In the days since publication of my essay entitled “Kremlinology 2.0” on 28 March, I have received fairly wide exposure in the alternative media as a ‘formerly’ reasonable observer of the Russian scene who has gone rogue. I am said to have joined the Anglo-Saxon propagandists who are working nonstop to discredit President Putin and Russia more generally.
The signal for this stampede of the herd of Russia’s would-be defenders to trample my objectivity and credibility was given by The Saker originally in its English language portal, but then broadcast by its multifarious network in French, in Russian, in Greek and other languages. But whereas the couple of words directed at me by Andrei Raevsky were a hint rather than a full-blown denunciation of apostasy, the Comments sections of his blog and associated portals, were overrun by the usual claque of no-nothings keen to spill blood.
The same flood of ignorant commentary bordering on the obscene occurred on portals like www.anti-empire.com which merely re-posted (without permission, as usual) my 28 March essay. I responded there to a couple of the defamers and let it drop. Here in this essay, I take up the gauntlet in a more public way because the issue is too important to go unremarked.
And what is that issue? It is that, regrettably, the vicious and mindless propaganda of Russia-bashers who dominate mainstream and “own” America’s newspapers of record, The Washington Post and The New York Times (witness the utterly scandalous publication there on 13 April of a concocted and factually baseless article by William Broad entitled “Putin’s Long War Against American Science”) is matched in equal measure of vicious and mendacious propaganda among the more fervent defenders of the ‘Putin regime’ in the West.
I hasten to add that far too many of these defenders know absolutely nothing about Russia and care still less about the facts. Russia and Putin are of interest to them solely as a bludgeon against the American world order that they despise. Indeed, they are entitled to their loathing for the USA, for capitalism, and the rest. They are not entitled to invent a Russia and a Kremlin leadership as a foil and to pick and choose factoids in support of their theses.
Both sides in the Info Wars are adept at smear techniques, using guilt by association and ad hominem argumentation to avoid entirely responding to the reasoning of those they are pillorying. It is not what you are saying and proving factually that counts, but who publishes you and how what you are saying can be used by one’s enemies that matters. A supporting technique is to take separate phrases one might use out of context in order to misrepresent the target’s ideas as the inversion of what they are in context, and to ignore irony so as to construe it as the opposite, meaning the author’s avowal of what he is lampooning. I called out these abuses in my response to Comments on www.anti-empire.com.
Then there is the pure invention of a Curriculum Vitae for the purposes of discrediting today’s object of attack. In my case, as one example, a reader of my “Kremlinology 2.0” commented that I had a long record of “working for” anti-Russian propaganda publications, in particular for the Finnish-owned Moscow Times. In its obliviousness to the truth this allegation from would be Kremlin defenders matches perfectly the denunciations I received a couple of years ago from our overzealous Progressives and Liberals over my “working for” the anti-Semitic, pro-Kremlin news portal Russia Insider.
I state here flatly that I have never “worked for” or “written for” anyone. My life as a political commentator specializing in Russia-related news began in 2010 as a post-business career avocation, acting as a “public intellectual” who neither expects nor receives compensation from anyone. All of my writings appear first on my own blog site and are copyrighted. They are reposted with or more usually without my permission because other portals appreciate their value to their reader communities. Period.
And specifically with respect to The Moscow Times, which published a total of a half-dozen of my analytical articles at the start of my re-invention of myself as political analyst, these articles got through the anti-Russian filter of the responsible editor for the Op-Ed page, the nominal journalist Michael Bohm, who made cuts and assigned titles at odds with my intent. I put up with this mangling because theirs was the only game in town at the time when they still had a paper edition. But all of that is history. Bohm went on to become a highly paid talk show guest on all Russian state and commercial channels where his keen knowledge of Russian in all of its folk wisdom and his invariable regurgitation of CIA propaganda were a useful foil to the patriotic experts deployed by the shows’ hosts. I went on to publishing online in my own blog site attached to a middle of the road Belgian newspaper, La Libre Belgique.
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So much for current Info Wars. Now I direct attention to the main contention of my article of 28 March, namely that ever since the roll-out of his planned constitutional reform during a state of the nation address on 15 January 2020, Putin seemed to have lost control of the political agenda. To be very specific, what Putin had suggested would be a re-balancing of powers at the federal level between Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches, moving gently in the direction of parliamentarism, eventually, in the bill passed by both the State Duma and the Federation Council, turned out to be nothing more than a consecration in the Fundamental Law of the values of the Putin era, namely a social economy, protection of living standards for the broad population, patriotic defense of the Motherland and of its historical record, bouquets to motherhood and the family, etc. That and the incredible point reversing to zero the time Putin has served in the presidency so that under the two-term limit he will again be eligible to run when his present mandate expires in 2024.
