Date: Wed, 30 Nov 2005
From: Robert Bridge <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: On Western journalists and their treatment of Putin and Russia
From an historical point of view, Russian President Vladimir Putin is the right man at the right time, although not for the things he has done, but precisely for what he has not. However, this fact goes practically unnoticed not only in the Western media, but perhaps most of all in Russia. Nevertheless, had any other man (or woman) been leading Russia at this critical juncture of its history, there may not be a Russia to speak of today.
Before I attempt to explain why this is so, we must remember that Russia is passing through perhaps its most challenging period since the 17th century Time of Troubles; the actual survival of Russia as a sovereign nation is now at stake. Severe domestic problems, like a rapidly shrinking population, AIDS, separatism and terrorism, to name but a few, threaten to derail Russia's move away from authoritarianism and toward a free-market democracy. Other factors, like the 1998 ruble crash, and the more recent pension reform plan that backfired, have left many Russians extolling the virtues of communism's less unpredictable side.
However, despite the severity of the internal factors, it is the external factors that present Russia with the most problematic scenarios today.
Russia, like America and the rest of the world, has been forced to deal with not one, but two of the most definitive moments in modern history: the collapse of the Soviet Union and the terrorist attacks of 9/11. While these cataclysmic events sent massive shockwaves across the entire planet, Russia - given the fact it was the driving engine of communism - was least prepared to handle the fallout.
Although myriad problems were released following the collapse of communism, perhaps the most to be feared was, and still is, Russian nationalism. This most dangerous member of the notorious "-ism" family was stoked by many events, including NATO's bombardment of Serbia over the Kosovo crisis in 1999. That event did more to weaken the image of former President Boris Yeltsin in the eyes of their people, who were already beginning to view him as weak at that time - the worst offense that any Russian leader could be guilty of. More importantly, Russia comprehended its own weakness and the real significance of its Cold War defeat; it was at this point that Yeltsin arguably made the most important decision of his presidency: he selected former KGB chief Vladimir Putin as his successor.
Putin continued with the official policy of political pragmatism - that is, accepting the global situation for what it was without any illusions - with a tough, no-nonsense style that the occasionally intemperate Russians have historically come to expect from their leaders; this cannot be pulled off by just any leader, especially at such a critical time. Putin and his inner circle understood very clearly that the geopolitical situation had taken a significant turn and that Russia, although still a nuclear power, was no longer a superpower in the sense that it could impose its power at will around the globe like America. Not everybody, unfortunately, saw things that way - especially certain members of the military brass and various nationalist parties. Despite the swift fall of Baghdad, there were still Russian generals clamoring for an engagement with the U.S.; only nuclear weapons could have balanced the scales. This is exactly how Putin has become an invaluable asset to both his people and the West.
Due to the inexplicable cult of his personality, Putin has been able to keep the military hawks in their cages, while outfoxing the more dangerous political elements in his country. Since 9/11, this has been a nearly impossible task, although the Western journalists and political pundits tend to ignore this incredible feat.
On top of the humiliation of suffering defeat in the Cold War, the Russian people must accept the fact that the U.S. military is now double-parked in Central Asia. Putin, however, and with very little acknowledgement in the western media, expertly handled this situation. Had any other man been in charge at this crucial time, the Russian generals may very well have had, yet again, the last word on a matter of state. The same thing could be said for many other flashpoints of Putin's 5-year rule, such as Ukraine's "orange revolution," the war in Iraq, where Russia had many vital interests, Afghanistan, and tiny Georgia, where Russia still has military bases. Then there are other irritants gnawing at Russia, like Latvia, which has practically disowned its Russian-born 'citizens,' severely curtailed the teaching of the Russian language in its schools, while permitting neo-Nazis to hold parades in the capital of Riga. Yet, through all of these intense hotspots, Putin has kept a cool and rational head, while continuing to cooperate with America in the war on terror. While this accomplishment should not discourage the debate on democracy in Russia, it should not be ignored at the same time.
Although Russia still has far to travel down the path of democracy (as do many other modern states), Western journalists should give more credit when it is due and realize that there could be far more dangerous alternatives to Mr. Putin.