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Monday, December 04, 2006

In Bed with Russophobes

Here's my article from today's Guardian. on why progressives ought to be very wary of jumping on the current anti-Putin bandwagon.

The Litvinenko murder is being used by neocons in their campaign against Putin's national revival.
Monday December 4, 2006
The Guardian

Three weeks on, we are still no closer to knowing who was responsible for the death of the former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko. The use of polonium 210 as a murder weapon could point in entirely opposite directions. It might suggest that the killing was carried out on behalf of the Russian security service as a public warning to others who might think of betraying it. But it could also be read as an attempt by President Putin's rich and powerful enemies to discredit the Russian government internationally. Whatever the truth, it has been seized upon across Europe and the US to fuel a growing anti-Russian campaign.

There are certainly grounds for criticising the Russian government from a progressive perspective. Putin has introduced a flat-rate income tax, which greatly benefits the wealthy, and plans the partial marketisation of Russia's education and health systems. He has pursued a bloody campaign of repression in Chechnya. And while some of Russia's oligarchs have been bought to justice, others remain free to flaunt their dubiously acquired wealth, in a country where the gap between rich and poor has become chasmic.
Even so, those on the centre-left who have joined the current wave of Putin-bashing ought to consider whose cause they are serving. Long before the deaths of Litvinenko and the campaigning journalist Anna Politkovskaya, Russophobes in the US and their allies in Britain were doing all they could to discredit Putin's administration. These rightwing hawks are gunning for Putin not because of concern for human rights but because an independent Russia stands in the way of their plans for global hegemony. The neoconservative grand strategy was recorded in the leaked Wolfowitz memorandum, a secret 1990s Pentagon document that targeted Russia as the biggest future threat to US geostrategic ambitions and projected a US-Russian confrontation over Nato expansion.

Even though Putin has acquiesced in the expansion of American influence in former Soviet republics, the limited steps the Russian president has taken to defend his country's interests have proved too much for Washington's empire builders. In 2003, Bruce P Jackson, the director of the Project for a New American Century, wrote that Putin's partial renationalisation of energy companies threatened the west's "democratic objectives" - and claimed Putin had established a "de facto cold war administration". Jackson's prognosis was simple: a new "soft war" against the Kremlin, a call to arms that has been enthusiastically followed in both the US and Britain.

Every measure Putin has taken has been portrayed by the Russophobes as the work of a sinister totalitarian. Gazprom's decision to start charging Ukraine the going rate for its gas last winter was presented as a threat to the future of western Europe. And while western interference in elections in Ukraine, Georgia and other ex-Soviet republics has been justified on grounds of spreading democracy, any Russian involvement in the affairs of its neighbours has been spun as an attempt to recreate the "evil empire". As part of their strategy, Washington's hawks have been busy promoting Chechen separatism in furtherance of their anti-Putin campaign, as well as championing some of Russia's most notorious oligarchs.

In the absence of genuine evidence of Russian state involvement in the killings of Litvinenko and Politkovskaya, we should be wary about jumping on a bandwagon orchestrated by the people who bought death and destruction to the streets of Baghdad, and whose aim is to neuter any counterweight to the most powerful empire ever seen.


Anonymous said...

Could you please explain and give comment on following lines in your article:
"rightwing hawks are gunning for Putin not because of concern for human rights but because an independent Russia stands in the way of their plans for global hegemony". Thank you beforehand.

sobor said...

Thank you for bringing up the issue of Russophobia. It is difficult to draw a distinction between casual xenophobia and explicit dislike of Russians presented in recent commentaries on Mr Litvinenko's ordeal. It seems to me that modern zealots of anti-Russian sentiments have gotten into the trap of centuries-old propaganda. The efforts of Roman-Catholic Church at converting inhabitants of East Europe, the loss in Russo-Polish rivalry, the Great Britain's tough competition with Russia for the spheres of influence, the fight over eastern tilt of Slavic provinces of Austria-Hungary empire, Napoleon's megalomania and Hitler's drive to the East, among others, were accompanied by wild and wide-spread propaganda that had been instilling irrational fear of Russia in the West. For any impartial observer, this new anti-Russian sentiment of the western media, with the Economist leading the effort, is just a neurotic reaction to Russia's newly gained independence in its foreign policy. Russophobia of XXI century is indeed hypocritical, as the purpose of liberal reforms since 1990 was to build a market economy in Russia. In the land of natural resources, such a talented people, advanced technology and culture, the market economy produces a powerful nation, which requires West's mature attitude towards the Russians.

Neil Clark said...

Marina, thanks for writing in.
I've posted a longer version of my piece on the neo-conservative strategy, which appeared in The Morning Star. In addition you may want to read these comments on Russia by the prominent neo-con Charles Krauthammer:

Kancelmi said...

One hardly needs be a Russophobe to find fault with the Russian government; nor does the death of Litvinenko - should it ultimately be attributed to the Russian leader (and we may have to use Occam as there isn't exactly going to be a trial here) - but add to an already substantial list of Putin's anti-democratic, anti-progressive offenses.

To reason, as you want to, that a neoconservative dislike of Putin should ally leftists with an aspiring autocrat (or keep them quiet about his dirty business) is simply ridiculous. There is no either/or here, and why you should seek to create one, I really don't understand. As you yourself note, there are a great many "grounds for criticising the Russian government from a progressive perspective." Should this criticism be withheld because it might also be voiced by those on the right? Of course it shouldn't.

If the murder of Politkovskaya raised one's eyebrows, it wasn't for lack of political vision, and it certainly wasn't a gesture of solidarity with "rightwing hawks." To suggest, as you do, that the recent "bandwagon" of anti-Putin sentiment is but the fruit of Washington neocon conspiracy is outlandish. Don't you think the reality of the Chechen nightmare, for example, should be just a bit more compelling to those on the left than a memo Paul Wolfowitz wrote in 1992?

Estonia in World Media (Rus) said...

And while western interference in elections in Ukraine, Georgia and other ex-Soviet republics has been justified on grounds of spreading democracy, any Russian involvement in the affairs of its neighbours has been spun as an attempt to recreate the "evil empire"

Like the West is threatening to cut off Crimea, Pridnestrovie, S. Ossetia, Abkhazia, Nagorny Kharabakh and parts of Azerbaijan, including milions of native refugees from those places.

Like it is refusing to fulfil its promises to withdraw troops put in some of those places given at OSCE summit in Stambul in 1999.

Like it refuses to recognize despite numerous EU Parliament, PASE resolutions, European Court of Human Rights decisions on the question of illegality of the occupation of the Baltic States.