The Flight From Reason – The West’s Cold War Against Russia

My latest contribution to the Expert Discussion Panel this one focusing on whether the West foregoes “incalculable benefits” by continuing the Cold War. Unlike previous Panels, on which I aimed for balance, here I make no apologies at pointing a finger straight to where I believe the blame belongs:

I recently began reading Martin Malia’s Russia under Western Eyes. One of the key points he makes early on is that the Western view of Russia has rarely corresponded well with its objective strength or the actual threat it posed. To the contrary, it is when “institutions and culture” converge that the West’s “evaluation of Russia tends toward the positive”; when they diverge, the reverse. So by that theory, relations should be pleasant: After all, not only is it no longer a military threat, but in terms of political systems and values, the West and Russia are far closer now than they have even been in history.

This makes it all the more puzzling that half the US foreign policy establishment remains entrenched in Cold War thinking. Romney belongs to them. A man who now has a 39% chance of becoming President, according to Intrade, declared Russia to be a “our number one geopolitical foe.” But unlike the case in the Cold War, it is a divergence that now most afflicts the US and its satellites – namely, the idée fixe that it is globally “exceptional”, and thus called forth to express global “leadership.” This translates into the belief that it can dictate its terms – from support for the Iraq War to the pursuit of Wikileaks – to other powers without negotiation (anything else is appeasement!), and woe unto the VIRUS’s that oppose it (a cute neocon acronym standing for Venezuela, Iran, Russia).

Needless to say, such attitudes make mockeries of any genuine democracy promotion. As long as you pay the requisite cultural tribute, you get off scot free – “Bahrain’s bosses understand modern symbolism about minorities so well that the Arab kingdom’s ambassador to Washington is a Jewish woman.” They might not understand the Hippocratic Oath near so well, imprisoning doctors for treating wounded protesters, but that is of little consequence next to anti-Iranian orientations and the US naval base there. Meanwhile, Venezuela is demonized by the Cold Warriors for daring to elect a socialist to power in Latin America, even though it has some of the structurally freest and fairest elections in the world. Their hatred of Russia ultimately boils down to the same roots: It resists.

There are three ways this impasse can end. The first, and most incredible way, would be for the residual Cold Warriors to stop thinking of the world in Manichean terms, with themselves playing God’s role. The second would be for Russia to become a client state of the US. This is not going to happen short of the likes of Gary Kasparov and Lilia Shevtsova coming to power.

The third possibility is by far the likeliest, as it is already occurring. Back in the 1990’s, Western Diktat politics in relation to Russia typically worked because it was in crisis, and had no other powers to work with. They believe this is still the case, and not only the neocons: In 2009, Biden said Russia had a “shrinking population base… a withering economy”, and a banking system unlikely to “withstand the next 15 years.”). This would presumably give Russia no choice but to fall in line. They are wrong. In real terms, the Chinese economy may have overtaken the US as early as in 2010; a constellation of other sovereign, non-Western powers such as Brazil, Turkey, India, and South Africa are attaining new prominence. With the EU in permaslump, the US and Japan under accumulating mountains of debt, and oil futures now permanently sloped upwards, a new world is arising in which modernization is no longer synonymous with Westernization. Russia is one of its key players, just like the other BRIC’s.

One can’t resist gravity forever. Once the requisite relative political, economic, and cultural mass is no longer there, ideological Cold Wars will become as unsustainable as Western hegemony itself.


  1. There are also people who see Russia as less-far-along in various aspects of political development who don’t want it to become a client-state of Washington, but who would be happy to see it improve; a better record of political pluralism, meaningful changes in hands between multiple political parties, better respect for various kinds of minority rights, a drastically smaller role for the church, and a few other things don’t entail obedience to Washington (which is itself imperfect, but less so). Even if you’re not providing a false choice between just two options, your analysis is incomplete because it neglects the possibility of reasonable principled criticisms of Russia (that still apply, to lesser extents, to western nations).

    • PvMikhail says:

      I can’t really see these “moderate” critics in the press… My question would be: why should Russia converge to those states who criticize it? Russia is a historical civilization itself. Why should Russia care about these personal opinions? In these criticism I see only double standards and self-righteousness on the part of the lecturers.
      Russia has the right to decide about these things. Of course there are clearly negative aspects as corruption and such, but there are questions like the church’s role, which are not unambiguous. Russia is a more socially conservative society, than western countries. For example why should it lessen the role of church in the society? People can decide whether they believe or not, whether they follow the church’s instructions or not. Of course this doesn’t mean, that they have the right to offend those believe. It is a miracle how the orthodox church came back from years of persecution. Christian churches everywhere on the World officially promote values like family, patriotism and such. I don’t see any problems with that as Europe badly needs these values to stay on the historical map.

      • Why should those who level the criticism care if Russia cares? Everyone has a position and a status, and might criticise others either for their ideals or their status. I am unwilling to accept a nation as being fully civilised if it protects religions from being offended.

        That said, I’m not hostile to Russia, I’d just like it to improve along those lines, and ideally remain free of American control. Other nations have flaws too, from Germany to the US, and I’d like them to improve as well. I’m not rooting for a team (anywhere; patriotism of any sort is despicable), I’m rooting for a goal.

        That “Is a deeply conservative society” thing cannot be an excuse. It’s a fault. Deeply conservative societies can improve by becoming less so.

    • Good commend. I sometimes wonder why critics expect more of Russia than of, say, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is member of the council of Europe and Kazakhstan is being lauded in the media by the likes of Tony Blair, but plainly they are both pretty much mafia states. On the other hand Russia is sometimes called the most disapointig country in the world.
      Is it hypocrisy – Russia is severely criticized and being picked on because it’s big and threatening, or is it genuine belief that Russia is “European” and therefore it is hoped that Russia will adhere to European standards, whereas countries like Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan or China are simply not expected to, hence they don’t dissapoint.

      • Russia is perceived as a threat because it has a large ethnic sphere of influence that is opposed to British interests that Britain and its imperial institutions in North America and Europe that still operate to this day via US proxy are driving an anti-Russian policy as well as within Russia itself with British agents like Kudrin and the other shock therapists.

