And Why Murdoch’s Journal Loves Kasparov
(And not only Murdoch lapdogs; add to the tendentious brew TIME-Warner (CNN), CBS, NBC, and the whole rest of the pack.)
A point counterpoint on Putin’s role in today’s Russia and the world
By Mike Whitney |||
On Sunday, Putin’s party, United Russia, stormed to victory in the country’s parliamentary elections with 63 per cent of the vote. It was a romp. United Russia now controls 306 of the 450 seats in the Duma, an overwhelming majority. The balloting was a referendum on Putin’s leadership and it passed in a landslide. Now it’s certain, that even if Putin steps down as president next year as expected, he will be the dominant player in Russian politics for the foreseeable future.
Vladimir Putin is arguably the most popular leader in Russian history, although you’d never know it by reading the western media. According to a recent survey conducted by the Wall Street Journal, Putin’s personal approval rating in November 2007 was 85 per cent, making him the most popular head of state in the world today. Putin’s popularity derives from many factors. He is personally clever and charismatic. He is fiercely nationalistic and has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of ordinary Russians and restore the country to its former greatness. He has raised over 20 million Russians out of grinding poverty, improved education, health care and the pension system, (partially) nationalized critical industries, lowered unemployment, increased manufacturing and exports, invigorated Russian markets, strengthened the ruble, raised the overall standard of living, reduced government corruption, jailed or exiled the venal oligarchs, and amassed capital reserves of $450 billion.
Russia is no longer up for grabs like it was after the fall of the Soviet Union. Putin put an end to all of that. He reasserted control over the country’s vast resources and he’s using them to improve the lives of his own people. This is a real departure from the 1990s, when the drunken Yeltsin steered Russia into economic disaster by following Washington’s neoliberal edicts and by selling Russia’s Crown Jewels to the vulturous oligarchs. Putin put Russia’s house back in order; stabilized the ruble, strengthened economic/military alliances in the region, and removed the corporate gangsters who had stolen Russia’s national assets for pennies on the dollar. The oligarchs are now all either in jail or have fled the country. Russia is no longer for sale.
Russia is, once again, a major world power and a vital source of hydrocarbons. It’s star is steadily rising just as America’s has begun to wane. This may explain why Putin is loathed by the West. Freud might call it petroleum envy, but it’s deeper than that. Putin has charted a course for social change that conflicts with basic tenets of neoliberalism, which are the principles which govern US foreign policy. He is not a member of the corporate-banking brotherhood which believes the wealth of the world should be divided among themselves regardless of the suffering or destruction it may cause. Putin’s primary focus is Russia; Russia’s welfare, Russia’s sovereignty and Russia’s place in the world. He is not a globalist.
That is why the Bush administration has encircled Russia with military bases, toppled neighboring regimes with its color-coded revolutions, (which were organized by US NGOs and intelligence services) intervened in Russian elections, and threatened to deploy an (allegedly defensive) nuclear weapons system in Eastern Europe. Russia is seen as a potential rival to US imperial ambitions and must be contained or subverted.
In the early years of his presidency, it was believed that Putin would comply with western demands and accept a subordinate role in the US-EU-Israel centric system. But that hasn’t happened. Putin has stubbornly defended Russian independence and resisted integration into the prevailing system…
The triumphalism which swept through Washington after the fall of the Berlin Wall has been replaced with a palpable fear that Russia’s power will grow as oil prices continue to soar. The tectonic plates of geopolitical power are gradually shifting eastward. That’s why the US has joined in The Great Game and is trying to put down roots in Eurasia. Still, it’s easy to imagine a scenario in which America’s access to the last great oil and natural gas reserves on the planet–the three trillion barrels of oil and natural gas located in the Caspian Basin—could be completely blocked by a resurgent Russian superpower.
The most powerful of the Washington think tanks, the Council on Foreign Relations, recognized this problem early on and decided that US policy towards Russia had to be reworked entirely.
John Edwards and Jack Kemp were appointed to lead a CFR task force which concocted the pretext for an all-out assault on the Putin. This is where the idea that Putin is “rolling back democracy” began. In their article “Russia’s Wrong Direction”, Edwards and Kemp state that a “strategic partnership” with Russia is no longer possible. They claim that the government has become increasingly authoritarian and that the society is growing less “open and pluralistic”.
