Leonid Bershidsky, the Russian writer for Bloomberg, has another exasperatingly awful piece.
Revisionism, real-politik -- those don't even begin to describe this phenomenon of diminishing the danger of Vladimir Putin -- and at the same time denigrating any of his fierce -- and legitimate -- critics, and even sneering at them as hysterics. What is the term for doing this?
What is the motivation for these type of pieces? Usually, it's the author's own exasperated and irritated sense that there are "all these other people" who are war-mongers, neo-cons, hawks, etc. who "have it all wrong" about Russia and think Putin is a threat when he isn't. This kind of commentary is always styled as a push-back to some perceived "establishment" -- that in fact doesn't even exist because in fact all the liberal pundits are saying exactly the same thing with the most mindshare. I find in this setting, the presence of even a few articles with some traffic can make these cynics feel as if they are pressed around on all sides by these putative "hawks". Where are they?
It's not about Obama saying Putin should give up empire in order to fix his economy -- trying to bring into life his theory that economics explains everything about countries and people (Marxism) Or his notion that to exercise influence you just have to have economic sanctions (which aren't working to stop the war in Ukraine and haven't hurt Russia that terribly). Obama won't arm Ukraine even with defensive weapons; he won't do any air strikes on Saddam; I doubt he will do anything significant even to increase defense of Eastern Europe i.e. radar stations in Czech Republic (remember those?) None of this matters.
But still there's this silly idea Obama is the hawk of the world, kept in check by Merkel.
Today, Bershidsky is exasperated by this Politico poll of what US "policy wonks" think is the greatest threat facing Europe, which actually shows them caring about the threat from Putin the most -- because it means literal land invasion, which is literally happening to a country that was poised to be in an association with Europe -- Ukraine. That's why. Terrorism is terrible and concentrates the mind horribly but it doesn't resonate with the historical memory of Soviet invasions and Soviet occupations that people in Europe can still actually remember (Bershidsky doesn't, he's too young.)
I wonder what a similar poll of Europeans would show, but I can't help thinking that "Grexit" and "Brexit" would be "the worst." These "policy wonks" in the US might think Putin is the greatest threat because of literal take-over -- but that doesn't correlate with their actual advice to arm Ukraine or do anything that differently -- or we'd see much, much more of this from those actual wonks. We don't.
Bershidsky left Russia last year after the annexation of the Crimea and the start of the war on the Donbass. So you would think that he would "know better" than to diminish the danger of Putin or accommodate to it by in fact diminishing - except the key to understanding why he doesn't is in his exit letter:
I would love to not only see how future events unfold in Russia, but to play a part in them by helping to create a truly free press — the kind that, as in the U.S., would publish the revelations of men like former National Security Administration leaker Edward Snowden.
Now that work has ended for me. That is not to say I accomplished nothing. In fact, some of the media outlets that I had the opportunity to help create remain independent and refuse to compromise to this day.
But overall, my dreams were defeated. Now Russia's mainstream media ranges from the bulging-eyed hyperbole of pro-Kremlin television anchor Dmitry Kiselyov, to the intellectual "we're talking but nobody's watching" Dozhd television programs. That's about it. Those that fall somewhere in the middle are not only uninteresting, but bear no relationship to the media's primary function — namely, to protect the weak from the strong.
Worshipping Snowden as if he is some kind of privacy rights' hero and not a fugitive who deliberately chose to go first to China, then to Russia, with very specific plans to undermine US security in particular -- and never any tyranny's or terrorist group's -- that's the first marker. There are far too many people like this among the Russian intelligentsia that remains in Russia, which is why I personally have no illusions about the opposition succeeding very greatly.
