Archives for June 2013

Mark Adomanis: Do As US Officials Say, Or Else!…

Mark Adomanis thinks Russia should extradite – or at least expel – Edward Snowden because… get this, it’s current stance (i.e. leaving him in at Sheremetyevo Airport, an international territory) constitutes “trolling” of the US.

This is, to be quite frank, a rather strange argument. Would the US extradite a Russian Snowden? To even ask the question is to mockingly answer it. Said Russian whistleblower would not only be sheltered by any Western country, but awarded with all kinds of freedom medals and lecture tours. It is commonly expected for defectors from not entirely friendly powers to get sanctuary and both Russia and Western countries regularly practice this. If anybody is trolling anybody, it is the UK which gives refuge to Russians who are patent economic criminals so long as they bring some money and claims of political repression with them.

Furthermore, he believes (a faint and vague) promise of improved Russia-US relations is worth sabotaging Russia’s incipient reputation as a sanctuary for Western “dissidents” – a status that is extremely valuable in international PR terms. It is a lot harder to argue with a straight face that West – Russia disagreements are a standoff between democracy and autocracy when for every Russian political exile there is an Assange or a Snowden. But Adomanis would like Russia to forego this advantage and betray the trust of any future exiles or defectors just to please a gaggle of perennially anti-Russian blowhards in D.C.

This is not to mention the fact that many other countries are peeved off by Snowden’s revelations, so if anything it is the US that is internationally isolated in demanding his extradition. Even ordinary Americans are somewhat split on what to do about him, with 49% believing his leaks to be in the public interest and 38% against prosecuting him. The Chuck Schumers not to mention the McCains (does Adomanis seriously think that John “I Saw the Letters K-G-B in Putin’s Eyes” McCain would suddenly become well-disposed to Russia if it were to extradite Snowden?) do not even have the overwhelming support of their own constituents.

Adomanis’ argument ultimately boils down to “might is right”:

But a country like Russia, a country that is less than half as populous as the United States and which is much, much poorer, can’t afford to deal with the US as an equal because it isn’t. You can fulminate against that fact all you want, but in the world as it exists in mid 2013 Russia simply can’t afford to go all-in on confrontation with the United States because that is a confrontation it is guaranteed to lose. The Russians usually do a reasonable enough job of picking their battles, but they’ve suddenly decided to go 100% troll for no obvious reason. As should be clear, Russia doesn’t actually gain anything from helping Snowden,* all it does is expose itself to the full wrath and fury of every part of Washington officialdom. Unless you’re defending a national interest of the first order, exposing yourself to the full wrath and fury of Washington officialdom is a really stupid thing to do.

Here is what La Russophobe wrote in her interview with me, on another matter in which Russian and American interests (in her opinion) diverged:

Now please tell us: Russia has risked infuriating the world’s only superpower and biting the hand (Obama’s) that feeds it. … Are you suggesting that you believe Russian power is such that it can afford to act however it likes regardless of the way in which its actions may provoke the USA and NATO?

When you are starting to sound like La Russophobe, it’s probably a good time to stop and reconsider.

The answer to this objection – apart from the entirely reasonable one that kowtowing to the demands of a foreign power is a contemptible thing to do period – is that the Russia doesn’t need the US any more than the US needs Russia. And clumsily attempts to equate “need” with economic/military beans-counting (Adomanis: “Someone just commented on my blog saying “the West needs Russia as much as Russia needs the West.” Yeah, that’s definitely not true… The West, taken together, is so much more wealthy and powerful than Russia it’s actually kind of a joke… You can dislike the West as much as you want, but if you think Russia and the West are equally powerful then you are simply wrong… And if Russia creates policy based on the assumption that it’s equal to the West in power and influence it will fail catostrophically”) isn’t going to fool many people. Because, you know, the level of a country’s “need” for another isn’t a direct function of how much GDP and tanks it has relative to the other. And yes, while I am a realist, it’s a position tempered by the observation that today’s world is a wee bit more complex than it was in the days when the guy with the biggest club set the rules for everybody.

The US is of course a lot more wealthy and powerful than Russia. Nobody is arguing the reverse; it’s a strawman set up by Adomanis himself. What is however of some relevance is that the US has real need of Russia on some issues (e.g. Iran and nukes; transportation to Afghanistan) while Russian economic dependence on the US is actually very small (trade with the US accounts for something like 5% of its total). Both countries benefit from anti-terrorism cooperation. I think it is ridiculous to believe that US politicians will torpedo all that in a hissy fit over Snowden. I give them more credit than that.

UPDATE: Just recalled that Mark Adomanis works for Booz Allen Hamilton, the same consultancy that employed Snowden – and which happens to get 99% of its business from official DC. So it may well be that Adomanis’ opportunities for saying what he really thinks on the Snowden affair may be… rather limited. While I am not saying this necessarily influenced his articles – as regards this, we can only speculate – it would have probably been appropriate for him to mention this considering the obvious conflict of interest.

UPDATE 2: This article was translated by Inosmi.

Translation: Russia isn’t Germany – It has Nothing to Repent For

The German president has decided to teach Russia to fight with remnants of totalitarianism, and could not think of anything better than to call to repent. Original article by Alexander Romanov

German president allowed himself to teach Russians to fight “remnants of totalitarianism”

The German president  decided to teach Russia to fight with remnants of totalitarianism, and could not think of anything better than to call to repent. Although, in theory, one should not teach one’s grandmother to suck eggs as well as the loser should not teach the winner.