Creatures of the system, no matter what their rhetoric, are always servants of the system.
Kemp and Edwards provided the ideological foundation upon which the entire public relations campaign against Putin has been built. And it is quite an impressive campaign. A Google News search shows roughly 1,400 articles from the various news services on Putin. Virtually all of them contain exactly the same rhetoric, the same buzzwords, the same spurious claims, the same slanders. It is impossible to find even one article out of 1,400 that diverges the slightest bit from the talking points which originated at the Council on Foreign Relations.
It’s interesting to see to what extent the media has become a propaganda bullhorn for the national security state. Putin’s personal approval ratings confirm his enormous popularity, and yet, the media continues to treat him like he’s a tyrant. It is utterly incongruous.
In most articles, Putin is disparaged as “anti democratic”; a charge that is never leveled at the Saudi Royal family even though women are forbidden to drive, they must be fully-covered at all times, and can be stoned to death if they are found to be unfaithful. Also, in Saudi Arabia, beheading is still the punishment of choice for capital crimes. When Saudi King Abdullah visits the US, he is not heaped with scorn for his regimes’ repressive treatment of his people. Instead he’s rewarded with flattering photos of he and George Bush strolling arm-n-arm through the Crawford sage.
Why is Putin blasted for “rolling back democracy” when American client, Mikhail Saakashvili, arbitrarily declares martial law and deploys his truncheon-wielding Robo-cops to beat protesters senseless before dragging them off to the Georgia gulag? The pictures of Saakashvili’s bloody crackdown appeared in the foreign press, but not in the US. Rather, the media had all its cameras focused on Gary Kasparov (contributing editor to the Wall Street Journal and right-wing loony) as he was led off to the Moscow hoosegow in handcuffs for protesting without a permit.
Putin’s real crime is that he serves Russia’s national interests rather than the interests of global Capital. He also rejects Washington’s “unipolar” world model. As he said in Munich:
“The unipolar world refers to a world in which there is one master, one sovereign; one center of authority, one center of force, one center of decision-making. At the end of the day this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within.
“What is even more important is that the model itself is flawed because at its basis there is and can be no moral foundations for modern civilization.”
“We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law….We are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper use of force — military force — in international relations, force that is plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts. I am convinced that we have reached that decisive moment when we must seriously think about the architecture of global security.”
Well said, Vladimir.
Putin’s no saint, but he doesn’t deserve the thrashing he gets from the western media.
And a final word on Gary Kasparov. On Sunday, while Putin’s party “United Russia” was screeching to a landslide victory, Reuters News was busy taking mugshots of the stony-faced Kasparov holding up Florida-style ballots claiming the voting was rigged. “They are not just rigging the vote,” Kasparov moaned, “They are raping the whole electoral system. These elections are a reminder of Soviet elections when there was no choice…..Putin is going to have a hard time trying to rule like Stalin.”
Stalin? So now Putin is Stalin? First of all, when did Reuters begin to take such a keen interest in voting irregularities? It must be a recent development, because they were nowhere to be found in the 2000 presidential election. And when did they start to pay attention to “political dissent”? They certainly never wasted any video-footage on the antiwar rallies in the US. Are we to believe that they are more interested in democracy in Russia than America?
And why is Reuters so eager to provide valuable column-space to a washed-up chessmaster who’s only interested in making a nuisance of himself by bellyaching about voter fraud? That’s not news; it’s propaganda.
As for Kasparov and his silly accusations; he should be glad that he lives in Putin’s Russia rather than Stalin’s or he’d be in leg-irons right now boarding a northbound train to the Siberian outback. What is Kasparov doing in Moscow anyway? And why is this little man –with virtually no political base — such a big part of the western media narrative? Is he only there to discredit the election and throw a little more muck on Putin or is there more to it than that?
Gary Kasparov should give up politics and do what he does best; stand-up comedy. Watching Kasparov traipse around Moscow with his basket of sour grapes and his entourage of western media-stooges is like watching “Mr. Bean’s Excellent Kremlin Adventure”, a particularly lame performance in a dismal B-rated burlesque. It’s painful to watch. Kasparov’s party, the “Other Russia” couldn’t manage even a 2 per cent rating in the polls. The party is a complete dud. In fact, Reuters even (reluctantly) admits as much in its article.