        This is why they immediately set about after the collapse of Communism to re-arrange the map of Europe against Russia via economic sabotage and warfare, support of terrorist and separatist factions in Russia and Russian aligned states, form regional alliances and NATO expansion against Russia and sabotage Russian energy export routes to Europe while creating alternative Turkish backed ones.

  2. Dear Anatoly,

    An excellent article.

    The great difficulty I have explaining or even understanding US and western policy towards Russia is precisely that it is irrational. How to explain or understand what is not rational? I am going however to make a few very tentative points:

    1. Like most people I assumed for much of my life during the Cold War that western hostility to Russia had an ideological cause. The fact that this hostility has actually intensified since the Cold War makes me doubt this. At this point I want to second a comment recently made by the US historian Stephen Cohen in his now famous diatribe against the US media (and Luke Harding). Western media coverage of Russia is actually worse and more hostile than it was during the Cold War. Also during the Cold War there were some leftwing people in the western media who had some residual sympathy with the USSR. There are no such sympathisers for Russia in the western media today.

    2. I do not really know or understand why this hostility to Russia has increased or even intensified since the end of the Cold War. I have to say that I doubt that it is because of the inertia of Cold War thinking. Western policy makers know perfectly well that they are confronting Russia not the USSR and western nations have previously shown flexibility and willingness to accomodate other foes as shown in the quick transformation in attitudes towards Germany and Japan after the end of the Second World War.

    3. I think one reason may be that Russia is simply too big and potentially too rich and too powerful to fit comfortably into the western family. The US does not want Russia in NATO because such a large and powerful country with its own nuclear deterrent would be a challenger to the US’s unquestioned leadership of NATO. The US cannot bully Russia in the UN Security Council. Imagine if it had to deal with Russia in NATO! The European countries for their part do not want Russia in the EU because as by far the biggest European country and also potentially the richest and the one with by far greatest supplies of energy, food and raw materials Russia would ulltimately come to dominate it far more completely than Germany has now done. Since Russia cannot be included in the western family it therefore has to be kept outside. Since there is however no real philosophical or ideological justification for excluding Russia given the extent to which Russia is a “European” “Christian” country (and is much more “European” and “Christian” than countries like Albania and Turkey, which are members of NATO and supposedly future members of the EU) Russia inevitably has to be demonised in order to justify its exclusion.

    4. Excluding Russia however also poses a special set of problems for the US and the west given the extent to which Russia is a “European” “Christian” country. The NATO/EU combine is supposed to bring together all the major “European” “Christian” (in a cultural sense) “democracies” in north America and Europe under US leadership. However Russia apart from the US is by far the biggest “European” “Christian” country. A Russia that achieves prosperity and worse still democracy and social justice outside this combine therefore represents an existential threat to US leadership of the “democratic” “European” and “Christian” world. Arguably it is precisely because Russia poses an existential threat to the US in a way that China as a non “European” non “Christian” and non “democratic” country does not that Russia comes in for so much more hostility than China.

    • “Also during the Cold War there were some left-wing people in the western media who had some residual sympathy with the USSR. There are no such sympathizers for Russia in the western media today.”

      You can say that again Alex. The so-called progressive organs in the western media have been more hostile to Russia than their right-wing brethren. I’ve been banned (Just as Mark & Anatoly have from The Guardian) from for defending Putin/Russia. Also, they absolutely WILL NOT publish articles that question the Pussy Riot meme, whom the common-dreams editors see as heroes standing up to a tyrant. They also scoff at the notion that the NGO’s in Russia are anything other than well-meaning groups promoting “democracy” and “human rights.” Edward Hermann last week published an article on the NY Times and their demoization of Putin, Chavez, etc; he also talked about them giving front-page coverage to Pussy Riot by pointing out how inconvenient facts were left out of what transpired and that the western press turned it into a “free-speech” crusade, which it isn’t. Though Commondreams has carried many of Edward Hermann’s article before, they opted not to carry this one…true to form.

    • Moscow Exile says:

      And there is also the barely hidden racist attitude of the Western media towards Russians, in that they are “different”, not Europeans, are Asian, outsiders, barbaric, cruel, not to be trusted, dirty (the “Moscow metro stinks” is a regular Russian meme), drunkards, degenerates, lazy, idiotic, sexually perverted etc., etc. One can, it seems, say anything about “Russians” without any censure whatsoever. I have heard them on more than one occasion being referred to by US citizens here in Moscow as “snow niggers”.

      • “not Europeans, are Asian,”

        I’m wondering why this should be construed as an insult. Should one assume that being European automatically makes one superior? Also, in this day and age when Asia is the most dynamic part of the world, what’s wrong with being Asian?

        Personally I’ve always thought of Russians as Eurasian – a fitting designation for a country which has most of its population in Europe and most of its land in Asia, which as far as I know makes it unique in the world.

        • Actually, this “Asiatic” insult is far more beloved of self-loathing Russian liberals (who as a rule know very little about social conventions in the West they idolize) than Western Russophobes.

          Among Westerners it became non-PC and kind of went out with Patton. 🙂

          • Insultingly referring to eastern neighbors as Asiatic barbarians is a longstanding European tradition. During World War I, the Western Allies referred to the Germans as Huns, the Germans had traditionally often felt that Europe ended on the Elbe, the Poles thought of themselves as the last eastermost bastion of the West, Ukrainian nationalists refer to themselves that way and to the Russians as Mongol hordes, etc. I think a similar phenomenon exists in the Balkans, with respect to Turks.

            There is an interesting parallel not mentioned here between modern Western Russophobia and traditional English Spanish-phobia (from the days when Spain was a world power). Spain was the land of the evil Inquisition (by reputation the “KGB” of the 16th-18th century, even though probably 10 times more people were killed as witches in ngland than were killed by the Inquisition) , half-European and half-Moorish,a global inhumane barbaric menace.

            • Yes, “Africa begins at the Pyrenees” and all that. (Attributed to A. Dumas, who was part African himself.)

