Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Writer's Block and New Format

It has become really difficult to review media analysis about Russia due to my preference for factual statements that I can verify using commonly available sources. Unfortunately, most of the writing on Russia consists of unsubstantiated allegations and accusations, which, while being easy to refute from the point of view of pure logic, cannot provide much material for a blog entry. For example, if someone claims that Putin personally put polonium in Litvinenko's tea, or similar drivel, how am I going to respond? "No, he didn't?" "You forgot to provide any credible evidence?" None of that is impressive, even if such responses are logically sound.

So, if the analysis of Russia is of such poor quality, why do I have to maintain high standards in my blog? Sometimes I also want to have fun and simply trade barbs with various barely competent individuals who feel compelled to write something about Russia. For today, I will comment on a marvelous piece -- an editorial in Investor's Business Daily, courtesy of some unnamed editor. Here's the full text, and my comments:


Diplomacy: President Bush invited Russia's leader to Kennebunkport this week, but he's hardly our good amigo.
Is Bush Russia's good amigo?


His latest provocations should be enough for Bush to cancel the trip and re-evaluate this friendship.
There was a friendship to begin with? And is friendship between leaders of sovereign states a prerequisite for talking to one another?


On July 1, President Bush will honor Russian President Vladimir Putin with access few other world leaders experience. He's heading to the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport to dine on lobster and view the beautiful Maine scenery, as only a few distinguished world leaders, like Poland's Lech Walesa and Jordan's King Hussein, have done.
I'm sure Putin has seen better scenery than Maine's, and has eaten better food than lobster. If that was the extent of what the author thinks Bush's friendship toward Putin is, then I must point out that it's not terribly impressive so far.


Sure there are differences, the media kits say, but the rationale is that the two leaders, away from their aides and public pressure, can finally get together like old friends and hash out differences.
No harm in trying, is there?


But in Putin's case, there's some doubt about that going to plan.
As opposed to Bush's case?


Instead of presenting at least a temporary spirit of friendship...
Putin's job description is Russia's president, not America's friend. Given the author's unique understanding of what "friendship" means (as we'll see later), it is an impossible task to defend Russia's legitimate interests and be America's friend at the same time.


...Putin in recent days has issued increasingly shrill, belligerent public statements...
Hmm? I've heard those statements, and they seemed to be quite calm and composed, as it has always been with Putin. This editorial, on the other hand, is shrill and belligerent. Now, let's not project our faults on others, shall we?


...and his recall of history is a surreal revisionism harkening back to the days of Soviet propaganda.
Revisionism implies revising an established opinion. If Putin, as the author claims, goes back to the days of Soviet propaganda, then it hardly qualifies as "revisionism", as nothing is being revised. Logical, no?

Let us also note that the author limited himself to affixing labels, but hasn't actually managed to claim that what Putin said was false. I wonder why?


Over the weekend, Putin derided the U.S. memorial to the victims of communism and declared that no one should make Russia feel guilty for the epic crimes of Stalinism.
So that is Putin's unfriendly gesture? The little bastard does not want to feel guilty about the crimes of "Stalinism", and doesn't want his compatriots to feel guilty either? So that is what it takes to buy America's friendship these days? To feel guilty about something you didn't actually do or had any control over? Quite impressive.

And of course, while Putin's refusal to feel guilty about what some ancient government did to its own people (which I naively thought was an internal Russian matter) is clearly an affront to the US, the memorial to the victims of communism whose purpose is to instill that guilt, going so far as to falsify some (if not most) aspects of Soviet history, is obviously a friendly gesture.


In fact, the West had far more to answer for, he said.
Less paranoia, please. Putin merely implied that the West wasn't all white and fluffy either; he did not call the West to account.


"We have not used nuclear weapons against a civilian population," Putin said. "We have not sprayed thousands of kilometers with chemicals, (or) dropped on a
small country seven times more bombs than in all the Great Patriotic (War)."
Which of these statements is not true?


Questionable on its own merits, given the human losses of Stalinism (60 million murdered)...
Hmm? The population of the USSR in 1926 was 147 mln. So in the next 30 years the population of that size suffered losses of 60 mln due to "Stalinism" and 27 mln due to WW2 (not to mention severe reduction in birth rate due to urbanization, famine, and war), and in 1959 still amounted to 209 mln? Something doesn't compute, my dear unnamed editor. How's your 'rithmetic?

