George Eliot, from his lofty seat of Victorian wisdom, once advised the world, “Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us worthy evidence of the fact“.
Excuse me; I should have said, from her lofty seat of Victorian wisdom, because George Eliot was, in fact, a woman. Mary Anne Evans adopted a masculine pen name “so her work would be taken seriously”, as female writers of the late 19th century confined themselves mostly to “lighthearted romances”. Her novel “Middlemarch” is acclaimed by some reviewers as the greatest novel ever written in the English language.
In any case, she certainly saw Charles Clover coming without ever seeing him at all, and the quote I led off with perfectly encapsulates his “Putin Builds Walls Round Kremlin“. Before you conclude that Mr. Putin has taken up bricklaying to while away the hours of idleness, Mr. Clover is speaking figuratively. But he must have been stuck for a title, and just went with a “Strashniy (scary) Putin” theme.
Oftentimes, especially when a story lacks substance, the comments are more illuminating than the story itself. So it is with this one, in which the comments broadly reflect an impatience with Russia-has-made-a-terrible-mistake articles that are mostly defended with nonsense. Commenter Ursus Ursa gets straight to the point: “It is extraordinary that the Americans rush to take credit whenever they overturn a regime not to their liking (e.g. the Orange Revolution) – yet when someone points out that they are attempting to do so – especially when they are unsuccessful – they get all huffy and start claiming that they never do things like that. They have a multi-billion dollar budget to subvert those governments which are unfavourable to them. Why not be open about it?”
Why not indeed. Although I think the budget estimate for jiggerypokery with opposition to foreign governments is a little high, Ursus is correct that the USA took an active part in installing Victor Yushchenko as Ukraine’s president in the Orange Revolution, not only providing financial assistance through NGO’s (although it was likely relatively modest, as most of the money to keep the “tent city” in Kiev going came from UK-based Russian exile Boris Berezovsky), but specifically tying future financial aid to Ukraine to Yushchenko’s success. This, as Ursus correctly suggests, was during the flush of victory when Orange Fever was epidemic in the halls of western power, and great things were still foretold for Ukraine. As we now know, the Bonfire of the Vanities between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko put paid to that.
The first float in the silly parade rolls past with the opening sentence: Mr Putin campaigned on fear, paranoia and an obsession with loyalty and betrayal, according to his critics. Well, what did you expect them to say??
In fact, Mr. Putin campaigned on addressing shortfalls in social mobility, toward realizing better job opportunities for graduating professionals. Toward addressing income disparity, in which he has already demonstrated considerable success as president. He campaigned on increasing efficiency of social spending. He spoke of “the interest of major corporations in the national system of qualifications open to small and medium businesses“, and pledged to “tackle this issue on a national level and involve all the resources of the state“. He promised, without fail, to “improve the efficiency of [Russian] education and healthcare systems“. Better pay for teachers. Increasing the salary for lecturers and professors to double the regional average by 2018. Restructuring ineffective organizations and programs so as to realize up to a third of the funds needed to overhaul and fairly compensate education. Any of this sound familiar? Yes, he did mention foreign interference in Russian national affairs – but that component has been hyped and amplified by the western media to the exclusion of all else, as if he attempted to fire up Russian voters by suggesting they all grab pitchforks and stand by to repel boarders. Nonsense. Read the speeches.
Putin, we hear, has “given up” on alienated middle-class protesters rather than rebuilding links with them, according to the ubiquitous influential-Moscow-businessman-who-asks-not-to-be-named. Maybe he fears Putin will track him down and kill him in his sleep. Or maybe he’s not a Russian. In whatever event – back to the speech. “Today, the bulk of the population is making entirely different demands, something to which the social sphere has so far failed to adapt. People, primarily the “middle class,” well-educated and well-paid individuals, are dissatisfied with the level of social services on the whole. The quality of education and healthcare is still quite low, despite higher budgetary allocations. Services that you have to pay for in these areas are still rife. The goal of creating a comfortable living environment is still a long way off. ” Does that sound like giving up on the middle class? Mr. Putin follows that statement with already-mentioned planned initiatives to sweeten the social contract and further empower the middle class.
Of course, rather than actually researching what Mr. Putin said, it’s likely a lot more thrilling – not to mention less work – to get your bias on with the likes of Garry “radiating charisma” Kasparov and kicked-to-the-curb (and obviously bitter about it) Gleb Pavlovsky. Let’s get something straight here – Gleb Pavlovsky was not “axed amid reports of infighting between Putin loyalists and those of outgoing president Dmitry Medvedev.” Gleb Pavlovsky was sacked because of, as Open Democracy for once accurately reports, “indiscreet comments made about the 2012 presidential elections and…for making his support for Dmitry Medvedev known”. As he certainly did, and to western reporters, no less. Would you like an example of the gold mine of sound bites he gave the western press? “Putin brought the army and the FSB back into the power system and got rid of everyone who disapproved. But of course, once the siloviki came to power they brought along everything they had been involved in, including their new criminal links and commercial motives.” Yeah, uh huh, I’d want that guy on the team. More? Sure. “There wasn’t even a stable team; Putin wasn’t in control of his own team. His team was more like raisins in a biscuit, people who were embedded inside someone else’s team, Yeltsin’s team, which was closely-knit, held together by their links to the past and their attitude to Yeltsin, by property and views. “ Oh, Gleb, you krazy Kremlin spin-doctor, you. “And at the same time, Medvedev is livid that none of the things Putin created works. There are buttons on his desk, he can push this one or that one, but the cables underneath are missing. On the other hand, he understands that he cannot end his presidency with this election. Unlike Putin, he has his own vision of the state.”
Show me a western politician who would keep a Gleb Pavlovsky on his political team after airing his opinions to the foreign press like that. I can give you plenty of examples of political aides being run out of town on a rail for far, far less. I suppose Mr. Clover meant Gleb Pavlovsky when he suggested Mr. Putin is “obsessed with loyalty”. Or its polar opposite – betrayal.
Well, let’s wind this up. I’ll let the irrepressible Ursus take us out, once again from the comments. “Having spent months warning of how Putin was losing his popularity, rather than acknowledging his error, Clover – who must now account for Putin’s landslide victory – collapses into hysterical invective. The article is nothing more than a series of opinions, masquerading as journalism.
Apparently, the Anglo-Americans are miffed to find themselves faced with a Russia which no longer eats from their hands.”
Testify, Ursus. If I was looking for the real journalist in that article, it wouldn’t take me long to make up my mind. Would you like Gleb Pavlovsky’s old job? I hear the position is open.