              Interestingly, while googling that phrase, the auto-complete also suggested “Africa begins at Rome” and “Africa begins at Calais.”

              • Moscow Exile says:

                The British racist expression that referred to all except God’s chosen ones, namely the British – more exactly, the English – was, or perhaps still is amongst some: Wogs begin at Calais.

            • Re-Spain. The Black Legend.

              “We have chosen a different path, which I think is the right path – five and seven-star hotels instead of tranches; the best aqua parks in Europe instead of land mines; this beautiful amphitheater with its dance club and very beautiful football fields and new spa resorts instead of new military bases,” he said.

              “On that side there is barbarism and on this side here is a civilization; on that side there is Mongoloid ideology and holdovers of that [ideology] and on this side here is a genuine, ancient Kolkhidian Europe, the ancient civilization so we will always prevail,” Saakashvili said.

              He also said that Anaklia alone would host 200,000 tourists by 2013 and about 400,000 by 2015. He said that Anaklia would turn into “the largest resorts on teh Black Sea.”


      • Well the “snow niggers” insult fits in well with other denigrating names developed in the US such as “sand niggers” (referring to Arabs) and to the original meaning of “white niggers” (which originally referred to the Irish).

        • You should read H P Lovecrafts writings who denegrated pretty much everyone who was not of Anglo-saxon heritage.

          “In the matter of politics—I don’t go much with the younger crowd. I’m more interested in keeping the present 300-year-old culture-germ in America unharmed, than in trying out any experiments in “social justice”. Smith, to my mind, is a direct exponent of the newer-immigration element—the decadent & unassimilable hordes from Southern Europe & the East whose presence in large numbers is a direct & profound menace to the continued growth of the Nordic-American nation we know. Some people may like the idea of a mongrel America like the late Roman Empire, but I for one prefer to die in the same America that I was born in. Therefore, I’m against any candidate who talks of letting down the bars to stunted brachycephalic South-Italians & rat-faced half-Mongoloid Russian & Polish Jews, & all that cursed scum! You in the Middle West can’t conceive of the extent of the menace. You ought to see a typical Eastern city crowd—swart, aberrant physiognomies, & gestures & jabbering born of alien instincts”

    • Some very interesting ideas there, Alex.

      I do not claim to have an answer. Your theory is about as good as it gets. And very good point re-China, though I would say that it’s definitely in the demonized category too.

      If I had to estimate a list of how much perceptions misalign with reality (aka Demonization Index), I’d say:

      1. Russia – a mediocre democracy, certainly not worse than Turkey’s, which is painted as a neo-Stainist Mordor.
      2. Venezuela – a good democracy in which Chavez is painted as a dictator.
      3. Iran – nasty government but far from exceptionally so by ME standards.
      4. China – nasty government but far from the tyranny it is claimed to be, plus lots of other MSM lies about it.
      5. Ecuador/Bolivia – mitigated by fact that lefties like them, only crazy neocons hate them too.

      • Being a bit more embedded in American culture and having (probably) seen more of the country than you have, I’d probably say that you’re mostly right on American perceptions and media portrayal of China. American perceptions of Russia have, as far as I can tell, an age gap; people who reached adulthood retain an irrational dislike of Russia, while those who are younger didn’t get much of the propoganda and are fairly neutral towards it. Media portrayal of Russia is generally cursory at the level most Americans are exposed to, while lightweight political magazines are moderately hostile. Most Americans I’ve met have large misconceptions of Iran, and the media rarely go into specifics of their political system unless there’s a crisis going on. It has been exceptionally rare that I’ve spoken with anyone who has an opinion on Bolivia or Ecuador or read any commentary on them; most Americans probably are unaware that they are even countries.

        My analysis of Russia is that its democracy is little more than a Potemkin village; it has the formal institutions needed for democracy, but neither civil society nor news media nor the party system are healthy enough for it to manage regular transitions of power. There is too much power in the hands of a few collaborating parties for the democratic form to be realised. Until it develops enough strong inner criticism and has some transfers of power between opposing parties, it will be in the shadowland between democracy and oligarchy.

        We probably mostly agree on China, although I don’t see it as being particularly nasty (although definitely not democratic). I confess a bias here; I’m an American socialist (of the Eduard Bernstein flavour who also likes some Menshevik/Trudovik thinkers), and the relative lack of concentration of power in China, compared to Russia, balances against Russia’s pro forma democracy in my eyes.

        I probably see Iran as being much better than you do; their democracy is healthier than Russia’s (by no means perfect), and while there is political repression over views, the people seem remarkably and laudably willing to express themselves anyhow and face the consenquences. The Iranians I’ve met who are travelling outside their country have been likewise very frank and fearless with their views, and stunningly well-read. Iranian society and government is something I find deeply fascinating for that reason.

        I am highly critical of Chavez; not of everything he’s done (I don’t mind the nationalisation of industry or the dismantling of privileges for the very wealthy), but rather because he appears to be trying to build a cult of personality; that in my eyes is an unforgivable sin in a politician. I would like to see Chavez go, but ideally replaced with another socialist who has a much smaller ego who will continue the socialist experiment there.

  3. Jennifer Hor says:

    I sometimes wonder whether we learn too much history or learn it in a way that distorts our understanding not only of the past but also the present and the future.

    I’ve seen books and articles that used to draw parallels between ancent Athens and Sparta on the one hand and the US and the Soviet Union on the other, in that order. I presume a generation of people in the West who studied military history in the past were taught that model. The Soviet Union may have gone but is it possible that, for all the political and economic changes that have occurred since 1990 and despite what Alex Mercouris said earlier about the US accepting former WWII foes Germany and Japan as allies, the US and UK governments still see Russia as Sparta and all that Sparta traditionally represents? (Never mind that women had more freedom in ancient Sparta than in ancient Athens and both Sparta and Athens worshipped the goddess Athene as their protector among other inconvenient truths!) Plus it’s easy to accept changes, even changes such as former enemies becoming friends and allies, if they can be made to fit a prevailing mental paradigm. With Germany and Japan suffering total defeat at home as well as in war after 1945, they were vulnerable to a complete transformation in culture and ways of thinking.