In reality, per declassified archival materials (both NKVD stats and demographic data), the population losses due to Stalin era repressions amounted to at most 3 million, but more likely around 2 million (that's before discounting the excess mortality among the prisoners caused by the German invasion, rather than Soviet policies). Which does not make this any less reprehensible, but still -- the truth is the truth. Now, every time I point this out, someone invariably asks if it really matters how many people were killed during Stalin's rule, they were all innocent victims after all. And now we know why it matters -- the reason for the falsified figure of Stalin era victims (exaggerated by an unbelievable factor of 20 or 30!) is to make sure that whatever the crimes "the West" has ever committed, the USSR would look worse (at least to those naive enough to buy the propaganda, or those dishonest enough to pretend to believe it). Hence the skillful use of this figure by our nameless editor from the IBD.


...as well as the Soviet Union's role in prolonging World War II...
How, pray tell, did the Soviet Union prolong the war? Didn't fight hard enough? The correspondence between Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt during the war indicates otherwise, and in fact places the blame on the other side.


...and involvement in the Cold War's conflicts, like Vietnam...
But isn't it also true that while being involved in "in the Cold War's conflicts, like Vietnam", the USSR did NOT use nuclear weapons against civilian population, did NOT spray thousands of kilometers with chemicals, and did NOT drop seven times more bombs than during the GPW on any small country?


...Putin's claims are even more disturbing because they come just ahead of the red-carpet welcome he's getting here.
The red-carpet welcome and the 21 gun salute are a standard courtesy for any visiting head of state, regardless of what and how is being discussed. Chill out, IBD's nameless editor.


What kind of a leader says that ahead of a major summit?
What kind of a leader opens a memorial falsifying the history of a different country ahead of a major summit with that country's head of state?


While Putin's words give us pause, his actions are worse. He has threatened to fire missiles at Europe if it deploys a U.S.-led missile defense.
What Russia actually said is that it will have no choice but to target the new bases being set up close to Russia's borders. We still live in the world of MAD, after all. How that translates into a threat to fire those missiles remains a mystery. Plus, the nameless editor promised us examples of actions, and instead once again provided an example of mere words being said. Deceived once again, aren't we?


In May, Russia boldly tested a new intercontinental missile, sending a clear message to Europe that the threat is real.
Certainly boldly testing new missiles is an affront. Everyone knows that missiles should be tested cravenly. Then it would be interpreted as a friendly gesture. Like the friendly missile tests that the US conducts.


Putin also reportedly began delivery of five MIG-31E advanced fighter jets to Syria, a terror-supporting regime.
Are there any international sanctions in place against Syria that prevent Russia from selling aircraft to it? No? Has Syria ever threatened to attack the US? No? For example, Georgia (not the state) (and no, it's not named after George W. Bush) (no, not even his father or King George, for that matter) has threatened to overrun its rebellious provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, despite the fact that Russian peacekeepers are stationed there, hence directly threatening the lives of Russian citizens. In a display of friendliness, the US and other NATO countries have supplied most of Georgia's current arsenal -- right after Georgia's unhinged defense minister made those threats. Maybe Russia should learn from such friendliness and start supplying weapons to Al Qaeda?


His words also come as Venezuela's unhinged dictator, Hugo Chavez, declared over the weekend that he still hopes to buy advanced Russian submarines and use them against the U.S., explicitly citing Puerto Rico.

Well, if the US doesn't attack Venezuela, then the dastardly dictator (despite being popularly elected) Hugo Chavez will not have to attack Puerto Rico, will he now? And if the US is planning to attack Venezuela after all, is that Russia's problem?

Was this a trial balloon from Putin to remind the U.S. that Russia's malign reach extends to our hemisphere?
The author seems confused. Hugo Chavez said something, but it's Putin's trial balloon? Are they the same person in this confused author's mind?


On top of this, Putin has brazenly rescinded democratic rights inside Russia...
I'm sorry, which democratic rights have been rescinded inside Russia? I just asked several Russian acquaintances, and they couldn't recall any of their democratic rights that they found lacking all of a sudden during the Putin presidency. Maybe the author can help locating the missing rights? Unless, that is, he wasn't being entirely truthful...


...and is stepping up hostile spying against the West.
While the West is stepping up friendly spying?


He seems to be angling for a third term in office and may well succeed.
That's despite the fact that Putin has said about 20 times already that he will not be running for the third term. My dear IBD editor, are you by any chance... slow?


