Just when the West decided that it could finally have a sigh of relief as far as Russia and its diminishing global power was concerned, realization dawned that it was a bit early to let down the guard. American press is casting a nostalgic look at the not-so-remote Yeltsin government which demonstrated its elastic nature by pleasing the West both voluntarily and involuntarily. For much of the 1990s, under the leadership of the often incoherent Yeltsin, Russia has been plundered by the criminal magnates, the so-called “oligarchs,” in alliance with the senior members of the Yeltsin government and his immediate family.
They took control over the country’s banking system and the extraction of raw materials for export and played a critical role in preventing the emergence of a working free market. The proceeds from their financial dealings went directly to their own pockets, and the gap between the rich and the poor in today’s Russia reminds one not of democracy, but of feudalism.
When, at last, Yeltsin was driven to involuntary sobriety by the fact that his and his family’s business maneuvers proved to be less ingenuous than corrupt, he decided to step down from the throne. As befits the world’s policeman, America began giving out unsolicited advice, albeit in the form of general rhetoric: by reminding Russia of its “70 years of shame.” It would be an understatement to say that they were not too pleased with Yeltsin’ successor, Vladimir Putin, from day one. The U.S. political machine — the government and the press — figured out quite easily that the future in Russia was not going to be the same as it used to be.
After almost two decades of Russia’s disintegration on every front, Putin suddenly declared the unwelcome news: that it was time to restore Russian national pride and to make Russia strong again. These words cast a chill. American newspapers began to be peppered with unfavorable profiles of Mr. Putin and cautioned about Russia’s return to the “bad old days.” American journalists, ranging from the liberal David Remnick to the conservatively-frozen George Will, expressed their dismay at the fact that the newly-elected Russian president had been a KGB agent. It was as if here, in America, they choose presidents from a selection of flower-shop assistants or first-aid nurses!
Americans often resort to self-imposed amnesia, which was clearly the case here, because even equipped with a short memory, it is hard to overlook the presence of Bushes in American politics. Papa Bush was not a mere lieutenant-colonel but the head of the CIA, while George W. is not unsuccessfully following in his daddy’s footsteps. So why is George Will, a very experienced journalist, surprised that Putin comes from a similar background? Is it because no American who works for the CIA is a spy and only a foreign agent who is caught can be considered to be one?! I am afraid that hypocrisy runs so deep in the U.S. that it became a natural pose for most people here. But as Oscar Wilde put it, a natural pose is the most difficult one to keep up and, after months of general criticism of Putin, the American press had to admit, albeit obliquely, that the reason they dislike the Russian President so much had less to do with the fact that he didn’t French-kiss his wife in public, like the once-timid Gore, and more with the promise to put Russia back on her feet.
This promise is devastating to the “democratic” American ears, which would rather hear of Russia’s plans to further denigrate itself. A strong Russia is a very disadvantageous prospect for America who likes to remind the world that it won the Cold War. One of the big players in that war, Zbigniew Brzezinski, recently published an essay, “Living With Russia,” which argues that there is no solid basis for Russia to claim global status. If that is the case, then why all the worry and venom which that essay is full of? Because Brzezinski does not believe himself. Russia is still considered a worthy adversary here. The reason that the Western press is so critical of Putin is that, for the first time in a decade-and-a-half, they see a leader who might indeed make Russia a stronger state. No matter which path Putin chooses to achieve that goal, it will still be regarded as a step backwards.
Naturally, the press doesn’t say this directly. Instead, they depict Putin as an oppressor, “a new Stalin,” for persecuting the semi-criminal element of his country, like Gusinsky. It was a journalistic necessity to admit that the latter stole millions from the Russian government which stopped the American press from openly shedding tears for the unfortunate “victim” who, like his American equivalent, Gotti, should be serving a jail sentence.
When Americans criticize Putin for wanting to control the Russian press, they should glance at themselves: There is not a newsletter in this country that is not serving someone’s special interests. Compared to the Russian press, its American counterpart is a blind sheep blindly following its blind leader, the government. Why is America, the haven of advertising, surprised that Putin wants to curb criticism of his government and suppress the power of the Berezovskys and Gusinskys of Russia, who have proved to be self-serving and power-hungry? Because America, to paraphrase Gore Vidal, wants to mold the rest of the world after its own image: that of a corporation with two right wings. As for those who criticize Putin for “trying to remilitarize Russia and break the hopes of those who want to never again touch a Kalashnikov” (Masha Gessen, Washington Post editorial), here is a newsflash: We live in a less than perfect world which would be made even less perfect if Kalashnikovs were distributed to one side only. We would no longer have duels but killing sprees – and the former, no matter how base, are still more civilized. Besides, how do you expect a government to rescue its drowning submarines if it does not have the resources and manpower – by democratic intentions?
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