The sheer enormity of their sleaze and deceit is too much even for a lead article. A chapter-by-chapter survey of the duo's book is a good way to become acquainted with their agenda.
Chapter 1, "Fifty-two Hours in Beslan." The brutality and incompetence described in this account of Beslan are shocking and, admittedly, well written. But without some perspective -- namely, the Yeltsin regime's response to the hostage crisis in Budyannovsk in June, 1995, when special forces shot and killed dozens of hostages in bungled attempts to storm the hospital, and again the brutality and incompetence of the Pervomaisk hostage crisis a year later, with similar bloody results. Beslan may have had a higher and more grisly kill-count, but it differed little in substance. By omitting the fact that the Chechen Wars, both 1 and 2, were Boris Yeltsin projects designed to keep him in power and protect his interests, Baker-Glasser manipulate history and throw the entire blame on the bad guys -- Putin, the KGB, and anyone not sufficiently pro-American (Yelstin was our tool, so therefore, the authors do their best to simply leave his name out.).
Another interesting omission is the eerie similarity between Putin's m.o. and Bush's. For example, they take him to task for linking the war in Chechnya to Al Qaeda and international terrorism, observing, "at its root, the Chechnya conflict had little to do with Al Qaeda." With Bush linking the war in Iraq to Al Qaeda, and Blair blaming the London Underground bombings on Al Qaeda, you'd think that Baker-Glasser, whose newspaper was one of the strongest cheerleaders for war in Iraq, would be a little more humble. Wrong. "Rather than resolve the underlying political grievances and remove the popular mandate for the rebels, [Putin] had demonized, victimized, and consequently radicalized an entire people." What's grossly wrong here is that the Chechens were already pretty damn radicalized after Yeltsin's war, having kidnapped (and in some cases beheaded on video camera) some 3,000 Russians during their period of independence from 1996-9, introduced Wahabbi-style Sharia law, and finally they invaded Russia in the summer of 1999. I repeat: they invaded Russia! These facts are given little play, however, making their account of the Chechen war as duplicitous as if someone were to report on the rampant terrorism in Iraq today without mentioning that it first arose with the American occupation.
Chapter 2: "Project Putin." The description of Chubais, a man hairline-deep in the largest corruption scandals in human history: "a tall, red-haired reformer who had orchestrated the largest sell-off of state assets in world history..." Wildly deceitful description #2: "With Yeltsin's permission, Putin dispatched troops to [Chechnya]." That would be like saying, "With Hitler's permission, General Walther von Brauchitsch dispatched troops to the Soviet Union for Operation Barbarossa." The whole purpose of the Second Chechen War was to create popularity for Putin, thereby securing the Yeltsin clan's power, loot and immunity. Stepashin was fired by Yeltsin because he didn't have the balls to launch the second war on behalf of the Yeltsin clan; Putin was brought in specifically to head that war. Saying Yeltsin "approved it" is about as bone-white a whitewash as you can get. Omitting this is incredibly sleazy, yet it is necessary in order to create the Kremlin Villain which is central to Baker-Glasser's pitch.
Chapter 4: "The Takeover Will Be Televised." Here the omissions and whitewashings reach fever pitch, and the revisionism turns to outright lies. Commenting on Putin's takeover of NTV in 2000/2001, they write, "The showdown at Ostankino had been building ever since [NTV's] Igor Malashenko had refused to help the Kremlin install Vladimir Putin as the next Russian president in the summer of 1999, saying he could not trust a KGB man." He sounds like a good guy, right? Except that the real reason Malashenko didn't support Putin was because his boss at NTV, oligarch Vladimir Gusinksy, backed a rival senior KGB operator, Yevgeny Primakov, who, had he won, would have shut down ORT, the TV station that backed Putin. Meanwhile, Gusinsky's rise to power is whitewashed this way: "One venture led to another until finally he was able to put together a bank in 1989." This kind of explanation-by-omission is so cheap, it recalls Ash's attempt to take the Book of the Dead: "Klatu...Veratu...one-[cough]-venture-[cough]-another... Okay, then, we described it. Everything's cool." In one of the most violent, corrupt countries, one wonders what this "one venture led to another" business was all about -- but if explained, it might seriously undermine the dichotomy setup that is crucial to this book. Later in the chapter, Mikhail Kasyonov is described as "pro-market" and "respected in the West as a formidable international-debt negotiator and seen as a reliable promoter of capitalism -- so much so that some had questioned whether he was profiting personally on the side." Note how they slyly avoid mentioning what everyone in Russia associates with Kasyanov -- his nickname, "Misha Two-Percent," supposedly the fee he charged on every single corrupt international debt deal he oversaw -- by arguing that he was so darned good at being a pro-Western capitalist that certain unnamed enemies (and we can all guess who they are) jealously smeared him. No halfway professional journalist could possibly spend four years in Moscow during Kasyonov's reign, and fail to mention his nickname, or how he earned it -- not unless it's part of an agenda. Which of course it is. Kasyanov is a good guy; therefore, any bad news about him is both omitted and dismissed as mere jealousy. Lastly, in this chapter, Baker and Glasser's larger hatred of Russia spews into the open: "While the intelligentsia was outraged at the loss of NTV, the vast majority of the public was not, so long as they continued to get foreign movies and other high-quality entertainment they had come to expect from the channel." To prove their point about the innate savagery of the Russian masses, they compare their reaction to that of America's most reliable lickspittles, the Czechs: "By coincidence, around the same time, more than one hundred thousand people protested in the much smaller Czech Republic against the appointment of a new state television director they considered insufficiently independent." Gee, why not just compare Russian apathy to America?...
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Every chapter of Kremlin Rising is thereafter packed with increasing numbers of glaring omissions and grotesque whitewashings combined with terrifying fear-mongering that would have made Tom Ridge proud. Meanwhile, they constantly fawn over anyone rich and pro-West, while either ignoring the horrible poverty, or blaming the Russians for their own wretchedness. They described the collapsed health care system, which worked better at least before "whiz-kid" Gaidar got his hands on the budget, as the fault of "a rigid system [that] refused to help itself" while making the astonishingly patronizing claim that "many Russians did not even realize hjust how poor the care they were receiving was." This is just a flat-out lie -- all you ever hear about is how poor their health care is, and how much worse it has gotten under Western-backed post-Soviet reforms.
The horrible truth about the Putin regime is that it is largely an extension of theYeltsin regime. It was under Yeltsin that all of the problems and evils described in this book -- from the wars in Chechnya to the destruction of democracy and free speech, the corruption, indifference and cruelty they describe -- began. It has clearly gotten worse under Putin, particularly on the things that matter most to Westerners when we judge other countries. But what matters most to most Russians is making enough money to eat, and hopefully staying alive a little longer than 57 years. This desire to get paid, eat and live a bit longer is of no interest to Baker-Glasser, however, not unless it can somehow bolster their argument that Putin is a scary guy. Of all the omissions in this book, the most glaring is the omission of the economic boom under Putin. Whether or not he hasanything to do with it, at least under his reign, workers get paid, something that often didn't happen under Yeltsin. Baker and Glasser aren't interested in this -- or about the destruction of the labor movement, for example -- because poor people just get in their way. Indeed they are the anti-Michael-Moore: fear-mongering, propagandizing while claiming objectivity, fighting on behalf of the plutocrats against the downtrodden masses.
Saturday, November 26, 2005
Here's an extract from Mark Ames' savage--though interesting--review in Exile.ru of Washington Post reporters Peter Baker and Susan Glasser's recent book about Russia, mentioned by Konstantin: