Since MEP Guy Verhofstadt persists in his folly and plays the cat’s paw to the US State Department in its anti-Russian, hegemonic policies, I return to my admonition to him published on this site on 12 March 2012. Perhaps I was too gentle, and he did not get the point. So let’s be more direct this time: the right honorable gentleman is giving the European Parliament a bad name by his antics. Read on….
Second Open Letter to MEP Guy Verhofstadt
by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.
I am responding to your remarks on how the European Union should deal with the presidency of Vladimir Putin set out in the opinion page of today’s ‘ International Herald Tribune.’ Your invocation of the 1975 Helsinki process to promote change in Russia today is entirely appropriate to the Cold War vintage mindset you betray throughout your short piece.
However, Russia today is not the USSR, Vladimir Putin is not Leonid Brezhnev and your friends in the so-called liberal camp of seditious Russian wannabes are not dissidents languishing in prison camps. Instead they are all too smart at playing you for a fool. Your similar intervention on their behalf last fall before the Russian Duma elections was rejected as superficial and unhelpful by the doyen of the liberal cause Gregory Yavlinsky in ‘The New York Times.’ How did you miss that?
You call for passage in Europe of an equivalent to the Magnitsky bill, a legislative measure under consideration in the US Senate which has as its sole objective to de-legitimize the Russian government and to cast it as a pariah state.
Your setting as a precondition for summits with Russia that democracy, human rights and the rule of law be on the agenda is another facet of the same exceptionalism you propose to apply to state relations with Russia, arbitrarily setting it apart from the rest of the world with whom the EU meets without trumpeting demands in advance.
All of these elements place you, Mr. Verhofstadt, in the unenviable position of stooge to Uncle Sam. That the United States seeks to discredit Russia in the world’s eyes has a clear explanation if not justification in its generalized will to maintain its worldwide hegemony, which Mr. Putin’s Russia has had the temerity to challenge. But what is your interest in all of this? Is it not just to steal the microphone and strut across the world stage in the guise of champion of democracy and liberal values? Is it not the petty hope of getting US backing for some future executive appointment to an international institution which Washington denied you some years ago for your misbehaving and rejecting the invasion of Iraq?
And in the spirit of the Cold War, when both sides engaged in propaganda in a test of ideologies where truth was trampled all around, your little opinion piece is filled with falsehoods and deceptions.
You try by every means to tarnish the image of Russia while spouting nonsense. Crumbling political system? Stagnant economy? Degraded social sector? Which Russia are you talking about – Yeltsin’s or the Russia of today? The investments in infrastructure over the past decade have been stunning, and the real investments are just beginning if you were to consider the money now being budgeted for the road and rail systems across the vast country, for example.
Belgium and most of the Eurozone would drool to have the 4% plus growth of GDP which Russia is currently enjoying, to have its full employment. And the Putin-Medvedev tandem has brought pensions back to where they were before the crash of the Soviet Union, doubling and tripling them in the past couple of years. How has this escaped your notice?
The ‘revived civil society, vibrant Russian middle class, educated Muscovites and political opposition’ that you mention in passing did not just happen on their own. They have developed under the eyes and with the encouragement of the very leaders, Putin and Medvedev, on whom you pour scorn. Somehow one and one just does not seem to arrive at two in your arithmetic, Mr. Verhofstadt. Maybe it is time to go back to class.
If this text was indeed written by you, then I am beginning to wonder about your credentials as a European liberal, meaning pro-market actor. How did you decide that the price of oil which Russia is using to fund the pensions of its seniors is ‘exorbitant’? Generally speaking, the export price of Russia’s oil is set by the market. And is Belgium selling its beer and chocolate to overseas markets at concessionary prices for humane considerations? I had not noticed that the last time I spotted a Cote d’Or candy bar in a New York deli.
By the same token, your declaration about the relative bargaining power of the EU and Russia in some test of wills you wish to impose is vacuous. What makes you think that the world has less need of ‘Russian gas and raw materials’ than Russia has need of respectability in your eyes. I suggest you take this proposal up with the Belgian Chamber of Commerce with Russia and see how far you get.
Your remarks disparaging the new law on registering political parties which was passed in the last months of Dmitri Medvedev’s presidency are absurd. If the opposition movements do not profit from the greatly liberalized requirements, it will be only because they are led by unprincipled, power hungry egoists who cannot sacrifice their personal ambition to make common cause with political bedfellows. In any case, I am not persuaded that proliferation of parties enjoying tiny percentages of the electorate spells greater democracy or better governance. The record of Belgium and other European states which overly protect minorities is not convincing.
You are also mean in your judgment of the prospective transition to direct election of governors. After the disastrous experience with satrapies in the regions which led to the cancellation of direct elections, it would be foolhardy for Russia’s central government to forego all possibilities of screening in a reform of this importance.
Yes, you may have been on the ground in Moscow on March 4th, but it appears you did not see and did not learn very much other than what your handlers wanted you to see. I repeat my words of a month ago, you are out of your depth.
The eye-catching words ‘Watch out Putin, spring is coming’ which close your article are a paraphrase of a similar recent taunt by the mentally unbalanced, Russia-baiting U.S. Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain. Its placement here puts in question the authorship of your piece.
It is logical if rather sad that you choose to make your appeal to the Member States of the European Union from the platform of an American newspaper. In the event, you have truly found birds of a feather for your Russophobe stance. In the same issue of the IHT today there appears a very judgmental article pretending to be news reportage on yesterday’s State Duma vote which confirmed Dmitri Medvedev as Russia’s Prime Minister. This article takes as its point of departure the assumption that Russia is a dictatorship like the USSR. Only in that context can we understand the author’s speaking of the Russian parliament as a ‘rubber stamp’ and his amazement that nearly one third of parliamentary deputies dared to vote against the candidate of the ruling party, United Russia. Yes, the Communists and most of Just Russia voted against Medvedev. And it is a good thing too, as it proves that democracy is alive and well in Moscow.
In closing, I urge that you and your Liberal colleagues in the Europarliament get down off your soapboxes and return to your knitting, i.e., looking after the economic, political and human rights of your constituents here in Europe, where perhaps you do know something of greater value than the newspaper journalists.
© Gilbert Doctorow, 2012
G. Doctorow is an occasional guest lecturer at St. Petersburg State University and Research Fellow of the American University in Moscow. His latest book,Stepping Out of Line: Collected (Nonconformist) Essays on Russian-American Relations, 2008-12, is available in paperback from Amazon.com and affiliated websites worldwide. An e-book edition will be issued shortly.