Voices from Russia

Thursday, 12 July 2012

After SNC Visit to Moscow Western Media Shows Signs of Better Understanding Russia’s Position


The media circus around the recent visit to Moscow of the Syrian National Council’s delegation revealed some important cracks in the “anti-Russian front” of Western press reports on Russo-Syrian relations. The simplistic picture created by the mainstream US and EU press for months, that Moscow’s “shielding” Bashar al-Assad while denying its people objective information on Syria, simply doesn’t correspond to reality. If Moscow’s “shielding” Assad, then, why does Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov receive his bitterest enemies? If Russia’s unwilling to inform its own people, then, why did it give the leader of the SNC, Mr Abdel Basset Sayda, an opportunity to speak to dozens of reporters from all Russian media during a press conference at the state-owned news agency, RIA-Novosti?

CNN’s website summed up this more convoluted reality, suddenly revealed to Western reporters, in the lead to its recent article, suggestively headlined Russian Views on Syria More Nuanced than They May Appear. The author, Tom Watkins, having followed some of the recent events, came to a conclusion that seems heretical when seen against the background of Mrs Clinton’s recent statement about Russia “having to pay a price for its support of Assad”. He wrote, “The Russian government shares many of the US concerns about the continuing violence in Syria, but Moscow’s reluctant to embrace Washington’s proposals to solve them because it is wary of its motives”, thus, revealing a whole new world to the average reader of the Washington Post or the New York Times. To support his point, Watkins quoted Jack Matlock, the former US ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1985-91, now seen as the most successful American envoy to Russia since 1917, who said, “People at the embassy characterised our positions [i.e. the positions of the Russian and American side on the violence in Syria] as 95 percent the same. They haven’t been giving [Syria] offensive weapons; they’ve cut way back on weapons’ supplies… the point is that their position isn’t primarily motivated by trying to protect Assad in Syria”.

Mr Matlock’s sober assessment of the situation is a stark counterpoint to the reaction of the mainstream media on both sides of North Atlantic, which concentrates on venting the anger and frustration of Syria’s armed opposition about their leaders’ failure to elicit Moscow’s 180 degrees change of course. It is interesting to note that, for example, the French newspaper Le Figaro continues to ascribe only the most unseemly motives to Moscow’s seemingly-risky moves in the Syrian conflict, as it commented, “Being sure that Washington won’t dispatch, at least in the near future, any troops to Syria, the Kremlin’s getting active on the diplomatic front, satisfying its obsession to stay in the middle of the fray”. Since the beginning of the crisis, all kinds of egotistic motives were ascribed to Moscow’s actions… a desire to see a dictator in power, worries about the fate of its naval base in Syria, the wish to be unpleasant to Washington, etc. Now, it’s the “obsession” with diplomatic hype.

Dmitri Simes, president of the US-based Center for the National Interest, offered a somewhat less negativist explanation on CNN earlier this week, “Russia’s halt to arms sales to Damascus may have had nothing to do with international pressure. The Assad régime has no money to pay for Russian weapons… the Russian position, basically, is that if NATO and the USA want to interfere with Syria, Russia isn’t going to stop them, but Russia is not going to support it either”. Simes also called Hillary Clinton’s assessment of Russia’s position as a position of a state that is “standing up for a tyrant” as being “unhelpful”.

What happens if the USA does interfere in Syria… not covertly, via CIA agents supplying weapons to the rebels, as it’s doing now, according to the New York Times’ recent report… but overtly? Ambassador Matlock offered a pessimistic scenario, saying, “If there’s overt, external intervention, it’s going to just make matters worse. In the final analysis, if a country’s determined to have a civil war and we can’t prevent it, getting in the middle of it and killing more people doesn’t really help things”.

One could not agree more.

12 July 2012

Dmitri Babich

Voice of Russia World Service


Friday, 11 May 2012

Same-Sex Challenge to Romney: A New Twist in US Presidential Race


President Obama’s decision to endorse same-sex marriages (and not just civil unions) gave the American presidential race a new twist, presenting a serious challenge to Mr Obama’s likeliest adversary… the GOP’s “presumptive candidate” Mitt Romney. Mikhail Delyagin, the head of the Moscow-based Institute for the Problems of Globalisation (IPROG), commented, “I think everything will depend on the reaction of Romney and the GOP at large to this move, which looks like a provocation from Obama’s side. Obama knows that the majority of people wouldn’t approve of a same-sex marriage for their children, but at the same time, he knows that radical homophobia can scare quite normal people. So, his bet is that the attacks against this move of his from the side of Mr Romney will be so monstrous, that they’d ultimately scare centrist voters away from Romney and the GOP”.

