices, except to those governments Washington has recruited or is currently recruiting into NATO, such as the Baltics, Ukraine, and Georgia, which Moscow should supply at sharply below-market prices. Moscow is asked to support Washington’s perceived national interests in Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, but without considering that Moscow may have legitimately different security or economic interests in those places. And so it goes.[Actually #4 is just the result of 1-3…]

He then discusses the August 08 war and START. Which surely no one could actually have anymore to say about. Not here anyway.

Journal: How has the lack of political cooperation affected other areas of U.S.-Russian relations?

Cohen: The same is true regarding Iran and Afghanistan. If Washington wants Moscow’s cooperation toward Iran, it needs to understand Russia’s special problems. Iran has never caused Russia harm. It is not going to join NATO. It’s a large neighboring nation that is not part of America’s sphere of influence. Second, Russia has 20-25 million Islamic citizens of its own. Iran has done nothing to agitate them against Moscow’s secular authority. The Kremlin fought two wars in its Islamic republic of Chechnya. Iran did nothing to support the Chechens. So, Russia’s beholden to Iran in this regard, not to mention their important economic relationships. In other words, U.S. policymakers have to understand that Russia’s essential national interests in Iran, and elsewhere, may not be identical to Washington’s due to its different geopolitical realities.

Journal: Would Russia like to see a new regime in Iran?

Cohen: They don’t want a pro-American regime in Iran. But they’ve grown increasingly weary of the current Iranian government, which has not kept its word to Moscow on several occasions. Moscow is just as worried about Iran’s nuclear intentions as we are. Indeed, Russia no less than us doesn’t want Iran to develop a nuclear capability, if only because Iran is much closer to Russia and would not need an inter-continental missile to threaten its territory. Moscow therefore has compelling reasons for not wanting a nuclear-armed Iran but it needs the United States to understand its different geopolitical circumstances. In particular, as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeatedly stresses, Russia, unlike the United States, is located at the crossroads of civilizations that are in an increasingly antagonistic relationship. Great diplomats begin by understanding the other side’s problems. I don’t recall a recent American president or secretary of state demonstrating this kind of awareness of Russia’s circumstances. Instead, they’ve told Moscow: “We have a problem and if you don’t help us solve it, you are behaving like the Cold War is not over.” When Russia doesn’t agree, we say they are still thinking in zero-sum terms.

Again, this is really more a reflection of Washington’s stubborn inability to care about anyone else’s problems than Russia’s perceived stubborn inability to be cooperative. At the risk of repeating Cohen’s “double standard” grief, one must admit it is true: It is not only understandable, but commendable, heroic even, for Washington to act in American interests. For Russia to act in her own interests, however, is not only perplexing, but downright threatening.

Journal: The February 2010 election in Ukraine saw Viktor Yanukovych elected President. In terms of the United States’ relations with Russia’s neighbors, does the election change anything?

Cohen: […] The question is what the Obama administration and the strong pro-Ukraine lobby in Washington will do. Both Georgia, which will eventually restore relations with Moscow, and Ukraine are major defeats for long-standing U.S. policy. Will the proponents of the policy of expanding America’s sphere of influence now stand down or continue it, as they have in their words and deeds in connection with Georgia since the war? For the moment, their leading representatives, like Biden, Richard Holbrooke, and McCain are silent about Ukraine. Let’s hope they are re-thinking their follies. Ordinary Ukrainians and Georgians have only experienced more economic misery and political instability from these Washington projects in their countries. As for Kiev, I hope the Obama administration backs off and lets Yanukovych try to do what he can to help his people. My guess is that the Kremlin will see that its in its interest to help him in this respect with regard to energy prices, for example. Indeed, if Washington promises to never put military bases on Russia’s borders, and Russia in return promises to respect the political sovereignty of these former Soviet republics, the governments of Ukraine and Georgia could turn their attention and resources to the economic needs of their people instead of focusing on the military build-ups and political conflicts required to join NATO.

But what do we get out of that? Surely stability in Ukraine and Georgia cannot be profitable for arms dealers or Congressmen. Cohen speaks truth to power, I mean Obama:

Journal: Does … a shift in U.S. policy seem likely under the Obama Administration?

Cohen: I’m not optimistic. Look at President Obama’s foreign policy team. Virtually every one of them comes from the Clinton era or the Clinton administration, which began this disastrous policy. As a senator, Biden was deeply involved in NATO expansion, and in both the Georgian and Ukrainian projects. Obama’s national security adviser, General James Jones, was head of NATO when it expanded. Michael McFaul, who heads the Russian section of the National Security Council, was a leading pro-democracy crusader in the 1990s. There is not a single dissenter, not one person who was in opposition to the policy in the 1990s who has a high-level foreign policy job in the Obama administration. I don’t see anyone near Obama who will or can tell him, “Mr. President, we need a new policy toward Russia, the clock is ticking, and only you, the president, can bring it about.” But it isn’t fair to blame Obama alone. No other American leader has proposed a new policy.

Journal: Let’s focus on the idea that underlies this discussion: that there is an absence of debate about issues surrounding Russia and the United States.

