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August 09, 2012

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Alexander Mercouris

Dear Patrick,

Thank you for your very kind words about the Pussy Riot post.

Could I take up a point you mentioned in response to my previous comment on your previous round up? I missed it then because I was busy with Pussy Riot and other things. I touched on the point in response to your comment on Anatoly Karlin's blog.

Basically, I think some of the coverage we see about Russia is written by some unpleasant people with unpleasant agendas who understand exactly what they are doing. However I think in the overwhelming majority of cases the problem is that the negative image of Russia is so strong and so well established that people who write about Russia simply assume that bad things they read and hear about Russia are true and they simply repeat those things without bothering to check them. People in my experience are always very willing to believe that which they think they already know.

More interesting are certain people who sincerely believe passionately that Putin is evil and that the Russian government is evil, which makes them reckless about what they write because they feel that untruths are somehow excusable in the cause of exposing the greater truth, which is the evil of Putin and of the Russian government. The Guardian writer whose editorial Anatoly Karlin so comprehensively eviscerated falls into that category. Of course it never occurs to such people that a truth based on lies is not and cannot be true.

Can anything be done about it? The answer is yes it can but not just by people like us. One of the best and wisest points you ever made was about the abject failure of Russia to put its own case. I don't know whether you read the exchange of correspondence I had with the Guardian about the numbered of murdered journalists that Anatoly Karlin posted on his blog? That was a case of an editorial that accused Putin and the Russian government of complicity in the murder of 200 journalists. When I pointed out that the number was certainly wrong (as it turned oout by a factor of five) the readers' editor admitted this was so but told me that no one not even the Russian authorities had previously pointed this out. In other words the Guardian published an editorial which wrongly accused the Russian Prime Minister and once and future President of complicity in the murder of 200 journalists and the Russian authorities did nothing about it.

This is a minor example of a huge problem. If you do not make your own case why should anyone make it for you? What is so difficult in the Pussy Riot case for example for the Russian authorities to say that this is a simple public order case?

You said that the Russians feel that this sort of thing is beneath them. I think you are completely right. Look at the way they conduct their foreign policy. At one level there is no question about the competence of people like Lavrov and Churkin. In questions of grand policy they are more than able to hold their own. However a country today cannot run its policy as if the world was still as it was in the time of Metternich and Talleyrand. Russian spokesman have to learn to take the trouble to write letters, appear on television, hold news conferences, consult lawyers and public relations consultants, conduct commercial and political lobbying and do all all the other things that in other countries are taken for granted.

Sorry about the length of this comment. One thought: I seem to remember that some sort of a meeting or conference was going to happen a few months ago at which you and Gordon and others like Anatoly Karlin and Eugene Ivanov were going to meet to discuss ways of improving Russia's image. Did that meeting ever happen?

PS: I most definitely am not your only reader. I happen to know several people who read you including a lecturer in English at Oxford University who was the person who first alerted me to this webpage. To my knowledge she still follows you carefully.

Patrick Armstrong

My goodness – TWO readers. That’s twice as many as I thought I had. Growing by the moment!
But seriously. As always much to respond to.
1. I honestly don’t know whether it’s malice or stupidity. Being a big believer in Hanlon’s Razor (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanlon%27s_razor), (To say nothing of Gibbon’s great apothegm: “history; which is, indeed, little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.” Obviously there are people out there who are actively engaged in Hate Russia stuff (in your own dear country BAB is very active). In the USA Romney buys it all and Saakashvili is active. In my Own Dear Country there are those too. (BTW I recommend Martin Malia’s book in this respect http://www.amazon.ca/Russia-under-Western-Eyes-Mausoleum/dp/0674002105/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1344813829&sr=8-4. In essence he shows how Russia has been a palimpsest for Western notions for 200 years)
2. The MSM gets everything wrong. It’s not just Russia.
3. Yes we did all meet and the fruit may be plucked here http://us-russia.org/
4. Good for you talking back to the Grauniad (not just typos they get wrong http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=grauniad)
5. I do think the Russians (who have, after all been major players for 250 years more or less – for example see this (http://www.gulf-times.com/site/topics/article.asp?cu_no=2&item_no=524968&version=1&template_id=39&parent_id=21) are just too damned proud to respond to this stuff. Maybe Putin just doesn’t care any more, but IMO, they are wrong not to. (PS I don’t think RT is the way to do it.)
6. I also suspect that after all this stuff after all these years that the Russians just don’t care. Whatever they do, they will be condemned and the lousy reporting will continue. Check out, for example, this: “Instead of closer ties, Russia under President Vladimir Putin, an ex-KGB intelligence officer who has said he wants to restore elements of Russia’s Soviet communist past, has adopted growing hardline policies against the United States.” (http://freebeacon.com/silent-running/) Nothing Moscow does or says will ever be believed by those who think that that is a correct and adequate statement.

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