Ryzhkov on his Knees
It’s not often that we feel pity for Russians. We didn’t when Anna Politkovskaya got shot, because we figured it was better for her not to have to watch her country come undone before her eyes, and we knew she probably saw it as an honor to give her life for her country. In fact, the only time we can remember feeling pity was when Oleg Kozlovsky got drafted into the army, something nobody could possibly have forseen occuring, a new low in the history of national government. The specter of dedovshchina hanging over the head of that brave and brilliant, thoughtful young academic was heart-rending.
But now we feel it again, feel it in spades, for poor ex-parliamentarian Vladimir Ryzhkov, who had the pleasure of meeting U.S. President Barack Obama last week and wrote about it the Moscow Times. We can’t imagine any more compelling proof of just how badly Obama botched his Russia sojourn than the pathetic effort of Mr. Ryzhkov to sing Obama’s praises. Reading it, Obama shoud be ashamed. Ryzhkov, of course, should want to crawl under a rock.
Can you imagine how it must have felt to be Ryzhkov and feel the elation, after a decade of being totally ignored by simpleton president George W. Bush (who “looked into the eyes” of Putin and found him trustworthy), of being invited to lunch with the American president? Can you imagine the thoughts, the hopes, the dreams that must have raced through his head?
And can you imagine how his heart must have been broken when Obama told him he could speak during the meeting for no more than five minutes, the same amount of time he allotted to Communist apparachik Gennady Zhyuganov? How your eyes became clouded with darkness when you learned that there would be no post-meeting press conference with Obama, indeed no public statement of any kind, much less any open support or encouragement, and that Obama would backtrack on his tough criticism of Putin issued before his arrival?
How could you be anything other than shocked, offended and insulted?
And yet, you couldn’t help but realize that things were still light years better than under Bush, who totally ignored you. With no serious grassroots support from Russians, with the possibility that the KGB regime could strike you down at any moment, you’d have no choice but to suck it up, bury your pride deep down, get down on your knees and beg for more. Either that or confront the new president publicly and risk being written off entirely. It’s a truly horrifying Hobson’s Choice. We pity Ryzhkov for having been forced to make it.
But he made the wrong choice. He’s praised the dog for messing on the carpet. In that event, the dog will do it again.
We understand his deperation. After all, the Kremlin has purged every single member of the democratic opposition from the Russian parliament, including Ryzhkov himself and his entire party. They have no reasonable prospect of ever returning. They can’t get on national TV or in any major newspaper. They are besieged by threats, violence, lawsuits and killings. Any attention from the powerful Americans looks like a Godsend.
The result is pathetic babbling like Ryzhkov issued in his op-ed. He writes: “He knew exactly why he was coming to Russia and took away with him everything he had wanted.” It’s hard to see how Ryzhkov, who has never really accomplished anything as a politician and is not a vital part of the protest movement, will ever live that crazy remark down. One begins to get a whiff of Grigori Yavlinsky, another thinker who was far too removed from realpolitik to do anything meaningful. By seeking actual power, he seriously harmed Russia’s nascent opposition political movement.
Obama got nothing from the Kremlin on controlling Iran, nothing on protection of Georgia from invasion, nothing on halting Russian support for Hamas and Hezbollah. Charles Krauthhammer has argued that Obama’s tentative nuclear weapons agreement seriously undermined American national security. That’s getting everything Obama wanted? What was it he wanted, to succeed Medvedev as the next president of Russia?
Ryzhkov claims Obama gave “tremendous support to Russia’s civil society. This is not just a new president. This is a completely new type of global leadership. If Obama is able to manage the unprecedented challenges facing him, and if luck goes his way, he has a chance of becoming one of the greatest presidents in U.S. history.” Yikes. One might think Ryzhkov was drunk when he wrote that, and he may have been. Drunk with desperation to save his country, so close and yet so far. Obama has been in office six months and already he’s on track to being the greatest in history? He has a closed-door meeting he never comments on where he lets Ryzhkov speak for five minutes, afterwards he praises Putin, and that’s “tremendous support”? We genuinely pity this man for being induced to engage in shameless brown-nosed begging of this kind, speaking to Obama in obsequious flattering prose as if he were Stalin. And we blame Obama for this disgraceful outburst.
Ryzhkov calls it “amazing” that Obama chose to meet with Patriarch Kirill, an he’s certainly right. That Obama would meet with a KGB spy posing a priest without confronting him about his past or his present efforts to help Vladimir Putin create a Holy Russian Empire, purging dissent within the Orthodox Church like a second coming of Stalin, is truly amazing. It’s also utterly outrageous.
Ryzhkov sputters: “Thousands of people had the opportunity to see and hear the young U.S. president in person. Kremlin television was thrown into a state of confusion. Obama’s open and friendly style stood in stark contrast to the demonized image of the United States that Kremlin propaganda has promulgated for many years.”
Thousands? Last time we checked, Russia had 140 million people, roughly 90% of whom had been prevented from seeing Obama’s speech because of Kremlin censorship that Obama didn’t care to mention. And Ryzhkov may not be affected by it, but the vast majority of Russians are frenzied racists who are simply horrified by the fact of a dark-skinned American president with his finger on the nuclear button. We wonder if Ryzhkov found time in his five minute speech to Obama to mention the hundreds of lynchings Russia has seen under Vladimir Putin — or indeed whether any of those who spoke to Obama did so. We doubt it.
Ryzhkov writes: “At the end of our meeting with Obama, where we discussed the biased judicial system and in particular the highly politicized convictions of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his former business partner Platon Lebedev. We discussed the problems of political prisoners, freedom of speech, the murder of opposition members and journalists, the censuring of the mass media and repressive measures against opposition parties.” But he doesn’t care to comment on the fact that Obama refused to discuss Khodorkovskyk when interviewed by Novaya Gazeta and refused to make any public critical statement about Russia’s treatment of political prisoners while he was in Russia.
In short, Ryzhkov’s gross mischaracterization of what occurred while Obama was in Moscow, in a desperate attempt to beg for further support, is odious and counterproductive. Obama may well feel he can now ignore all these issues, having paid lip service to them, and Ryzhkov may never hear from him again.