    The other historical rivalry that’s been used to compare US – Soviet/ Russian rivalry is the rivalry between the Western Roman empire / Western Christianity (Roman Catholic Church and its Protestant offshoots) and the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) empire / Orthodox Christianity.

    Likewise the obsession with Iran may be an updated version of the antipathy the ancient Greeks held towards Persia and which the Roman empire might have inherited. When the Zac Snyder film “300” came out several years ago, not only the Iranian government objected to it but also people in the Iranian diaspora in the West complained about the demonisation of Iran they saw.

  4. Like others have mentioned, I read the Western Press RE: Russia and it’s all the same propaganda: Putin evil, Orthodox Church corrupt, Russian police corrupt, Putin billionaire, Russian infrastructure rotting, demographic crisis, Poland about to be invaded, Stalin worse than Hitler, Gazprom monopoly, Chechen genocide, brain drain, etc. etc. etc.

    My simple question is are the reporters or editors behind the stories agents of Western government’s or are they themselves crazy Russophobes.

    Here’s what I think (I follow Russia a lot):

    Are Western agents: Miriam Elder, Luke Harding, Nikolaus Von Twickel, Simon Shuster

    Have a screw loose: Edward Lucas, David Satter, Michael Weiss (who I know personally growing up Queens, NY), Paul Goble, Jennifer Rubin, Ariel Cohen, Brian Whitmore, Robert Coalson, Leon Aron, Vladimir Socor and everyone at the Jamestown Foundation

    Russian Russophobes like Kasparov, Golts, and Nemtsov would be categorized differently. I guess people like Kasparov have a screw loose, people like Golts are either self-hating or doing it for the money, and people like Nemtsov are doing it so they can steal more from Russia than they did in the 90s. Of course, among the Russian opposition (not really opposition — they are supported by 2%, but you know what I mean), there are those who might be double-agents. I have my guesses about who’s who there.

    It’s interesting to wonder imho.

    • When I was still in Moscow, I knew a correspondent for a prominent Western newspaper. He was a nice fellow, and had genuine knowledge of Russia; yet his judgments and predictions about the country were way off. Early in 2009 he predicted to me that the Russian economy would collapse by the end of that year. He bought into the rumors about Putin’s hidden $40 billion without any skepticism. All his predictions about Russia were dire – he basically thought the country had no future.

      Yet he actually knew something about the place, spoke the language, had traveled all over it, and couldn’t be dismissed as an ignoramus or primitive Russia-hater. It’s people like him who puzzle me the most.

      • We,, Russian liberals are often intelligent, know Russia quite well, (obviously) speak the language and have traveled all overit. Many of them don’t hate Russia, but they have a very pessimistic view of Putin and of Russia’s future. Perhaps your friend was in their circles.

        • That should have been “well”, not “we,,” in the comment above. I am not a Russian liberal, alhough I am close to some of them.

    • Is there room in your analysis for legitimate criticism/deep unhappiness? I get the impression that you’re saying that people naturally support the conservative status quo there and if they speak up there must be something wrong with them.

      • Pat – Certainly there’s room for that. My impression (based on living in Russia for the last several years) is that people support the “conservative status quo” because their lives have gotten better in material terms, and because the collapse of Russia was stopped and partially reversed. That’s a lot to be grateful for, considering how bad things used to be. In short, nothing irrational about their support.

        That said, there remains a lot of criticism and indeed cynicism under the surface regarding persistent problems there. Nothing wrong with speaking up, but it should be based on reality, not rumors, prejudices, or lazy assumptions.

        • I hope the community here, including our generous host, are living up to the same standards they suggest of those who would criticise, rather than attempting to simply be a counterbalance to what they (rightly or wrongly) see as sloppy thining on the other side of however they define themselves. If, for example, AK can’t substantiate his recent claims on twitter that the justices who sentenced Berlusconi to prison for tax fraud, I would hope he’d withdraw that claim with an apology to the community; identifying some “bad guy” and trying to always take the opposite side of that is a pretty lousy way to think about these things, and I get the feeling that AK’s chosen ideal of offering contrarian analysis sometimes (not always; he’s sometimes insightful) strays into that territory.

          • Dear Pat.

            Anatoly will if he wants explain himself but I thought he was simply being funny.

            I would make one brief observation about your thoughtful comments. As I understand your criticism of Russian democracy is that power is over concentrated in its elite.

            Isn’t this however a criticism that can be made of many if not most countries that are considered democracies? As an American socialist I am sure you would agree with me that both the political class in Washington and the mainstream US media do not reflect the very great diversity of opinion that exists in the US. There has been a recent devastating analysis of the extent to which the political class in Britain has also become disconnected from the life of the country (Peter Oborne: the Rise of the Political Class). French people that I know tell me that the same is true in France whilst in Italy and Greece last year government changed was engineered externally by the EU when the Italian and Greek Prime Ministers, Berlusconi and Papandreou, balked at carrying out further EU dictated austerity, in Papandreou’s case without seeking democratic consent by way of a referendum?

            For the rest I don’t think Russian democracy is a “Potemkin village” but I do think it is a matter of concern that there is no obvious alternative to the present government. This is not because of any lack of criticism. On the contrary there is far too much criticism of the wrong sort. Unless you follow Russian political culture closely (which you will do if you continue to read this blog) it is impossible to imagine the sheer vituperative quality of much of what passes in Russia for political debate and criticism. Economic and social policies are rarely discussed a whilst the most monstrous allegations are freely and noisily banded about without the slightest effort at substantiation. Imagine for example a situation where the Republicans in the US made their main election slogan that the Democrats are the “the party of thieves and scoundrels” or where the Democrats publicly said that Bush carried out 9/11 and abused his office to amass a multi billion dollar fortune. In Russia the first was said of the government party United Russia in the 2011 parliamentary elections and the second is regularly said of Putin in relation to the 1999 Moscow apartment bombings and his supposed amassing of personal wealth.