Cohen: There is virtually no serious discourse about contemporary Russia underway in the United States today not in public policy circles, not in the media, very little in academic life. Certainly, there is no substantive debate. That is in sharp contrast to when I entered the public debate in the 1970s, writing about policy for newspapers and appearing on television and radio. At that time, as I said before, the debate was between advocates of détente, those who wanted to do something to diminish the Cold War and the nuclear arms race, and the cold warriors. There were organized lobby groups on both sides. And the media would almost always solicit both points of view. […]

When Reagan decided to become the greatest détente-ist of our time, a heretic in the eyes of many of his long time supporters, in 1985-88 he and Secretary of State Schultz were opposed by many members of his administration, party and much of the media. But for all Obama’s talk about having a “team of rivals,” he has surrounded himself with like-minded people. […]

For some reason, it was easier to get public and political attention for alternative policies when Russia called itself communist. People who used to blame communism for what they didn’t like about Russia now blame Russian tradition but the accusations are the same: Russia is inherently imperialistic, aggressive, autocratic and anti-democratic. This is false, and is even a kind of ethnic slur toward Russians. Russia’s political elite has much to answer for, but so do Washington policymakers. Some will say that I am anti-American or pro-Russian, as they have in the past. I have learned to disregard these comments as remnants of the McCarthy years. People like me, who claim to be knowledgeable intellectuals not shouting heads on cable television should not be like cooks preparing recipes for popular tastes. Our mission is to try to learn, understand, and speak the truth as best we can. Others will say, more kindly, that I am naïve about what kind of U.S.-Russian relationship is possible. But who would have predicted what Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan accomplished in the 1980s, or that it would be so quickly lost?

You may say, he’s a dreamer…

And you may say I only read this for self-serving reasons of confirmation bias and romantic ideas about how it is cool to be a Russia expert. To be honest, I do find him to be a little gloom and doom. Who wants to listen to such a depressive? And the whole idea that “The greatest threats to our national security still reside in Russia.” Really? I think they reside in Washington – but that’s just me. But just when I’m about to accuse dear Stephen of hysteria mongering, I realize that it’s just that he’s so passionate about it all. Easy to get worked up like that, especially when it seems no one will listen to you. You end up coming off as the town loony. I do it all the time. At least in Russia we might have the dignity of being Holy Fools.

I also find his evolution as a Russia expert person a little surprising at first. I’m reading a collection of dissident samizdat he edited in the bad old days. He clearly felt an affinity, a passion then, for these Soviet dissidents, struggling for freedom of expression, democratization, etc. We’ve had a lot of discussion here about the modern dissidents in Russia, who also claim to be fighting these age-old wars with their leaders. But judging from the interview above, it would seem he’s left the camp. Instead of aligning himself with the victims of the current Russian government, he’s -whether he’d admit it or not- advocating on behalf of the Russian government itself. At least on behalf of their better angels.

Maybe it’s not our hero who has changed, but the bad guy? As someone recently said, there are lots of serious problems facing Russia today, and whether or not to hang a picture of Stalin is not one of them. I don’t entirely relate to the bad old days Cohen because, frankly, I can’t get so worked up about Stalin. I can, however, get pretty worked up about the United States of America though. Being American, and not Russian, and all.

Check it out: We’re the new dissidents. Apologies to Yulia.

January 29, 2010

The Month in U.S.-Russia Relations and Russia(Male)Watching.

All kinds of things going on in the world of U.S.-Russia relations: meetings, agreements, meetings without agreements, agreements to meet again, Lavrov and Clinton making out in a London elevator… Ok I just made that last part up. But not this:

1) The Son of START may or may not be in the final stages of negotiation, almost 2 months after our decades long arms reduction treaty was allowed to expire un-renewed.

2) NATO and Russia are officially on speaking terms (which makes me feel like I’m writing about middle school students) for the first time since their falling out over Georgia.

3) Re-set Button brainchild, the Russian-US council on civil society, which up until now I assumed was mythological, is apparently holding its first official meeting in D.C. this week.

What does it all mean? It means, “We intend to make an effort to create a situation sometime in the future where we can try to work together, but we reserve the right to not get along if you insist on being so stubborn; we both know I’m better than you anyway.” Which is considered enough of a diplomatic coup in the Obama administration to earn mention in the State of the Union address. The President’s definition of accomplishment seems to be “we kinda sorta maybe (not really) tried to make something better and it hasn’t happened yet but it will eventually, so long as everyone just ignores our actions and only listens to our words or otherwise the magical spell we’re counting on to make this all work will be cursed and fail and it will be all YOUR fault. Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you!” [<–Shorter SOTU.]

Anyway, I picked the wrong week not to visit friends in D.C.

I. Mr. Surkov Goes to Washington.

He’s making a list and checking it twice; He’s gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.
Vladislav is coming to town… Vladislav is coming to town…

I can be naughty, or nice, whatever you prefer. I’m flexible…

(OMG: I image googled “Surkov McFaul” and a picture of my dead cat came up. It’s a haunting!)

Here is RT’s transcript of an Izvestia interview with the fine Mr. Surkov (what? no video, RT? you know looking at him is half the fun!): V.Surkov: “We do not intend to lecture one another.”