Another term and he'll be able to make huge trouble for us...
Like what? Sell more fighters to some other developing country? Or recall the fate of the Native Americans? Or, God forbid, refuse to feel guilty once again about something he didn't do?


...especially if Americans mistakenly elect a weak president in 2008.
Instead of all this drivel about Russia, the author should've started with this main idea of the entire rant. "The enemies are lurking all around us, they hate our freedom, so we must elect a Repub... erm, a strong leader". If you're campaigning for Republicans, don't drag Russia into internal American political squabbles. It hurts the country's foreign policy.


Putin, like a wild bear, seems to have lost his fear of the West...
So the author thinks the West should be feared? That's quite an advertisement of the West's friendship.


...and views its friendship as cheap.
The bear must jump through more hoops before he earns that friendship? Then not only will he be invited to Kennebunkport, but also (what an honor!) will be allowed to eat off the master's plate?


Despite concessions and conciliatory language from the West, his hostility has only grown.
Concessions? Name one (sorry, "Maine lobster" will not be accepted as an answer). Conciliatory language? As exemplified by this editorial?


Russia seems to have no intention of meeting the West halfway as a friend. It might be wise to rescind the generous U.S. invitation, and let Putin visit his friends in Venezuela and Cuba instead.
Now the author just sounds jealous. "Boohoo, go play with your other friends if you like them so much!" Fortunately, global politics are not a kindergarten playground.

The choice of Russia's friends is also odd. At first Russia is accused of selling weapons to Venezuela and Syria, but the friends Russia should go and play with are Venezuela and Cuba? Why did Cuba get dragged into this without an introduction about its misdeeds, and Syria got left out? And does the unnamed author actually realize that Castro doesn't like Putin, ever since Putin shut down the Russian military facility in Lourdes? Now that was a concession and meeting each other halfway. Russia shuts down a military base on the US border, and Bush... invites Putin to dine on Maine lobster. And that ingrate Putin doesn't even appreciate Bush's unprecedented generosity? The US builds military bases on Russia's borders, and the wild bear is going to target these democratic outposts with its authoritarian missiles? The US, in a display of friendliness, builds a whole memorial dedicated to Russia's non-existent crimes, and these people dare to say they're not going to feel guilty? Don't they appreciate the effort that the US went to for their sake? Such ingratitude, such rejection of friendship... I'm sorry, I can't write anymore, I can't see the monitor because my eyes are tearing up...

Oh, wait, one other thing. I'm sure there are plenty of idiots who will read this blog and claim that I think the USSR was better than the US, even though I haven't actually said this anywhere. In reality, I think it's inevitable that during a conflict such as the Cold War both parties commit crimes and neither comes out smelling like roses. But this blog entry is not about that. It is about... friendship. Friendship is when you say "OK, we're both good guys, just slightly misguided, but now let's be friends like the good guys we are". Or you can say, "OK, we were both pretty bad guys and many people suffered because of us, but now let's pretend like it never happened and just move forward as friends". But when you say "I'm the good guy, and you're the bad guy, but being the friendly person that I am, I'll suffer your miserable existence as long as you feel guilty about it... Wait, what? You don't think you're the bad guy? You dare to reject my friendship?!! That's it, I'm not inviting you to my house to play anymore!" -- is that friendship? Or is it a temper tantrum of a kindergartener?

12 comments:

Heribert Schindler said...

Hi Fedia, it's nice to read you again.

Fedia Kriukov said...

Nice to hear from you as well, Heribert. Sorry, I've been busy...

Irina said...

Hi, Fedia!

You did a great job. But I wonder how many people get to read your blogs. Why don't you send this to the newspaper? As a letter to the editor or their Opinion section (if they have one)? Anyway, thanks for doing this.

Best!

olga said...

Hello Fedor, great comments. I like the way you give step by step analyses of unbelievable incompetence and biases. I don’t know why you write your comments, but I really admire your efforts our voice be heard.
Couple of years ago I was so amazed by lies about Russia I read in the newspaper that wrote to a journalist. Perhaps you remember how they converted the note of VVP on SU collapse. All UK and US newspapers (except NYT) wrote that the former KGB colonel/spy/ officer argued that “communism collapse” had been a catastrophe. You wouldn’t believe in reply. She (journalist) wrote that she did mistakes as she didn’t know Russian. Pls take in consideration that ALL information that I’d supplied her was in English (ex. Speech of Mr. Putin published on his official website, Britannica (sic!) articles).
I believe that many journalists there have very low quality of education and they write based on the editors comments they receive. To be honest, the same true for many of our journalists too
If we talk editors …it’s different story. For sure most of them have brains. That’s why I find your comments extremely useful. Thanx.

