The American mainstream media tends to give the impression that Russia under Putin is not that different from the good ole USSR. Having visited the Soviet Union a number of times prior to Gorbachev’s reforms and keeping abreast of the Russian press today, I know how false that picture is. Before censorship was lifted, the only honest political discussions I could have with my Russian friends was when no other Russians were present, and we were out of range of any possible, hidden microphones (e.g., in my hotel room). Compare that to an article in yesterday’s Moscow Times, which reads in part:
The Syrian problem has become a vicious vortex sucking the Russian ship downward into its maw. … This became clear immediately after the tragic massacre of civilians in the Syrian village of Houla on May 25 that left about 116 civilians dead, including dozens of children. [Foreign Minister Sergei] Lavrov cannot deny the evidence presented by the United Nations that the heinous crime was committed by government forces. …
Nobody denies the role that the rebels have played in the Syrian conflict. A civil war is raging in the country, and the opposition openly refers to itself as a militia. The question is not whether the opposition fired first, but how the government’s army responded. Is it admissible to retaliate against enemy fire by intentionally bombing civilian neighborhoods and killing innocent women and children simply because that population is sympathetic to the opposition?
As a result, the Foreign Ministry cannot provide any evidence backing up its oft-repeated claim that Moscow is only defending the principles of justice for the Syrian people and that it has not supported the Assad regime against the rebel forces.
Contrast the above internal criticism of the Russian government with the fact that a Google search on Russia authoritarian produced 7,590,000 hits. A Google search on Russia appease produced 1,750,000 hits – an even greater concern since many of those implicitly portray Russia as a modern-day reincarnation of Nazi Germany. While it is rarely put so baldly, the 2008 Georgian War tended to give voice to those subconscious nightmares, with a good example being a Newsweek editorial:
Is that “appeasement” we see sidling shyly out of the closet of history? … As those of a certain age will recall, “appeasement” encapsulated the determination of British governments of the 1930s to avoid war in Europe, even if it meant capitulating to the ever-increasing demands of Adolf Hitler. The nadir came in 1938, when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain acceded to Hitler’s demand to take over the western slice of Czechoslovakia … It is impossible to view the Russian onslaught against Georgia without these bloodstained memories rising to mind.
Even more ominously, the subhead for that article was, “The historical reasons why the West should intervene in Georgia.” Viewing a nation with thousands of nuclear weapons through a distorted filter has grave implications for our national security. It’s time we stopped giving in to baseless fears and started seeing things as they are.