Capitulation: Obama Admin Mum as Russia Squeezes Opposition Press
Leading independent paper Novaya Gazeta is on the ropes and Russian internet media is next, but Obama would prefer to keep up appearances.
October 29, 2010 - 3:05 pm
The Obama administration, spearheaded by “conservative” Michael McFaul, is working feverishly to undermine American values in Russia and to turn back the clock on democratic reform, just so that Obama can claim illusory “victories” in regard to nuclear weapons and Iran. It’s time actual conservatives stood up to McFaul and his band of treacherous brown-noses in the White House.
A few weeks ago, a Russian court ruled that the country’s leading independent newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, had violated the press code of conduct by covering and reporting the statements of Russia’s exploding skinhead nationalist groups. Under the code, it’s two strikes and you’re out: one more such “conviction” and the Kremlin can simply switch off the mighty little paper’s gallant presses for good.
It’s perfectly clear now that the Kremlin does not intend to allow Novaya Gazeta — the publisher of murdered hero journalist Anna Politkovskaya — to survive much longer. After the next presidential elections, if not before, the paper will breathe its last, and print journalism will go the way of the dodo. Only days ago, the Russian version of Newsweek shut its doors, removing one of the last somewhat independent magazines from the newsstands as well.
When responding to such ominous events, one of the favorite propaganda memes used by the Putin dictatorship is that it does not matter if the Kremlin liquidates newspapers and TV stations and replaces them with government-sponsored pablum, because “there is always the internet,” and the Kremlin can’t control that. A new Harvard study proves what a ridiculous lie that is.
Even if the internet did offer a solid edifice of freedom for Kremlin criticism, most Russians would never see it. Russia is a country with an average wage of $3 per hour and an average lifespan that doesn’t rank among the top 130 countries in the world. Most Russians simply can’t afford regular internet access, and two-thirds of them almost never use it.
Given that miniscule audience, Harvard’s finding that there are only 11,000 blogs in all of Russia dedicated to “active core discussion” of basic issues is hardly surprising. Harvard found that the vast majority of this miniscule population (remember, Russia has over 140 million citizens) is located on just one blogging platform, LiveJournal, and it found that only a small fraction of them are devoted to serious, independent political debate (many others are either paid mouthpieces or focused on cultural topics).
The tiny number of blogs clustered on a single platform means that the Kremlin can — quite easily — shut down Russia’s blogging industry whenever it chooses to do so. And the facts clearly indicate it will happen sooner rather than later.
The Kremlin is already hard at work developing its own search engine to compete with and eventually replace Google, and it is struggling just as feverishly to create a Cyrillic domain into which will be swept all Russian content. It is developing and testing technology to block websites it does not like from access to the internet, and it has legions of its own cadres cruising the blogosphere to viciously attack and intimidate any blogger who gets out of line.
The Kremlin isn’t above using criminal charges to stop bloggers, either. On November 26, 2009, a court in Kazan convicted blogger Irek Murtazin of “defamation” and sentenced him to nearly two years in prison because he mistakenly reported that Mintimir Shaimiev, the so-called “president” of Tatarstan, had perished. The day before in Iribt, Alexander Batalov, a former administrator of the official Web site for the city, was put on trial on libel charges for failing to remove anonymous comments left by someone else on the site. He faced a crippling fine of $8,000.
Opposition political leader Oleg Kozlovsky reports that Russian “law enforcement” officers are openly bragging about intercepting and reading opposition party email communications, and using what they learn to carry out preemptive arrests to block demonstrations from ever happening.
Rustem Adagamov says: “The Internet is the last free territory [in Russia] — but it won’t stay that way for long.” He’d know. He’s the most widely read blogger in Russia, holding forth as “Drugoi” (“The Other”) on Live Journal.
Reflecting on all this, former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, visiting the editors of the Washington Post, declared that he and other opposition leaders in Russia felt that America’s “reset” with Russia needed to be “more principled.” That’s a diplomatic way of saying that — in the manner of Neville Chamberlain — the Obama administration has sold out American values in exchange for political expediency, cutting tens of millions of Russians loose to float into the whirlpool of neo-Soviet horror.
It’s worth nothing that perhaps the chief perpetrator in the Obama regime is ironically a supposed conservative from the prestigious Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
Back in 2005, writing for the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, Hoover ’s Michael McFaul issued a scathing condemnation of the Bush administration’s hypocritical failure to live up to its promise to stand as Ronald Reagan did for liberty and democracy around the world.
After Bush’s speech, the “realist” argument for ignoring Putin’s rollback of democratic practices in the name of national security interests can only undermine Bush’s credibility. Bush made clear that he planned to promote liberty in every pocket of the world — surely including the largest country of all. If Bush goes to Bratislava and fails to reiterate the sentiments of his inaugural address in public appearances with Putin, then the critics were right and authoritarian leaders everywhere can sleep easy. If the president neglects to affirm his commitment to freedom with Putin at his side, Bush will be signaling that his words don’t count.
In one of the most amazing political turnabouts of the last decade, just three years later McFaul then joined the Obama administration and became the world’s leading poster boy “for ignoring Putin’s rollback of democratic practices in the name of national security interests.” He and his boss have stood mute while Putin has obliterated basic democratic principles like local government (Putin recently had the mayor of Moscow, one of the world’s largest cities, fired and replaced with an unelected Kremlin flunky) and freedom of expression, and Obama has effectively used McFaul’s presence in the administration as cover for his craven capitulation to the KGB regime of Putin.
Obama is desperate for anything that can be touted as a foreign policy “success” and that can distract attention from the increasingly bleak prospects of the Obama economy. Worse, he simply does not believe in the basic values of democracy, which have always been an annoying stumbling block to those who, like him, wish to build a socialist “utopia.” It’s time to hold McFaul accountable for helping perpetuate this outrage, just as voters will hold Obama accountable at the polls next week.