            Needless to say what all this does is drown out real debate and discredit the people who say these sort of things, which is why most Russians don’t vote for them. This works to the advantage of the present government and prevents a viable alternative to it from emerging. The problem Russia has is not with its government, which since 2000 has been disciplined and intelligent, but with its opposition, which is neither.


            • A thoughtful comment. A note: although the post-2000 Russian government has been far more effective and better than the one that preceded it, I wouldn’t idolize the extent to which it has been disciplined and intelligent; there is still much horrible corruption.

              • Dear AP,

                Thank you and I take your point. Of course there is corruption and I am not idolising the Russian government. It would surely be more intelligent and more disciplined and more effective if it was faced by an intelligent and credible opposition. As it is, precisely because there is no such intelligent and credible opposition such debate about policy as takes place in Russia all too often happens within the government itself, which of course makes for indiscipline and incoherence.

            • Dear Alex,

              You can group Australia with the US and UK as a country in which political parties and mainstream news media are out of touch with the range of political opinions among the population. All major political parties in Australia (the Australian Labor Party, the Liberal Party / National Party coalition, the Green Party) are seen to be out of touch with people’s concerns over day-to-day issues like the cost of living, the decline in education and health services, privatisation of services that people believe should remain public (services such as water, electricity) and poor public transport provision; and with public opinion on sending troops to Afghanistan, the levels of refugee intake, and the extent to which the mining industry influences political and economic decision-making.

              Mainstream news reporting on commercial TV stations is limited to local news and sports reporting. Local news reports are limited to whatever happens in one’s immediate city or town. I live in New South Wales and if something unusual and newsworthy happens in other Australian states I need to read deep inside Sydney newspapers (as in the middle of The Daily Telegraph where few people venture after the headlines or the sports pages) or even British newspapers online to find out. Most Australians would be aghast to learn for example that male farmers and rural men have some of the highest suicide rates of any group in the country in spite of the huge publicity depression gets in the news here as a mental health issue and the romantic images most Australians tend to have of farming as a relaxing, stress-free occupation and farmers as stoic, hard-working and uncomplaining.

              I’ve heard the same emphasis on immediate local news reporting and lack of knowledge or interest in whatever goes on in other parts of one’s country let alone overseas exists also in the US.

              We get very little news about Russia and Russian politics and what comes is mainly filtered through British news services.

              • Dear Jennifer,

                I have actually got to know recently two Australians, one an academic historian and one a lawyer both of whom live in London. They have told me many of the same things that you tell me. I have never visited Australia and I admit that like many British people I had a perhaps overly rosy picture of the country (by which I do not of course mean that it is bad). Anyway they (and you) have put me right.

            • Maybe he was be, maybe not; it’s a dangerous habit to be in though, as it begins to represent the defense made by one of our senators, Jon Kyl, who made a deeply incorrect statement about a nonprofit in the US, and when fact-checkers called him out on it, his spokesman said that his claim was “not intended to be a factual statement”; in general, if it’s not obvious when your claims are sloppy and irresponsible versus “being funny”, you should probably not say it. Factuality is a pretty good standard to aspire to, and we don’t want to damage the standard by allowing people to slink away from their stupid claims.

              You’re right that our political class is not super representative of the American public at large, although that’s mostly because most Americans are relatively apolitical, and people affiliated with the smaller parties overestimate the degree to which their views are widely held because they associate mainly with subcultures with those views. It’d be great to have more widely developed views with more intelligence behind them, but we’d need more education for that to work. The standard I’m suggesting is at least moderate motion of roles between people who represent reasonable opposition on a range of issues between each other, and ideally not too much entanglement of media to politics. The US has that. Many western nations do. We can imagine better bars that they might meet, but those bars (which most of them have met) still have value.

              As far as I can tell, there is at least some truth to both of those claims you mention of Russia; state enterprises were sold off without adequate controls in great haste, and there is a worrying centralisation of power in the hands of a few; the political corruption that the late Soviet Union suffered continues in capitalist form. Nothing metaphorically akin to the 9/11 claim though. I would be shocked if Putin did not have immense personal wealth squirreled away somewhere, and if knowing him personally does not open doors to business opportunities. I would have a tough time substantiating these things though, and maybe that’s the problem; even if “everyone knows” and if it’s true, factchecking is important and circumstantial evidence is not good enough. I try not to depend too much on these things I believe to be true in discussions because I can’t prove them. The nature of great power is that it’s often invisible, but it’s hard to reliably distinguish that from it not being there.

              • Dear Pat,

                “…,most Americans are apolitical!.

                ….and so are most Russians. In any country the number of people who take an active interest in politics is small. For the rest there is a much greater diversity of parties representing a much wider range of opinions in Russia than there is in the US and frankly I think the same is true of the Russian press. What Russia does not have as I said before is anything remotely resembling a “reasonable opposition”. I don’t however see how that is the government’s fault. The Russian government comes in for a great deal of criticism, some of it merited but much of it not. If more criticism were addressed to the opposition it might achieve more.

                On the subject of Putin’s immense wealth, I researched the subject in detail about a year ago and came to the conclusion that it doesn’t exist. I don’t understand why that fact would shock you. Even an investigation headed by Boris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition politician intensely hostile to Putin, appears to have recently concluded that talk of Putin’s muti billion dollar private fortune is exaggerated whilst Stanislav Belkovsky, the Russian opposition politician who first aired the claims about Putin’s multi billion dollar fortune, has now broken with the opposition and appears no longer to be making these claims.

              • Unless Putin is “Mandrake the Magician” then there’s no hidden $40 billion dollar wealth. If he were that wealthy, he would literally be one of the ten richest individuals on the planet! How in hell can you hide THAT much wealth in this high-tech age without there being evidence somewhere? Did Putin dig a hole in the backyard of his home and chuck it all down there for safe-keeping? Forbes magazine could not find this imaginary wealth and they are notorious for finding this sort of thing if it exists. I think it’s another one of those lies that’s taken on a life of its own, because much of the oppositions propaganda was that he was enriching himself and stealing from the Russian people. If Putin does not have this hidden wealth—and this certainly appears to be the case, then that would cause their entire argument to collapse. This is why it prudent to never invest in rumors like this (especially coming from political opponents) without evidence.

