Dr. Marina Kalashnikova, a distinguished Moscow-based historian and journalist, looks at failed Western policy towards Russia.
The current ‘transition period’ in Russia may reveal nasty mistakes of
the Western governments in their policy of reforming Moscow. I mean the
ongoing lazy sliding from Putin’s to Medvedev’s presidency with all
pertinent accompanying attributes.
Several polling companies came out shouting figures of the presidential
‘successor’s’ popularity. Statistics now vary from 60% to 82%. That is
even higher than Mr. Putin’s 75%-level in his last campaign in 2004,
which he had earned through the crucible of the Chechen wars, and harsh
fights with terrorists and oligarchs. Medvedev’s recognition and
legitimacy, for today, exists on an empty place. Artificial figures
have nothing to do with realities. They are the product of the
president’s narrow surrounding collective mind. Following the demand
the companies shamelessly lie, releasing PR forgeries instead of
measuring people’s trust to the candidate.
Since Soviet times we have been well-trained to perceive national
statistics as an anecdote, if not a big lie, and treat them
accordingly. Many Western leaders linked polls results of Putin’s
‘popularity and people’s love’ with allegedly high standards of life,
stability and social guarantees reached through redistribution of
swelling national budget and wealth.
By that they justified their policy of appeasement towards Moscow,
turning to dictatorship, in the eyes of their own voters at home.
Now many may be unpleasantly surprised by some of the long-term consequences of their conciliatory delusions. Any statistics are as forged and artificial as Russia’s prosperity. Huge money was invested into Chelsea FC, but soccer fans may not know that the Russian state pension fund is empty. People must take care of themselves. Polls ratings reflect public opinion in democracies where authentic media, experts and opposition exist, but not in police states headed by dictators. Any beliefs that Moscow may become more like the West appeared to be in vain.
The real essence of politics in Russia is reduced to fighting off different enforcement groupings for power.
Wrong decisions, based on deep misunderstandings of Russia’s realities, had been made often by the Clinton administration. Bureaucracy could not comprehend that Soviet nomenklatura, including militaries and KGB, never lost the power, compared to Central and Eastern Europe, having made successful efforts on fronts of decommunisation, cleaning and lustration.
In Russia nomenklatura only regained its strength, using many resources, including American and British democracy-promoting programs.
Moscow used the time to save forces and money, re-arm and start intimidating with ‘first nuclear strike’. Head of Russia’s Joint Chief of Staff Baluevskiy last week promised to the world such perspective, leaving the Western minds to comprehend falsity of the Russian polls and other statistics.
The Western partners of Russia in 1990-s reforms were involved in preserving the roots for such regime and revival of the Soviet basics now.
When the West opened in Russia NGOs, banks, business companies and hired the Russian personnel – to bring up new generations of freedom – they were stuffed with former and acting military officers and KGB people. They were welcomed by foreign bosses and ‘head-hunters’ agencies for fluent foreign languages and discipline.
One of the most crying cases (direct deal between the American representatives and KGB) happened with the Heritage Foundation. An intelligence officer with the rank of colonel who had previously worked in SVR department for planning a nuclear attack against USA, was appointed the head of its Moscow branch. He was tasked to implant liberal ideas in transformation period.
No surprise that all those people and organizations easily switched to providing support to Putin and later – fulfilling his demands. In the end that turned out with a paper-civil-society’s collapse. Wrong decisions of bureaucracy undermined chances for democracy in Russia.
The office of my supervisor, when I worked in the USA Embassy Moscow press-service, was decorated by a big poster of Stalin – the most bloody dictator of all times and nations of the world. I wonder whether such illustrations could be admissible on the walls of the State Department. Could Hitler’s picture appear in the American Embassy in Berlin or Saddam’s in Baghdad?
The West got involved with many parties and politicians in its appeasement policy, if not its shabby alliance with Russia. That resulted in damaging slim democratic forces in Russia, remaining in a shadow of friendship that Washington and London kept up with Moscow.
If this relationship was successful, why didn’t ex-Premier Blair call the Kremlin to stop dismantling the British Council in Russia?
On the road to coherent policy towards Russia it woul be worthwhile to switch from fakes to real figures and personalities. That may help to delineate real challenges from blackmailing and choose the adequate response.