Predictable Response: Russia’s Critics on Medvedev’s Victory


Dmitri Medvedev’s victory in Sunday’s presidential election in Russia has been resoundingly denounced in the Western press as a foregone conclusion. Commentators on left and right have attacked the Russian political system as undemocratic. But in fact it is they whose democratic credentials are in question, not the Russians.
Take the case of Timothy Garton Ash, who got his retaliation in first by attacking the poll before it had taken place. This is the same Garton Ash, however, for whom “more Europe” is the answer to most political questions (see the frequency with which he uses this argument even though the European Union is infinitely more anti-democratic than Russia is.
Or take Edward Lucas, the Economist correspondent who has done so much to publicize his latest book which accuses Russia of being responsible for the “new cold war” between Moscow and the West. His signed column in the Sunday Telegraph on the day of the poll peddled the lie that Medvedev’s opponents in the presidential race were “token”. He thereby deliberately misled his readers who otherwise might not have known that Gennady Zyuganov, the leader of the Russian Communist Party – hardly a “token” organisation – gave Boris Yeltsin a run for his money in 1996, polling 32% against Yeltsin’s 35% in the first round. I agree that Zyuganov, like the other party leaders, is a dreary old re-tread and that Russia would be well served by a changing of the guard among its opposition party leaders who have remained unchanged for over a decade and a half. But is it the fault of the incumbent president if opposition leaders are self-serving?
In fact, what was inevitable was not so much the outcome of the election as the Western response to it. Criticism was universal. Much of this would be comical if it were not so sad. The Council of Europe delegation, for instance, which “observed” the poll and condemned it as unfair, was led by one Andreas “Andi” Gross, a Swiss Socialist deputy who campaigns in his own country against the man who won the last Swiss elections, the right-wing Christoph Blocher. He claims that Blocher is not “democratic” either but then few people have heard of Andi Gross (except now in Russia) while quite a lot have heard of Blocher. Gross is a typical election observer – a man who has failed in politics at home and who abuses the unaccountability of his international position to peddle his views in other people’s countries instead.
What none of these critics seem to understand is the sheer scale of the astonishing success of the Putin regime. In 1999, when Putin was appointed Prime Minister, Russia was on her knees. The corrupt Yeltsin and his cronies had robbed the country while the population starved; huge fortunes were made (“stolen” would be more accurate) while the mortality rate from poverty and illness rose by no less than three million extra people.
The West was directly responsible for this disaster. It supported Yeltsin in the teeth of opposition from people who feared the devastation which was being wrought by “shock therapy” (in reality, all shock and no therapy). That support extended to sticking up for Yeltsin’s “self-coup” when he sent in the tanks to shell the Russian parliament in 1993. It also extended to looking the other way later that year when he awarded himself near-dictatorial power by reforming the constitution in a rigged referendum.
Yeltsin’s two terms in office ended in spectacular economic failure – the rouble collapsed in 1998 – and in foreign policy humiliation. The Kosovo war was waged against Russia’s ally, Serbia, and Russia was firmly excluded from having any say in the province’s future status, in spite of the fact that it belongs to the de facto “Contact Group” which is supposed to represent the international community in the Balkans.
It was at the nadir or Russian’s fortunes that Vladimir Putin was appointed Prime Minister. Like Medvedev in 2007-2008, he was presented at the time as Yeltsin’s chosen successor and all the stops were pulled out by the state authorities to ensure that he was elected. His beginnings, therefore, were not auspicious. But since taking power as president he has presided over what can only be described as a spectacular rebirth of a nation. Although Russia continued to suffer geopolitical losses well into his presidency – the accession of former Warsaw Pact countries and even former Soviet republics to NATO and the EU in 2004, the “rose revolution” in Georgia in 2003 – Putin has stabilised the internal political and economic situation, clipped the wings of the worst oligarchs, and set up what I believe to be a historically unprecedented form of government, in which the country’s senior ministers are also the chief executives of its biggest industrial enterprises.
What is particularly shocking about Western criticism of Russia is that the country’s recent economic success proves the very economic theories which many Westerners say they support, especially the virtues of a small state and the free market. How many of the critics, for instance, ever actually discuss the policies which Putin has implemented? How many people know that, since 2001, Russia has had a flat rate of income tax of 13%, a rate of which Western Europeans can only dream? The average tax rate in the EU is about three times this and I personally would feel much richer if my tax bill was cut by two thirds, since it is my single largest annual expense.
Given this benevolent tax regime, it is small wonder that Putin has presided over steady economic growth, rising prosperity which is fairly widespread across the country and not just concentrated in the hands of the few, and an astonishing boom in investment for the future (the construction industry grew by 50% in 2007, for instance).
It is not difficult to look for the causes for this hypocritical hostility, however. Although India and China are also on the rise, Russia is the only country able to oppose the establishment of a uni-polar world under American leadership. India does not have the foreign policy presence to do so; China does not have the weaponry. Russia alone has the power to counterbalance American expansionism. This, and this alone, explains the double standards.