              • @R.C.

                Al Jazeera did a piece on Putins hidden wealth using wikileaks documents and investigators in Russia.

  5. Journeyman pictures posted a documentary on Edward Lozansky during the USSR that actually looks pretty old from the early 90’s or 80’s.

  6. Frankly I think Russia’s own inaction when dealing with situations whether it be war in Chechnya, journalists killed, organised crime and corruption, state influence in media and politics, reliable energy supplier, human rights and the Litvenenko affair among other things and some of Putin’s bellicose statements towards the US is a big factor against any meaningful cooperation with Russia and the US.

    “Our Western friends seem to think that war is the key to saving their economy. When their constant thirst for war is what is partially wrong with their economy, the other part is they have outsourced almost their entire economy and industry out to foreign powers. They wish to sit like a Queen and rule the world and desire to live up on a pedestal from reality, Russia does not bow down and kiss the feet of anyone or country and certainly not to a country that sits knee deep in blood of children from Countries that can not defend themselves. So to answer your question, No Russia does not want to be like America, we are going to be like Russia.”

    ~ Vladimir Putin, 10/13/2012

    • I don’t see that statement as particularly bellicose; it is an attempt to whitewash, by pretending all criticism of Russia is about power (rather than ideals), but his comment about the interventionism of the west should inspire further discussion rather than dismissal; specifically we’d want to separate foreign intervention that’s self-serving from intervention that is not.

      And it’s at least a more intelligent (albeit not to the level required to really discuss the matters fully) statement than what we typically see from American politicians; a fair subset of Americans and their politicians have a “good guy vs bad guy” mentality, or a “friends vs enemies” one, and unfortunately see Russia as being an enemy because their worldview doesn’t work without an enemy. Small kudos to Putin for having a higher bar of political discourse, and it’d be nice if he’d take it the rest of the way to being fair and deep enough to be adequate.

      • It’s simple: There will not be any meanigful “cooperation” with Russia until Putin (or someone else) turns it into a client state. Besides, the US needs “enemies” to justify the obscene amounts of money it spends on their bloated military presently garrisoning (so tell me again WHY they need a missile shield around Russia?) up the planet, so Putin with his so-called “bellicose” (sounds to me like he plainly told the truth) statements serves as an excuse (one of many). The same program goes for Venezuela, Iran, Ecuador & any other country who believes it should have its own independence on the global stage. The words “cooperation” means “roll over and do not as we do, but what we tell you to do.” Putin has said in the past that he has no problem dealing with the US as long as it’s one of mutual respect— but they’re not interested in that. I’m an American and live around this “everyone must bow to us” mentality pimped daily throughout the media discourse in this country.

        • Dear John,

          Like Pat and I think RC I don’t see Putin’s comment as bellicose at all. Critical certainly but then why should the US be immune from criticism? It’s not as if the US doesn’t criticise Russia and Putin.

          For the rest I am not sure what you mean when you speak of Russia’s “inaction”? Russia defeated Chechen separatism. It faces a continuing and intractable jihadi terrorist threat in the northern Caucasus but is coping with it reasonably well. You can read thoroughly researched articles about it By G, Hahn on Russia other Points of View. We discussed the number of journalists killed in Russia earlier this year on this blog and the numbers outside the conflict zone in the northern Caucasus are in steep decline. Stories about Russian organised crime and the Russia mafia are fantastically exaggerated. Russia is a reliable energy supplier, the gas wars as is now generally admitted being the fault of the disastrous political culture in the Ukraine. Corruption is an intractable problem but one the Russian government takes very seriously. It has just carried out a major police reform and passed further legislation to combat it. Contrary to what is said there is a wide diversity of opinions in the Russian media – debate in the elections to the opposition Coordinating Council were carried by Drozhd TV. On human rights Russia is a signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights and is bound by and implements decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. By way of example the European Court of Human Rights only this month found that there had been certain procedural violations in the trial for murder of a Yukos official called Pichugin and awarded him 10,000 euros in compensation.

          What precise “action” do you suggest that Russia take on these questions which it is not already taking? I ask this question because your criticism is one I often hear made to the Russian government. It was on full display again at the recent Valdai Conference for example. All too often it is either made of problems which either do not exist (state control of the media, organised crime) or of problems which are very complex and intractable (corruption, jihadi terrorism) and where a simple and quick solution is not available. In relation to the latter it always seems to me that those who make this kind of criticism rarely provide precise, practical explanations of what they would do differently without which such criticism is unconstructive and cliched. To take just one example, what action do you think Russia should take to combat corruption which would solve the problem and which it is not taking?

          PS: I have not commented on Litvinenko because the case is currently being examined by the Coroner. However given that the Russian Constitution precludes Lugovoi’s and Kovtun’s extradition to Britain again what exactly is it that you propose Russia should do?

          • For the rest I am not sure what you mean when you speak of Russia’s “inaction”?

            I should have stated information offensive inaction where they have made zero effort on every conceivable level on issues regarding Russia and Russian aligned interests especially the Balkans that are all intertwined in post Soviet policy western policy towards and against Russia.

            We are not even given the most basic information like who is promoting and financing western journalistic pieces and information both inside and outside of Russia regarding Russia and their connections?

            What happened to the billions of dollars trafficked out of Russia during the 90’s that includes the YUKO’s/Mentep money laundering network and the western financial and other networks established in Russia during the 90’s especially in 96?

            Don’t even get me started on Chechnya.

            To take just one example, what action do you think Russia should take to combat corruption which would solve the problem and which it is not taking?

            They could start by eliminating a cultural of immunity that lets corruption flourish that if you are aligned with the state and United Russia political party than you are largely immune from prosecution.

            There is also the question as to how independent such bodies like the Russian court system and criminal investigative bodies are from Kremlin influence?

            “PS: I have not commented on Litvinenko because the case is currently being examined by the Coroner. However given that the Russian Constitution precludes Lugovoi’s and Kovtun’s extradition to Britain again what exactly is it that you propose Russia should do?

