Posts tagged ‘medvedev’

11 October 2009

The Yeltsin Scandal

Who’s ruining Russian democracy? Stephen F. Cohen has long been arguing that Gorbachev was the real democrat and it all went to anti-democratic hell with Yeltsin, long before Putin turned up, or Medvedev followed.

A recent interesting media analysis by William Dunkerley, media business analyst and consultant, points to a similar argument. The media scandal, says Dunkerley is “the Western press’ inexplicably lenient treatment of the Yeltsin presidency, especially in comparison to his successors”. Some extracts:

[The Yeltsin Scandal begins with a drunken Boris Yeltsin hailing a cab in his underwear across from the White House in Washington. But that’s just the beginning. This story includes murder, unthinkable acts of military aggression, and journalistic malfeasance. At its heart, it’s really a story about the media and how they have bungled the coverage of Yeltsin and his successors. You’ll never look at media reportage of Russia in the same way!]

Over the years, Yeltsin has been characterized variously as a hero who brought down communism, as the foremost proponent of Russia’s transformation to democracy and a market economy, and as a stalwart of Russia’s free press.

Beyond that popular imagery, however, there was a less attractive side. Yeltsin presided over a looting of state assets that created a circle of newly-minted tycoons that helped to protect Yeltsin. In addition, acting against the constitution, Yeltsin dismissed the duly elected parliament. And when the members refused to go, he brought in tanks to shell the parliament building in a confrontation that ultimately claimed approximately 150 lives. Somehow he was able to win reelection in a contest where he held roughly a 5 percent approval rating going into the election season. Ultimately, Yeltsin led the country into a financial collapse near the end of his presidency.

A Closer Look at Yeltsin

As a case-in-point, I examined the New York Times coverage of Yeltsin’s shelling of the parliament in 1993. That was one of Yeltsin’s most egregious acts. The Times ran a story entitled “SHOWDOWN IN MOSCOW: Tactics; Yeltsin Attack Strategy: Bursts Followed by Lulls.” Here are some excerpts illustrating how the Times covered the story:

“The assault on the Russian Parliament building today was a textbook example of the decisive application of military power…

“And as the daylong assault went on, it was clear that Mr. Yeltsin’s commanders had decided on gradualism…

“The Russian troops were looking for Bolshoi Devyatinsky lane … where the defiant lawmakers had maintained their headquarters…

“With the outcome of the battle never in doubt, the clear preference of the military was to scare the anti-Yeltsin demonstrators into surrendering and to limit casualties…

“The only question was the number of lives that would be lost. And that was largely left up to the rebels as they were alternately bombarded with shells and appeals to surrender.”

Just note how soft this coverage is. I’m not taking sides on whether Yeltsin’s actions were appropriate or not. But, the Yeltsin side is characterized as valiant and measured. The other side is characterized as defiant and to blame for its own fate. The story has a factual basis. The president really did launch a tank assault on the parliament. However, the circumstances clearly seem to be spun in a way that tempers that stark reality.

19 January 2009

Bush on Putin

I really am keen to see how Barack Obama will interact with Dmitry Medvedev and other Russian politicians. Just as Bush exits, I’ve been re-reading some old news stories on his style of interaction with his opposite number, Putin. One of my favourites, from Andrew Greeley writing in the Chicago Sun-Times in 2005:

Bush a hypocrite to lecture Putin

Suppose that Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Canada and announced that the United States was retreating from its principles of freedom since the World Trade Center attack. The United States, he might have said, has denied due process of law to some American citizens. It has established a concentration camp in Cuba. It has tortured prisoners, indeed often and in many places. It denies aliens the right to trial by jury — indeed, it acts like the only ones who have Mr. Jefferson’s inalienable rights are American citizens, and not always.

Then he says, while I’m at it, there are a lot of flaws in your democracy. You certainly don’t think your Electoral College is democratic, do you? Neither is your Senate, with its disproportionate representation of smaller states. Rhode Island is as big as California? Gimme a break!

And what about your gerrymandered congressional districts (presumably he knows about Elbridge Gerry) which guarantees the re-election of incumbents, especially if they are conservative Republicans? What about Tom DeLay’s open theft of Democratic congressional districts in Texas? Is your House of Representatives all that democratic?

And all the capitalist dollars that are poured into your campaigns? And the false attack ads aimed at the character of an opponent? And the endless spinning of the truth so that it no longer means anything? Would Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison approve of that?

