Sunday, January 29, 2006

Snarling Winnie-the-Pooh

An experienced Soviet propaganda journalist had to go through a five-year university course as he needed extraordinary skills in order to have his articles published in Pravda. The most common requisition on “analyzing” international affairs was – (1) take facts about any event in the world, (2) consider conclusions that should always be like, “West is evil and is moving towards its collapse” and (3) construct any number of arguments to prove beyond doubt the inseparable link between (1) and (2). Anthony Robinson from “Prospect-Magazine” is doing the same. Only his task is to link (1) any facts on Russian politics and (2) Russia is evil and Putin is a war-mongering dictator. Here Mr. Robinson’s latest “commentariy” with the catchy head “Gazprom and the Snarling Bear”.

Whichever way you look at it, this was not just the action of a big gas company seeking to maximise profits – it was the Kremlin flexing its political muscles. Not quite the same, perhaps, as Khruschev rattling his nuclear rockets in Cuba, but a recognisable move from the same thuggish political repertoire.

Look at it straight. Market prices for gas means making Ukrainian politics independent from Russia. Low prices means flexing political muscles and keeping Ukraine dependent. Extra billion dollars revenue for Gazprom means economy. Giving away billions of dollars of a public coroporation to subsidize other countries means politics at the cost of shareholders. Not the other way round.

John Kennedy rattling his nuclear rockets in Turkey is conveniently dropped from analysis although it was Kennedy who first moved American nuclear missiles as close to the Soviet borders as possible.

This low price is part of the hidden cost of Moscow’s political support for central Asia’s authoritarian regimes and for allowing millions of "gastarbeiter" – mainly Uzbeks—to work on Russian construction sites, farms and factories. They send back remittances which keep their families alive and help dictators like Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov and Turkmenistan’s Saparmurat Niyazov remain in power.

This part is disgustingly cynical. First, there are millions of Ukrainians and Georgian “gasarbeiter” working in Russia who send back remittances to their families. Does it mean that Putin helps “democratic” leaders of Ukraine and Georgia. Second, the perverse logic suggests that if Putin doesn’t want to help dictators he should let Uzbek workers and their families starve to death.

Gazprom’s compromise with Ukraine came at the expense of central Asia, whose gas can only reach western Europe through Gazprom’s Russian pipelines. While Russia is no longer subsidising Ukraine, the Turkmens and Kazakhs are.

Hold on, Anthony! Do you mean now that Ukrainian democratic government is helping dictators like Turkmenistan’s Saparmurat Niyazov remain in power as you stated in the previous passage? Shouldn’t the civilized world punish Yushchenko for his support of dictators? Should we condemn Saakashvili the Georgian for buying natural gas from Iran?

For all Boris Yeltsin's faults, his presidency saw the rebirth of civil society institutions and attitudes. These green shoots have now been covered back up with snow.

The most memorable green shoots of Yeltsin’s democracy were shelling the Russian parliament with tanks (hundreds of innocent people died) and shamelessly rigging elections of 1996.
Pravda analysts are lamers in comparison with Anthony. “For all faults of the Latvian Communist Party, its rule in 1945-1991 saw the rebirth of people’s power, true freedom and socialist democracy.”

It is hard to remember that only a year ago Putin appeared to have been knocked off course by the orange revolution in Ukraine, a pensioners' revolt at home and the emergence of a potential challenger in Mikhail Kasyanov, the former prime minister.

Mikhail Kasyanov – known to Russians as “Misha 2%” – is a potential challenger of Putin? Then Bobby Fisher is definitely the most dangerous challenger of George Bush. Knocked off course? By Orange revolution? By pensioner’s revolt? Tovarisch Robinson – you get only “C” for your propaganda class. Make your arguments look more probable.

and surveys show that it has increased dramatically since the Kremlin undermined the trend towards greater transparency and rule of law by its targeting of Khodorkovsky.

This is an outright lie. Although corruption in Russia is still unacceptably high it definitely decreased since thugs like Khodorkovsky could steal major energy corporations from the state, since he could buy entire parties and their votes, since he could pay as much taxes as he wished, since he could threaten Germann Gref, “You pass the energy bill the way I want or you’re destroyed”.

Recent events indicate that this is the way things are going. But two years is a long time in politics – especially in a country where even the past is so difficult to predict.

Yeah! Anthony Robinson has no problems predicting the past in the UK. Especially when it comes to finding WMD in Iraq.

I wonder, does Mr. Robinson understands that “analysts” like him are responsible for the fact that the majority of Russians treat Western “free thinking” as just another word for Soviet propaganda?


Anonymous said...

Excellent! Living in USA, which is becoming a pit of lies - it's so refreshing to breathe in a bit of truth. Keep up the good work.

Jonathan Diaz said...

Despite Im sure that Russia will use its natural resouces as weapon of blackmail. The gas's war between russian x ukraine is fair (pro russia) once that there's a price to be paid for all, but you make a speacial price for your ally that now isnt your ally anymore, nothing more natutal than make the market price for him. Exactly as Washington and Western countries do, but arent reported by the press

SeBe said...

"Misha 2%" is just a project of Marat Guelman, isn't it? Maybe, just 2% of Russians heard about it. =)

Anthony Robinson, is a great lier, of course.

Tim Newman said...

I wonder, does Mr. Robinson understands that “analysts” like him are responsible for the fact that the majority of Russians treat Western “free thinking” as just another word for Soviet propaganda?

Whilst not wishing to defend Mr Robinson, I get the impression that the majority of Russians will always dismiss any Western thinking as propaganda. I have told several Russians that I am reading a history book, say by J.L. Gaddis, only for them to firstly enquire if he is Russian before dismissing it as being biassed against Russia. Whilst it is true that most non-Russians struggle to understand Russian affairs, it is equally true that most Russians have little grasp on non-Russian affairs and sometimes - like a goldfish in a bowl - struggle to see the picture of Russia from an outsider's perspective.

Tim Newman said...

Although corruption in Russia is still unacceptably high it definitely decreased since thugs like Khodorkovsky could steal major energy corporations from the state, since he could buy entire parties and their votes...

Similarly with the Gazprom row, it wasn't the fact that Khodorkovsky was prosecuted per se that has attracted criticism, but why he was singled out. The view from the West, rightly or wrongly, is that Khodorkovsky got involved in politics and challenged Putin, and was punished acordingly. Western observers have asked why it was Khodorkovsky that was punished, and not any of the many others (Roman Abramovich, for example) who also helped themselves to state energy assets. On this issue, Russia has remained silent. This is of course their perogative, and they do not need to justify themselves to anyone. But if they are looking to improve their image as a country which operates via rule of law and that Putin does not instiate criminal proceedings against those who challenge him, then they have set their case back several years by handling Khodorkovsky in the way they did.

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