            It could start by acting like Columbo and start investigating and asking some basic question towards British authorities making it very public PR spectacle holding press conferences just like Berezovsky has done.

            Here are some basic points that Russia should be publically asking that I can think of, of the top of my head.

            -What were Litvenenkos activities prior to his death both travel and contacts as a confirmed MI6 agent including meeting former YUKO shareholder Nevzlin in Israel?

            -Where’s the CCTV footage?

            -Why did Litvenenko initially accuse Scaramelo of the poisoning and why and with what evidence was Lugavoi declared the main suspect?

            -Why were traces of Polonium 210 found in areas including Berezovskys office before the alleged poisoning meeting took place between Litvenenko and Lugavoi?

            This one I am not completely sure is true that’s why I will separate it from the rest.

            -Why did they wait 25 days from Litvenenko’s initial poisoning to contact British police and launch a criminal enquiry?

            In fact come to think of it is there even a coherent timeline of events including that of Berezovsky and co of how Litvenenko was alleged to have been poisoned?

            • Dear John,

              1. Information Offensive Inaction

              On this point we agree. The Russians remain wretched at aggressively arguing their case or rebutting false stories circulated about them. You are completely right for example that they have hardly even bothered to explain themselves over Chechnya. Over the last decade the emergence of RT has minimally improved the situation but the impact is miniscule since in my experience people who watch RT tend to do so not for its Russian coverage but for programmes like the Keiser Report or Assange’s interviews that barely touch on Russia at all.

              2. Impunity of persons connected to United Russia

              To be honest I feel that tyour answer here is something of a loaded answer since it assumes (1) corruption on the part of people connected to United Russia and (2) impunity for those people. With some reservations I am going to concede the first though I would say (1) that my personal contacts in the Russian business community make me doubt that corruption is anything like as pervasive as many suppose and (2) that one must be careful not to use unsubstantiated allegations of corruption as a vehicle for a political witch hunt in the way that Navalny for example has been doing.

              Anyway, I am less ready to concede the second. There have been people connected to United Russia who have lost their positions and/or who are being prosecuted for corruption. Only a few days ago a United Russia deputy was stripped of his parliamentary mandate because of his business interests. Perhaps the most notorious recent case of a prominent United Russia politician losing his position and facing prosecution for corruption is that of Yury Luzhkov and his wife. The trouble is that invariably when this happens it is reported not as a corruption case but in purely political terms as a political struggle which the person who has lost his position or is being prosecuted for corruption has lost and in which the prosecution for corruption is simply another political weapon.

              In my opinion this assumption of a political motive is at least in Russia nearly always unwarranted. The result of making it however is that when steps are taken to deal with corruption they are scarcely ever recognised as such. The Khodorkovsky and Luzhkov affairs are perhaps the outstanding examples of this. Another good example this time from China is the Bo Xilai affair. The western media and western China pundits take it for granted that Bo Xilai’s fell because he lost a power struggle with Wen Jiabao who, surely not coincidentally, is now also the target of corruption allegations in the New York Times. In fact I have no doubt that Bo Xilai fell for exactly the reason the Chinese authorities and the Chinese media say, which is that he tried to cover up for his wife who murdered a British businessman with whom she had become involved. This would be more than sufficient reason in any western country for the destruction of a prominent politician’s career. However because the Bo Xilai affair has happened in China it is reported and understood in a completely different way.

              3. Independence of the Russian judicial system

              Again I have to say that I think this is something of a loaded answer since it rather presupposes that the Russian judicial system is not independent. However do the Russian authorities prove it is independent if it is?

              As I said before Russia is a signatory of the European Convention of Human Rights which means that all Russian court judgments are theoretically subject to review by the European Court of Human Rights, which is not a Russian court or under Russian influence. Unlike in Britain there is no campaign in Russia to withdrawn from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. In its recent report the World Bank confirmed that Russian courts are as effective in enforcing contracts as courts in western Europe and that Russian taxes are administered in an effective and impartial way (better it seems than in the United States). At the recent Valdai forum a former Russian official who now teaches at the Higher School of Economics again said that the poor state of the Russian legal system is a deterrent to western investment in Russia. However the only case he felt able to cite was the Pussy Riot case, which is not a commercial case involving businesspeople and where as you probably know I believe and the emerging consensus amongst jurists now believes that justice was done.

              3. The Litvinenko Affair

              All the points you have made about the Litvinenko affair have in fact been made by the Russian authorities or by the Russian press. The Russian authorities took the unprecedented though entirely correct step of making available to the international press all the documentation the British authorities provided them in support of the request for Lugovoi’s extradition. This exposed how meagre the information provided by the British in support of their request for Lugovoi’s extradition was. Many of the points people today make about the Litvinenko affair arise from Russian publication of these documents.

              As for the Russian authorities “acting like Columbo”, a point often overlooked is that Russia did try to conduct its own investigation of the Litvinenko case but this ground to a halt when the British authorities withdrew all cooperation from Russian police and security agencies on the grounds that Russia had refused to extradite Lugovoi. This happened after Russian investigators informed the British of their wish to interview certain persons involved in the Litvinenko case who are resident in Britain. Apparently these include Berezovsky and Litvinenko’s widow. The Russian investigators would presumably have also wanted to interview Goldfarb but he is most of the time in the United States. Where I think the Russians are at fault is in not making this more widely known or in also making known suggestions they made to the British to break the impasse in the case, which I understand included a suggestion that Lugovoi and Kovtun be tried in Russia but in a court presided over by a British judge and observing British procedure and law. There are precedents for this but the British rejected the suggestion outright.

              • A quick note on Chechnya.

                6 British terror suspects have been extradited to the US to stand trial half of which have provided support for Chechen terrorists groups including Basayev and Khattabs webmaster Babar Ahmad who ran various recruitment and fund raising websites that included whose former field commander and correspondent Masood Al-Benin links to 20th hijacker Moussaoui lead to the pre-9/11 investigation into 9/11 that just the tip of the iceberg regarding Chechen links to 9/11.



