Thursday, November 02, 2006

Sticking it up Vladimir the Impaler

This is an article by N.Petro published at Asian Times Online.

Sticking it up Vladimir the Impaler
By Nicolai N Petro

Among Russian President Vladimir Putin's many sins, surely the most outrageous is that he dares to compare Russia to the West. He has clearly forgotten Russia's proper role in our Narrative of Western Civilization: to serve as a poignant example of all the sins that we never commit. Putin has the temerity to suggest that Russia and the West face similar problems, and the gall to think that the West could even learn a thing or two from Russia.

Quite understandably the US media have responded to such insolence with a collective "ecrasez l'infame!" After the Group of Eight summit on July 19, the venerable Times of London politely told Putin that we Westerners didn't appreciate his wisecracks about the scandals surrounding Lord Levy (Prime Minister Tony Blair's chief fundraiser, dubbed "Lord Cashpoint") or democracy in Iraq. "A little more grace, and less hubris," if you please, wrote The Times.

Hear, hear! The last thing any of us needs is to hear about corruption, criminality, and violence in our own countries. Why, the next thing you know Putin will discover racism in some benighted corner of our enlightened lands and start quoting Samuel Johnson at Americans: "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes?"

The Times editorial quite properly pointed out that, as host at the G8, it was quite ungracious of Putin to give voice to such piffle. As every civilized person knows, the mark of true gentility is to attack your guest at a private dinner in his honor, as the president of the European Parliament, Josep Borrell, did at recent the EU-Russia summit in Lahti, Finland.

According the Italian daily La Stampa, Borrell introduced his guest by sarcastically remarking that "we should be thanking Putin for closing the pipelines to Ukraine last January, which has brought us here to talk about energy". From there he spoke movingly of his concern for human rights, non-governmental organizations and the free press (only in Russia, of course). "We buy oil from the worst countries," he added sadly, "but we don't ask them to share our values."

What subtlety! What grace! What a coincidence that his remarks at an event closed to the press were leaked in time for the morning editions.

Putin, though, has still not learned to sit quietly and bow his head in shame. First, he slyly admitted that he too was concerned about crime, but then added that surely Russia wasn't the only country that had such problems. What about the recent criminal indictments of several Spanish mayors, and oh, by the way, "The mafia was not born in Russia."

One could have heard a fork drop on the fine linen tablecloth. The 25 European Union leaders who had gathered to gang up on the Russian president that evening could scarcely believe their ears. Once again Putin had violated one of the cardinal principles of our relations with Russia by comparing his problems to ours.

The danger in such behavior should be apparent to all. If Russia's problems are seen as in any sense comparable to our own, then it can no longer be excluded from Western institutions on the basis of its cultural incompatibility, and what else is really left?

Militarily, as everyone knows, Russia is but a shadow of the former Soviet Union. It poses so little threat that when Georgia seized four Russian military officers, the Russian parliament responded by speeding up the withdrawal of its remaining forces. Georgian Minister of Defense Irakli Okruashvili now regularly dares Russia to try to invade his country.

Economically Russia has done better, but its foreign investments overseas still put it on a par with Malaysia. As an energy provider, Russia supplies Europe with about a quarter of its natural gas, but this is two-thirds of Russia's gas exports, so that actually Russia is far more dependent on its European consumers than they are on it.

Putin's wily retorts pose a real and present danger to the West, however, precisely because they erode the sharp distinction between Western and Russian identity, between Western and Russian values, that are needed to safeguard Western Unity.

If this distinction disappears, pray tell, how will we be able to sustain our fear of Russia? If Russia's domestic debates are likened to our own, or if the Western press should begin reporting about all the areas of cultural, economic and political similarities that already exist between Russia and the West, I ask you, how will we preserve a proper sense of Russia's fundamental alienness?

Will we still be able to distinguish clearly between the perfectly tolerable levels of corruption, intolerance, and violence in the West and the totally intolerable levels of the same in Russia? In Russia's reflection, might not our own domestic and foreign policies soon begin appear less than ideal?

This is a very slippery slope. Ultimately, such thinking could lead to questions about whether "Western values" are truly the best for all nations at all times. The faint-hearted among us might even be drawn to consider the possibility of cross-cultural dialogue about the meaning and political usefulness of such terms as "democracy" and "human rights".

Down this treacherous path one can envisage multilateral initiatives, based on more culturally inclusive definitions of democracy, taking the place of the tried and true strategies of "regime change" and "democratic-values education" promoted by the administration of US President George W Bush. Perish the thought!

That is why it is of such vital importance that Putin's uppity attitude be firmly swatted down at every opportunity and why I, for one, applaud the Western media for their diligence in this regard. The alternatives are simply too awful to contemplate.

Nicolai N Petro served as the US State Department's special assistant for policy on the Soviet Union under president George H W Bush, and now teaches international politics at the University of Rhode Island.


Anonymous said...

Good article, but a little overly sarcastic in stating the obvious.

The whole point of media making a huge deal of other countries problems, is to take attention of your own. This is done by both Russian and Western media.

W. Shedd said...

I actually bookmarked this article myself today, had planned on writing about it. Very sarcastic tone, but good finish and has several good points.

Anonymous said...

It's very comforting to see that you seem to agree that both Russia's military and economy, as Petro rightly says, are total shams. Thus, the West has nothing to fear if it concludes that Russia is a potential threat (like Nazi Germany when Hitler had just come to power, and Germany was a shadow of its former self, weak and helpless); it can act to obliterate that threat. If we've now moved on to just debating the question of whether Russia is friendly or unfriendly to the West, that's the easy part. We just take note that Russia has provided huge quanties of weapons to Venezuela and Hezbollah, financial support to Castro's Cuba and Palestine's Hamas, and nuclear technology, missiles and dipolomatic cover to Iran. We see that Russia has done everything it possibly could do to show its contempt for the West, and we see the obvious conclusion that we shouldn't wait, as we did with Nazi Germany, until it can do even more.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Slavophuck. How comes that these slavic tribes have the right to have their point of view and who the phuck has allowed them to open their stinky mouthes?
Bomb these untermenchen bastards to stone ages! The great Western civilization should rule the world!
Long Live Holy Inquisition! Lets start the new Crusade! Lets make a reality of the GrandPlan "Ost"!

Anonymous said...

This is indeed an excellent article, full of verve. Voltaire could have written it!
Thanks again to Konstantin,...
and to our local dummy for playing *her* part oh so perfectly!

Seoman said...

Good article, Puttin, another crazy with too much power in his hands.
Beautifull blog, visit me please

Guy Barry said...

At least Putin is a commie who knows the value of his assetsand uses them as leverage,no?

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