(No wonder there has been such stunning silence from the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission Civil Society working group. Aside from the fact that just saying “the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission Civil Society working group” is enough to make your mouth want to take a two week vacation and hardly lends itself to acronymn. The U.S. has illustrated that it only knows how to communicate with other countries through lecture or military force. These meetings must be epic awkward silences. Still, agreeing not to lecture one another is a remarkable step in right direction. Now let’s agree not bomb each other. Or save the children. Or something. Anything. Please.)

A Russian-US council on civil society that was created due to the initiative of the presidents of both countries will meet in the United States on January 27.

It will tackle issues left over from the Cold War, such as corruption, children’s rights, and stereotypes about Russia on the other side of the Atlantic.

The council will be co-chaired by Russian Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov, who was interviewed by the Izvestia daily, ahead of his trip.

Q. Lately, the Russian-US presidential commission council, which you are co-chairing, is being talked about quite a lot. Could you outline the plans of the working group for the nearest future?

Vladislav Surkov: The working group will meet for the first time in Washington, DC, on January 27. A substantial amount of preparation has been done ahead of it, with both sides coordinating the objectives and directives of our sphere of action.

The United States proposed to include only state officials into the council. We did not object to the idea. On top of that, we proposed the inclusion of Russia’s Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin; chair of the Civil Society Institution and Human Rights Council of the Russian Federation Ella Pamfilova; Presidential Ombudsman for Children’s Rights Pavel Astakhov; and several other persons who are not quite state officials. But since no equivalent posts exist in the US government, they were included in the delegation.

Q.Did you agree on the council’s agenda?

VS: The Russian side initiated the following topics: fighting corruption, migration – the issue of illegal immigration first of all – prisoners’ rights, and a crackdown on crimes against children.

The US side has offered to discuss negative myths and stereotypes, which still exist in relations between our countries. We tried to avoid, where possible, issues which we will most likely not be able to reach an agreement on. We will approach them gradually, as our mutual understanding deepens.

Q. And all of these five issues will be discussed during the visit to the United States?

VS: In Washington we will cover the issues fighting corruption, crimes against children and negative stereotypes only.

Q.What motivated the Russian side to choose its priorities for the discussion?

VS: All the issues approved are supported by explicit statistics, assessment criterions and, most importantly, all are significant for both Russia and the US We have plenty to talk about.

The problem of corruption, for example. Of course, in our respective countries, the problem has different roots. Nevertheless, major corruption scandals happen both in Russia and in the United States.

Another issue is immigration. Russia and the US are world leaders when it comes to the numbers of immigrants, both legal and illegal. Thus, the issue of migration is vital to both countries. The same could be said about the third matter of concern – the issue of prisoner conditions. Again, our countries continue to head the grim list of the countries with the largest number of the incarcerated.

Finally – a highly important problem – crimes against children. During the past several years the number of crimes committed against underage children in Russia has increased tenfold. The United States has extensive experience in combating this evil. That experience will be highly valuable for us, since Russia has a lot to accomplish in that respect.

Q: Will the Russian side pose any questions regarding the deaths of Russian children adopted by American parents?

VS: I would like to emphasize that we will not lecture each other on the issues covered during the meeting. This is not the point of the working group. We know that the United States is concerned over that issue and is working on solving the problem. As far as problems with adopted children are concerned – we, ourselves, have plenty of those in Russia.

Q: Some Russian human rights activists and several US congressmen have subjected you to criticism. Do you have anything to say on that matter?

VS: We hit some bumps during the preparations for the council. We are trading information with our American colleagues on those issues. Overall the process is flowing smoothly, and we have reached certain success already.

As far as my being scrutinized by some Russian human rights groups, as well as American congressmen, I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I think it is a small part of a larger mass of misconceptions, and those very negative stereotypes we will be discussing. I hope we will be able to dispel them during the course of our cooperation.

Q: Will there be a need to refine the activity of the council in the future?

VS: We would really like it if meetings of the working group took place not only in Russian and US capitals, but in other places, as well. We are going to hold meetings in various states and Russian regions. We must not turn into a commission which sits in their cabinets in Moscow and Washington discussing something in abstract terms.

Q: Various mass media report that the US will pose a question on equal cooperation of Russian and US civil organizations. Is there some sort of inequality between these organizations right now, any limitations in their cooperation?

VS: We do not see any inequality between Russian and American organizations, and we think there are no hurdles for a dialogue between them at the moment. Especially considering the fact that many Russian non-commercial organizations subside on grants they receive from the American government.

As far as your question goes, I will strictly stick to the agenda we agreed on, since I’m entitled to holding talks only within its framework. I would like to emphasize once again – these issues will be discussed only within the context of institutions of civil society.

The American side has demonstrated a very civil and good-natured approach to our cooperation. On our part, we will do everything in our power to make the working group a success.

I rather they be working together to tackle the issue of child trafficking than the issue of Lilia Shevtsova’s persecution complex. Hmm. Do you think it is a coincidence that she wrote that FP article on eve of this meeting? Pretty sneaky, sis. BTW, why does Misha have an op ed in the NYT this week? (For non-Russia watcher types who read this blog: Misha is Mikhail Khodorkovsky who is in prison in Siberia on charges of … tax evasion I think. A long time ago he was a Komsomol, then after the fall of Communism, he snatched up a bunch of stuff and became a powerful wealthy oligarch. Then Putin stole his assets and threw him in jail. The peasants rejoiced. The human rights camp flipped out. Surkov worked for Misha before getting a gig in the Kremlin and throwing his former boss in the gulag. Drama! Ok, let’s continue.) His article isn’t terribly interesting. But it is an excuse to post a gratuitous photo of our caged bird who sings for the New York Times.