See, this sums up the quintessential nastiness and cynicism of Bershidsky about the struggles of his native country's free media -- which matches the quintessential nastiness and cynicism of people like Kevin Rothrock who can make cracks about Navalny stealing lumber, ridicule Prof. Andrei Zubov, and yelp that Russia is vulnerable and falling apart to Ukrainians who complain about his aggression against Ukraine. This idea that 'we're talking and nobody's watching" is of course all wrong as everyone READS Dozhd particularly on Twitter even if they don't WATCH it because it's not easy to get it on cable. You can now pay for it with PayPal which should make it easier for people abroad. But the point there is a snotty one -- no one really pays attention to the free media so it's pointless. Of course they do, and even Bershidsky uses it constantly himself.
But there's also this over-idealism about free media and failure to appreciate that at least those "in the middle" accomplish more reporting of the news than in the Soviet era and more reporting of it honestly than the Kremlin would like. Either the media has to be not the media, but a political party organ and activist movement all in one that actually brings about regime change, or it doesn't count. Either it "protests the weak" -- which is something a democratic state with police under the rule of law should do, not media -- or it's a failure. This is essentially the tragedy of the left worldwide. I say this about Mike Massing, too, who is lamenting about how awful all the new digital media sites are (but for the wrong reasons, i.e. Vox is terrible for ideological reasons, not reporting reasons). What Mike needs is a comfortable leftist party and a competent house organ for that party, and he'd be happy with his "media."
Funny that Bershidsky cites Gazeta.ru, which is knocked as not as free as it once was, to make his point about Novorossiya's "death" -- although past Gazeta.ru exposes about the Kremlin officials who control the affairs of the DNR and LNR and other pro-Russian forces ought to have suggested the limits of what the closing of one "project" means.
So, ready to go back to Russia now, Leonid? It sounds like things aren't really so terrible there and we're all just exaggerating.
I never understand why you bring such snide RealPolitik and such a scathing sneer to the question of Russian analysis -- which in fact is quite probably called out by all those you hate here, whether the president of Estonia or US presidential candidate Bush. An Estonian intelligence agent was kidnapped at the border as he was pursuing an organized crime case and is still held in Russia; there have been dozens of incidents involving Russia's air force, ships and submarines buzzing near or encroaching EU territory. These are serious provocations and it's okay to call them out and arm against them.
Then, this terribly misleading characterization of Minsk -- "no territory". Um, really? Except, the Russian-backed separatists grabbed Debaltsevo, of course -- oh, I see you cleverly worded your article to say when Minsk "when into effect" as the parties were forced to grant the separatists a running jump start to first take Debaltsevo before the accords "went into effect." Of course, the Donetsk Airport was already taken by then. And 28 towns in total since November 2014 after Minsk 1 -- but you're not looking at the whole picture, only the slice of life you want to look at to make your accommodationist point here. Such bad faith.
Then there's the assassination of Boris Nemtsov on February 27, two weeks after the Minsk accords. That was the first murder of a former *Kremlin* official since the Stalin era; only a few other local officials were killed in the North Caucasus. And of course it's Kadyrov, the ruler of Chechnya that is being blamed for this murder, not Putin, although Kadyrov acts with Putin's consent and even encouragement as all his medals and testimonials show.
Novorossiya folded? You mean the fake joint parliament. Tanks still go to war with the Novorossiya flag, which is still on all the fighters' sleeves, along with the ideology and the cries of "For Novorossiya!" each time they fire artillery. But take the wished-for instead of the reality.
Pushed back at Marinka? But it's not over yet and they're still fighting.
What a curious meme, anyway, this "James Bond" stuff. Tyrants aren't James Bond figures; they're just tyrants. Putin not hasn't done anything to endanger his oligarchs' base; watch how the patience of the EU wears thin and its attention wanders, especially helped by influential articles like yours. And to what end? You actually want the Kremlin to have a grip over Eastern -- and Western Europe again?
For every claim you make there's a counterclaim and a hundred other points you aren't making -- the takeover of South Ossetia and Abkhazia finally -- they even fight in the Ukrainian war. Oh, and the backing of Syria -- that's not a world crisis?
The polls make sense because the other evils like economic crises and Islamic terrorism are challenging but not as much as a giant neighbor with nuclear arms next door. I don't know what it will take Leonid, I really don't.