Here’s the clip. Reuters:
“Kasparov and his “Other Russia” dissident movement are not standing in Sunday’s parliamentary election because they could not get registered as a party. THEY ENJOY LITTLE PUBLIC SUPPORT AMONG RUSSIANS BUT HAVE A BIG FOLLOWING IN THE WEST.” (Reuters) “Big following in the West”?
Why doesn’t that surprise me? So, in other words, Kasparov has no base of support in Russia, and yet he gets his own camera crew and media team to follow him around recording every silly word he says. That’s just great. Who do they think he is: Nelson Mandela?
Kasparov is a contributing editor of Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal; so he already has a regular platform for launching his tirades on the “tyrannical” Mr. Putin. Normally, one doesn’t get a spot on the op-ed page of the WSJ unless their politics are somewhere to the right of Augusto Pinochet. That’s probably the case with Kasparov, too. In Saturday’s edition of the WSJ, Kasparov delivered his latest absurd soliloquy disparaging Putin and recounting his agonizing 5 day ordeal in the Moscow poky. Although Kasparov has garnered little public support in Russia, he appears to have a loyal following among the Washington elite. According to Wikipedia: “In 1991, Kasparov received the Keeper of the Flame award from the Center for Security Policy (a US think tank), for anti-Communist resistance and the propagation of democracy. Kasparov was an exceptional recipient since the award is given to “individuals for devoting their public careers to the defense of the United States and American values around the world”. Hmmmm….”For devoting their public careers to the defense of the United States and American values around the world” ? Isn’t that a definition of an American agent?
Again, according to Wikipedia:
“In April, 2007 it was asserted that Kasparov was a board member of the National Security Advisory Council of the Center for Security Policy, a non-profit, non-partisan national security organization that specializes in identifying policies, actions, and resource needs that are vital to American security. Kasparov confirmed this and added that he was removed shortly after he became aware of it. He noted that HE DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT THE MEMBERSHIP and suggested he was included in the board by an accident because he received the 1991 Keeper of the Flame award from this organization. But Kasparov maintained his association with the neoconservative leadership by giving speeches at think tanks such as the Hoover Institute.”
Here’s a list of some of the other fellow travelers who’ve been given the “Keeper of the Flame Award”:
• 2007-Senator Joe Lieberman.
• 2004-General Peter Pace.
• 2003- Paul Wolfowitz.
• 2002- General Richard Meyers.
• 1998-Donald Rumsfeld.
• 1996-Newt Gingrich.
• 1995-Ronald Reagan.
• 1990-Casper Weinberger.
Is Kasparov an anomaly or does he fit right in with this coven of far-right loonies? And who are some of the prominent members of the Center for Security Policy? Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Frank Gaffney, James Roche and Laura Ingraham. Oh, boy. The whole front office of the neocon’s cuckoo’s nest. Now tell me, dear reader, with friends like that; what should we really think about Kasparov’s performance in Moscow? Is he really interested in “democracy promotion” as he claims or is their acting out a script that was prepared in Washington?
In the US, Kasparov has become the focal point of the Russian elections – the primary source of “unbiased” analysis. NPR reiterates his spurious claims every half hour. The other news agencies are no better. He has become the distorted lens through which Americans view Russian democracy. This says a lot more about the choke-hold the neocons still have on the media rather than anything objective about Russia. The Kasparov fiasco gives us a chance to see the inner-workings of the establishment media. It’s nothing more than a propaganda bullhorn for far-right organizations executing their bloody imperial strategy. Fidel Castro summed it up best just days ago when he said: “It is the most sophisticated media ever developed by technology, employed to kill human beings and to subjugate or exterminate peoples”.
Amen to that, Fidel.