Hi, Misha!

It seems our leaders are not as enamoured of dear Slava as they are of jailed Russian businessmen. Why doesn’t Surkov have an op-ed piece in the NYT? Get with the program! Seriously, someone in that Moscow fortress should hire me…

This is from Peter Lavelle who got it from JRL who printed it from Nezavisimaya Gazeta. It must be true.

From the JRL today

(Surkov is facing somekind of boycott in the US since being appointed
Russia’s civil soceity point man with the US) [<–I don't know if this is commentary from Peter, JRL or Nezavisimaya Gazeta…]

Nezavisimaya Gazeta
January 19, 2010
BETWEEN THE LINES
Russian and American delegations will meet to discuss matters of civil
society next week
Author: Alisa Vedenskaya

…..”Surkov and McFaul first met on October 12 when Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton was visiting Russia. McFaul told Surkov that
the reaction in the United States to his promotion to Civil Society
coordinator was somewhat equivocal. Surkov parred it by saying that
McFaul’s promotion had gone entirely unnoticed in
Russia because nobody knew him in this country.”

Oh, snap! I’m sure their meeting today went swimmingly… And it is not just Peter Lavelle and JRL and Nezavisimaya Gazeta spreading word of Surkov’s PR problem in D.C.

II. Party of No Hides Obama’s Re-Set Button.

From Moscow News Weekly: “Obama critics slam Kremlin aide.”

Whatever happened to “The enemy of my enemy is my friend?” Do the math, kids. And can someone explain to me how meeting with your foreign counterpart constitutes an endorsement of that person or their country? What is this, diplomacy for 3rd graders? Do they write these letters when we meet with the Chinese? Russia might have issues, but it’s hardly on par with Pakistan or North Korea or Sudan.

A key Russian-US working group co-led by Kremlin official Vladislav Surkov is under fire over human rights, as US Republicans call for President Barack Obama’s administration to boycott its first meeting in Washington this week.

Though the group aims to focus on issues like fighting corruption and child trafficking, 71 Republican members of Congress signed a letter to Obama expressing concern over Russia’s human rights record and urging that the US government “not participate in any such Working Group unless and until the Russian government has taken concrete, verifiable steps to address… shortcomings in its treatment of political and media freedoms.”

The letter, dated Dec. 11, also called for Surkov, President Dmitry Medvedev’s deputy chief of staff, to be replaced with “someone who has not been involved in establishing oppressive and undemocratic policies”, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Moscow News.

The group, created by Obama and Medvedev last July, is one of 16 tackling issues from trade to nuclear non-proliferation, but it is drawing additional attention because it is headed by Surkov. Dubbed the “grey cardinal” during Vladimir Putin’s administration, Surkov was largely responsible for formulating the “sovereign democracy” concept.

Russian human rights groups have criticised the appointment of Surkov to co-chair the commission, and now US Republicans are using that criticism as a way of attacking Obama.

Interruption: I don’t think Obama’s team chose Surkov to represent Russia. Idiots.

Surkov dismissed the Republicans’ criticisms in an interview with Izvestia, published on Jan. 22. “We do not plan to lecture each other,” Surkov said of the group’s members. “As for criticism against me from some human rights organisations and [members of the US Congress], everyone has a right to [their] opinion. This is a small part of a whole complex of prejudices and negative stereotypes.”
The letter came amid mounting Republican criticism of Obama, while last week the Democratic Party lost its 60-member filibuster-proof Senate majority after Massachusetts elected a Republican senator for the first time since 1972.

Republicans are using the letter simply as a way of putting domestic political pressure on Obama and don’t really have a worked-out Russia policy, said Nikolai Zlobin, an analyst at the Washington-based World Security Institute.

Zlobin said the letter would serve to rally members of Congress against Obama, adding that they were trying to use human rights ill as a bludgeon to get their way on issues such as nuclear non-proliferation and trade. “Whatever is said about Russia is not about their policy towards Russia per se, but towards their internal political interests,” Zlobin said.

Stop. Re-read that last part about trying to use human rights as a bludgeon to get their way on their own internal political interests.

Other NGO representatives invited to take part in the group said the Republicans’ call for a boycott was counterproductive.

Kirill Kabanov, head of the National Anti-Corruption Committee, said it played into a “hysterical” policy towards Russia, and this “hysteria” was convenient for hawkish elements in Russia’s security services.

“To close opportunities for [dialogue] may benefit those parts of the Russian bureaucracy that don’t want any contact at all …because that would expose those who use international mechanisms of money laundering,” said Kabanov, a former Federal Security Service official.

“Corruption is an international problem because money is laundered abroad, and this [affects] American banks.”

Kabanov added: “We have things to say, and if they don’t give us this opportunity then we will find ourselves marginalised again.”

This is why I don’t entirely understand it when Russian intellectuals boycott meetings they are invited to by the Kremlin. Creeps me out.

But wait! There’s more! The Party of No wont stop there!