It happened during the 15th annual forum called “The Potsdam Meetings” which was held near Berlin. The event was organized by the German NGO “German-Russian Forum”. The main topic for this year’s meeting was “The influence of the past on the future.”

The two-day conference was attended by politicians, artists, scientists, civil society representatives from Russia and Germany. They discussed the following topics: “How history impacts national identity?”, “What are the major historical images that shape the consciousness of the Russians and the Germans?”, “The Future of the Past – the lessons of history.” The number of participants in such meetings is usually quite small – 15-20 intellectuals on both sides.

The highlight of the forum was the meeting with the German president Joachim Gauck in Bellevue palace, Deutsche Welle reports.

The participants were brought by bus from Potsdam to the Berlin residence much ahead of time. For an hour, they stamped in the foyer of the presidential administration, passing time by trying mineral water, juice, coffee and biscuits. Then they proceeded into the palace itself, and sat in semi-circle still waiting as the palace staff was removing extra furniture.

Appearing late by just six minutes Gauck, a former Lutheran pastor, now an active advocate of gay rights, immediately declared himself an expert on the issue and went on to a lengthy discourse on how and why Germany repented.

It was a long and painful process for Germans, he told. In West Germany, “after some delay arose a self-critical historical discourse.” At the same time, the president said, “the focus was not our own suffering and losses but on the guilt of our compatriots, their failure to save democracy, their cruelty.”

Well, this is not surprising: the suffering of German people make up only a tiny fraction of the suffering they have brought to other nations. In a different way to do it was simply impossible. What is there to discuss?

[Read more…]

Roundup of Russia Stuff

I’m writing this from an Internet café in Seattle, so I’ll be brief.

(1) Congratulations to SWSPires – the winner of the promised $25 Amazon gift certificate for participating in The Russia Debate during its first month! Incidentally, he was only the sixth member to be drawn by lot from the members pool; it’s just that the others had no posts (as of yet) to their names. And to be in the running, you needed to have made at least one post, in addition to registering.

(2) If you are a Russia expert (or just curious), please feel free to join the 2013 World Russia Forum in Washington DC this June 11th. It will be located at The Russian Cultural Center:

1825 Phelps Place Northwest
Washington, DC 20008

The theme for this year will be “the role of NGOs, Public Diplomacy, and Media in formulating the agenda for US – Russia political, educational and cultural cooperation.” That is, soft power, which we’ve discussed here of late. The Russian Spectrum ties in with this well and will be the main focus of my representation.

(3) Speaking of The Russian Spectrum – I’m on a “working holiday” of sorts, so I will not be doing any translations until I return on June 25.

I’m now quite happy with the site as it exists and functions, and I’m sure its “base” is now firm enough to support significant scaling up. That is not, however, within the capabilities of one person. It needs at least one more editor and regular contributors for it to start offering something resembling comprehensive coverage, from all slivers of the spectrum. And for that it needs financing.

That is going to be my priority orientation for the next weeks and months.

What’s Good for the Goose is Gaffed by the Gander

I will be going on a “working vacation” this Sunday, so I’m publishing my weekly contribution to VoR/US-Russia experts panel early:

Okay, let’s get one thing clear from the get go: The Russian law requiring NGOs to declare themselves “foreign agents” if they engage in political activities and receive financing from abroad, is not illegitimate. At least, not unless you also consider the US’ Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) – which does practically the same thing – to be also illegitimate.

Which is just fine, mind you! But only as a universal value judgment, and not as a tool to selectively beat Russia over the head with.

Or you can shrug it off as paranoia. But bear in mind that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to topple you. The color revolutions were in significant part funded from abroad, and there has recently appeared witness testimony (backed up by video footage) of Udaltsov, one of the most prominent leaders of the street opposition, receiving money from a Georgian politician. So there is a case to be made that a certain amount of paranoia is necessary to preserve Russia’s sovereign democracy.

As such, a foreign agents law is not a bad idea per se, at least assuming it is applied rigorously but fairly. That may be too much to expect of Russians, though.

Problem is that said paranoia, while healthy in modest doses, may end up impinging on the “democracy” part of sovereign democracy. While labeling a crane reserve as a foreign agent might be more farce than substance (if so then what would that make the “alpha crane,” that is, Putin? – as the Runet jibes go), the same cannot be said of the pressure applied to the Levada Center.

Foreign financing only accounts for 1.5-3% of its total, according to its director, Lev Gudkov. Furthermore, he argues, the political and sociological research that Levada does is not politics, period. Certainly that would appear to be the case in the US, where it is virtually impossible to imagine the Department of Justice going after PEW, Gallup, or Rasmussen if they happened to take a few contacts for foreigners.

So while the laws might be similar on paper, the Investigative Committee is taking a much, much wider interpretation of what falls under the rubric of politics. And I would say that this is not only unjust but ultimately, stupid.

Levada does not fudge its results. They typically fall in line exactly with those of FOM and VCIOM, the two state-owned pollsters – including on the most politically significant indicator, Putin’s approval rating, which was an entirely respectable 64% as of this May. And while Levada does have an undeniably anti-Putin editorial slant, this is arguably all the better – from the Kremlin’s perspective – since it makes it seem to be “independent” and hence reliable in the West. FOM and VCIOM, as state-owned entities, would never be able to muster the same degree of credibility no matter the integrity with which they conduct their surveys.

From the meaningless police confiscations of Nemtsov’s “white papers” (which are only ever read on the Internet) to the harassment that frightened the economist Sergey Guriev into exile in Paris, petty authoritarianism on the part of lower level police and investigators is one of the most reliable manufactories of the ammunition that the “anti-Russian lobby” in the West uses to take potshots at Putin.