Thanks, but no thanks

@ Bosch Ferretti

I couldn't give a hoot about whether you are a "better Christian" or not, but I do care about your lack of honesty.

So, I have given you a very specific and clear example (taken from your earlier rant) of your "confused" thinking.  The question is very clear: are you prepared to state that either the American people (on the whole), or the American government, contest or question that the "natural gas and oil under Russia's soil" is indeed Russia's?    If not, your rethorical question/statement about that oil and gas was....silly.   

Yes, indeed, "attending" to your "career and lives" is a good idea.  The quality of the commentary on this website will most likely benefit from such a move.   Ranting is one thing, discussion is another. "Discusion" requires that one responds to specific arguments. There has always been a certain 'tension' between quality and quantity.  It is part of the human condition.


Timothy Garton Ash is a pompous ass

Saw him on Charlie Rose recently, video's probably still on the website.

But, I think if you look closely at today's Russia, you'll see that they're simply pushing certain problems down the road for short-term gain.
The Russian economy has prospered because of oil price increases; so, it's understandable that Russian foreign policy has been predicted on doing anything possible to make oil go up. While helping Iran build nuclear weapons may help them by pumping up oil, longer term it's not hard to see how a radical Muslim state could further destabilize Russia's Muslim underbelly.

If things are going so well in Russia, then why can't they have a free election, or at least a media that allows some coverage of the opposition? Could it be because despite record oil prices, Russia is basically a 3rd world country with nukes? The average life expectancy of a Russian male is roughly that of an Iraqi.

Russia is repeating the same mistakes; rather than use the oil bonanza to invest in health and infrastructure, they're retooling their outdated military; sorry, but the Cold War era bomber fly-buys just aren't that menacing when they're being flown by Russian bombers that are two generations behind American ones. So, AIDS is running rampant, and combined with the declining birth-rate in Russia, is expected to dramatically slash the population (except, of course, in the Muslim provinces...hmmm...just like what was once Serbia).

The Russian solution? Build a new nuclear missile!

Yeh, sounds like a government really responsive to its people...

Gloating over Eastern Europe's hardships

@ Ugly :

" If things are going so well in Russia, then why can't they have a free election, or at least a media that allows some coverage of the opposition? "

The lack of democracy in Russia is not as harmful as the economic collapse that took place before Putin.
If things are going so well in the West, then why can't we have free elections, or at least a media that does not brainwash people into accepting mass immigration? How come there is no opposition? How come both McCain and Obama/Clinton plan to pursue the population replacement?

" Could it be because despite record oil prices, Russia is basically a 3rd world country with nukes? "

In spite of its 2nd rate economy, the important thing is that Russia is part of the European world.

" The average life expectancy of a Russian male is roughly that of an Iraqi. "

That's why I feel sorry for Russia.

" So, AIDS is running rampant, and combined with the declining birth-rate in Russia, is expected to dramatically slash the population "

Are you gloating?

Laughland: " Commentators on left and right have attacked the Russian political system as undemocratic. But in fact it is they whose democratic credentials are in question, not the Russians. "

Our western teachers of democracy are utter frauds.
They are trampling democracy in the West!

Thinking confusedly ?

@ Bosch Ferretti


The distinction between thinking objectively and subjectively is not an easy one, but it has a lot to do with (1) the intellectual ability to separate facts from opinions and (2) with reliance on observations and logic versus reliance on 'feelings'.