From the Moscow Times: “Reset in Danger of Being Set Back.”

Because ruining any chance for a healthcare reform bill were not enough to be proud of. (OMG how weird is it that the rhetoric surrounding healthcare reform now includes the phrase, “Bolshevik plot?” What century is this? What universe is this? Does this make the GOP Mensheviks?)

A year ago, when the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama initiated its “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations, two things were clear: First, the U.S. Congress, particularly the Senate, would have an outsized role to play in the process; and, second, the Democrats would likely have a fillibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate, making the advancement of Obama’s major Russia policy overtures a bit easier than might otherwise be the case. A year later, the first proposition remains true, but Republican Scott Brown’s recent upset victory in the Massachusetts Senate race complicates the second since Democrats no longer have 60 seats in the Senate— the threshold that allows a party to pass legislation on a “fast track” by depriving the opposing party of its ability to filibuster. All of this means that there could be some turbulence in U.S.-Russian relations in 2010. […]

Congress is a major factor on other Russia policy issues as well. Russian accession to the World Trade Organization is a case in point. Congressional action would be required to upgrade Russia, the largest economy not yet represented in the WTO, from the Cold War-era lows of the Jackson-Vanik amendment to establish normal trade relations, which are required to secure U.S. agreement to Russia’s accession to the WTO. Russian WTO accession seems to be on the Obama administration’s congressional to-do list in 2010, but in the current cold trade climate — Russia just banned U.S. poultry imports, valued at $800 million a year — the issue is going to be as contentious as ever. That may be why Russian officials have sent mixed signals as to whether Russia itself will pursue WTO accession aggressively.

Congressional approval would also be required for the United States to enter into a “123” agreement with Russia on civil nuclear cooperation. This important area that had progressed nicely during George W. Bush’s last year in office was put on ice after the eruption of the Russia-Georgia war.

As far as U.S.-Russian relations are concerned, 2010 is truly the “Year of Congress.” It appears less likely, however, that it is going to be the “Year of Results.”

If Scott Brown ends up responsible for obliterating any hope of improving our relationship with Russia, I better at least get a consolation prize of a Surkov Cosmo centerfold out of the deal.

III. Putin: Party Crasher, Porn Basher.

Speaking of buff. And porn.

Jesse a.k.a The Russia Monitor has posted this little gem of a news story: “The Putin One-Liner Strikes Again.”

I wasn’t even going to mention this but couldn’t resist. Last week, PM Putin showed up to the the Annual Meeting of the State Council to give a speech. Now, by “showed up,” I mean he literally showed up out of nowhere to make an unexpected appearance and an unscheduled speech. The guys over at Power Vertical dissected this move yesterday. Putin made his minutes in front of the mic count, however, by dropping another one of his hilarious, debate-ending one-liners (“Putinisms”). Putin’s grammatical knockout came in a response to rumors on the internets that the recent regional Duma elections were rigged. The PM, visibly angry, hunched his shoulders in disgust and said, “Well half of what’s on the internet is porno! Why quote the internet? If you have evidence take it to court.”

One possible explanation of Putin’s indiscriminate targeting of porno? In the past, online interest in Putin has been found to be negatively correlated with online interest in pornography.

Poor Vova, walking into meeting he wasn’t invited to to complain about more people watching porn than paying attention to him on the internet. Hey, what am I? Chopped liver? I would think you’d want an intelligent poltical activist type ally – like ME -paying attention to you instead of child molesters and depressed husbands. But if he’s really miffed about it, I know of a pretty easy solution to the problem of people who watch porn not watching Vova. Hello! Althletic body? Check. Ham in front of a camera? Check. Bendy girlfriend? Check. FSB who lkes to make sex tapes? Check. BFF Oscar-winning filmmaker? Check. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

He could totally pull it off:

And lastly, I present to you the prize for Best Headline for this week’s coveage of U.S.-Russia relations:

“How Many Polish Patriots Does It Take to Screw Up US – Russia Relations?”

Stay classy, Discovery Institute!

Ok, thanks for reading and have a lovely weekend!

January 21, 2010

Lilia Shevtsova

Lilia, Lilia, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions… It’s also paved with selfishness, arrogance, ignorance and Washington Post columns. (Personally, I don’t believe in Hell, but on the off chance I am wrong, I won’t be writing any WaPo columns. And I am not going to try to save Lilia’s soul by telling her to shut up. I’m more interested in saving our collective sanity by illustrating why we should just quietly ignore her. )

Appeasement, in slacks.

I. Lilia’s Article.

On January 5th, Lilia Shevtsova wrote an article in Foreign Policy Magazine entitled, “The Kremlin Kowtow: Why have Western leaders and intellectuals gone soft on Russia’s autocracy?” I did not read this article when it came out, but it turns out I didn’t really need to, since I had read a Washington Post article she and several other Russian intellectuals had authored on the eve of Obama’s trip to Moscow last year. Which pretty much said the same thing. From the Washington Post article, “False Choices For Russia”:

We object, for example, to the basic proposition of calling for a return to realpolitik because some believe that the worsening of Russian-American relations was mainly caused by Washington’s insistence on “tying policies to values.” The result, some American “realists” argue, is that the United States needs to build a new relationship with Russia based on “common interests and common threats.”

