Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Honing in on Putophobia (Sept 13)

Though it may not make any sense to continue dissecting the US media’s take on Vladimir Putin, one is driven by indignation and amazement.
The panic in the US over the Russian President has reached such a pitch that September 11th’s Sunday Times devoted both an oped and a lengthy front-page story to the ‘former KGB officer’ (as if one of our most respected presidents, George Walker Bush, had not been head of the CIA!).
Dispatching the Oped first, it falls back apologetically on a brief history of American attitudes toward the Soviet Union and Russia, claiming that our present confusion is justified because “neither the US nor Russia knows what kind of power ‘it’ intends to be.  Painting an adversary as a mystery goes back a long way with Russia, and is now the default mode, and as for finding out what kind of power Russia wants to be it’s called ‘a multi-polar world’ and has been described over and over by Vladimir Putin.
Still leaning on the historical crutch, Ross Douthat claims that under George W Bush, the US became a ‘revolutionary’ power, preaching liberalism (!), while Putin now seeks to ‘destabilize’ the Western order, including through tacit support for Donald Trump.’
Conjuring up a word with sinister connotations, Douthat refers to the Russian annexation of Crimea (ignoring the overwhelming popular vote) as an ‘Anschluss’, and a ‘shadow war against (unidentified) neighbors’..  Compounding his show of ignorance, he suggests that if China is in the long run the bigger threat, the US should try to adopt ‘wary cooperation’ with Russia.  Apparently, Douthat has not heard that China and Russia are ever closer military and economic partners…. 
On now to the front page article: occupying half an inside page it shows this writer’s ignorance in the second paragraph, where he fails to identify the para-Olympian who raised the Russian flag as a Belo-Russian, referring to him misleadingly as ‘a pro-Putin athlete’ (Bela Rus is a Russian ally, but it’s verboten to divulge that Russia has allies.)
In the third paragraph, Putin is referred to snidely as ‘caring father of his people’: Indeed, a video currently available on the web from his first year (2000) as president shows him announcing an important social program, whose progress is plotted in speeches and interviews ever since. The writer, Andrew Higgens, goes on to say that Putin “projects an image of towering strength”, although he is below average height. This impression is confirmed in the recent photo of Putin and Obama shaking hands at the G20, Obama much taller, but leaning forward in what a Russian journalist called an ingratiating attitude, while Putin calmly stands his ground looking him in the eye. In a ridiculous quote, the famous chess master Gary Kasparov says: “Putin is a strong leader in the same way that arsenic is a strong drink”(sic)…”Praising a brutal KGB dictator, whether you like Obama or hate him is despicable and dangerous.” (That KGB reference again…)
The next paragraph grudgingly admits Putin’s domestic support, (suggesting there must be something wrong with the Russian people), and among international leaders “scattered” across Europe (always that belittling choice of words), going on to specify inaccurately that these are all right-wing politicians like Trump. (Apparently Higgens has never heard of the ‘new (European) right’ which has little in common with America’s ‘Alt right’.)
Surprisingly, the Times longer doctors the facts about Crimea, stating that the Russian President ‘annexed’ it (without pretending he invaded it), but without signaling the largely Russian population’s 80-plus percent support for this in an internationally monitored referendum, or mentioning that in the nineties, the Kosovars were permitted to leave Serbia via a similar referendum.
According to the Times, Mr Putin “stirred up and armed a pro-Russian rebellion in eastern Ukraine”, failing to mention that a US-backed coup had brought neo-Nazis to power in Kiev. This brings us to the crux of America’s ‘Russian Problem’, title of fore-mentioned oped: Utter lack of knowledge of Russian history, that facilitates biased reporting. When will the Times’ readers be told that Russia lost 26 million in the war against Nazi Germany to the US’s 400 thousand?  American history books fail to acknowledge the greater role played by Russia in defeating Hitler, however, a recent French historian points out that Europeans knew it at the time, but have had their memories blurred by a Western-oriented media.)
Higgens grudgingly acknowledges Russia’s commonality of interests with the US in terms of destroying ISIS, while failing to signal how long it has taken the US to agree, going on to state in a non-sequitur that Putin has “often faltered” in terms of keeping the promises he made before being elected in 2000. Accurately reporting that many of the oligarchs he promised to rid the country of had been ‘driven into exile’ or ‘cut down to size’, Higgens fails to identify one of the most crucial differences between the Russian and American presidents, namely, Putin’s ability to tell his oligarchs that they can continue their business activities as long as they refrain from meddling in politics!  The Times’ version: “They do not dare challenge the Kremlin” makes it sound sinister instead of being a loyal warning. The US president can’t even dream of imposing a similar rule, and that’s why he  has lost the world popularity contest to Putin.
Never mentioning the annual International Economic Forum held in St Petersburg - Russia’s historical showcase - Higgens says Russia’s economy is stuck in the doldrums, having failed to diversify (one wonders why all those international businessmen come to the forum, one of many international gatherings hosted by Putin each year). Simplistically, an ‘economy on the ropes’ forces Putin to ‘turn toward international affairs’ to maintain his rating.  Seeming to disparage “patriotic fervor”, Higgens warns that Russia’s claim to be an indispensable (where have I heard that word before?) player on the world stage have made world leaders ‘deeply wary’. He accuses Putin of having ‘inserted’ (another negative word) Russia not only into Syria but into that ‘even more intractable Israel-Palestinian conflict, describing Russian diplomats as “working frantically” (sic) to organize a meeting in Moscow between Bibi and Abbas.
Intent on echoing President Obama’s description of Russia as a ‘regional power’ by President Obama, Higgens accuses it of exercising its power ‘beyond the narrow (sic) confines of the former Soviet Union”, as if Russia were not the largest country in the world, covering nine time zones, with 14 neighbors!
Higgins mentions a Russian journalist who is “effectively barred from publishing in Russia” having to live ‘mostly’ in France.  In the ultimate put-down (perhaps the one clever idea), she “granted Putin an indisputable asset that appalls Moscow intellectuals but delights Donald Trump: “People elected him,” in a comment similar to Hillary Clinton describing Trump voters as a ‘basket of deplorables’. 
In what must be the own goal of the year, the article concludes on a diagnosis of America’s Russia problem: “Mr Putin’s popularity..has made him a seductive figure for Western politicians and electors, who often pine for decisive action and a more secure world, free from the uncertainties created by immigration, insecurity and economic globalization.”


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