Every once in awhile, you come across something on the Internet that you have to read twice, just to assure yourself that it really is as bizarrely crazy as it appeared on the first reading. Such is Vladimir Pastukhov’s recent piece for Open Democracy, “Putin: on the Shifting Sands of Doubt”.
I realize, of course, that this is an opinion piece. But there are certain standards an opinion piece should meet if one is to be taken seriously. The writer should know something about the field he or she is discussing, or have researched it. You wouldn’t be much interested in reading an article written by, say, an accountant who professed to be a stranger to the forest, but who wanted to tell you which mushrooms you could eat without being poisoned. Pastukhov adheres to this principle at first, suggesting that Mr. Putin’s mental state is not for him to say, as he is not a psychoanalyst. He then proceeds to give us insight after insight on Mr. Putin’s mental landscape, all of which he discerned from reading a newspaper article written about Mr. Putin!
Mr. Putin is tired, we learn, and in “a state of permanent and severe stress”. How, exactly, would you learn that from reading a written record of his remarks in a newspaper? Assuming of course, that he didn’t say, “I am tired, and in a state of permanent and severe stress”? But Pastukhov doesn’t stop there – oh, no; he not only disgnoses Mr. Putin’s fatigue and stress, but provides their cause – Mr. Putin is lonely: alienated, and unable to trust.
If you threw the article across the room at that point (figuratively speaking, as it’s on your computer monitor), you missed a treat, because it got better. Mr. Pastukhov skips gaily from analysis to analysis; Mr. Putin is irritated and offended, we are told, by the people’s ingratitude. He is frightened, which causes him to express his suppressed fear in unmotivated aggression. I could actually feel myself getting stupider as I read on.
At the point where Mr. Pastukhov began to expound on Putin’s having turned into a bronze statue of himself (not literally) and lost touch with reality, I couldn’t take any more – I felt like sticking a pencil in my eye and twirling it around. Is this, I asked myself, the path the liberal opposition is following in its attempts to cast down Putin?
Mr. Pastukhov admits up front that he is not a psychologist or a psychiatrist duly licensed as such to practice in the Russian Federation, and he is not. He is a director of research at the Moscow Institute of Law and Public Policy, and an advisor to the Chairman of the Constitutional Court. His background and experience are in law, not in reading tea-leaves. But not even a trained and practiced clinical psychologist can tell you anything reliable about anyone based on reading an article about them, written by someone else, in a newspaper – that sounds more like a psychic on the X Files.
Right, then; let’s sort through this, and see if there’s anything of substance. Mr. Putin is tired, we’re told. To paraphrase John Clees in the British comedy, “Fawlty Towers” – “Maybe we could get you on MasterMind – our next contestant, Vladimir Pastukhov; special category – the bleeding obvious!” Can you think why the Prime Minister of a country that nearly burned down around his ears just a few weeks ago might be a little weary, perhaps? Maybe he wonders, while you’re sleeping, what a voracious grain consumer like Russia is going to do for wheat this winter, do you suppose? Give your head a shake, and if it falls off, kick it across the room.
We learn next that Mr. Putin is irritated that interviewers are not interested in talking about national goals and aspirations, infrastructure….no, they want to talk about liberal demonstrators being clubbed like baby seals in Newfoundland. I certainly can’t speak for the Prime Minister, but I’d be getting just a little tired of that question myself by now. It must be irritating to see the news cycle captured by protesters who get arrested for breaking the law while they’re protesting that Russia is not a country of laws. I don’t see how the Prime Minister could make it any clearer – “What is a law-governed state? It is compliance with existing legislation. What does existing legislation say about marches? You need to obtain the authorization of the local organs of government. Did you get it? Go and demonstrate.” Protesters, whipped up by malcontents like Boris Nemtsov, are of the opinion that there is a loophole in the Constitution that permits them to march and protest without a permit. Are there city laws which modify constitutional entitlements? Certainly, in every civilized country. The second amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees every citizen the right to keep and bear arms. Can any American who wants to just strap on a gun and wear it into a high school? A police station? A mental hospital?
Another canard I’d like to dispense with is the persistently silly, “He hasn’t heard of Shevchuk”. If he hadn’t, would that disqualify him for the position of Prime Minister? Must every Russian official have “heard of Shevchuk” in order to properly execute his or her duties? How many DDT albums do you own, Mr. Pastukhov? In point of fact, Mr. Putin knows exactly who Shevchuk is. Surely you’re not suggesting the Prime Minister and former President would appear in a public discussion forum with a complete stranger seated two positions to his left? Security alone would prohibit anything of the kind. I’m sure Mr. Putin, like any political leader, receives a comprehensive briefing before all such events, and attendance at the event in which he appeared with Mr. Shevchuk was by invitation. I’m quite sure he saw the guest list.
But that’s as may be. You can see here, in the translation of the exchange, that Shevchuk begins to speak without introducing himself. This is impolite in public-speaking circles, although if I were told that few rock musicians are former diplomats, I’d have a hard time acting surprised. Putin’s “Excuse me, what’s your name?” is plainly an invitation for Shevchuk to introduce himself to the gathering, and is plainly understood to be such – otherwise, his name is Yura Shevchuk Musician.
Shevchuk’s importance is greatly overrated here. A comparison used on a Russophobic website suggested this was like President Bush not recognizing Bruce Springsteen. Apart from Shevchuk being quite a bit less popular than Springsteen, when Bush was considering a constitutional amendment or a modification to U.S. law, I doubt he phoned Springsteen to solicit his opinion. Russian liberals and their western handlers are making it look like all you need to join the club is to have “heard of Shevchuk” and be committed to public gatherings without permission.
You’re going to have to do quite a bit better than this, if you want to bring down the Putin/Medvedev government.