The humanity! Mr. Obama, you can’t just go around the world building relationships based on “common interests and common threats,” relationships that call into account matters such cause and effect or human behavior. Think of the children! I mean the liberals! Anyway, you get the picture. She doesn’t want want the U.S. to play ball with Russia without a “values” clause that has some gleaming white American teeth.

Now she is upset with European leaders’ willingness to play ball with Russia, despite its allegedly brutal autocratic regime. Before we get to the finer points of this batty argument, I will remind you what it looks like when the whole civilized world refuses to play ball with a country based on its perceived lack of democracy: North Korea. How’s that working out for human rights in North Korea, Lilia? Now on to her article in FP:

II. My Response.

Or, excerpts from Lilia’s FP article, interspersed with my responses. She begins:

At a conference last month in Berlin, I witnessed another example of this divide. When I started to raise the question of democratic standards in Western-Russian relations, I was interrupted by another Western attendee. “You irritate us,” he said. “International relations are not about values; they are about power!” If he is right, Russian liberals will have to reconsider their expectations about the Western opinion-leaders they have long counted on for moral support and understanding.

She seems to suffer Applebaumian paranoia. When people say, “You irritate us,” they are not trying to dismiss your cause. They mean, “You irritate us.”

And moral support? Understanding? Western opinion-leaders? Either you own a bank I don’t know about or it’s time we had “the talk.” Western opinion-leaders didn’t get to be Western opinion-leaders by caring about democracy and human rights and you. During the Cold War people like you made the news. Perhaps you thought the leaders in the West really cared about democracy and human rights, that those like you were more than ideological pawns in a global game. But then in 1991 something crazy happened, and now you refuse to part with your dissident rockstar status. Profoundly ironic. You don’t want a return to the Soviet Union, just to the leverage it gave you. So forgive me if it seems interesting that you should go around fear-mongering about a return to the Soviet Union. Anyway, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee, Lilia. The whole rest of the world’s leaders are just as selfish as Russian ones.

I’m sorry – this still baffles me: “Russian liberals will have to reconsider their expectations about the Western opinion-leaders they have long counted on for moral support and understanding.” You really have no idea what team you are playing on, do you? Or you do and are lying to us.

This would be funny if it weren’t so tragic:

The results could be catastrophic — not merely for the activists who are working to make Russia a free country, but for the moral authority of those in the West who preach liberty but practice something quite different.

Sweetheart, that veiled threat would only work if we had not already squandered our moral authority. Maybe since you hear that in the Russian media, you assume it is propaganda, but I can assure you there is nothing you and Kasparov can do to our moral authority that hasn’t already been done better by Iraq, black CIA prisons, Guantanamo, etc.

True, when some Western leaders come to Moscow they make a point of meeting human rights activists or the moderate opposition. “They ask us how they can help us. We explain that they should raise the question of human rights and democracy when talking to Russian leaders,” says Arseny Roginski of the human rights group Memorial. “But after that, usually nothing happens.”

Y’all should consider yourself lucky. When America meddles in the domestic politics of other countries, horrible, horrible things tend to happen. And if it is any consolation, liberals in America experience the same thing when our leaders talk to us about civil liberties an democracy. “Promises, promises, you knew you’d never keep…” Obama can’t even deliver for his own people; what makes you think he can deliver for you?

Just when I am about to ask the perennial question, what exactly do Lilia and her comrades mean when they use words like “democracy” or “liberal,”

One influential European leader, Robert Cooper, the E.U. director-general for external and politico-military affairs, does not shy from discussing democracy with the Russian political elite. In an interview with the pro-Kremlin Russian Institute he concluded, “Sometimes I think that the word ‘democracy’ becomes problematic. I would prefer to talk about responsible, open government that defends the rights of nations … but has enough legitimacy to use tough administrative measures when there is a need for them.” Such an understanding of democracy is exactly what the current Russian government is looking for.

She fails to explain what precisely is wrong with this understanding of democracy, other than the E.U. and the Kremlin like it, and she’s clearly not happy with them. Which strikes me as sophomoric logic. “Responsible, open government,” sounds like a reasonable aim to me, and legitimacy and authority are surely necessities for any effective government. If this is really what the current Russian government is looking for (I think she’s being too generous), they should be commended.

The following paragraph makes no sense, either in the context of the article or in itself. It’s like when you get into an argument with your lover and have a valid point but then your emotions take over and you end up sounding like a crazy person. Which makes me secretly love it.

Russia’s reform-minded forces have long since stopped calling on the West to help advance democracy in Russia. They understand that transforming Russia is a job for Russian society itself. But reform-minded Russians expect the West at least to avoid holding back change by supporting the authoritarian forces that would suppress it. Prominent Russian human rights activists and liberals like Sergei Kovalev, Garry Kasparov, and Grigory Yavlinsky, long considered pro-Western voices, have recently become critics of the West’s increasingly accommodating policies toward Russia. One might say that these voices are just a small minority of Russian society. But if the West loses this pro-Western minority, it will lose Russia altogether.

We don’t expect you to help. Why aren’t you helping?! This is a job for Russia. The West needs to do its part! We are a minority. We are Russia altogether! Why isn’t anyone listening to me?! Why are you cuffing me to the bed?!

