The death of Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist and avowed foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was the occasion for a veritable orgy of Russia-bashing, one that the Western media and their Russian teachers’ pets lingered over with voluptuous abandon. Amid elegies praising Politkovskaya as a veritable saint and valorizing her opposition to the Chechen war were warnings from pundits and government officials alike that Russia after a few bright years of promising openness is descending into Slavic darkness. The clear implication of all this is that Politkovskaya’s death, if not personally ordered by Putin, was certainly condoned and even celebrated by the Russian authorities.
Evidence? Who needs evidence? This crowd isn’t interested in such bothersome details. They, after all, are the guardians of "human rights" in Russia. To expect these worthies to come up with such vulgar accouterments of the legal process as proof, witnesses, and credible testimony is to ask for the sun, the moon, and the stars in heaven. Their idea of evidence is the fact that Politkovskaya was killed on Putin’s birthday. What more do we need to know? And, oh yeah, she was preparing a scathing exposé with pictures of torture carried out by the thuggish head of the pro-Russian puppet government in occupied Chechnya, portions of which were published posthumously.
That is their "proof" that Putin’s was the deadly hand behind the assassin’s bullet. In short, they have no evidence, not a shred of it, that points to Putin or anyone in his administration as masterminding the assassination. This embarrassing truth is carefully glossed over by the Western media, which is eager to portray Politkovskaya’s death as emblematic of the re-Stalinization of Russian society.
A recent segment on PBS’ NewsHour was typically credulous. After a sonorous buildup and introduction, in which PBS correspondent Jeffrey Brown solemnly portrayed Politkovskaya’s death as the latest in an ongoing pogrom directed at journalists, he asked Nina Ognianova, of the Committee to Protect Journalists, "What more, if anything, is known at this point about who might have been behind this killing?"
Ognianova’s shifty-eyed evasion had me laughing out loud:
"What we know is that Anna Politkovskaya was just about to release a report this Monday about alleged torture in Chechnya by the military services under the command of the Kremlin-appointed prime minister, Ramzan Kadyrov. Several reports in the Russian media said that Anna Politkovskaya was ready to release the material and was actually in possession of two photographs of the alleged torturers, but after her tragic death, the two photographs actually disappeared."
Brown didn’t press her; instead, he mercifully changed the subject: "Tell us a little bit about her work over the years "
Observant viewers will have noticed the complete lack of relevant facts in Ognianova’s little narrative, which is all supposition and speculation. The rest are meant to be diverted from questioning this scenario by the sheer emotional power and inventiveness of the Putin-offed-Politkovskaya story: heroic journalist goes up against the neo-Stalinist regime of ex-KGB officer Putin, and pays for her scathing exposures of corruption and creeping authoritarianism with a bullet in the back of the head.
Truth no longer matters: objective reality is "out." That is a relic of the pre-9/11 era, clung to only by the beleaguered remnants of the "reality-based community." What counts, nowadays, is not who has the facts, but who has the winning narrative.
We are all by now overly familiar with this process: a campaign against the Hitler-of-the-moment is launched, amid much fanfare and fire-breathing, while "evidence" of his perfidy and deadly intentions saturates the media. In Iraq, we detected "weapons of mass destruction," links to al-Qaeda, and advanced preparations to nuke New Jersey via unmanned drone aircraft. In Russia, Putin is supposedly assassinating his critics, consolidating a dictatorship, and launching a bid to regain his nation’s former empire. Russian revanchism resurgent it’s a meme with a nice ring to it, one that bears as much relation to reality as the Iraqi WMD con job. Not coincidentally, it’s being pushed by the very same crowd.
That a noted journalist was killed, gangland-style, in today’s Russia is hardly shocking. Corruption is rife in the former Soviet Union, and journalists who stumble on it or are looking for it are often, and not surprisingly, victimized by gangsters. To automatically attribute Politkovskaya’s death to Putin or the Russian government is like blaming George W. Bush and his administration for every violent death in the District of Columbia.
Putin condemned the killing, and had this to say about her killers:
"We have information, and it is reliable, that many people hiding from Russian justice have long been nurturing the idea of sacrificing somebody in order to create a wave of anti-Russia feeling in the world."
Two exiled "oligarchs" Russian billionaires who grew wealthy because of their political connections to the former Soviet dictatorship are identified by Izvestia as among the possible suspects:
"The political theory has it that Politkovskaya’s murder was ordered from abroad. We were the first to draw attention to this theory. A similar assumption was expressed by President Putin at a press conference in Dresden on October 10. Developments of this theory have mentioned the names of Boris Berezovsky and Leonid Nevzlin the most prominent of the individuals Russia is trying to extradite. Both Berezovsky and Nevzlin will probably face extradition attempts for a long time to come, having to prove in foreign courts why they should not be returned to Russia. One of their primary objectives is to portray Russia as a state where people can get shot in the head for their pro-democracy convictions."
Boris Berezovsky, interviewed by phone from London, did not deny his desire for regime change:
“A revolution in Russia would certainly be to my advantage. But all my actions are within the law especially since the Russian authorities are doing far more to destabilize the situation in Russia than I ever could. I had a difficult relationship with Anna Politkovskaya. At first, she directly accused me of instigating the war in Chechnya. But then she learned more about the situation and withdrew those accusations. I understood that her work was dangerous, but I didn’t attempt to tell her what to do. Everyone chooses their own risks. Trying to stop her would have been futile.”
