Soviet Déjà Vu

Andrew Meier and Michael C. Moynihan are debating the whole Soviet thing over at the LA Times

First, Russia remains a land of doublespeak. Listen to what Putin’s puppet president, 42-year-old former corporate lawyer Dimitri Medvedev, told the BBC this week: Russia’s invasion of Georgia was spurred by the “genocide” in South Ossetia. Even the most rabidly anti-Georgian reports by Russian state news outlets do not justify the claim. Then there was Medvedev’s paranoid aside that seemed lifted out of an old Soviet script: his claim that the U.S. is bootlegging caches of arms into Georgia: “What the Americans call humanitarian cargoes — of course, they are bringing in weapons,” he told the BBC. He added graciously, “We’re not trying to prevent it.” And then Putin continued the paranoid thread on CNN, claiming that “someone in the United States created this conflict to stir up the situation and to create an advantage for one of the candidates” running for president. Lord knows what Putin and Medvedev think Cindy McCain, who also dropped by Tbilisi this week, had hidden in her clutch purse. Second, Russia remains a land where the state is willing to enhance its power through the extrajudicial punishment — to the point of murder — of its own citizens.

If the West must contend with the doublespeak of Russian foreign policy, pity the poor souls at home. Remember the fallen oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky? He was no angel, mind you, but he still doesn’t deserve a place on death row (he’s likely to contract multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis) in a Siberian jail. Remember the tragedy of the 2004 Beslan school hostage-taking? Or the theater siege in Moscow in October 2002? Both ended in unconscionably high body counts in large part, of course, thanks to the terrorists who orchestrated the attacks. But as the Beslan mothers and the Moscow theater survivors know, the ineptitude of the Russian security forces also contributed mightily. Then, in both tragedies, there was the coverup — doublespeak written in blood.Third, Russia remains a land in which fear of the state — and its suffocating reach — prevails.We do not have sufficient space, Michael, to perform an autopsy on the Boris Yeltsin-era media, nor a proper study of how unbridled and foaming Russian websites are (hint: many of them make the Huffington Post look as insightful and informative as the National Enquirer). But I think we can agree that Putin’s strangulation of Russia’s TV and print media are sufficiently documented. The airwaves have indeed turned neo-Soviet, as Putinites across Russia — often acting on their own — have shuttered the arena of free speech and public debate.