"Is Russia's Putin a Secret Fan of Mitt Romney", asks Moscow bureau chief of Voice of America?
See article at end of this rebuttal
by Gordon M. Hahn
US taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA), Moscow bureau chief James Brooke must be mirror-imaging. In his article “Is Russia’s Putin a Secret Fan of Romney” published by VOA, Brooke argued, in essence, that Putin is glad that Republican Party presidential candidate might regard Russia as ‘the No. 1 geopolitical foe’ of the United States. Such statements will allow him to maintain the 'fortress Russia' atmosphere and boost U.S. defense spending should he be elected.
Ironically, Brooke backed up this claim by asserting that “Putin has inflicted on Russians the kind of anti-American campaign not seen here since the Soviet era. With 'foreign agents,' and 'treason' the flavors of the political season, today's Kremlin might be better off without an 'Amerikanski partnyor' in the White House.”
I say “ironically” because Brooke continues to engage in an already overly exaggerated U.S. journalistic campaign which has targeted Putin’s Russia for human rights and democracy violations––one that goes far beyond what Moscow's violations really deserve.
To be sure, Russia is not close to a full democracy. Since his return to the presidency in May, Putin has put the brakes on Dmitry Medvedev’s political thaw and cracked down on Russia's street opposition considerably beyond what Russian law and general propriety require. And, yes, he may be responsible for anti-American propaganda on state-controlled media. But in some respects it has been America's "Russophobia" that has driven "America-phobia" in Russia, as well as visa versa. There are long-standing self-fulfilling prophecies that are responsible, in part, for driving the downturn in U.S.-Russian relations.
U.S.-Russian polarization and Russia's distrust have roots not just in Russian irrational fears––but in concrete U.S. policies as well. The ball of American-phobia got rolling (after a hiatus) during the late perestroika and early post-perestroika years. During that period, U.S. policy focused on expanding NATO into Eastern Europe (after guarantees that it wouldn't) and failed to deliver on promised economic assistance to Russia when it was mired in a depression that made all U.S. depressions look like economic booms. These U.S. policies were then followed by the bombing of Russia's traditional ally, Yugoslavia, without a UN mandate, and the instigation of the 'color revolutions' in Georgia and Ukraine with similar attempts in other countries on Russia's borders. NATO expanded further into post-Soviet states which had been allied (or potentially allied) to Russia in the past. In this way, American "democracy-promotion" began to look more like American expansionism and a new 'containment’ policy to Russians. Russia was focused on maintaining trade and economic partners in the former USSR space, not rebuilding another empire as many Americans still claim.
The remarks of the current U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, openly acknowledged the U.S.' role in the color revolutions of the 2000s. This peaked Putin’s fears in late 2011 during Moscow's growing opposition movement––this opposition included not only democrats but also radical communists and nationalist extremists, about which the U.S. mainstream media never informed its public. Thus, the radical communist Sergei Udaltsov’s recent indictment on charges of inciting mass disturbances is more complex than a simple ‘Putin crackdown on democracy’. Udaltsov is a leftist provocateur par excellence, and democrats have made a grave mistake in allying with him as well as with Russia's nationalists. Udaltsov consistently violates government-opposition agreements on the holding of individual demonstrations in the hope of provoking police violence. It was reported that he was behind the brick throwers who attacked police on May 6th, sparking a police crackdown on opposition leaders that persists to this day. Putin fell into his trap. More recently, Udaltsov was clandestinely filmed in Belarus conspiring with a leading Georgian official tied to Tbilisi’s intelligence services, during which he was captured on video negotiating the financing of revolution and possibly even terrorist attacks inside Russia. The video’s broadcast on Russian television was dubbed by Russia's opposition (and many Westerners) as part and parcel of Putin’s ‘anti-Americanism.” Yet, there are many Western countries with laws that would regard activity such as the planning of terrorism, as treasonous.
Thus, in the Russian mind (and others), American democracy promotion is often a political tool for maximizing American influence and power–– while promoting American idealism and the moral superiority of American democracy.
Two good examples are our numerous Arab allies with human rights records and democracy standards that are far worse in comparison with Russia’s less than sterling performance. Saudi Arabia and Bahraini troops are presently involved in a major crackdown of Shiite demands for democratization in Bahrain, where the U.S. has a strategically important naval base. Earlier 1,200 Saudi troops and 800 United Arab Emirate troops (trained and equipped by the U.S.), were dispatched by Riyad (the capital of Saudi Arabia) in March 2011 to Bahrain, the small island Sunni monarchy. The Saudi troops in tandem with their Bahraini counterparts killed four, wounded many, and arrested two hundred and imprisoned hundreds of opposition Shiites. A cycle of protests and crackdowns has persisted since then. In September 2012, another crackdown left dozens injured, troops overtook a hospital treating the wounded, 11 doctors were sent to prison for helping the injured, and an 11-year old boy was arrested among hundreds of others.
The West’s selective outrage – selected by criteria of self-interest and security interests – is why the Russians see the U.S. position on Syria as hypocritical. Disregard and distain for Russia's interests is couched in terms that we trumpet above all else when it comes to Russia and its partners. It is such U.S. policies that drive and indeed gives Putin the political support he needs to boost defense spending to counter U.S. power.