Driven out of Russia by Putin’s campaign to stamp out official corruption, the exiled oligarchs continue their activities abroad, and have hired platoons of public relations spinners to give them a makeover as "political dissidents." As Izvestia points out,
"Others besides Berezovsky and Nevzlin would also stand to benefit from ‘correcting’ Russia’s image. Russia is also trying to extradite common criminals, who often argue in foreign courts that they’re being persecuted for political reasons."
The drama of Politkovskaya’s martyrdom at the hands of unknown assassins comes as Putin’s relations with the West have reached a crescendo of hostility approaching Cold War levels. The flashpoints of the widening conflict Ukraine, Georgia, and the Middle East are all areas either in or bordering on the former "Soviet near abroad," the shattered remnants of the old Russian empire. The West, including the EU, is eager to absorb these broken-off pieces into its own sphere of political and economic influence. Bush’s visit to Tbilisi on his way to Moscow for the summit was a clear signal that Washington was about to go on the offensive. The Georgians are pushing hard for NATO membership, and are busy antagonizing the Russians as best they can.
A vision of a Ukrainian-style "Orange Revolution" in Putin’s Russia is the wet dream of Washington’s professional regime-changers. These would-be exporters of Bushian "democracy" protest "human rights" violations in Chechnya and complain that Putin wants to be a dictator, yet they haven’t said a word about the odious PATRIOT Act. They kvetch that Putin is the reincarnation of Stalin and wail crocodile tears over the alleged loss of civil liberties in Russia, but the passage of the Military Commissions Act [.pdf] and its signing into law by President Bush evinces not even a peep of protest from these inveterate crusaders for "human rights."
Freedom House, which rated Russia "not free" in its latest world survey, is strangely silent when it comes to the growing loss of liberty in the U.S., and it’s no mystery as to why. These guys are on the U.S. government payroll: they get subsidies from the U.S. Treasury in order to promote "democracy" worldwide. "Democracy," in this context, means the installation of a compliant American sock-puppet, one who, like Georgian strongman Mikheil Saakashvili, knows what side his bread is buttered on. Never mind his atrocious "human rights" record: let’s pretend, for the moment, that he isn’t jailing his political opponents and intimidating the rest into silence. He is supported by the "pro-democracy" movement because weakening Russia, at all costs, is the primary goal of those who are handing out the cash.
As long as Russia was weak and ruled by the oligarchs, in league with their front man, Boris Yeltsin, it was treated like an ally, with plenty of aid to bail out the sinking Russian economy which the oligarchs were bleeding to death and lots of favorable media coverage for "Russia’s emerging democracy." With the rise of Putin, a capable, no-nonsense, and staunchly nationalist leader, who wasn’t about to take orders from abroad, American policy has shifted to containing and surrounding the Russian bear as he emerges from his decades-long hibernation, flush with vigor and plenty of petro-dollars. That’s what the U.S.-subsidized-and-directed "color revolutions" were all about: that "fire in the mind" noted by both Dubya and Dostoevsky lit a blaze that stretched from Ukraine to Kyrgyzstan, but that flame has since sputtered out. Ukraine is veering back toward the Russian orbit, and the various Central Asian ‘stans are moving in the same direction.
Russia has come a long way since the implosion of the Soviet Empire. Despite reversals and copious foreign interference it is making its way toward a market economy and the rule of law, albeit in fits and starts. Those who criticize Putin for supposedly reintroducing authoritarian rule can marshal not a single iota of evidence: opposition political parties exist and conduct vigorous public campaigns. No newspapers or media outlets have been closed down for giving voice to dissident anti-government views. They have changed owners, yes but isn’t that an essential characteristic of the market economy we are always urging on them? Russia has more political parties than the U.S., and the ballot-access laws are much more accommodating to dissident (or "third") parties. Yet Putin is supported by 70 percent of the voters: the "dissidents" are, for the most part, a handful of noisy, self-promoting professional malcontents, each of them competing for handouts from Uncle Sam.
Washington is now faced with a choice: it can get off Putin’s back, recognize that he’s an ally in the fight against the worldwide Islamist insurgency that threatens our homeland with terrorism, and butt out of his internal affairs or it can escalate the war against the Kremlin. The oligarchs and their American allies are hoping and lobbying furiously for the latter. Common sense do we really need to open up another front in our never-ending war against everyone? and American interests argue in favor of the former. Given the record and past pronouncements of American policymakers from both parties, one needn’t be Nostradamus to predict which way we’ll go. A confrontation with Russia is the one crazed foreign policy blunder on which neocons and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, can all agree. As such, a new cold war with Russia seems almost inevitable, unless the American people suddenly wake up to this enormous con job and start demanding accountability from their leaders.
The frame-up of Vladimir Putin for the murder of Anna Politkovskaya is the latest chapter in an ongoing propaganda campaign that seeks to topple the Russian government and install a more pro-Western regime one that won’t send missiles to Syria, trade with Iran, or exercise its UN veto.