The reasons behind Russia bashing

13 May '08
Listening to President Bush, Condie Rice, pretty much anyone else in Washington who comments about Russia, doesn’t concern me too much--it’s all politics. But when The New York Times starts Russia-bashing, I’m very worried.

Clifford Levy, the newspaper’s Moscow Bureau chief, has authored a string of front page stories purporting to show the world that Russia is still the evil empire.

How evil? Imagine how horrified people in America must feel reading that college girls in Nizhny Novgorod, where I live, were threatened with being thrown out of their dorms if they don’t vote for United Russia or that Protestant and Baptist missionaries being were not allowed to rent space for their services.

And there’s more. Did you know that Russian nonprofit organizations, especially those funded by foreign governments, are harassed by the FSB? The Russia “series” in The New York Times makes no attempt to be neutral or even objective. The headlines and sub-texts are clear—life in Russia under the Putin/Kremlin “regime” has meant less and less freedom and more and more state control.

My first reaction to these articles was why the Times had decided to devote so much space to what it felt was wrong with Russia without any attempt at journalistic balance. Then I saw several “documentaries” on BBC that made the Times articles look absolutely benign. Did you know that bad vodka can kill? That Volga’s aren’t always reliable? That many small villages in Russia are abandoned?

When the most influential newspaper in America and the venerable BBC start singing the same song, it’s time to look deeper.

And so my take is that without anyone left to bash America and its staunchest ally have turned their sights on Russia. England lost its empire and its global influence centuries ago and has been hanging on to Uncle Sam’s trousers ever since. But what’s America’s excuse? One would think that having left its footprint on most of Europe, the Caribbean, Central America, the Pacific and Southeast Asia we’d be satisfied. We’re the world’s only superpower. So big, so bad, so feared, we’ve even refused to sign the UN treaty de-militarizing space. We rule this planet, why not all of them?

But the downside to all this power and affluence is America’s galactic debt. So when our economy wobbles, the shock waves are felt around the globe—especially in those countries who own our debt. And therein I think lies the reasons for all the Russia-bashing.

In just a single generation, Russia has gone from a nation in default with its government, economy and social fabric in tatters to a global economic juggernaut with real political stability. Hundreds of billions in gold, Euros and dollars socked away in the bank and an economy growing 6-8 times more than the US. It’s no wonder to anyone who lives here, seeing the breathtaking change, that Russia is doing marvelously well at the same time America is tottering and England’s looking anemic too.

But instead of asking Mother Russia to dance, Uncle Sam has once again decided to act like a nasty old codger that nobody likes or trusts. Arrogant, threatening and obnoxious. Maybe America thinks it can get Russia to start a new Cold War—which would help the US defense industry immensely. Or maybe it thinks it can isolate Russia diplomatically by pushing hard for an independent Kosovo or by sweet-talking Czechoslovakia into installing missiles. Could this be what’s behind the big push for NATO expansion? But exactly who is this new European enemy? Where is the immediate threat?

Of course, it’s Gazprom!

For those of you who are interested, take some time to read formerly classified US archives concerning what America did during the Cold War to keep Russia off balance. I don’t think it is far-fetched to think that we are doing it again. I only hope Russia won’t get sucked in this time, even when America decides to up the ante and accuse it of more dire deeds.

At one time the words American freedom and democracy really meant something. But after all the damage my country has done to “make the world safe” for democracy, it’s hard to trust a country that’s been responsible for so much death and destruction. Unlike America, Russia has no tradition of freedom and democracy and has never claimed otherwise. Considering its tortured history, it’s doing the best it can and everyone knows it’s a country in progress that has a long way to go. I don’t see its troops in Iraq or Afghanistan or any sabre-rattling in Iran.

And those college kids who were frightened of being thrown out of their dorms? Unfortunately, Times readers weren’t told that in fact that Russians vote in exactly the same manner Americans do—in secret, behind a curtain. So go back to your dorms girls, it’s ok! And Uncle Sam? Try learning how to dance!
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