Simon Tisdall spews garbage about Russia in the Guardian

Liberals hate Russia, Russians and Putin. They hate Putin because he is a somewhat authoritarian figure who has been immensely successful in uniting and leading Russia. Under his rule the economy has strengthened and stabilized – strong enough to weather the storm of Western sanctions and a collapse in world oil prices and still show modest growth. The country continues to be modernised and infrastructure developed. Corruption at a senior level has been tackled. All this can be confirmed by reading the work of experts from e.g. the OECD. Don’t get your picture about Russia from delusional hate-mongers like Tisdall.

Tisdall has written an article about Putin – which is fully delusional.

Extracts and comments:

Putin, a criminal and incompetent president, is an enemy of his own people

Putin’s popularity in Russia is on the wane somewhat. Even amongst people who are generally supportive there is a feeling that he has been around too long. But he has enjoyed levels of popular support over his long political career that politicians in the West can only dream of. Presidential elections have been held and while Western monitors have been able to complain about some aspects no one seriously contends any kind of mass fraud. Putin has won elections for the reason that he represents a stable and conservative choice and many Russians value stability and continuity. They also realise that the country has developed economically under his rule. Putin’s economic management of the economy has been anything but incompetent. For example consider this recent IMF report:

Russia’s overall economic situation may be characterized by three main factors. First, adherence to a sound macroeconomic framework, which supports economic activity by reducing uncertainty, keeping inflation under control and providing confidence in the exchange rate. Second, structural rigidities limiting growth, notwithstanding important ongoing reform efforts in a number of areas, including under the national projects. Third, international sanctions which have pervasive effects in adding to business uncertainty, holding back both foreign and domestic investment, and reducing Russia’s international market integration. Taking these factors together, the medium-term outlook for the economy remains subdued, with growth projected at or below 2 percent through the next few years.

This kind of positive assessment of the Kremlin’s economic policy (and repeated warnings about some rigidities) is the consistent assessment by leading Western agencies.  (In its 2013 report the OECD declared “Russia made major strides before the 2008 crisis, helped significantly by oil and gas revenues” [1]). Tisdall, as a journalist, is supposed to read these reports and then report on them to the public. Instead he just phantasises.

Putin still commands quite widespread popular support in Russia. Even if his support is waning a little, very few consider him an “enemy of the people”. And those that do fall into several separate groups – not just the tiny set of Western leaning liberals in the major cities who the Guardian pretends constitutes the “opposition” in Russia. When Western journalists say that a foreign leader is “an enemy of his people” they are feeding the regime-change narrative on behalf of NATO and the Western war machine. Tisdall as an imperialist feels no qualms about telling the Russian people that he knows better than they do what is best for them. But still he will base his argument on ‘democracy’.  This tells us how Tisdall understands ‘democracy’.

The Russian president has manipulated the levers of power to rule in perpetuity. That prospect is terrible for the west – and Russia.

Shifting the responsibility to elect the government from the Presidency to Parliament is a reasonable change. After the collapse of the USSR the new constitution gave this power to the Presidency. Subsequently the power struggle between the Presidency and Parliament came to a head in 1993 when Yeltsin sent tanks against the Parliament. This proposed change (not yet made in fact) has not come out of thin air; it has existed as a real possibility since the end of the USSR.  It was part of the issue in 1993. If it had been made at another time by another President (e.g. a Western leaning one) the same change would no doubt be described by Western liberals as being in the spirit of democracy. Of course it is a reasonable argument to suggest that Putin is motivated to try to retain power himself. That doesn’t make him a criminal however.

Putin, 67, has run Russia, as president and prime minister, for 21 years, a feat of political longevity surpassed only by Joseph Stalin. Like Stalin, he has made many enemies and caused untold misery along the way.

This is sickening, grotesque and historically absurd. Stalin was a party official who was chosen by the Communist Party – which did indeed use terror to suppress political opponents. Stalin was responsible for the deaths of millions of people (estimates and assessments of the number of deaths which occurred and which can be attributed to him vary wildly).  Even if you buy into the fake political prisoners narrative under Putin we are talking of a small number of activists in prison and a handful of political murders. (Fake because most of the “political activist” cases are people who are punished under Russian laws, made in Parliament, about e.g. not inciting hatred online and indeed, under laws, which have analogs in the UK. Despite attempts no credible case has been made which links Putin to the very small number of political murders in Russia in recent years e.g. Nemtsov).

Russia under Putin’s grim tutelage has grown notorious for cronyism and corruption on a vast scale, repression of domestic opponents and free speech, and military aggression and disruption abroad.

Wholly fake news. Putin has tackled corruption. E.g. this from the 2013 OECD report: “Much progress has been achieved in reducing red tape, but it is only recently that the authorities have visibly become more energetic in fighting corruption” [1] Since that report was written numerous high-ranking officials have been removed from their post because of corruption.

The “repression of free speech” – a staple of liberal journalists is largely nonsense. There are laws controlling speech which could e.g. be seen as inciting terrorism. For example in the Republic of Tatarstan an activist has recently been arrested for putting a video online showing a mock execution of some Kremlin figures. (A figure representing Putin appeared in the video but was not actually executed).  [2] But – try this in the UK and see what happens? One of the ironies of the “free speech” line in the UK press is that Russia is demonised for having and enforcing laws which have direct or close analogs in the UK – but about which the liberal press do not complain. (In the UK you can be arrested for calling a police horse “gay”; people can be investigated and convicted for far less than making videos showing the leaders of the country being executed e.g. a Facebook post which said “all soldiers should die and go to hell” ).