The distinction between confused thinking and clear thinking is much easier to make.  Yours is a good example of confused thinking, particularly your first paragraph, which is a collection of false strawmen.  I will illustrate this with the last 2 sentences in that paragraph.

No, it is not "Anti-American" to ask "whose natural gas and oil" sits under Russia's soil.  But it is manifestly "Anti-American", and even silly and absurd, to suggest - as you do - that the American people or the American government are (or would be) even questioning that!    

Thanks for your reply macfrans

In a flash, you have reminded me of how low I had sunk by posting on this site or trying to engage in discussion. Enjoy your role as semi-official enforcer - the rest of us have careers to attend to and lives to live.

If I were a better Christian, I'd feel sorry for you. But I'm not.

"Thinking objectively" ?

@ Arius

Let's illustrate your mistaken conception of what "thinking objectively" means, with some examples from your posting.

1) You claim that "the US" promised that NATO would not expand eastwards.  Is that an "objective statement", or is it a rather fanciful opinion?  Is there a Congressional Resolution to that effect, or has there been such a formal public "promise" made by any US President?    You may be naive, but Russian officialdom is not so naive.  They know that the US is an open society where public debate and expression of opinions are legion.  The fact that a variety of people have made such statements does not constitute a "promise" of the US.  Thank God for that.  If every public utterance, somewhere in the world, made by Jimmy Carter, Madeleine Albright etc....would constitute a "promise" of "the US", we would never survive!  You want to look at a list of past "promises" from Putin, many of them on paper, even formally in UN Security Council Resolutions and in formal 'treaties'? 

And, suppose for a moment that "the US" did ever make such a "promise".  So what?  Does that mean that the decision to expand NATO was 'wrong'?  Maybe it was, and maybe it wasn't, but there are clearly many 'sides' to that conundrum.  Genuine "objective thinking" would be able to recognise that there are different sides to this dilemma, instead of positing a nonexisting "promise" and parroting Russian anger and frustration.  

2) What does EU and US "support" for Chechnya exactly mean?  Do you mean expressions of humanitarian concern about Russian actions in Chechnya?  If so, then your claim of "support" is pretty meaningless.  Or do you mean actual operational military support to Chechnyan 'rebels'?  "Objective thinking" would not be so cryptic in making wild claims of "support". 

3) Apparently, the whole world engages in intellectual property theft almost everywhere, but only the one possibly undertaken by the US deserves a Russian "response"?  Is that your conception of "objective thinking".


I submit to you that you are not engaged in objective thinking, but rather in parroting Russian propaganda.  Yes, it is important "to be able to think like the opponent" - at least, you seem to be vaguely aware that Russia is an "opponent" - but that is very different from letting your actions be determined by the opponent.   Let's at least hope that you realise that there is a difference, in terms of actual consequences,  between (a) ex post "public statements" by disgruntled State Department officials and (b) similar statements made by disgruntled Russian ex-officials.  The former can be safely made in Washington, Moscou, Paris or anywhere.  The latter can not be made 'safely', not even outside Russia.  Now, that should give you a real clue about why it is that Putin is (very temporarily) "moving to a strategic alliance with China", although he tried to do the same with Chirac and Schroeder too!  


West want to dismember the Russian Federation (follow up)

At the fall of the USSR the US promised that NATO would not expand eastwards. Can anyone argue that when Russia was at its weakest in the 1990's that NATO went ahead and expanded eastwards over Russia's objections and reference to such promises not to expand, promises that are in the public record by officials in the West. If you understand the Russian point of view and its history you can easily predict what would happen. Apparently thinking objectively is being anti-Western. US and EU support for the Chechnya is also well documented, even occurring after the US is supposedly fighting a War on Terror while at the same time supporting Islamic terrorism against Russia in Chechnya and in Central Asia. Western meddling in Georgia is also part of this story. All this is in the public record for anyone not so lazy as to not make the effort to do the research. From previous experience I have found that even if I provide copious footnotes a Russophobe will argue ad nauseum.