She concludes with the following:

This begs the question: How can Western civilization resolve its own internal problems with democracy if it abandons its mission of promoting liberty?

Let’s ignore that this is really the least of the questions her article begs.
Let’s ignore the fascinating arrogance this question implies, that the fate of Western civilization rests on Lilia’s political interests.
Let’s ignore the horrible horrible things that happen when Western leaders trot the globe promoting liberty.
Let’s not be hysterical. Let’s be rational.

Isn’t she putting the horse before the cart? Don’t America and Europe need to get their own houses in order before they are able to do her housecleaning for her? Didn’t Voltaire, high priest of civil liberties have something to say about that? Something about a garden?

Sloth. That’s the other thing they use to pave roads to Hell. I don’t know Lilia, but she strikes as a busy, hard-working woman. Yet I suppose my biggest grief with her and Russian liberals is their aversion to doing the grunt work that most functioning democracies require. I say this as someone who, in a non-functioning democracy, along with thousands of everyday citizens, actually goes out and organizes support, raises money, knocks on doors, holds public forums, annoys total strangers by surveying their needs, interests, issues and annoys them again by making damn well sure they vote, and vote for my candidate, who loses. Over and over and over, American Democrats and liberals and champions of human rights and social justice LOSE. And when I lose, I do not go running to the leaders and opinion-makers asking, “What have you done for me lately?” I ask, “What more could I have done? How have we failed to communicate our message? Why are our citizens so fucking stupid?” Because in a democracy, you can’t blame everyone else when you lose. Even when the votes are rigged and stolen. And what if your magical pony scenario wherein the West stops engaging Russia and poof! Russian liberals are suddenly a force to be reckoned with, even perhaps in power, were to materialize? How is that a democratic process? And what organization and popular support will you have in place to maintain your power? I ask because the people you are up against have a very fucking good organization and some genuine popular support. It seems to me that instead of making empty threats to so-called Western leaders and writing articles in English-language newspapers, you would have a far better chance of success if you focused on building an organization and support at home. So, Lilia, darling, you can hardly fault those who read your articles for wondering if Russia really is ready for democracy. Or rather, if you are.

III. Someone Else’s Response.

Much classier than mine.

Gordon M. Hahn has written an artcle, “Bashing Russia, Kowtowing to Beijing, and Avoiding Responsibility – One Russian Liberal’s Formula for Failure. Response to Lilia Shevtsova’s “The Kremlin Kowtow – Why have Western leaders and intellectuals gone soft on Russia’s autocracy?” www.foreignpolicy.com, January 5, 2010.” on the website, Russia: Other Points of View.

Timothy Post, living up to his name, posted this on facebook. He thinks it’s one of the best articles he’ll read all year. There are parts of it I am not completely on board with (investment in Russia – gives me the willies) but this is a far more mature response to Lilia’s article than mine, and focusses on why it is imperative that the United States and Russia maintain a working relationship. Which is a topic near and dear to my heart. I recommend you go read the whole thing (it’s not so long), but have chosen some of my favorite excerpts to repost here. They generally do not require commentary. A sign of a good writer, I think.

The U.S. simply cannot uphold Russian liberals today as it once did Soviet dissidents, and we should not conceptualize Russian state-society relations as a modified version of Soviet state-society relations. Russia has come along way from the Soviet totalitarian model. The Soviet system’s omnipresent repression and cruelty created state-society relations that Anna Akhmatova once described accurately in the early 1950s as two Russias confronting each other: one, the imprisoned – the other, their wardens. Thus, Western leaders had reason to suspect during the Cold war that hatred of the communist regime inside the USSR was such that, there was a thirst for democracy and freedom – and sooner or later, it would have to be quenched. If and when the Soviet system opened up, movement to democracy and the market could be expected

The situation today is much different. Although the Russian state remains today overbearing and on occasion repressive, there is a modicum of democracy and markets providing considerable room for the opposition to live, speak, and organize openly. The opposition is simply not given the opportunity to win elections. State administrative electoral manipulation of various sorts and state media domination are largely at fault, but so too are the liberals’ unpopularity with Russia’s electorate, their poor governing record in the 1990s, and their internal divisions and petty squabbling for which Russians rejected them as a viable option for leadership. The absence of an effective or responsible democratic opposition renders any aggressive Western backing of democracy forces against the Kremlin a losing proposition.

And a dangerous one too, IMO.

Also, because of NATO expansion and other U.S. policy mistakes (failure to provide timely economic assistance for Russia’s great depression in the early 1990s, preservation of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, unilateral withdrawal from the ABM treaty and attempting to deploy ABM systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, etc.), we no longer have the Russians’ trust – either at the level of the elite or among the general public.

And we’re losing Lilia’s! (Sorry – I could not resist.)

Dr. Shevtsova charges that putting arms control negotiations at the top of the relationship’s agenda now is misplaced and that Moscow and Washington are using “a Cold-War era mechanism to try to imitate cooperation.” The fact is if we used her proposed “values-based” approach, arms control would be the only cooperation possible.

Valuable cooperation would be lost in a host of other areas – Afghanistan and the overall war against jihadism, space, and anti-piracy – just to name a few.

But please let’s not underestimate the necessity for arms control.