As for “military aggression” – Tisdall joins NATO and the entire delusional block of Western politicians in this kind of group-think. He probably has in mind Crimea and the Donbass. After a Western backed coup against an elected President in Ukraine in 2014 Crimea took the opportunity to break away. Yes; Russia annexed Crimea – but this move was supported by 80% of the population. This figure from the referendum has been repeatedly confirmed by opinion polling by authoritative Western polling organisations. [3] It is basic and incontestable fact of history that Ukraine has always been split between a pro-Western West and a pro-Russian East. The fracture came into the open not least because of the irresponsible actions of the EU in forcing the issue and encouraging the Maidan coup. What happened subsequently (including in Donbass) is explainable in terms of the history of this part of the world. Russia hasn’t acted ‘aggressively’.  The aggression is that of Western imperialists – like Tisdall – who demand unconditional surrender and who would deny to Russia any legitimate interests of their own. Similar comments apply to the 2008 Georgian war over South Ossetia.

All this may be good for Putin, but it is thoroughly bad for Russia. In any free and fair election, his criminal legacy of economic incompetence, abuse of power and shameless venality would be sure to sink him without trace. But free and fair elections now look ever more remote, especially following the brutal suppression of pro-democracy protesters in Moscow last summer.

This is laughable. “Criminal legacy of economic incompetence”. But the IMF and the OECD tell a story of sound economic management so here Tisdall is just spewing rubbish.  “Free and fair elections now look ever more remote”. This is a kind of myth about Russia – the idea is that in the West we have “free and fair elections”, which mean something, and to sell this myth they need a counterpoint – a country which doesn’t have “free and fair elections”. But again; let’s look at what authoritative Western agencies are saying, in this case the OSCE report into the 2012 Presidential election. [4]. While the report is by no means glowing it is clear that there were very few identified cases of outright fraud. (The OSCE, which is generally biased against Russia, mixes up actual cases of fraud and examples of lax standards but which however did not necessarily lead to fraud which leads them to present a slightly worse picture than is justified on the evidence). The picture they paint in general is not one in which opposition candidates couldn’t stand or were harrassed e.g. “candidates were allowed to campaign unhindered”. It isn’t clear exactly what Tisdall means by “free and fair” elections. One suspects that a “free and fair election” for Tisdall is one in which, by definition, Putin would “sink without trace”. But here Tisdall just shows his wide lack of knowledge of Russia – if he spent time in the country and talked to people he would discover that a lot of people support Putin. Arguably Putin’s election successes have been assisted by certain practices which don’t have direct analogies in the West and without these his victories would have been less secure – but “sink without trace”, no. The fact is that many Russians from all walks of life still support Vladimir Putin. (I keep meeting them; Tisdall is just lying / spouting rubbish when he claims that Putin has no popular support).

“brutal suppression of pro-democracy protesters”. Not even remotely true. Firstly; the protestors in Moscow in the Summer of 2019 were not “pro-democracy protesters” (a cheating use of words – Tisdall is trying to claim them as some kind of Maidan movement) – but were protestors organised by candidates who had not been allowed to stand in the Moscow parliament elections. The body which oversees the elections said that this was because they didn’t have  sufficient signatures on a registration document to meet the legal test to stand. The candidates said that they were being barred from standing arbitrarily. Either way, this was the issue; they were not “pro-democracy demonstrators”. Secondly; there was no mass police brutality. Numerous clips of these demonstrations and the police response were available online (remember a) most Russians have a mobile phone and b) there is nothing to stop people posting clips online – or supplying them to the media – Russia is not in fact a police state) – and if there had been significant police brutality it would have been visible. In reality, people were breaking the law and were arrested by policemen wearing riot gear, just as they would be in England. (Many of those arrested were subsequently released without charge).  The protesters in Moscow included members of the Communist Party – who certainly don’t believe in ‘democracy’ in the sense that Tisdall says he means it. Finally – and this is one of the main lies of Tisdall and his colleagues – the protesters in Moscow were not part of some huge nationwide “pro-democracy” opposition movement; they are linked to Moscow based blogger Navalny, who has no political platform outside of a campaign against government graft. (Navalny is known as the ‘King of the Kids’ in Russia because of his ability to attract children to his rallies).

Tisdall’s article is a textbook example of the reality-free narrative on Russia which has been cooked up by Western liberals. They probably do this because they need a demon over there in order to distract people from their own corruption and dishonesty back home. Liberals also hate Russia and Russians because, as a somewhat conservative society, Russians, in the main, instinctively reject the Western ideology and culture of hedonism – of which endless propagandizing about gay sex (and ‘non-binary identities’) to children is just one example. There is also probably a racist anti-Slav element and also an historical fear of Eastern hordes – which they don’t understand, but which they fear, at some level, will one day overrun the West.

Actually; there is something odd about Tisdall’s article. The whole theme is that Putin is a monster and a demon. This really is the stuff of fairy tales from the nursery. It is Putin as Struwwelpeter (from the 19th century German moral tales for children by Heinrich Hoffmann). Why get so agitated about a politician in another country – whose actions have not affected you directly at all? These is something not quite believable about this apparent strident moral denunciation. What is really being denounced here?

Notes

1. http://www.oecd.org/economy/surveys/Overview_RUSIA_2013.pdf

2. https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2020/01/13/activist-arrested-over-putin-spokesman-execution-video-a68882

3. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2015/03/20/one-year-after-russia-annexed-crimea-locals-prefer-moscow-to-kiev/#24485ea9510d

4. https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/90461?download=true

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer