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Kowtowing to the Kremlin

medvedev_zakaria010609.jpgLilia Shevtsova has a new piece published in Foreign Policy, examining why Western policymakers and intellectuals have suddenly decided to go soft and play along with Russian authoritarianism under Vladimir Putin:

Western intellectuals are even more prone to the Kremlin’s enticements than the politicians. They battle for the honor of taking part in the Valdai Club — a series of regularly arranged meetings with Russian leaders. At these meetings, prominent attendees have been known to put preapproved questions to the Russians, playing the latter part in the Kremlin-orchestrated show. “Mister prime minister … you are a democrat!” exclaimed a leading French intellectual at the meeting with Putin when he was still president. “You are really a liberal!” declared a well-known German expert at the meeting with Medvedev.

Experts from the European Council on Foreign Relations recentlytransmitted the Kremlin’s ideas to Western audiences in the essaycollection, What Does Russia Think?,which included little in the way of critical assessment, instead simplyrehashing justifications for authoritarianism and Moscow’s geopoliticalambitions. Leading Kremlin spin doctor Gleb Pavlovsky argued in theafterword, “The consensus that Putin has created in Russia … is avalue-based reality. It is based on the possibility of a free life in asecure environment — something that Americans take for granted.”Regretfully, the European experts had no response to this assertion.Does that mean they agree?

Other intellectuals take part in Kremlin-organized forums to discussnew standards for democracy and Russia’s contribution to theirdevelopment. One such forum took place under Medvedev’s aegis inYaroslavl last autumn. The French and Spanish prime ministers, FrançoisFillon and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, respectively, who attended theevent, clearly had no real idea what was going on, but their presenceraised the event’s prestige. Among those taking part in the forum wereWestern intellectual gurus such as Alvin Toffler, Immanuel Wallerstein,and Fareed Zakaria — who should certainly know better than to givetheir names to an event that suggests any positive  link between”Russia” and “democracy.”

One influential European leader, Robert Cooper, the E.U.director-general for external and politico-military affairs, does notshy from discussing democracy with the Russian political elite. In aninterview with the pro-Kremlin Russian Institute he concluded,”Sometimes I think that the word ‘democracy’ becomes problematic. Iwould prefer to talk about responsible, open government that defendsthe rights of nations … but has enough legitimacy to use toughadministrative measures when there is a need for them.” Such anunderstanding of democracy is exactly what the current Russiangovernment is looking for.