The Parallax Brief

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Unrepentant Subjectivity on Economics, Politics, Defence, Foreign Policy, and Russia

Boris Nemtsov: The Gift to Putin that Keeps on Giving

When Vladimir Putin’s critics craft shrill op-eds about opposition parties being ruthlessly crushed in Russia, they often miss the salient point: really, the opposition in Russia is unsuccessful and unpopular because it isn’t very good and doesn’t have many popular policies.

Of course, it is true that the Russian media and society are not as free as in the West, but more often than not, Russia’s opposition simply does Putin’s job for him. The Parallax Brief is sure that even Robert Amsterdam would agree that Putin and Medvedev are preferable to Vladimir Zhirinovky’s comedy-fascist LDPR, Gennady Zyuganov’s communists, or the array of hapless or nasty nationalists, bolsheviks or white power groups raging at Russia’s political fringes.

But beyond this gallery of unelectable extremist halfwits, even the pro-west, pro-business, supposedly democratically minded group of former Yeltsin era Young Reformers that currently call themselves Solidarity offer little.

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Medvedev’s Visit to FDR Fireside Bodes Well for Russia

There are many reasons to believe the Kremlin’s policy to publicly obfuscate the severity and implications of the crisis afflicting the Russian economy is counterproductive.

First, denying the existence of the obvious doesn’t fool any of the people any of the time, and cultivates distrust. When officials do eventually need to appeal for calm, they will find they have diminished authority.

Second, a limited understanding of a situation enfeebles the population’s ability to make rational decisions and plans, leaving it likely to move in irrational, dramatic lurches rather than manageable shifts. Finally, news does not sit still simply because the Kremlin decides it won’t contribute. Refusing to admit the problem, simply allowes other, less responsible sources shape opinion and understanding.

However, it appears the Kremlin may be arriving at the conclusion that continuing on this track is inadvisable, and President Dmitry Medvedev’s television address Sunday was an important part of that process. Taking a leaf from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s now famous fireside chats, which acted as a reassuring, calming influence on the US populace during the Great Depression and Second World War, Medvedev appeared on national television to “speak the truth” and explain the economic problems “that the entire world is living through, and that our country is living through.”

According to Reuters, Medvedev said:

“I consider that the authorities are obliged to speak about this (crisis) frankly and directly, to speak about the decisions which the authorities are taking to overcome the crisis and about the difficulties with which we are faced… The forecasts really don’t make anyone happy… [and] We should expect our development to undergo a pretty tough scenario.”

This more honest approach will pay dividends by avoiding the issues outlined above; however, honesty in an unpleasent and politically difficult situation should not be seen as a sign of weakness. When Winston Churchill took over from Neville Chamberlain in the darkest hours of World War II, he did not gloss over the problems or tell the nation that victory was close. Instead, he painted a bleak picture:

“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.”

By doing so, he gained respect. And stoicism in the face of suffering is something Russians admire.

Of course, Medvedev as Churchill is quite a step,  and whether Medvedev’s fireside chat was simply part of the wider propaganda mechanism (first, deny; second, claim only decadent, rotten Western economies will be affected; third, admit Russia will be affected, but blame the decadent, rotten US; fourth (now) admit the truth but reassure), or a genuine change in direction remains to be seen, but at first glance, it appears the Kremlin has finally accepted its role as a positive, reasurring and honest intermediary between the crisis and Ivan public.

Filed under: Economics, Politics, Russia, , , , , , ,

Fresh Angle on US-Russia “New Era”

Sometimes the Moscow Times opinion editorial columns can be a little overbearing. While undoubtedly well written and informative, they are almost universally po-faced. Amid this environment of solemn political analysis and grave social policy, Mark H Teeter brings a delightfully light touch and sharp wit to his keenly observed bi-weekly columns on life and news in Russia.

Most weeks he addresses US-Russia relations through the prism of an American living in Moscow, and this week must have provided a bonanza for Teeter, as Barak Obama apparently “pressed the reset button” on US-Russia relations, and wants to reopen nuclear arms control talks with the Kremlin.

(Note to self: I do wish the press wouldn’t refer to the pressing of any kind of button when it comes to nuclear arms. It causes a certain… frisson. NTS2: And speaking of uncouth Obama press coverage, when will they stop referring to the fiscal stimulus bill as Obama’s stimulus package? How can I take this stuff seriously when I read things like, “Obama’s giant stimulus package was viewed for the first time by the Senate today,” and “Obama’s massive stimulus package was cut in size by a bi-partisan group of centrist Senators.”)

Anyway, back to Teeter: funny guy, sublime writer, irreverent vignettes on US-Russia relations and cultural differences through the eyes of a veteran American expat in Moscow.

Today, Teeter has managed to trump every single one of the major op-eds and foreign policy wonk notes I’ve read on the start of a another new ‘new era’ of Russo-Yankee relations. He notes that a cabal of experienced and baggage free Russia veterans sit waiting for Obama, if he chooses to use them, and outlines just what kind of benefit they can bring.

Click here for an engaging read.

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