The theft of Russia intellectual property is also in the public record. Do the research. The argument that the West is the biggest victim of intellectual property theft is a meaningless argument. Do two wrongs make a right? Any by taking such a position one cannot understand (it seems does not want to understand) the Russian point of view. In geopolitical strategy you have to be able to think like the opponent. Expand NATO East and expect no Russian response? Put ABMs in Poland and expect no Russian response? If I stick my finger in your eye how to you respond?

How can anyone explain the bombing of Yugoslavia? It can’t be explained by some supposed mass murder performed by the Serbs. The facts do not back that up. I’m not going to expand on this here as it is a complicated issue that requires much research, thought, and correlation of facts. But a complete study of events in Yugoslavia is absolutely necessary in order to understand how the mass media is influencing public opinion (Ruder-Finn is one example, funded by Arab oil money). Without this understanding then one simply reacts to disinformation pyramided upon disinformation. It is a childish illusion that discussion of foreign policy in the public arena has any effect on actual foreign policy.

The implicit strategy of the West in the 1990’s was to engineer the breakup of the Russian Federation. This is in the public record. Read public statements by US State Department officials that left government service in objection to such policy.

US foreign policy in the 1990’s had the effect of turning Russia toward strategic alliance with China. Geopolitical strategists know that this is likely to be a catastrophe for the West which is losing control and access worldwide to oil and mineral resources. This objective fact must make me anti-Western.

@ Arius

The collapse of the Soviet Union was a blessing for the whole world, inclusive for the Russians.
Since tsar Peter the Great, Russia has not done anything else but constantly conquering and adding territories to its already vast landmass. All those conquered lands have their own history and desires as a nation. When Russia became weak those countries sought independence and aligned themselves with the US and Nato for protection. Of course Russia didn't like it, but the freed countries did like it.
Today there is the ridiculous internal fight between East-and West Ukraïna as they call it. If you are Russian yourself, or Serb, you should know that West-Ukraïna is Polish and Lvov was a Polish capital, and that East-Ukraïna is really Russian. Of course because of all the political dangers and complexities nobody talks about it. Russia is now still paying the price of all its landgrabbing and submitting of nationalities, too many to discuss them all in detail.
The oligarchs who divided the industrial and energetic spoils of a corrupt country in turmoil could only do so with the help of the political rulers.
Pray tell me what the West should have done? Telling Chubais not to become a billionaire with his corrupt scheme with the daughter of Yeltsin? Telling the Russian, mainly Jewish, oligarchs not to take advantage of the corrupt Russian State?
To what purpose and with which authority?
Stop crying and sniveling, the Russians will recover and become finally a democratic country once they learn the benefits of it.
The moezjik has known much worse.
By the way, I love Russia and the original Russian people, they are the most generous on earth, but they are also a special breed who have to find their own democracy with which they feel comfortable.

As for the bombing of Serbia, Milosevic was an asshole who miscalculated and the Western powers were idiots who overreacted because of the leftist Western media exagerations. Since Milosevic himself was a socialist he should have known better not to touch the "poor" muslims with the professional media manipulators behind them. Shit happens and there it happened, but Milosevic was the biggest idiot and shitshoveler.

Another western self-hater?

@ Arius


If I understand your pie-in-the-sky stuff, you are saying the following:

- The West (supposedly) ignored Russia's wishes in the 1990's.  If that were true, how do you think it was going to "gain control of Russian oil and mineral resources"?  By ignoring Russia's wishes?  Come on, you should know better.   The West did try to link Russia to NATO, but also faced the wishes of others that had recently been oppressed by Russia, that are more threathened by it, and that have a more realistic long-term view compared with your comfortable armchair view.

- The West "stole" intellectual property?  How so?.  That is of course a universal claim, but clearly the West is the biggest victim of intellectual property theft in the world.  Preservation of intellectual property requires 'rule of law' and absence of monopoly political power.

- The West "bombed" Yugoslavia. Yes, and you seem to believe that the reason was because it wanted "to ignore Russia".  Really?     

- The West wants to "dismember the Russian Federation" (not to be confused with the former USSR).  Do you have any 'evidence' of this?  Any statements to that effect, or whatever?  After all, in the democratic West, policies are constantly openly debated in numerous public fora.    Or, is your contention purely based on assertions of frustrated "crying students"?


