The Atrocity Called Valdai
Russia has established a tradition of offering an all-expenses-paid luxury trip to the Kremlin for a pack of foriegn Russia-watchers so that they can hobnob with the nation’s highest official, feel like bigshots “in the know” and learn the “truth” about Russia. So naturally this year, the crowd at the “Valdai Discussion Club” (which we’ve previously exposed for the nasty little Potemkin village of collaborators that it is — and very rarely to its participants dislose the extent of financial benefits they received when they write about their experiences) hung out with Vladimir Putin at his palacial compound in the resort town of Sochi.
What’s that, you say? Putin isn’t Russia’s highest official? That “honor” belongs to Dmitri Medvedev, the man who didn’t attend the Olympic games this year in Beijing, either? The Valdai Club didn’t spend any time with the prime minister last year or the year before?
Welcome to neo-Soviet reality, dear friend.
It was Putin, not Medvedev, who first met the charming little “club” and who gorged them on only the freshest lobsters as he filled their skulls with his malignant propaganda, including the need to confirm Medvedev actually ruled the country. Nobody asked where Medvedev was, that would have been rude, and nobody asked whether lobsters constituted Russian food or not (most Russians have never even seen a picture of lobster much less eaten one).
When asked about Russian behavior in Georgia, condemned across the globe, by a Valdai participant, Putin responded: “Your question doesn’t surprise me. I’m surprised by quite another thing – how powerful the propaganda machine of the West actually is. It is stunning, astonishing.” In other words, only Vladimir Putin knows the actual truth about Georgia, everybody else in the whole world is wrong. Putin himself never engages in any form of propaganda and could not possibly be victimized by it. The fact that Russia has no major independent media, no opposition politics and no local government is irrelevant, it does not impede the flow of accurate information to the Kremlin in any way.
It’s yet another hard knock for Putin that the Valdai conference did not roll around this year until the world had already got fully wise to his barbaric conduct in Georgia. No matter what the Valdai sycophants might write now, that genie is already out of the bottle and Putin can’t stuff him back in no matter how feverishly he tries, as the interview we report on below of Putin by CNN makes clear. Good luck looking for a transcript of such tough questions coming from the Valdai exchange. After all, of course, it’s hard to talk when your mouth is full of expensive lobster.
If we review the comments Putin made to the Valdai group, the impression is deeply disturbing. He speaks to them as if he were talking to his own team. Is he?
The Moscow Times account of Putin’s exchange with the Valdai participants notes how Putin continued his pattern of talking like a common criminal when he feels comfortable. He asked: “In this situation were we supposed to just wipe away the bloody snot and hang our heads?” Of course, this isn’t definitive proof of Putin’s attitude, since as we reported on Monday Russia’s foreign minister had no problem using even more crudely vulgar language when speaking to his British counterpart in diplomatic dialogue. But there is much more evidence of just how comfty Pooty was talking to the Valdai crowd.
In a frighteningly unhinged manner, Putin declared: “Our American partners were engaged in training the Georgian armed forces and sent huge [financial] resources there. Instead of seeking of a solution to the interethnic conflicts, in my view, the Georgian side was simply pushed into aggressive action.” Was Putin really so sure the Valdai participants wouldn’t ask whether Russia might have given huge financial resources to Ossetia, encouraging them to pursue aggresive action? Apparently, he was.
Then Putin really started talking crazy. He stated: “I was in Beijing, I watched all the international electronic media. There was a total silence, as if nothing was happening at all. It was a remarkable job, but the results were bad, and will always be bad because such work is unfair and immoral.” Is Putin really asking the Valdai participants to believe that you can watch unfiltered American news media broadcasts in Beijing? Is he aware that two major American newspapers published defenses of his policy from Mikhail Gorbachev, while a third published Sergei Lavrov? Is he really so sure that the Valdai participants won’t ask him to give an example of the Russian press doing something similar, publishing for instance Condi Rice or Bill Clinton calling Russia to task for aggression? If you are not disturbed by Putin’s assumptions about the Valdai group, you should be.