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Russian Elections And The Remaining Oligarchs
By Israel Shamir
Mike Whitney is an inspired writer we usually agree with and share his admiration of Russia’s progress. Recently, he enthused over election victory of Putin’s party in Russia’s parliamentary elections. He is right up to a point. Indeed, the Council of Foreign Relations, the leading think tank of the American establishment, hates Putin because he does not submit to Washington’s will. Indeed, Putin is popular, and he did many good things for the Russian people. Indeed, the liberal opposition led by Kasparov, Kasyanov et al is tiny and much disliked. Still, our readers deserve a better assessment, not a Disney-style Tom and Jerry comics. Propaganda is useful to mobilise soldiers, but it interferes with generals’ judgment. Let us begin with something simple. Mike writes: “Putin removed the corporate gangsters who had stolen Russia’s national assets the oligarchs are now all either in jail or have fled the country.”
It would be a great achievement, if it were happening. While two oligarchs, Berezovsky and Gusinsky, indeed fled Russia in very early days of Putin’s rule, and one, Khodorkovsky, who tried to unseat Putin by using his wealth, is in jail and his acolytes are in running, the oligarchs’ demise is rather overstated. From Norilsk Nickel to oil and gas resources, these very wealthy individuals Roman Abramovich, Oleg Deribaska, Michael Friedman still own the bulk of Russian assets and wealth. Their writ does not run far beyond business matters, they can’t interfere with the state politics. However, Putin had a mandate to get rid of them all; but he never did it.
More important, Edinaya Rossia (ER, the ruling party) has no coherent ideology or attitude. A loose federation of regional blocks, its members want to be in power, they allegedly paid millions of dollars for a safe place on the party list; and they can betray Putin as fast as anybody. Yes, Putin led them to victory over 60% of vote, but what now? Does it imply they will continue to follow Putin’s course? We learned that Putin decided not to take a seat in the Parliament. He is adamant in his refusal to run for presidency third term. And the Duma (Russian Parliament) is anyway quite powerless according to the 1994 constitution. So the immediate future is far from clear.
Even more important: reading Mike (or reading Western media), you get an impression that ER competes for power with the liberals, that Putin is the alternative to pro-American and pro-Zionist SPS. ER is opposed (in the Parliament) not by Kasparov and liberals, but by Communists and Nationalists. Liberals never succeeded to win any sizeable share of vote, while the Communists won the presidential elections in 1996 and allowed the victory to be squandered as they were afraid of civil war and repetition of 1993 bloodbath. Putin fought the Communists by means fair or foul: he blocked their access to TV, he tried to split them and organised a few parties to draw away the voters from the Communists. After the elections, the splinter party leaders expressed desire to rejoin the mother party, CPRF.
The Western media promote worthless and unpopular liberals of Kasparov etc, who would not even be heard of in Russia otherwise. Who cares what the view of Kasparov is? However, this fight against Kasparov and Yavlinsky is a troublesome sign. I was in St Petersburg at the time of their demonstration; the demo counted at best about two hundred participants of orderly behaviour, but the great city was awash with riot troops and armoured vehicles like Ramallah. A friend of mine, a University teacher, who just passed by, was arrested; and so were many other bystanders. Why was it necessary? Is it usual Russian heavy-handedness, or something more sinister: an attempt to attach importance and promote the liberal opposition at the expense of the Communists?
In conditions of perfect democracy, the Communists would soar to majority or plurality they are quite patriotic, and they do approve of positive steps by president Putin. But even in the present setup, the Communists have much to do: they can support the line associated with Putin and force the government to implement its declarations.
President Putin is a very good and successful manager, and he has made many valuable contributions to Russia’s well-being. He needs some critical support from the left; not an automatic yes-saying, in order to withstand the pressure from the right.
There was much talk of irregularities in the elections. The ruling party made full use of Putin’s name and reputation in its campaign. Their huge posters linking ER and Putin were placed in every city and town of Russia. But it was not worse than in Israel before 1977, or indeed Sweden in the 60s, when the predominance of social democrats was nearly total. As for counting, it appears that it was relatively fair, with exclusion of national republics at the Southern rim of Russia, where they went as far as they could to ensure their representatives’ place in the Parliament. The Western complaints misfired, because the same bodies, who objected to irregularities, fully approved of the rigged elections of 1996 and even of shelling of the Parliament in 1993. Russians had lost their virgin beliefs in the western fairness.