Once upon a time – say, back in 1993, when his Dilemmas of Independence; Ukraine After Totalitarianism was published – you might have been able to reason with Alexander Motyl. I mean, he’s obviously not a stupid guy: he’s published a ton of books, both fiction and non-fiction, he writes poetry, he paints – from what I’ve seen, quite emotionally – and hints of his life suggest he’s a sensitive man who feels things deeply. He speaks several languages fluently and can get around in a couple more, one of which is Russian. He was – and is, so far as I know – a professor of Political Science and Director of the Division of Global Affairs at Rutgers. But back then, a review of Dilemmas suggested it advocated “gradual reforms for post-Soviet states”. Good enough; We’re there, right? Who thinks those regions would not benefit from gradual reform? That’s what I thought.
Any such illusions of inclusiveness are dampened with the first sentence of the introduction – “Unlike most of the other Soviet successor states, Ukraine matters.” Well: not a lot of grey area there, is there? A possible agenda for Ukrainian greatness is furnished in the second – “It is important for a variety of reasons that ensure it a central role in the future of Europe and thus in the foreign policy of the United States.” While some of his material might lead you to believe he is Ukrainian, in fact Alexander Motyl is American; born in New York, although he is of Ukrainian descent.
And while we’re forming a 5-minute picture of Motyl that doubtless does not do justice to his complexity, this might be a good time to bring up what it is that he loathes about Russia: the secret police. “I went into Soviet studies with a mission: I wanted to understand this criminal state and to be able to write about it in ways that would weaken it and advance human, national, and civil rights. This is very clearly related to my background – my family is Ukrainian, and several relatives had been murdered by the Soviet secret police – and so it has a personal and a political component.” Got that? Motyl sees his education as an obligation to avenge his dead relatives by doing what he can to weaken the present Russian Federation, thereby punishing its “secret police”, of which the Russian Federation’s new leader happened once to have been a member. Once again, I’m sure that doesn’t encompass the entire complex human that is Motyl, but there’s only so much we can do in less than 3000 words, and we don’t want to spend all that talking about what a complicated guy he is.
Instead, I’d like to focus some of it on the stuff he writes (thanks to Leos Tomicek of Austere Insomniac). Because while the Alexander Motyl of 1993 might have been open to reason, maybe just kind of hopeful that Ukraine was going to become one of the dominant powers of an expanded Greater Europe and a solid American partner in the region, the Alexander Motyl of today seems to have grown so bitter and mean that he’s becoming delusional. You’ll see what I mean, I’m sure.
And right away, too: no waiting. He gets right into the hyperbole from the starting gun. “The massive demonstrations that rocked Russia in the aftermath of the Duma elections of December 4, 2011, surprised everyone, including most Russians.” Where did you see massive demonstrations rocking Russia, Professor Motyl? In a John McCain tweet? The very biggest one was no more than 150,000 people in a city of around 14 Million. The Orange Revolution protests, financed and supported by western interests, were better than 500,000 in a city with a population only about a third of Moscow’s. The Russian protesters were a diverse lot with no common goal except opposition – no use to look for coalition-building there.
Perhaps this would be a good time to point out that when authors who support a western-dominance agenda say “observers agree”, they almost invariably mean western observers and western Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) such as GOLOS. That’s why such authors don’t bother to cite any sources for their contention that there was broad agreement. I think we’re all on the same page that it is a mistake to allow your exit polling to be done by a western consortium unless you are extremely confident that you are a solid ally and they mean you no harm. Otherwise, all they need do to cast doubt on the legitimacy of your elections – and perhaps start a riot that will lead to the regime change so beloved of the west – is to introduce a discrepancy between the exit polls and the advance polls. Such discrepancies led to the Rose Revolution in Georgia and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, and in both cases western organizations were in control of the exit polls as well as having plenty of their own “administrative resources” on the ground to spark a flash mob.
Anyway, Professor Motyl’s chosen observers apparently agree that it was both Medvedev’s announcement that he and Mr. Putin would change places (this was in fact not what he said at all, which would be beyond cynical; he announced that United Russia’s candidate for 2012 would be Vladimir Putin, and Putin later announced that he expected Mr. Medvedev would head United Russia’s list for Parliamentary elections and be Prime Minister) and fraudulent elections for the Duma that “sparked the countrywide demonstrations”. Just remember, you made me say it – the countrywide demonstrations incorporated less than .001% of the around 61% of the Russian electorate that voted (thanks for that statistic, Moscow Exile).