To support her call for Russia’s isolation, Shevtsova notes that Sergei Kovalev, Garry Kasparov, and Grigory Yavlinsky have long supported such an approach. However, last month’s congress of Yavlinskii’s Yabloko party decided to advance cooperation with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Kovalev was a State Duma deputy until 2003 and has attended meetings with President Medvedev, so he is not averse to cooperating in limited fashion with the regime that Shevtsova recommends the West should shun. The only true recalcitrant in her group of admirable dissidents, Gary Kasparov, has allied with the neo-fascist pornographer, National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov.

Hey, that would be “neo-fascist pornographer, National Bolshevik Party leader, brilliant writer, and probably the only sincere opposition in the lot who isn’t hiding some agenda designed to make him wealthy or a hit with the DC crowd, Eduard Limonov.” Pretty sure that is his official title.

There are projects that would be worthy for the U.S.-Russia Civil Society Working Group to cooperate on. One is former U.S. Army Colonel Charles Heberle’s democracy education program, which the Russian Ministry of Education is preparing to institute in all of Russia’s schools and has been functioning for years in schools in Petrozavodsk, Karelia. Dr Shevtsova is especially off base when she asserts there are few in the U.S. who believe Russians are ready for democracy.

Fascinating – I had no idea. Granted, I don’t trust a “democracy education program” in the hands of McFaul, or the Ministry of Education in the hands of Surkov. But together, that could be one crazy lovechild, if those two ever decide to get into bed with each other. Also, isn’t Gorby working on something similar?

Today’s Kremlin and today’s Russia are not yesterday’s Kremlin and the USSR, and Russia’s liberals should use the system to change the system. Their dependence on the West discredits them internally, could make them subservient to forces that are not as devoted to Russia’s development as they, and foist on them ideas that may not be suitable for, or politically marketable in Russia in the near future.

If anyone got the impression from my take-down of Lilia that it is the Russian liberals whom I oppose, a clarification is in order. It’s the “forces that are not as devoted to Russia’s development as they, and foist on them ideas that may not be suitable for, or politically marketable in Russia in the near future,” whom I oppose.

The best way for the West to assist them is to support Russia’s efforts when possible, engage the Kremlin in democratization projects, and improve the relationship so that the distrust built up through much of the post-Cold War period begins to evaporate. Remember that when U.S. President Ronald Reagan seriously engaged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987-88, the latter’s position was strengthened such that he could push his perestroika reforms in earnest.

While many understandably have a far different take on those salad days of Russian democracy (and the chaos that followed) than anyone inclined to idolize Reagan, this is a clear refutation of Lilia’s fuzzy logic.

Timothy recommends we read Hahn’s article and send it to our representatives. Why not? Hey, I sent a Stephen Cohen piece to mine, soon after Obama came out and pretended to scrap the missile shield fiasco! Sometimes this whole democracy thing actually pretends to work…

September 17, 2009

a note on missile defense.

It seems a little precipitous to gloat, especially given the lack definitive confirmation that the plan has been scrapped in President Obama’s official statement. But hey, the whole entire global media has run with the story, and they’re never wrong about anything, right?

Nevertheless, I simply CANNOT pass by the opportunity to post this, originally published prior to Obama’s visit to Russia in July of this year. You know, a few months ago.

CBS: “White House to Hold Firm on European Missile Shield.”

In advance of Pres. Obama’s first trip to Russia next week, the White House is serving notice on the Kremlin that he won’t be making any concessions to win its approval of a U.S. missile shield in Europe or membership in NATO for Russian neighbors Ukraine and Georgia.

“We don’t need the Russians,” says Michael McFaul, special assistant to the president and senior director for Russian affairs on the National Security Council staff.

In a conference call with reporters, McFaul responded with unusually tough talk when asked what reassurances Pres. Obama is prepared to give in his talks starting Monday with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev.

“We’re definitely not going to use the word reassure in the way that we talk about these things,” said McFaul. “We’re not going to reassure or give or trade anything with the Russians regarding NATO expansion or missile defense.”

(more…)

September 1, 2009

lqd: The Western View of Russia

I’m publishing the whole damn article because 1) This is a fresh and compelling explanation of the current impasse in U.S.-Russian relations, 2) they said I could and 3) I’m a bit too busy to think up my own theories and write about them.

The article is perhaps simplistic, or let’s say narrow in its view. It is one explanation of many and probably accounts for some but not all of the problem, since it doesn’t address the most basic motivations for all politics: money, power, greed and sheer stupidity. But I really do like the proposition! It jibes with reality as it is perceived by me (always a plus) and is neither chauvinist nor dismissive. How refreshing!

N.B. I was born in America in the 70’s and came of age in the 80’s, yet I don’t fit either stereotype of the Cold War or post-Cold War generations. I am soooooo ahead of my time! Ah, the rewards of trauma.

[Update] Some folks have wondered if I think this article actually gets it right. Well, I think it passes the Cato sniff test, referring to that most convincing benchmark of proof and funniest quote ever produced by a think tank:

“The sociological generalization we have stated is intuitively compelling; something like it must be true.”

Ok, pull up a chair, here’s the article, care of Stratfor.com:

“The Western View of Russia”, by George Friedman. (more…)

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