When Russians demonstrate in Moscow streets, there is nothing close to the kind of regime-sponsored violence that has occurred in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, Moscow is subject to scathing criticism in tens if not hundreds of American mainstream media oped pieces each year, while the Saudi, Bahraini, and other similar "allies of necessity" get by without so much as a single scolding in U.S. mainstream media.
On October 30th Bahrain banned all rallies and demonstrations. If the Kremlin did the same, the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, VOA and others would be pumping out weekly, if not daily, oped pieces condemning ‘the former KGB spy.” In addition, one might cite NATO member Canada’s new laws on demonstrations were are nearly as tough as the Putin’s new law on demonstrations adopted at about the same time, for which the latter alone was raked over the coals.
One Bahraini activist, Mohammad Mushaima, died in prison in early October, he was just one of thousands of political prisoners tortured in allied Gulf states’ prisons. But while the case of the Russian Sergei Magnitskii, who died in a Russian prison where he sat on trumped up charges (and was either denied medical treatment or beaten by local police) has been a "cause celebre" in U.S. mainstream media outlets. Mushaima has still to get his oped.
Given the far greater violations of human rights and democratic principles that some U.S. allies (and our weapons) are responsible for, Brooke, the VOA, and other U.S. media would do well to focus on far greater violations of human rights that go unmentioned, rather than on the relatively minor Russian violations.
In the 1990s many Russians wanted to be like America and to be a cooperating ally and trade partner. However, Russia is now an aggressive competitor; neither friend nor foe. In the future, Russia could actually become our ‘number one geopolitical foe’ if U.S. policy does not find some way to accommodate at least some of Russia's concerns and interests. In reality, it may already be too late to overcome the tensions in the relationship, let alone create a strong partnership.
ARTICLE IN QUESTION:
Voice of America
October 24, 2012
Is Russia's Putin a Secret Fan of Mitt Romney?
By James Brooke
James Brooke is VOA Moscow bureau chief, covering Russia and the former USSR.
The conventional wisdom is that the Kremlin would like to see Barack Obama back in the White House next year.
Just last month, President Putin told RT, the state-owned TV channel, that Obama was "a genuine person" who "really wants to change much for the better."
But these platitudes fail to cover up the big picture.
To shore up his internal support, Putin has inflicted on Russians the kind of anti-American campaign not seen here since the Soviet era. With "foreign agents," and "treason" the flavors of the political season, today's Kremlin might be better off without an "Amerikanski partnyor" in the White House.
For Russia's leaders, the Obama Administration has proved annoyingly adept at ignoring the growing stream of accusations that now come from official Moscow.
When Mitt Romney told CNN that Russia is the "No. 1 geostrategic foe of the United States," I thought I could hear the cats purring in the Kremlin.
Yesss! Instead of being treated like an oversized Serbia with nukes, we finally get some respect! With Romney, we will be back to being eyeball to eyeball with the Americans!
On Monday night, in the Obama-Romney foreign policy debate, Obama mocked Romney for promoting Russia to "No.1 foe." He said: "And the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back, because, you know, the Cold War's been over for 20 years."
Romney shot back: "I have two clear eyes on this. I'm not going to wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to Russia or Mr. Putin, and I'm certainly not going say to him, I'll give you more flexibility after the election. After the election he'll get more backbone."
High fives in front of the big screen in Kremlin!
You see, Putin needs a "safe" enemy one without a long land border with Russia, like you know who. The way he sees it, Americans are currently obsessed with China, bear no deep animosity to Russia, and, anyhow, have a hard time keeping two enemies in their heads at the same time.
So, for the Kremlin, Romney would play the useful role of the un-reconstructed Cold Warrior determined to subvert the divinely ordained state of autocratic rule in Russia.
But, equally important, Putin is embarking on a massive $770 billion, 10-year rearmament program for Russia's armed forces.
Even for oil-rich Russia, this is no small sum. There is fierce competition for this budget money, notably from Russia's swelling population of pensioners.
Last fall, Alexei Kudrin, Putin's respected Finance Minister of 11 years, quit over this military spending plan. As recently as last week, he was criticizing the armaments spending program as wasteful. Kudrin estimates that Russia's ballooning annual pension shortfall will hit $42 billion this year 43 times the level of 2005.
To keep the military shopping list intact, Putin needs an external threat. And what better "enemy" than one that resonates with the Cold War era generation of pensioners?
"Despite the fact that Mr. Romney considers Russia enemy number one, if he is elected president of the U.S., certainly we, including me, will work with him as an elected head of state," Putin said last month in Sochi.
"I am actually very grateful to him for formulating his position so clearly and freely," Putin continued. "He has again confirmed the correctness of our position on missile defense problems."
A few days later, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich told reporters: "If Romney wins, we may have to enlarge the defense budget."
But, on the other hand, Putin appreciates Obama as "a genuine person."
Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D.
Senior Associate, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington, D.C.
Senior Researcher and Adjunct Professor, Monterey Terrorism Research and Education Program, Monterey, California
Dr. Hahn is author of the well-received books Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007) and Russia’s Revolution From Above, 1985-2000 (Transaction Publishers, 2002) and numerous articles in academic journals and other English and Russian language media. He has taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia. Dr. Hahn writes and edits the bimonthly 'Islam, Islamism, and Politics in Eurasia Report' at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. archived at http://csis.org/programs/russia-and-eurasia-program/islam-islamism-and-politics-eurasia-report andwww.miis.edu/academics/faculty/ghahn/report.