Fedia Kriukov said...

Irina, I doubt there is any point in sending letters to newspapers. Even if they publish a letter, they cut it up to leave the thesis unsupported (hence make it unconvincing), and proceed with the same old propaganda line in their editorials. But if you accuse them of bias in the future, they'll point to the letter and claim that they publish dissenting opinions too.

Irina & Olga, thanks for your comments!

W. Shedd said...

I think you need to learn the distinction between an editorial and a news article.

It is surely easy and amusing to dissect an editorial, because it is purely opinion.

My main complaint with english language news sources that report on Russia ... is less their facts (although they can cite questionable sources or facts) than the shallow depth of their research. They also make questionable language choices and fall into familiar patterns of description.

However, in my opinion, Russian newspapers are often even worse. These days, there are many more tabloid-style newspapers pretending to be real news in Russia, than in the US.

In any case, good luck.

W. Shedd said...

I'm sure Putin has seen better scenery than Maine's, and has eaten better food than lobster. If that was the extent of what the author thinks Bush's friendship toward Putin is, then I must point out that it's not terribly impressive so far.

Taste is subjective, but I actually doubt Putin has eaten better food than Maine lobster, which is absolutely excellent when properly prepared. I further doubt there are many places prettier than the coast of Maine, particularly in the early morning.

I've visited much of the world, from Central Asia to Russia and Europe and most of the United States, including Hawaii. You shouldn't doubt that the Bush estate on Walker point is a lovely setting.

Fedia Kriukov said...

Wally, surely you realize that it was amusing to dissect this particular editorial not because it was purely opinion (which it wasn't -- the author, to give him some credit, was brave enough to include a couple of verifiable facts), but because it was an opinion of a silly person.

The problem with dissecting actual news articles about Russia is outlined in the first paragraph of my post.

I agree that on average Russian journalists are highly unprofessional compared to their western counterparts, but they do have two redeeming qualities: their opinions vary across the spectrum and they don't write exclusively in cliches. Thus, if you want to arrive at an objective understanding of a certain subject relating Russia, Russian media would be a better bet. As long as you learn to separate the wheat from the chaff effectively.

You've correctly pointed out that taste is subjective, so you must realize that your appeal in favor of Maine lobster might easily fall on deaf ears -- I, for one, dislike lobster and can name hundreds of better dishes than Maine lobster, or even lobster from another locale. As for the scenery, I don't doubt that Maine is a lovely setting -- yet, if you want to dispute my claim, you need to prove that Maine is not just "lovely", but the loveliest place on Earth (or at least the loveliest out of all the places visited by Putin).

Anonymous said...

Dear comrade Kriukov, thank you for writing about IBD article. I laughed till I cried. Found your blog by
accident while reading data
from survivors of The Great Patriotic War. As an old
Texan I love reading first
hand accounts by heroes and
Russia had many millions in WW2. Over a million soldiers still alive! Their sacrifice certainly shortened the war
by several years.

Too bad the hot war evolved into a cold war but politics
always divides people. Putin
Stalin, Roosevelt, Bush?

You and me? Babies slapping
each other with dirty diapers? Adults using dirty
words? Or exchanging missile stikes. At age 75 I prefer
living in the past and leave
the present and future to you.

Thanks for making me laugh and continue to write using facts instead of whatever term could be used to describe the method used by the author at IBD.
Good luck, John

The Pakistani Spectator said...

We have compared the Putin with Pakitani President Musharraf at the following address:

http://pakspectator.blogspot.com/2007/11/putin-vs-musharraf.html

Would you please comment for the benefit of the Pakistani readers there?

regards.

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to more posts, please come back!

Novarri said...

It's an interesting point you make - as a college student in the U.S., I think (and hope) that we can improve our relations with Russia and get a better understanding of the culture and facts of the country.

I personally know of a couple of programs - specifically a study abroad program to Russia and a summer work program where Russian come over to work here (for Busch Gardens) - and I think that programs like this can really help us to better understand each other.

Of course, I don't expect too much to change in one generation, or two, but I really do hope that with programs like these - and the Internet's ability to let us communicate easily despite the distances involved - we can begin to realize just how silly editorials like the one you dissected are.