This is indeed a risky bet, since a lot of analysts believe that centrist voters, quite on the contrary, could now tilt away from Obama. In the opinion of these experts, keeping the status quo would be a better solution for Obama, since liberal people wouldn’t vote for Romney anyway, and Obama’s already won moderate supporters of new lifestyles by his decision to end the ban on open gays in the military. So, everything depends on Romney’s reaction now… will he be subtle enough to find a non-aggressive, non-divisive use for the chink in Obama’s armour that the president deliberately left open for him? Romney’s handling of this election’s foreign policy agenda, more important from a Russian point of view, doesn’t speak in favour of the former Massachusetts governor. It appears that Romney’s penchant for aggressive non-apologetic rhetoric may indeed do him a disservice… and not for the first time.

Certainly, his statement to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer about Russia as America’s “number one geopolitical foe” in March didn’t help Mr Romney’s record for subtlety. Many observers, including some in Russia, dismissed Mr Romney’s statement as election posturing, advising the Russian public not to take it seriously. Indeed, the phrase about Russia’s “fighting every cause for the world’s worst actors” doesn’t stand up to any kind of criticism, even if a critic sticks to the official American ideology. Even a New York Times editorial had to concede that Russia’s aid to the American-led coalition in Afghanistan and Russia’s abstention during a vote on an anti-Ghaddafi UN resolution don’t fit Mr Romney’s theory. However, was it really just electoral posturing?

If indeed it was, then why did Romney refuse to retract any of the outlandish accusations against Russia and Obama that he made in his interview to CNN? Why instead did he prefer to write a whole article for Foreign Policy magazine, where he complained about president Medvedev’s “attacks” against him (as if the president of a country declared the “number one geopolitical foe” of the world’s biggest nuclear power should find nothing but praise for the author of such a declaration)? Why then did Romney continue the same rhetoric about “pliant” Obama trying to “ingratiate” himself with the Kremlin? Why weren’t any of Romney’s foreign policy advisers, mostly Bush-era neocons, fired? There were lots of opportunities to limit the damage, but Romney never used any of them. No Apology: The Case for American Greatness… that seems to be not just a name for Mr Romney’s paperback, but his ideology in a nutshell.

For a wider world, the choice of America’s geopolitical friends and foes is certainly a more important issue than the intricacies of differences between same-sex marriages and same-sex unions. Nevertheless, there are situations when such seemingly abstract issues can decide the world’s destiny. Sergei Rogov, the head of the RAN Institute of the USA and Canada, warned, “If indeed Romney and his people come to power, the foreign policy team of George Bush Jr would look like children in comparison”. Everyone knows what Bush’s team managed to “achieve” in a relatively short period. Nicole Bacharan, a French author of a book on American elections, noted that in this situation, paradoxically, Romney’s duplicity may serve the world, saying in a recent comment for the Paris-based Le Figaro, “When elected the governor of the state of Massachusetts, Romney introduced a health insurance system on the state level, which ran against the Republican rhetoric and which became a model for Obama’s health care reform in 2011… something that Romney now denies”. Bacharan wrote that there’s always been a wide gap between Romney’s statements and his actual policies. I hope that, indeed, Romney didn’t mean what he said when he spoke about Russia’s “hostility” or the need to support Israel’s possible strike against Iran. However, the world’s security is probably too serious a matter to be made dependent on one person’s duplicity.

10 May 2012

Dmitri Babich

Voice of Russia World Service


Editor’s Note:

Let’s keep it simple. Most of the opposition to President Obama comes from two sources:

NOTHING that Mr Obama says on ANYTHING will ever change their minds. The bubbas hate him because he’s black. The greedsters hate him for standing in their way… they truly enjoy smashing their boot-heels into the faces of helpless people… “The race goes to the swiftest” and “Nothing should impede the market”, dontcha know! Reflect on this… these two groups call themselves “Christian”… it goes a long way to explain the antipathy of normal average Americans to “Born Agains”, doesn’t it?


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