If we are going to be paying "a terrible price" because of future Russian actions, then you better put the blame where it belongs, i.e. those Russian actions, and nowhere else.  'Hurt feelings', on anybody's part, are not a justification for 'bad' actions.  You wil have to come up with a better 'justification for 'bad' actions, as the case may be.  

West want to dismember the Russian Federation

In the 1990's the West had the opportunity to bring Russia into the Western alliance which would have created a zone of peace around the entire northern hemisphere of the world. But it was not be to be, due to the greed of interests in the West, blinded by lust for control of Russian oil and mineral resources.

The West literally stole about 500B worth of intellectual property from Russia. In 1999 the West had such a low opinion of Russia that it ignored it and bombed Yugoslavia. The West supported and encouraged the Chechen insurrection, a direct threat against the Russian Federation.

This was the final act. When I saw a video of students crying in front of the American embassy in Moscow in 1999, saying that 'America betrayed us', I knew a shift was in the works. What did you expect Russia to do, allow the West to dismember it and quietly go into the night? No, Russia did what it had to do. Yeltsin himself knew what needed to be done. If you look at what he said during the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia you will understand.

The implicit strategy of the West is to dismember the Russian Federation, and the Russians know it. That is why Russia turned toward strategic alliance with China, a turn that most in the West didn’t pay attention to then and are not paying attention to now. The West is going to pay a catastrophic price in the future for failing in the 1990’s to bring Russia into the Western alliance. It’s already starting to pay the price but is still in denial. In 2008 the US and EU again stick their fingers into the eyes of Serbia and Russia and don't expect them to draw obvious conclusions or to respond. The hubris of the West will be its undoing.

Predictable Nonsense

1) It was predictable that Mr Laughland would ascribe Europe's "hypocritical" hostility to Putin's extension of time in power (because that is what Medvedev's 'election' is all about) to.....Russia's opposition to "a uni-polar world under American leadership".  What nonsense!  

There is ample evidence that, today, among the world's different regions and populations, anti-Americanism is the highest in 'Old Europe' and in the Middle east (whereas pro-Americanism can be found mainly in Japan, India, some parts of Eastern Europe, and 'black' Africa south of the Sahara).  To think that (Western) Europe's political 'elite' would be anti-Putin in order to serve any "double standards" favoring America, is ludicrous.  Whatever the truth about European "hypocrisy", maybe Europe's elite is more concerned with the emerging nature of Russia's political system than Mr Laughland is, and maybe that elite takes a more long-term view.   

It is also most revealing that Mr Laughland equates the renewed independence and (in some cases) freedom of many nations in Eastern  Europe, the Caucases, and Central Asia, with "American expansionism", and that this then requires some kind of Putinesk "counterbalancing".   Perhaps, he likes to think that the US Congress is planning to annex Afghanistan and Iraq to form a 52-state 'Union'?  He has been reading The Guardian for too long...(including Timothy Garton Ash, one of his current targets, who - despite his many faults - has a more deeper understanding of apparatchicks than Mr Laughland does).

2) It was also predictable that a perverse self-hating American, like Bosch Ferretti, would applaud the pro-Putin line.  After all, America's rare self-haters on the right are not that different from the more numerous American self-haters on the left.  I mean, this commentary, entitled "Excellent piece", reads almost like an Obama speech...."America should be building with Russia, etc..." as if it has not been trying to build with Russia. 

'Stability' in Russia is a wonderful thing in the short term, if it can be 'purchased' with current high world prices for commodities.  But that is inevitably a short term phenomenon.  What is much more important in the long run, for economic prosperity and for political freedom, is the maintenance of genuine 'rule of law'.  On that score Putin has embarked on a disastrous course, already confirmed by the dearth of foreign direct investment flows to the world's geographically-largest country.  After all, who is going to put their capital at the mercy of a mafia-like state?

3) It is also predictable that the Kapitein will now add his ethnic-nationalistic voice to the glorification of Putinesk 'stability'-without-freedom.   