At least the Moscow Times is not fooled, even if the Valdai paricipants are oblvious. The might little paper reports:
Putin’s description of the initial phase of the conflict, however, contradicted the account a Russian officer who fought in South Ossetia gave last week to the Defense Ministry’s official newspaper, Krasnaya Zvezda. Putin said Thursday that a tiny contingent of Russian peacekeepers fought Georgian troops for two days before Russian troops made it to the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali. The officer told Krasnaya Zvezda, however, that his regiment was dispatched from the Russian-Georgian border to Tskhinvali on the evening of Aug. 7 and was fighting Georgian forces the following morning.
Putin then began speaking as if he felt totally at home, and was speaking to his sycophants in the Duma or even the Kremlin itself. Why is he so comfortable in this crowd? Because they’ve been bought and paid for? He ”justified Russia’s occupation of Georgian territory following the conflict, comparing it to the march on Berlin by Allied forces in World War II” and stated: “They could have just fought until they reached [the German] borders, but they didn’t stop. The aggressor had to be punished.” So he admitted, in other words, that Russia’s move into Georgia proper was not based on tactical or strategic considerations. IT WAS PUNISHMENT!
The MT notes: “Part of Putin’s meeting with the Valdai club members was off-limits for the press.” What could he possibly be afraid of? If the stuff in front of the press was as bad as all that is described above, can you imagine what goes on behind closed doors?
The MT quotes Ariel Cohen, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, as praising Putin for “being in a great shape as usual” as well as for “not escalating rhetoric” vis-a-vis the United States. Yup, that’s the lobster talking.
After Putin was done with the group, he sent them to Moscow to finally have a few words with Medvedev. He told them: “I don’t want a militarised country sheltering behind an iron curtain. I lived in such a country. and it was uninteresting and tedious.” So it was boring. Not terrifying. Not evil. Nothing really bad, mind you, but it was boring, so he doesn’t want to do it again. He stated: “For Russia, the eighth of August 2008 is almost like the 11th of September 2001 for the United States of America. That comparison has now come to be activity used.” So he thinks the president of Georiga is similar to Osama bin Laden. Less than 200 civilians were killed in Ossetia by Georgian forces. More than 2,000 perished in the collapse of the Twin Towers. He asserted: “‘We should not take any unilateral steps. It is not acceptable to opt for a military scenario. It would be dangerous.” But Russia did take military action unilaterally! Not one nation on the planet approved Russia’s attack on Georgia.
Here’s what journeyman Russia bogger David McDuff has to say about Valdai:
I was born in 1945. Two books I grew up with were William Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960) and Berlin Diary (1941), which gives an account of Shirer’s work as a foreign correspondent in Germany during the 1930s. For me, the similarities between the accounts of the Valdai meeting and the 1930s Berlin propaganda ministry press conferences described by Shirer in his books , while not exactly parallel, are too obvious to ignore. The behaviour of some sections of the British press also looks similar: although the Daily Mail was the only British newspaper to give open support to the Nazi government during the 1930s, other British publications (including the Daily Telegraph and the Times) adopted an editorial line that conflicted quite strongly with the reports of their own journalists, who could see what was actually happening on the ground. The principal danger comes not from censored reporting – there is little of that – but from events like the Valdai meeting, which the Russian authorities have devised as a way of influencing international opinion. Reports of what is said and heard at such meetings need to be read with some caution, as through them, either deliberately or by accident, the voice of the Orwellian Kremlin world-view, with its “peacekeepers” and “security zones”, can also be heard – as Orwell himself wrote in 1945: “the kind of world-view, the kind of beliefs, and the social structure that would probably prevail in a State which was at once unconquerable and in a permanent state of ‘cold war’ with its neighbours.”
Chilling words, for a chilling moment in history.