Leonid Ragozin introduces a typical scare piece on Putin apparently looking to clamp down on dissent at home with a view to combat future falling ratings, with a dishonest introduction of Putin’s recent dial-in.
April 19, 2015
Where Foreign Policy coverage about Russia and especially Putin is concerned, Bloomberg specializes in pure one-dimensional agitprop as an earlier take on its “analysis” shown.
Since Putin in evil, everything he does has deeply dishonest motives. Every mainstream Western journalism story starts with this basic premise.
One might as well take Fox seriously about an analysis of Obama’s meetings.
The following considers Bloomberg’s latest take via Leonid Ragozin’s “Why Putin’s Next War Will Be at Home”
The First Para
Ragozin begins with the following
Straight off the bat then, there are three separate allegations in the introductory paragraph about Putin’s dial in which can be freely accessed under the Kremlin’s English transcript of the session or be viewed with English voice-over here (something that Ragozin does not link to).
Allegation 1: It was carefully choreographed to avoid anything that could embarrass the Russian leader.
An allegation immediately modified by
Allegation 2: The show did have criticism and dealt with thorny issues.
Here’s what anyone who reads the transcript (again linked here) can see for themselves.
Putin was freely quizzed with pointed questions on live TV by actual people about deficiencies in implementation of everything from milk farming subsidies, to whether the statistics he reeled off were believable, high interest rates for small business, inflation, the economic policy of his government, the investigation of Nemtsov murder, the presence of Russian troops in Eastern Ukraine, the lack of payment of wages for key projects, to lack of adequate healthcare, pharmaceutical drugs to treat the most vunerable.
By no means were the bulk of these 74 questions over 4 hours shallow or irrelevant to Russians (the exceptions being a couple of light hearted fluff pieces that were to break the seriousness of much of the material). They challenged Putin as much as any townhall Presidential campaign stop in the U.S. – and indeed more so given the length and variety.
So yes, many thorny issues were discussed (mostly domestic economic, healthcare related and therefore boooring to the Western media) but no, no egg throwing or yelling and screaming as perhaps Rogozin would like so as to “embarass Putin”.
Thus because the format does not allow for yelling and grilling – or not unlike a shorter, drier Q&A by a mostly docile White House press conference with Obama – the dial-in is described pejoratively as “carefully choreographed”.
In short Ragozin’s first two allegations are worthless other than set the tone for the rest of the article that the dial-in was all somehow stage managed.
His third allegation is
Allegation 3: Putin used this year’s broadcast to rebuke his former Finance Minister.
The Alleged Kudrin Rebuke / Slap Down / Confrontation
The first para of this linked Bloomberg article titled Putin Confronting Ex-Aide Says Economic Moves Show ‘Heart’” states
Alexei Kudrin was a Finance Minister in Putin’s earlier administration (and credited for managing the economy during the rapid ascent as well as for during the worst of the financial crisis). He is a darling of the Western financial world and has been recently vocally critical about what he says are Putin’s slow and ineffectual policy reforms.
He was present in the studio to quiz Putin on this.
Again, going to the transcript (and searching for Kudrin) or by viewing the 11 minute exchange here (48:00-59:00) the curious reader will find Alexei Kudrin’s warm and effusive introduction in the studio as:
Then he asks his “question” which in the format of the dial/in allows more of a policy criticism of Putin’s economic policy under his present government (that he, Kudrin, is not part of as he was prior during the high growth years). And Putin replies.
Only the most biased reader can claim that Kudrin’s statement and question was a softball one and Putin in response was slapping him down.
Putin straight off the bat AGREES with Kudrin’s dire criticism that it is “very close to what could happen”. And goes on to pretty much agree with what needs to be done though pointing out the challenges of execution.
As Putin goes on he utters the sound bite about “hearts” picked up in the Bloomberg article – that while structural reform requires brains, carrying this out needs to take into account the realities of the affect on people (the “heart”).
Kudrin then responds in another lengthy vein clarifying his points and then openly criticizing the Presidential Council
Putin responds, pretty much agreeing with some of Kudrin’s points but clarifying where he disagrees.
In short, the Q&A while short by debate standards, is a free exchange of views between Kudrin and Putin in which Putin agrees with Kudrin’s concerns but discusses the challenge of execution essentially saying one needs to have a vision of economic policy based on expertise (like Kudrin has) but the implementation needs to be nuanced taking into account various realities.