How dare, he might conclude, the American pot call the Russian Samovar black?

Now, Greeley is careful, he knows the response which is likely to thunder at his door, by daring to use such analogies. So, he continues:

It is not my intention to say that Russia is more democratic than the United States. Patently it is not. Nor do I propose to argue that American democracy is far from perfect. Patently it is far from perfect. Rather, I am suggesting that for President Bush to come to the edge of Russia (Slovakia) and preach about democracy to Putin is rude, crude and undiplomatic. It is an insult to Putin and to Russia and to the Russian people.

The most important questions come towards the end:

What good would come of his criticism? Why did he bother to make such a big deal out of it?

One answer (mine) is that he thereby (re)produces an understanding of what exactly democracy is, shapes potential political identifications for his listeners (including all the many readers of news which reprinted his criticism), and indeed attempts to structure the field of possible political action, not only in the US, but around the globe.


…image via American DeTocqueville.

14 November 2008

It’s all about Putin

I seem to be missing something. There’s a logical link that is not quite clear to me in the news reporting of the current debate on constitutional change in Russia. A bill amending the Russian constitution passed its first reading today. Sky News is only one of the media outlets to report in this vein, with the headline:

Move To Let Putin Re-Take Power

So, the headline lets me think that something has happened that will now make it easier for Putin to come back as President. Lead paragraph:

Russia’s opposition claims the country has taken one step closer towards full-scale dictatorship after its parliament moved to extend the presidential term from four to six years.

So the presidential term could be extended. There could well be grounds for the opposition’s claims, and it is certainly the responsibility of opposition parties to initiate this sort of debate with other political parties in a healthy democracy. But what does this extension, which Medvedev suggested in his State of the Nation address last month, have to do with Putin? Second paragraph:

The constitutional change, approved at a preliminary hearing, could see Prime Minister Vladimir Putin back in power in the Kremlin as early as next year.

The logical implication here which concerns me is that it implies that the constitutional change will have a direct implication on Putin’s possible return to power. But if we look at the Russian constitution, Article 81 tells us that:

  1. The President of the Russian Federation shall be elected for four years by citizens of the Russian Federation on the basis of universal, equal, direct suffrage by secret ballot.
  2. Any citizen of the Russian Federation not younger than 35 years of age and with a permanent residence record in the Russian Federation of not less than 10 years may be elected President of the Russian Federation.
  3. One and the same person may not be elected President of the Russian Federation for more than two terms running.

Meaning that this constitutional change which was reported in Sky News’ leading paragraph – and headlined on tv – has no impact whatsoever on Putin’s likelihood of retaking power. He is just as likely now as he was previously to return to power after a break in which Medvedev is president.

Al Jazeera International embedded their speculation on this issue in more extended interpretation, arguing that this constitutional amendment, rushed through quickly at this early stage of Medvedev’s presidency, makes it seem even more clear that Medvedev was only installed in order to make this change so that when (not if) Putin comes back – as he already could under the old constitution – he can come back for 12 years and not only eight.

6 November 2008

Medvedev, Missiles and Obama

Some day I’m going to sit down and count the number of times the verbs ‘site’, ‘deploy’, ‘place’, ‘locate’, etc. are used in connection with US plans to ‘station’ missile defence shields in Central Europe; and at the same time study how often the words ‘threaten’, ‘warn’, ‘caution’, etc. are used in connection with Russian plans to ‘station’ missiles in the Baltic, as Medvedev today announced in this state of the nation address. The same address which congratulated the new future president of the USA.

An example from Voice of America:

There was no immediate warm welcome from Moscow./ Delivering his state of the nation speech in the Kremlin, President Dmitri Medvedev instead blamed U.S. policy for Russia’s brief conflict with neighboring Georgia in August. And, he threatened to station new missiles near the border with Poland – in response to Washington’s plans to deploy an anti-missile defense system in parts of Eastern Europe.

(But see also Bloomberg, BBC, ZDF, AP. And it seems that Medvedev and Obama may meet face to face at next week’s emergency financial summit in Washington, planned for 15 Nov.)

The missile affair reminds me of an old cartoon in Berlin’s Tagesspiegel.


Pictures from left to right: ‘Kosovo’, ‘Nato’s eastern expansion’, ‘US military in the Caucasus’, ‘Missile defence shields in Eastern Europe’, ‘[Bear shouts “Enough!!”] …and the completely inappropriate reaction’.

Thanks to Marco for reminding me…