And it is even MORE predictable

That marcfrans would appoint himself the arbiter of what constitutes a proper American, resort to adhominen comments (I am not only anti-American, but also "perverse"), never thinking for a moment that someone's belief that we should be trying to build with Russia is born of a desire to advance American interest and not of some naive Slavophilia. It's incredible really: unless one accepts the Buch/McCain party line on evereything one is not merely wrong but also anti-Amereican. Not every country has no have what we recognize as a "democracy," your false god, for it to function with some semblance of justice and success. Nor must all countries follow the same economic model. Japanese capitalism (and immigration policy) proves the American system need not be the only model. Until liberals with guns took over my party, it was axiomatic of conservative thinking that what works for us need not work for everyone else. Absent macfran's vulgar rant is any evidence of how Putin and the new Russia threaten American interests. Whose natural gas and oil sits under their soil? Is is anti-American to ask?

Direct foreign investment in Russia rose from 2005 to 2007 after a slight drop in early 2005. It was Yelstin, not Putin, who unleashed the mafia-like conditions that dried up capital inflows. Putin's repatriation of industry has given investors confidence in the rule of law Yelstin so undermined. Japan, too, mixes government and heavy industry sectors, as we also do informally today and did so explicitly during WWII. Putin seems to understand that there is more to a succesful country than trying to create an open capital market from scratch. Those preconditions seem to threaten the aggressive neo-liberal mindset of those who see national differences as threats.

The belief that Europe and America are in some kind of cold war and have hugely differing interests is also wrong. Official American policy is to support further EU integration and membership for Turkey and to copy, whenever possible, a similar arrangement with Mexico. It's as if any country with the gal to retain its sovereignty and its religion is a threat to Americans of macfran's mindset. We are making enemies out of potential allies while trying to build a "democracy" in Iraq and Afghanistan; and those of us who may disagree with such a policy are anti-American?

Excellent Piece

I am so happy to see that others besides Taki's Magazine have taken a proper view of Russia under Putin.  The anti-Putin propaganda has become a staple of the neocons' columnist establishment.  America should be building with Russia, which faces a similar jihad/Islam problem as Europe and immigration problem as the USA.  Instead, we are daily treated to over-the-top belligerent commentary on Putin and a new Cold War, including nonsense from McCain.  Patrick Buchanan has written intelligently on how the USA has precipitated this cooling of relations. - I think the point about the EU's lack of democracy vis-a-vis Russia could have been made more forcefully.  Garton Ash's five reasons to not hold a referendum on Lisbon are like something out of the old Pravda.  Who the hell is the EU to lecture anyone on a democratic deficit?

Predictable response to predictable response

Laughland's contrarianism is becoming tedious. No attempt to rebut any of the points made in Edward Lucas' piece, other than to point out that a presidential election more than 10 years ago *was* competitive. And your point is?

"The country’s senior ministers are also the chief executives of its biggest industrial enterprises." Well yes, that may be "unprecedented" in the West - thank goodness.

As we used to say in the bad old days, if you like their system of government so much Laughland, why don't you go and live there?

@ John Laughland

I did like quite a few of your articles in the past but, oh boy, are you wrong this time.

It is true that Medvedew was Putin's choice and if Putin had presented his dog with the promise that he would support his dog, the Russians would have elected his dog.

Democratic? Yes, it was the Russian choice. Cheating? No.

But than you make the jump that the West doesn't like Putin or Russia because only Russia can stop the hegemony of the US.

Russia has the economical power of the Netherlands and the Russian military are no match for the US. The only Russian real powers today are it's natural resources and it's scientific community which is something which cannot be explained to outsiders. Russian scientists are a breed apart.

But that is not enough to break the back of the US which can swallow Russia whole for breakfast. China is a much bigger threat to the US than Russia. If China wants today and if they are willing to face the economical chaos afterwards, they can break the US economy today by selling their TC(Treasury Certificates). That would break the back of the dollar immediately. It would also create a worldwide collapse of the economy.

Why was Europe than yelling about the Russian elections? Because they want a Yeltsin government with whom they can make corrupt energy deals like chancellor Schroeder did.

Because they want to repeat the Western-supported privatisation deals with Berezovsky and friends/oligarchs who are today sponsoring the anti-Putin propaganda.

The Russians like Putin because he stabilized the country and multiplied their salaries by 6 times. Women have birth-hollidays and child-support. Pensioners can live from their pension instead of starving to death.

No Russian leader has done this before.