                Do you think RT America or the Russian media will cover the trials?

                “The Russian authorities took the unprecedented though entirely correct step of making available to the international press all the documentation the British authorities provided them in support of the request for Lugovoi’s extradition.”

                Where are these documents? If they were made available to the public/press then surely copies would be available online?

              • Dear John,

                To answer your two questions briefly, I have no idea whether RT will cover the trials but of one thing I am sure and that is that the trials in so far as they concern Chechnya and Russia will receive minimal international attention whether RT covers them or not. .

                On the Litvinenko affair, when I said documents I was in error since there is apparently only one document. The entire extradition file that was sent by the British Foreign Office to Russia in support of the demand for Lugovoi’s extradition apparently just consists of a brief affidavit by an official of the Crown Prosecution Service that states that in her opinion there is sufficient evidence to charge Lugovoi for Litvinenko’s murder. The affidavit has as an attachment a report from a police officer that describes the so called “polonium trail”, which is basically a list of places where polonium traces were found, with an attempt to correlate them to Lugovoi’s known movements together apparently with a brief discussion of Litvinenko’s various publishing activities, which supposedly provide the motive for his killing. Notably absent are any statements from witnesses or the autopsy report. The British refused Russian requests for release of the autopsy report (it has not been released to this day) and rejected Russian requests to interview witnesses including the staff at the bar of the Millenium Hotel where the poisoning is supposed to have taken place.

                I don’t know whether this document has been published on the internet – there may be legal reasons why it cannot be – but the Russians have shown it to various journalists including notably one from the New York Post. The Russians also gave details to the same journalist and apparently to other journalists as well of some of the questions they put to the British, which appear to be the origin of some of the lines of enquiry you see mentioned and which you touch on in your earlier comment.

                The New York Post journalist wrote up the details of his visit to Moscow and the details of the document he saw in the extradition file in a lengthy article in the New York Post that appeared about a year ago, which I am sure you can find on the internet somewhere (I can’t be bothered to look for it). He also expounded in the same article on his own I thought rather farfetched theory that Litvinenko was involved in some sort of arms smuggling operation. As I remember it the fact that polonium was a material used in triggering devices for first generation atomic bombs featured heavily in this theory.

                Personally I have no fixed views about the Litvinenko affair. I think there is a case to be made against Lugovoi and Kovtun though I don’t think it is a particularly strong one. I also think that it is possible but far from proved that if Lugovoi and Kovtun did murder Litvinenko they were doing so on behalf of the Russian state. If that were to turn out to be the case I would not be particularly shocked or upset since it is what powerful governments always do. The US has recently passed a law permitting itself to murder US citizens abroad without trial if they are deemed to pose a threat to national security and in just the last few days the latest James Bond film has opened to enormous acclaim here in London celebrating the fictional feats of a British secret agent who is “licensed to kill”. In saying this I want to make it clear that I am not saying that Lugovoi and Kovtun or the FSB or the SVR or the GRU or whatever killed Litvinenko, merely that I would not be especially disturbed or horrified if they did though I would urge them to go about such assassinations in a less complicated and public way in the future.

  7. Back to irrational hostility – another Guardian editorial on Putin and Russia.

    I have not bothered to keep a count but I sort of get the feeling that the Guardian has published more editorials about Putin and Russia over the last 12 months than it has about Obama and the US even though this is a US Presidential election year. The only word for this single minded coverage is obsessive.

    As to the editorial itself all I would say is that behind all the fire and thunder one detects a grudging admission that the protest movement has fizzled out and that Putin is popular and secure in his post. On the subject of the editorial itself note the implicit admission (the first so far as I know that the Guardian has made) that Pussy Riot do not enjoy widespread support and that many (most?) Russians disapprove of them. If Ravzozzhaev was kidnapped in Kiev (as I believe he was)in order to bring him back to Moscow so that he can stand trial I would treat this as an act of what the French call raison d’etat which most states engage in and which given the nature of the charges and the evidence against Razvozzhaev I would consider acceptable. I say this though I consider the plot he was apparently involved in so ludicrous as to be frankly insane. I do not consider torture or threats to kill Razvozzhaev’s children remotely acceptanble – quite the contrary – in this or any circumstances but I would want to see much more evidence than there is at the moment that anything of that sort took place. If it did I would of course condemn it unequivocally.

    For the further record I do not see any sign of the supposed “crackdown” that is being talked about. There has been some slight tightening up of legislation in a manner I broadly welcome and a number of prosecutions have been brought based on what looks to me credible evidence of actual crimes but to call this a crackdown and to invoke the USSR in the way the editorial does is reckless hyperbole. The protest leaders meet without hindrance, conduct rallies (even if ever fewer people attend them), participate in elections though with complete lack of success (see Chirikova in Khimki – unmentioned in the editorial) and have apparently even conducted debates with each other on Drozhd TV. To see the tidying up steps as the editorial does as evidence of some great behind the scenes Soviet style Kremlin power struggle is beyond farfetched..

    • Dear Anatoly,

      As I am sure you know the Guardian has deleted your very mild and polite and reasonable response to this editorial. A British friend of mine to whom I had earlier read the comment was horrified and upset when she saw it had been deleted. She contrasted it with the licence given to some highly aggressive trolls who regularly post comments on Comment is Free and said she found deletion of your comment sinister.

      • “lengthy article in the New York Post that appeared about a year ago”

        I think you are actually referring to an article from the NY Sun (not the Post), by Edward Jay Epstein, which appeared around 2008 or so. This one perhaps?:

        • Thanks Scowpsi,

          This is indeed the article I was referring to though it is older than I remembered.

          As the article shows the journalist was given access by the Russians to the extradition file and there is no reason to think he has not described it accurately. On the contrary the information that has coming out of the inquest shows that he has described it entirely accurately. One does not have to accept the rather farfetched theory of a smuggling operation the journalist theorises and I don’t,

  8. therussiawatch says:

    Reblogged this on The Russia Watch and commented:
    Very much recommended.

  9. Saw this from a reblog, looked at a lot of your blog. Will definitely be back later, love your posts!