Hardly a “slap down”, “confrontation” or a “rebuke”.
This incidentally is unlike anything one would see for example in the United States outside of a Presidential campaign. Certainly no sitting President would allow himself to be quizzed by a critic of his policy. (The Putin-Kudrin exchange is more reminiscent of debates, though often more heated, in Parliamentary democracies).
Back to the Ragozingers
After essentially creating a warped sense of the dial-in for his busy readers, Ragozinger comes out with this doozy in which all the claws come outThis is pure agitprop. Why is “Russia not a democracy”? Because unlike “true democracies” like European ones, it does not have a leader rolling over for the U.S. government’s Foreign Policy objectives and to the detriment of his own people? Where their countries are being secretly used by U.S. Forces stationed there to literally execute US policy? (An interested reader may see left-wing MP Sahra Wagenknecht challenging German Chancellor Merkel in person for essentially doing the U.S. bidding against the interests of the German people).
And is there something WRONG with leaders seeking active feedback outside of an election cycle?
And what was “reckless” about the accession of a historically, culturally and strategically important region like Crimea? At the end of the day no future Russian leader will ever “give up” Crimea whose citizens want overwhelmingly to be with Russia, no matter what happens to Putin.
What Ragozin really is saying in context is that Russia should be more like a sham democracy like the U.S. which as a Princeton study showed is more of an oligarchy and where the majority of its people’s are disenfranchised from the enterprise and their trust in the elected government at record lows (as is in their media).
THIS sham version of “democracy” is the ideal! Government run by special interests who care less about what the plebeians think and politicians who only interact with the masses come campaign time. Now this is the kind of Democracy that an Oligarch owned outlet like Bloomberg can get behind!
Rest of the Article & Conclusion
Following these opening lines the rest of Ragozin’s article is the same anti-Kremlin dross recycled again and again.
Essentially it is: Putin cares only about ratings. His ratings will fall as a result of economics. So Putin will do something “reckless” to get his ratings up. This is apparently declaring War on his own people and hence the title of this scare piece.
In other words, the SAME thesis Ragozin and his ilk have been spinning for years, just updated with an introduction of some misleading information about Putin’s dial-in.
An angle that Ragozin could actually like (which is critical of the Russian government) but doesn’t pursue is an alternative take on why Putin likes a dial-in:
Through the dial-in Putin can get a better feel whether the policies he wants implemented are being executed successfully and the feedback he is getting from his government is accurate. For example, many times during the dial in he seems displeased that policies he believed to be executed is not; that things are only getting done (eg payment of wage arrears) at the last minute to prevent complaints at the dial-in; whether it’s because of corruption and inefficiency, things are not filtering down.
The take that Ragozin could pursue here is that the Russian government is so bureaucratic and riddled with inefficiency and corruption that the man on top of the pile has to personally make sure everyone stays on their toes by questioning the ordinary citizens who all this is supposed to aid. Indeed one can argue that Russia is too centralized and needs more small businesses (which was one of the points made in the dial-in) participating in the market economy and stronger institutions to enforce the law.
Of course this requires Ragozin to give Putin a break and look wider at the reforms and time needed to build stable institutions – precisely ones that Putin has continued to insist need to happen right from the beginning including in his 2012 Campaign Manifesto. THIS is also precisely what he openly says in his dial-in discussion with Kudrin and in his exhortations in various internal forums.
But painting the challenges of what Putin or any Russian president has to do to improve the situation on the ground while securing it against an openly aggressive US government, (whose motives are honestly articulated by a must-see 10 minute Q&A by George Friedman, CEO of Stratfor) means a more nuanced look at Russia, its history, its culture and multi-ethnic makeup, ingrained inertia and the genuine security threats and fears it faces (such as hostile governments on its borders which are growing more nationalistic and are excusing regimes that supported the Nazis in their genocideal extermination of millions of ethic Russians) .
This requires getting away from the one-point agenda of demonizing Putin and looking at things more broadly, something no current mainstream Western media journalist has the intellectual depth, honesty or incentives to pursue let alone get into publication.
Ragozin, being part of the mainstream Western media machinery, is sadly no exception.