Psycho Russia, Qu’est-ce que c’est?
There is no imaginable excuse for Russia’s invasion of Georgia. After pounding both civilian and military targets with strategic bombers and missiles, Russian armored vehicles rolled into Georgia on Monday, raising fears of an all-out assault on the capital and Mr. Saakashvili’s democratically elected government. Moscow claims it is merely defending the rights of ethnic minorities in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which have been trying to break from Georgia since the early 1990s. But its ambitions go far beyond that. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (who has shouldered aside Russia’s new president, Dmitri Medvedev, to run the war) appears determined to reimpose by force and intimidation as much of the old Soviet sphere of influence as he can get away with. The United States and Europe also need to take a hard look at their relationship with Russia going forward. Neither has protested loudly or persuasively enough as Mr. Putin has used Russia’s oil and gas wealth to blackmail its neighbors, throttled Russia’s free press and harassed and imprisoned opponents. There can be no business as usual until Russian troops are out of Georgia, fighting has ended and all sides have agreed on a plan for calming the tensions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. At a minimum, that means international mediation, more autonomy for both regions and the stationing of truly neutral international peacekeepers — not Russian troops.
— Editorial, New York Times, August 12th
Yet another major American newspaper has weighed in against Russia, showing the utter failure of the Putin administration in the eyes of the entire world, but there is both great truth and great irony in the words of the New York Times. Every word the paper has written is perfectly true, and yet the paper itself played a not insignificant role in helping the West to underestimate the dangers posed by Vladimir Putin’s KGB government and inducing its limp response from the moment he first took power.
We have documented a long string of political murders (and failed attempts) committed since Putin took power. The Times has not reported or editorialized about them adequately. The paper entirely ignored the plight of dissident leader Oleg Kozlovsky (whom this blog first brought to prominence in the West), illegally drafted into the Russian army as a means of silencing him, while the Washington Post not only reported on him in a major news piece it gave him a feature op-ed as well. The Post‘s editorial on Georgia came out days before the Times final spoke and its coverage and analysis of Russia has been light years ahead of the Times since Putin came to power.
Thus, when Putin first came to power that on March 26, 2000, just after Putin was elected to his first term, a Times editorial called him a “democrat” who was “impressed by the benefits of liberty and free markets” and noted that “a steady hand in the Kremlin would be welcome.” It stated that “Mr. Putin helped build the beginnings of a capitalist economy in the early 1990’s” — a ridiculous falsehood, because Putin, who holds no economics or business credentials whatsoever, was in those years nothing more than the clueless lackey of a corrupt local politician who used to be his professor — and speculated that he might choose “to advance reform while protecting the newly won liberties of the Russian people” and make “government an effective, honest and compassionate agent of change.”
The Times was, to say the least, utterly wrong. It hasn’t apologized to its readers, much less explained why. Instead, it has chosen to sweep the whole thing under the carpet. Barack Obama has been woefully silent on Russia prior to the Georgia invasion, and the Times has given him a free pass. His initial statements about the Georgia invasion were full of ignorance and equivocation, and the Times has given hima free pass on them. John McCain has shown amazing prescience and leadership on Russia since the primary season began, and the Times has not given him due credit.
On top of that, the Times published a laughable, crazy-sounding news article about the conflict by reporter Ellen Barry, whose lack of knowledge and understanding about Russia seem to seep right out of her pores. It quoted an obscure German “biographer of Putin” stating: “Georgia, in a way, is suffering for all that happened to Russia in the last 20 years.” Attempting some sort of bizarre pscyhoanalysis of people she obviously has no knowledge of whatsoever, Barry attempts to argue (though the piece is in no way marked as commentary) that the explanation for Russia’s actions is its victimization after the fall of the USSR.
This is, verbatim, the same argument Neville Chamberlain made about Adolf Hitler. Poor little misunderstood Adolf was only angry because the West had misbehaved after World War I, and with the proper respectful dialogue would abandone his anger in favor of brotherhood.
We all know what happened next.
There’s a simply psychological explanation for this childish “analysis” of Russia. It makes Ms. Barry feel better to imagine that we control Russia, that a moderate change in our attitudes will solve all our problems where Russia is concerned. By contrast, it’s starkly terrifying to contemplate a Russia populated by people who endorse a KGB presidency and the assertion of wanton imperial greed over tiny defenseless nations, just as was done in the time of the USSR.
This is a duality of cowardice on the part of the Times. It can’t face the prospect that there is evil in the world with which we can only do battle, and it’s afraid we might remember how all through the cold war it depicted the people of Russia as innocent victims of the Soviet regime, only to see the people of Russia blithely elect a proud KGB spy as their second “president” and then turn their backs as he crushed every aspect of civil society. This is a yet another uncomfortable fact that the Times would love to sweep conveniently under the carpet.
The notion that Russians are attacking Georgia out of some form of latent psychosis induced by their shame and humiliation at losing the Cold War, and our failure to accomodate that psychosis, is itself insane. Russians are moving against Georgia out of geopolitical ambition, the same ambition that motivated the USSR. In NATO’s refusal to immediately grant membership to Georgia they see weakness, a tiny defenseless country ripe for plucking, just as the USSR saw Afganistan.
If the New York Times really wants to help solve the Russia problem, it should simply step aside and link readers to the Washington Post. Until then it will be part of the problem, not part of the solution.