The Media's New Cold War
Most Russians see all of this very differently. Hearing the US charges against Putin, they wonder why Washington backed the "pro-Western" Yeltsin so enthusiastically in the 1990s when he destroyed an elected parliament with tank cannons, organized several elections at least as "fraudulent" as the invalidated one in Ukraine and arranged the unlawful oligarchical looting of state property. (Ukrainians, incidentally, might wonder why their outgoing president, Leonid Kuchma, also being vilified by the American press, was so grandly feted by the US government in Washington in 1996 and was even given the now anti-Kuchma Freedom House's annual Freedom Award.)
Above all, Russians see, behind Washington's proclamations of "strategic partnership," a triumphalist, winner-take-all policy toward post-Soviet Russia. Ukraine and other Soviet republics were part of their security; now Washington is demanding them for "our core zone of security." (Indeed, Diehl, writing in the Post on January 3, now urges a US policy that would result in something well beyond mere cold war--promoting a Ukraine-like "struggle" not only in Belarus, a former Soviet people even more intimately related to Russia, but "even in Russia" itself.) So too with Yukos oil. Once it belonged to the Russian state, whose impoverished citizens saw it as part of the nation's wealth that might be their salvation; but Khodorkovsky was on the verge of selling his "privatized" controlling stake to a US oil giant.
It is right to wish democracy well everywhere and, in this connection, easy to be critical of Putin's policies at home and toward Ukraine. (The extent to which democracy actually triumphed in Ukraine, as heralded almost unanimously in the US media, depends on whether the very large and well-organized pro-Yushchenko crowds in the streets, the "orange revolution," intimidated the Supreme Court into ruling in his favor and the Parliament into changing the electoral laws while the electoral process was still under way.) But the American adage "There are two sides to every story" never seems to apply even to post-Communist Russia. Was it really Putin, or only Putin, who "dusted off cold war vocabulary" (Arvedlund, Times, Dec. 2); resorted to "anachronistic East-West terms" (Post editorial, Dec. 2); treated Ukraine "like a geo-strategic prize" (Bumiller, quoting a Bush Administration official, Times, Nov. 30); and represented the "specter of this new iron curtain" (Applebaum, Post, Nov. 24)?
Manichean allegations are an augury of cold war, as is something else. Among the most odious practices of the forty-year cold war--always in the name of freedom and democracy--was the casting of doubt on the patriotism of anyone who challenged its orthodoxies. When the editor of The Nation cited reports that both Russia and the United States had been deeply involved in Ukraine's politics, the Post editorialist Applebaum slurred her (my wife, I confess) as a "freedom-hater" (Post, Dec. 1). A "pro-democracy" missionary, in an instructive example of undemocratic discourse, lumped "left-wingers in The Nation" with Putin and the dictator of Belarus (McFaul, Post op-ed, Dec. 21). And in an editorial comment in The New Yorker (Dec. 20/27), the "liberal" George Packer revived the practice in its fullest form: "The Nation [is] once again taking the Russian side of the Cold War."
Which "cold war" do Packer and the others have in mind? Evidently, a new one already under way--at least in influential American circles. If so, much is likely to follow, none of it good for democracy in Ukraine, Russia or anywhere else.