Mr. Motyl is quite correct that observers agree the leading role in the protests belonged to the middle class and youth. However, one need only to look at the forest of flags on show at Sakharov and Bolotnaya to see the demonstrators were a widely diverse group with their own goals and aspirations, and were far from a united movement with a common objective. In fact, had they been successful, they likely would have fallen to fighting among themselves like Chechen warlords. Nationalists under the yellow-and-black guidon of Imperial Russia, Communists under the red banner, even the red-and-black standard of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA: good eye, Leos!) Strange to see the Hammer and Sickle side-by-side with the flag of the citizen army whose leaders included Nazi collaborators and joined with Germany to fight against the Soviet Union in the hope a victorious Germany would grant Ukraine independence- truly, freedom of expression is on the march.
According to Professor Motyl, the system Vladimir Putin built is “profoundly unstable… one that [is] likely to decay, decline, and possibly even crash“, which “may be starting to happen“. Is that so? I would have thought the global financial meltdown in 2008 would have stressed such a system severely. It would be a surprise to see that system rebound quickly and flexibly, returning to profitability in less than two years (so quickly, in fact, that limiting controls had to be imposed in order to curtail inflation) , and to outperform all its fellow BRIC countries in all but a single category, in which it came second. Perhaps it was a surprise to Professor Motyl, because that’s what happened. It’s difficult to imagine a motley crowd of everything from nationalists who want Russia to divest itself of the Caucasus to students who were less than 10 years old when Putin first assumed the presidency and who went along because dissent was perceived as cool could provide a greater strain on Putin’s shaky system. But that appears to be what Professor Motyl is saying.
I realize he is talking about the political system Putin built rather than the financial system of the Russian Federation. So, where would you like me to separate them? In a nation whose biggest capital inflows are controlled by the state, and one in which – according to countless western critics, “nothing moves without Putin’s word”, how could the political system be weaker than a financial system that is manifestly such a success?
However, if you thought that was weak, you will be shaken by Motyl’s abrupt dive into the dumpster, down, down through the strata of rubbish to the very core of garbage, that comes with his introduction of and support for the term “fascistoid”. Russia is not quite fascist, we learn; it is “fascistoid” – whereupon Mr. Motyl goes blithely on to describe a fascist system anyway. This system, we are told, is characterized by (1) reverence for soldiers and policemen. Daryana!! Where’s that piece where Motyl said the Russian Army was falling to pieces? Ahh.. thank you. How, then, do you explain this in the context of reverence for the military, Professor Motyl? Isn’t that your name under the title? But…you describe the Russian Army as “a pale imitation of itself, a wheezing symbol of Russia’s deterioration. From a total of three million men under arms toward the end of the Cold War, the Russian armed forces have shrunk to one million. That would be good news were it now a better force. But except for some elite units, most Russian troops are poorly trained and demoralized draftees subjected to pitiless hazing and prone to alcoholism, suicide and corruption.” How, pray, does that square with an elite group given “pride of place” in Putin’s fascist dictatorship? And when you wrote that in 2007, you said the middle class made up about a fifth of the Russian population. Fast-forward to 2012, and the middle class is a gigantic, unstoppable juggernaut mercilessly stoking the engines of social change and dissent. Yet somehow the man who presided over this quantum leap in empowerment of the middle class is a failure whose ruthless dictatorship squashes individual initiative? Are you listening to yourself?
Russia is a member of the G8, you say, but kind of sticks out in that group like a cockroach on a wedding cake because it is neither rich nor democratic. The country that has the world’s third-highest cash reserves and the G8’s lowest debt? That the one you mean? Sure you want to stick with that story? You must be a devotee of that “borrow a dollar and the bank owns you: borrow a million dollars, and you own the bank” theory. I’d point out also that you trot out virtually every disproved Russian trope in that piece, including the nearly-a-million-Russians-disappearing-every-year nonsense, and ally yourself as you have done before with nutty windbag center of the bozone layer Lilia Shevtsova. Rather than Putin’s political system looking shaky, it is your own claim to be an academic.
Police given pride of place? Hardly – according to this mostly-positive piece (which mentions, by the way, that the final draft of the new Police Bill included suggestions from the public: quite a fascist dictatorship), the police are “dogged by low salaries and low public regard”.
