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Western conservatives’ fascination with Putin: the backlash from long demonization

January 10, 2014   ·   0 Comments

Photo: RIA Novosti

The recent opinion piece on Al Jazeera’s website, suggesting the possibility of a US-Russia alliance under a seemingly paradoxical headline “Can Putin Be a US Ally?” misses a lot of points and reflects a lot of mainstream media stereotypes, but it is still interesting.

What makes it interesting is the fact that it fits a growing new trend of fascination with Vladimir Putin, a trend that coexists with a much bigger and older “school of thought” inside the foreign (and even parts of Russian) mainstream media – the school that has been demonizing Putin for more than 10 years, ever since his coming to power. The problem is that both views are based on mainstream news reports, which ascribe to Putin certain inclinations that he actually never had – “crude Russian nationalism” (mentioned in John Batchelor’s piece at Al-Jazeera), superpower ambitions in the Middle East, homophobia, extreme religious conservatism, etc. The difference between these two Western schools of “Putinology” is the sign which they put before this long row of largely invented traits to Putin’s portrait. The liberal majority of the Western media tends to put a big (and highly disputable) minus, while the conservative minority puts an often cautious (but invariably big!) plus.

Nice conclusions, wrong sources

Mr. Batchelor’s piece, in which this radio host from New York City argues for an “expedient alliance” with Putin, is reflecting many points in Pat Buchanan’s much more sensible characterization of Putin as a “real conservative” who is out to offset some of the negative influence of the current US foreign policy in today’s world.

“While much of American and Western media in general dismiss him as an authoritarian and reactionary, a throwback, Putin may be seeing the future with more clarity than Americans still caught up in a Cold War paradigm,” Mr. Buchanan writes in his opinion piece for The American Conservative.

This assertion of Mr. Buchanan is true, but he (and the aforementioned John Batchelor, who published his piece on Al-Jazeera’s website) want to go further and ascribe to the Russian president and the media-vilified “Putin’s Russia” some planetary ambitions as well as the old “zero sum game” attitudes. Mr. Batchelor enumerates them in the beginning of his opinion piece:

“Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin enjoyed a remarkable year of successes that were capped with a cunning act of mercy by releasing his longtime rival Mikhail Khodorkovsky as well as two members of the dissident band Pussy Riot from their Siberian cells. Victorious in the tug of war with the European Union in Ukraine, dominant in the interim agreement between the P5+1 (the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) and Iran, well positioned to manage the Geneva 2 negotiations to end the Syrian civil war in Russian ally Bashar al-Assad’s favor and poised to preside over an extravagant televised Winter Olympics at Sochi, Putin starts 2014 as the most powerful leader in Europe and Asia,” Batchelor writes.

The West knows better?

This is all very flattering, but even the presumed successes of Putin, which Mr. Batchelor enumerates, reflect the exaggerations and half-truths fed to the Western public by the global mainstream media. Khodorkovsky was never a “rival” to Putin, but just a shady billionaire with questionable origins of his wealth; he and Pussy Riot members served their terms in the European part of Russia and not in the mythical “cells” in Siberia. Russia also never wanted a “tug-of-war” with the EU over Ukraine; quite on the contrary, Putin said many times that he viewed the Customs Union between Russia and Ukraine as a part of the European integration, not an alternative to it (it was the EU that depicted the developments in Kiev as a “war,” making a bungled attempt to force a free trade zone on Ukraine a public relations disaster for Brussels in the first place)… Moscow also said many times that it did not support Bashar al-Assad personally, Russia’s involvement in the Syrian conflict was mostly diplomatic and it was about Syria’s sovereignty, not about the fate of Bashar al-Assad. But whatever Putin says, the Western media always knows his intentions better than him, and reads these intentions in its own way, unabashedly replacing facts with opinions.

The result is a somewhat bloated figure, alternatively presented by the Western media sometimes as a powerful villain and sometimes as the only force for good on the planet Earth.

The West’s stupidity – Putin’s real strength

The truth is that the failures of the Western plans for Syria, Ukraine and a number of other countries are explained by the West’s own mistakes, and not by the “evil machinations” of Mr. Putin. In Syria, the West’s alliance with the violent and unpredictable Sunni opposition, which from the very beginning included jihadist terrorists, could not lead to any good result. In Ukraine, the EU’s desire to reverse more than 300 years of common Russian-Ukrainian history, making these two countries foreign to each other, was doomed. The West’s condescending attitude to violent “protests” in Kiev of the extremist Ukrainian nationalists, once known for their support of Hitler, would sooner or later alienate from the EU and the US a considerable part of the largely pro-European Ukrainian population. If “Europe” supports the people admiring the “heroes” who were out to destroy “all Jews and communists” during the World War II, this is not the Europe that Ukraine or Russia would like to join.

So, in fact Putin did not have to do much to outdo Mr. Obama, who is presented by Batchelor as “disconsolate” and “retreating.” Putin just held on to his views, allowing the US and the EU to reap the fruit of their wrong ideas – in Iraq, in Syria and in Ukraine. If the American plan was to create chimeras – such as liberally-feminist Afghanistan, de-russified Ukraine, democratically ruled Libya and Syria – then Obama’s “retreats” were in fact blessings, not weaknesses, as Obama’s hawkish critics suggest.

Now, is the US-Russia alliance, touted by Mr. Batchelor and Mr. Buchanan, possible? Of course it is, and Putin actually has done a lot for this alliance. The dismantling of Russian naval bases in Cuba and Vietnam in the early 2000s, Russia’s alliance with the US in driving the Taliban out of Afghanistan, Russia’s de-facto acquiescence to the expansion of the NATO and the EU to the Baltics – all of these moves, unnoticed by the Western media, were in fact Russia’s steps towards such an alliance.

Now the main obstacle preventing us from creating such an alliance between the US and Russia is not the commercial or geo-political contradictions, which Batchelor cites, drawing parallels with humanity’s slide into the World War I in 1914. The American invasion of Iraq ultimately hurt the US interests, destabilization of the Middle East in 2011-2013, touted in the West as the “Arab Spring,” led to the erosion of US influence in Egypt and North Africa in general, etc. If the US followed Russia’s advice, all of the above-mentioned bad developments would not have happened. So, the main obstacle is not the colliding interests, but the absurd ideology of the modern West. This ideology is based on a number of untruths: “deification” of elections (which are expected to bring prosperity), demonization of Russia and several other states, coercion of the weaker countries into accepting modern Western views on family, homosexuality and art. The imposition of the aggressive international finance system and unwise international distribution of labor already took place, destroying domestic industries around the globe.

For example, when Mr. Batchelor writes that the US needs Russia’s help in order “to contain the fury between Riyadh and Teheran”, he forgets that for many years Washington supported Saudi Arabia against Iran. This trend continued until now, despite the fact that 15 out of 19 9/11 terrorists were Saudis and that the US interests in the world were threatened by radical Sunni terrorists, not the Shiite ones.

So, who can help the US to better protect its interests, if the US is not ready to do it?

Only a change inside the US can make a positive change in international politics possible, including a thaw in Russia-US relations. The ball is on the American side.

And this is the biggest challenge, since it means the reform of the whole political system. (Mr.Reason)

Dmitry Babich

VoR

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