All of these changes in what will be put to the electorate for ratification in a referendum indicated to me that the course of Russian politics was now being dictated not by Vladimir Putin, the key figure as arbitrator among Kremlin factions that he has been for the past 20 years, but by one of these factions which has overruled his preferences. Given the virtual disappearance of Duma opposition party spokesmen from Russian state television since the end of January, it seemed to me that all of the opposition has been sidelined, made irrelevant and that United Russia has seized control of the political agenda in the hopes of retaining majority control of the legislature in the upcoming 2021 elections.
In my article, I also pointed out that Russia’s response to the oncoming coronavirus crisis revealed the same kind of infighting among elites that we have seen in virtually every one of the major countries in Western Europe and the United States. There were too many contradictions in policy at that moment, not least of which was a promotional airfare being offered by Aeroflot to boost domestic traffic at the very moment when the government should have curtailed or ended such traffic to avoid spread of the infection.
Putin was obviously caught in the cross-fire between defenders of the economy and defenders of public health. And in the meantime, there was ongoing clan fighting over the just initiated oil and price war with Saudi Arabia.
Looking at these contests going on behind the scenes in the Kremlin, I made the simple argument that it was and is high time to resume Kremlinology, to look beyond the lynchpin of Russian politics, Mr. Putin, and to sketch out in detail what the interest groups are doing as they jockey for and perhaps seize control of Russian politics in one domain or another. I stand by that reading today, undeterred by the slings and arrows that have come my way.
In the meantime, for the moment some consistency has been restored to Russian domestic policy as regards the coronavirus with a temporary victory of the defenders of public health and imposition of ever tighter shutdown in the hearth of the epidemic, Greater Moscow.
Moreover, the second shoe is about to drop. At the start of anti-coronavirus measures, the Kremlin announced the cancellation of this year’s regular St Petersburg International Economic Forum scheduled for the first week in June. However, not a word was said about the fate of the still earlier May 9th Victory Day celebrations marking the 75th anniversary that would, if held normally, with mass public participation numbering in the millions, provide a splendid platform for propagation of the virus throughout the population and across the country. It is only now that we hear that Veterans’ Organizations are petitioning the Kremlin to postpone the celebration.
What we see here is that just as Russia is following the multi-nation curve of infection rates to a peak and plateau, so Russia is following the near-universal laws on the political risks of taking on the corona virus by quarantine and other draconian measures.
This question was very aptly put in a recent Euronews interview with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. The journalist probed and probed again whether the Prime Minister felt any guilt for the government’s slow response to the oncoming pandemic which cost so many thousands of Italian lives. In a carefully worded answer that was fully in line with his professional background as a law professor and intellectual, Conte said that he was ‘not so arrogant’ as to claim that no mistakes were made. At the same time, he noted that had he introduced quarantine and lockdown at the outset he would have been universally condemned in Italian political circles as being ‘mad.’
Indeed this is the predicament facing political leaders in all countries today and name-calling or guilt-attribution by the public in the midst of the crisis does not help. It is also the predicament facing the Russian leadership which is divided the same way as in most countries. These political realities merit investigation and discussion, not politically motivated silence.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2020
[If you found value in this article, you should be interested to read my latest collection of essays entitled A Belgian Perspective on International Affairs, published in November 2019 and available in e-book, paperback and hardbound formats from amazon, barnes & noble, bol.com, fnac, Waterstones and other online retailers. Use the “View Inside” tab on the book’s webpages to browse.]
One thought on “Has Putin lost control? Revisiting the issue..”
Dear Mr Doctorow, I should like to thank you for this blog in general and to commiserate with you in particular about any unfounded criticisms you may have received following your recent article about the possible shift in power within Russia caused by the ubiquitous virus. Whilst I agree you have identified a change in behaviour at the top echelon of Russian government it might not presage the decline of Mr Putin so much as the recrudescence of a pattern seen in Russia at times of crisis. You may have hit on an instance of Russian leaders leaving their subordinates to manage a difficult situation from which no one is expected to emerge with their reputation enhanced; yet when the crisis is over it seems likely the status quo ante will be restored. As examples of this tendency in Russian politics we might look at the paralysis that overtook Soviet power, including Stalin, in the immediate aftermath of Barbarossa; Gorbachev’s low profile during the early days of Chernobyl, and Yeltsin’s disappearances during crises, including leaving General Lebed to take ‘credit’ for the defeat in Chechnya. However, your thesis is very interesting and I should be grateful if you would expand on it in another post, as I am open to being convinced of your viewpoint.
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