Well, let’s move on with our fascistoid dictatorship, before I lose it and start kicking things. Next up, (2) a fascistoid system restricts freedom of the press. This, applied to Putin’s Russia, is nonsense. There are plenty of extremely vocal critics who heap vituperation on the government’s head without letup, and even mainstream outlets are simultaneously more balanced in their coverage than America’s Republican mouthpiece, FOX News and less worried about government shutdown than independent television stations in Tbilisi under Saakashvili. (3) Repression of the opposition. That’s it; that tears it. That’s all I can take of the horseshit about marginalization of the opposition in Russia. To whom are you referring – PARNAS, the Great White Hope of the Russian liberals, led by Vladimir Ryzhkov, Boris Nemtsov, Mikhail Kasyanov and Vladimir Milov? For starters, Vladimir Ryzhkov is a card-carrying member of the World Movement for Democracy, which lists itself on the “about” page as a subsidiary of the National Endowment for Democracy, a pro-regime-change Washington NGO which was prominently involved in both the Rose and Orange revolutions. There he is, on the far right in the photo of the Steering Committee, of which he is a member. How far do you suppose a complaint would get that the sitting U.S. Government was “marginalizing the opposition” because there were no Communists in the House of Representatives? The Communist Party does exist in the U.S, of course, but it never wins anything significant and the country styles itself a model of tolerance because it allows it to live. Boris Nemtsov could not get elected official chicken-catcher during a bird flu epidemic, consistently polling under the threshold for the Duma. His political adviser, Vladimir Kara-Murza, is also connected to the National Endowment for Democracy. So, what you’re saying is that Putin and United Russia are by their popularity with the Russian electorate marginalizing opposition parties, and if they were fair they would get caught in some kiddie-porn sting or something like that, to make themselves less popular. In the interests of a free and open competition. Doubt me? Check any western reference you like that features a story on Russian politics within two weeks of the election. They all acknowledge Vladimir Putin is extremely popular and will win easily. But somehow when he does just that, it’s not because he is popular, but because he marginalizes the opposition. Does that honestly make sense? At all? Let me help you. No, it doesn’t.
Well, the opposition will doubtless be delighted to learn that new reforms will drop the membership quota required for registration as a political party from the current 50,000 down to a truly laughable 500, and scrap the law that required parties to have a minimum number of signatures. What? They’re pissed off about it?? “But analysts question how far the liberalized procedures will help the opposition become a real political force. ‘The liberalization of party registration will simply lead to the appearance of dozens, if not hundreds of parties in the next year or two,’ said Vyacheslav Nikonov, head of the Politika Foundation.
“This will particularly apply to the liberal parties – they will simply cancel each other out.”
There you have it, folks. The best way to “help the opposition become a real political force” would be to allow the votes of their family members to count as a million each, disqualify any party that does not agree a liberal party should win, and require non-liberal voters to speak a secret password that will be controlled by the liberals before being allowed to cast a ballot. I’m sorry, I know that’s just sarcasm – supposedly the lowest form of wit – but I will be damned if I can see what will satisfy Russia’s liberals beyond simply granting them victory without a contest.
I confess I stopped reading at the point where Professor Motyl offered that, while nobody could reliably predict just when Putin’s tottering, corruption-riddled system might collapse, two more six-year terms would be the end of the line for Putin. I began to hear the voice of Basil Fawlty, from the British comedy series Fawlty Towers: “Do you think we could get you on ‘MasterMind’?? Our next contestant, Alexander Motyl – special category, the Bleedin’ Obvious!!” Two more terms would be the limit Mr. Putin could serve under the law, and the loophole regarding “consecutive terms” will likely be removed during this period.
Let’s keep this simple. There was nowhere near the level of fraud western sources claim in the presidential elections, and likely there was very little. Mr. Putin was forecast to get around 60% of the vote in poll after poll before the election, and that’s precisely what he did get. Russia is far more democratic than many of the truly vile systems the west avidly supports, such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, and is more democratic than some that were pet western projects, like Georgia. The west’s vision of democracy for Russia means a system in which western influence will determine the leader, who will be chosen based on his/her attitude toward – surprise! – western policy.
Fascistoid? Really? As the saying goes; if I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong.