Thursday, June 4, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Hardliners Present Softer Face Abroad, Russian News Agency Finds

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 4 – Russian experts who are hard-line “statists” at home often transform themselves into “liberals” or even “Westernizers” when they speak abroad, a pattern that confuses some about their true views or even raises questions among many as to whether they have views independent of what the Kremlin wants at any particular time.
In an article on the Novy Region news portal yesterday, Arina Morokova calls attention to the fact that Russian commentators “known for their sharp criticism against the unfriendly to Russia ‘regimes’ of Yushchenko and Saakashvili miraculously change their views when they leave the borders of the Russian Federation” (
Indeed, she says, this happens so frequently that “today it is possible to speak about ‘rhetoric for export.’” As an example of this, she cites the May 29th appearance of Russian Duma deputy Sergey Markov on the Ukraina channel interview program hosted by Savik Shuster (
Markov, well-known for his defense of Russia’s uniqueness and his attacks on Western values and on any policies of former Soviet states he deems to be anti-Russian, nonetheless said on Shuster’s show that “Russia today as never before orients itself on European values and European technologies.”
Moreover, the Russian political commentator said that “Russia wants to work together with Europe to find a way out of the crisis,” hopes for integration with the European Union and does not see any problems in its relations with Ukraine since “our peoples never were neighbors but always were brothers.”
As Morokova rather delicately put it, “when speaking before a domestic viewer or listener, Markov like other political scientists close to the Kremlin uses someone different formulations” in discussing these topics, all of which suggest that he takes a very different view of the West, the European Union and Russian relations with Ukraine.
But other observers with whom the Novy Region journalist spoke were less restrained. Stanislav Belkovsky, a nationalist commentator in Moscow said that “such ‘duplicity’ was a normal thing for experts.” Such people “do not have a real ideology or views. They pile on rhetorical constructions which [often] contradict one another.”
In Belkovsky’s view, such people “receive” their marching orders from the Kremlin, and thus, “at home these ‘experts’ are supporters of the powers that be and guardians of the state, but for a foreign audience, they [adopt] an entirely different expression, different thoughts, and different rhetoric.”
Another commentator, Boris Kagarlitsky, the director of the Moscow Institute of the Problems of Globalization, said that in his view, “the Russian elite does not have any definite political views” and thus is prepared to articulate as needed a range of positions “from moderate nationalism to almost Western liberalism.”
The “ideal” for such experts, he continued, is what they see as the nature of the American elite. The Americans, in their view, “have double standards,” and consequently, Russians need to adopt the same approach. “We too will say one thing at home and another to guests,” they say. “We will be hypocritical, sneaky, and false, just like real representatives of a super power.”
As a good journalist, Morokova said, she attempted to contact Markov in order to find out his explanation for what he has done and how he views the idea of “rhetoric for expert,” but she says, “the United Russia political figure was inaccessible today by telephone for commentaries.”
Mid-level officials are not the only ones who land in difficulties when something they say abroad does not square with the messages they are trying to deliver at home. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin found himself in such a situation this week when comments he made in Finland led some in Russia to label him a hypocrite on religion.
Yesterday, in speaking to Finnish journalists in Helsinki, Putin sharply criticized a Finnish diplomat for helping a boy and his father leave the Russian Federation under diplomatic protection, even though the Finnish authorities had not, according to reports, authorized this action (
If that is the case, he said, then it appears that the diplomat in question was “being guided by his personal views on the humanitarian side of the case” rather than by “his official duties.” For such an individual, “there is no place in government service or even more in the diplomatic service but rather in the church. Let him go there and work.”
Putin promised that the issue would be resolved “in a human way,” but while that appears to have happened, the Russian prime minister’s comments are costing him something at home. Indeed, according to a post on a radical Russian nationalist site, Putin’s remarks say more than he intended about his own faith (
Such a declaration, the post said, is “extremely strange for a man whom the head of the Moscow Patriarchate calls Orthodox.” Indeed, the post continues, the prime minister’s words “recall [his] Chekist past” and are “extremely characteristic of a representative of a regime” which continues to celebrate the anniversary of the Bolshevik seizure of power.
“Such words yet again demonstrate that the regime of Medvedev-Putin,” however much it tries to present itself as something else, remains “alien to true Orthodoxy,” the post concluded, even if people “who blindly follow Gundyaev [the civil name of Patriarch Kirill] do not understand this” or the nature of those they serve.

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