Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Moscow and A brilliant future for Russia

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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Moscow has provided further evidence for the old formula: the number of publications equals – no, not the number of opinions, that would be too simple – but the number of truths, all contradicting each other, but published with full confidence.

For instance, given below are observations of a respected publication, the pro-governmental Rossiiskaya Gazeta: “US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice does not fear for the future of Russian democracy. At her meeting with Vladimir Putin, Rice, who stood out against the general background of austere black suits with her entirly red outfit, was absolutely correct as an experienced politician and diplomat and didn’t recall her own critical remarks with regard to Russian democracy, made on the eve of her arrival in Moscow.”

Everything is quite serene: Ms. Rice brought Putin a “warm welcome from the president of the United States.” She underscored that “against the backdrop of her major mission” she had already done “productive work with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov,” but she’d like to discuss “the basic topics which are concerns for both countries,” namely: regional stability, combating terror and economic cooperation personally to the Russian president. This plan was implemented.

According to Rossiiskaya Gazeta, a call from a telephone terrorist that a bomb had been planted a hotel where a suite was booked for Rice was the only negative moment during the visit (apart from the unseasonably cold weather).

However, no explosive device was discovered and, according to Rossiiskaya Gazeta, the incident “more resembles somebody’s failed political trick.” The newspaper maintains that a statement by Rice (en route Moscow) in which she said that the present and, moreover, the future of Russian democracy arouses doubts in Washington, and that “actions of President Vladimir Putin on strengthening his power and taking control over television channels are causes which arouse concern,” might be the causes for the incident.

Besides, the secretary of state considered it necessary to warn official Moscow that the role of presiding country at the G8 summit which Moscow is to face demands “a display of Russia’s adherence to fundamentals of democracy.”

According to the newspaper, all of this has become a plea for “this demarche” at the hotel. It appears that Ms. Rice was warned on arrival in Russia: “watch your mouth.”

It is hard to tell whether or not this was true, but, notes Rossiiskaya Gazeta, on a live broadcast of Echo of Moscow on the eve of the meeting the state secretary “eased off slightly:” “Russia is a stable state, a country which has potential for developing its democratic processes and institutes, where people are free to express their aspirations and views and there’s no need to consider this as revolutions or be afraid of this. We are not afraid for Russia’s future. Russia has chosen its own path and we respect that.”

However, the Steel Magnolia added further on: “All that we are saying is that for the US-Russia relationship to really deepen and for Russia to gain its full potential, there needs to be democratic development.”

As a matter of fact, according to Rossiiskaya Gazeta, in the story of a phone call to the hotel we have a ready-made plot for an exciting political Hollywood-style whodunit, which is more likely to gives an insight into Russian morals, rather than real political events.

Condoleezza Rice and the incident look more flattering in the view of Izvestia.

Izvestia uses poster colors to describe the appearance of the secretary of state at the Kremlin’s reception office: “she entered in a bright-red suit.”

It should be noted that none of the observers failed to mention this outfit – just like the high-heeled black shoes. “The shoes were evidently new and surely rubbed her feet sore, otherwise she wouldn’t have needed that plaster on her heel,” says Andrei Kolesnikov, a special reporter with Kommersant.

In the opinion of Izvestia, Condoleezza Rice “tried as hard as she could to make the start of the talks as informal as possible.” However, the talks “yielded no public result – this wasn’t actually expected.” Ms. Rice pursued another goal (and achieved it) – “she managed to say everything he wanted – about democracy, the concentration of power and what Washington is obtaining from Russia.”

At the same time, Ms. Rice skillfully interlaced “conspicuous mildness with strict criticism” in her statements.

For instance, notes Izvestia, with a phrase of readiness to respect Russia’s search for “its own path” on solving domestic issues she “nearly overturned her hawk-like reputation.”

However, the “gift” didn’t take place – the state secretary continued: “All that we are saying is that for the US-Russia relationship to really deepen and for Russia to gain its full potential, there needs to be democratic development and there should not be so much concentration of power just in the presidency.”

As reported by Izvestia, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the press later on that no problem of the concentration of power “was raised directly”. Ms. Rice “was merely given additional information on the basis which is being formed for the development of democracy and market reforms.”

The article in Izvestia has a somewhat mysterious headline: “America wants what a woman wants”. More likely, American feminists might have liked a similar headline – unlike Kommersant’s debating over the “patched heel” of the secretary of state and her “well-cared-for skin.”

As well as a statement of Nezavisimaya Gazeta that despite of a multitude of talks to top Russian officials since her arrival in Moscow, “the secretary of state still looked excitingly by the moment of meeting with Vladimir Putin.”

It should be noted that in contrast to the Steel Magnolia, none of Russia’s women politicians – Lyubov Sliska, Valentina Matvienko, or even the stylish Irina Khakamada – have ever been granted such praise in the high-quality Russian press.

In the opinion of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, though “compliments were made” to the top guest, she “wasn’t listened to carefully.”

Nezavisimaya Gazeta was strongly impressed with Ms. Rice’s “outstanding interview” with Echo of Moscow, especially the moment where Rice called on Russians not to be afraid of color revolutions: “I believe that Russia is a stable country, that it is a country that has the possibility of developing democratic processes and institutions in which people can express their aspirations and their views. It is not necessary to think of it as revolution, it’s not necessary to think of it as anything to fear.”

According to the Novye Izvestia newspaper, a “meaningful diplomatic twist by the secretary of state would be interpreted as one might wish. On the one hand, it contains an admission that despite some problems with democracy, the domestic situation in Russia is stable as compared to the situation in Ukraine or, for instance, Kyrgyzstan” – that is, it makes “any coups” very unlikely. On the other hand, says Novye Izvestia, “the secretary of state didn’t rule out this possibility implicitly.”

Moreover, stresses Novye Izvestia, Ms. Rice made herself clear (even though in indirect manner), that “Russia must change its behavior for CIS nations to more transparent if it wants to retain its influence in them.”

In the opinion of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Rice merely attempted to convince Russian citizens (and, undoubtedly, the power) “not to make Americans a bugaboo.” For instance, she described US policy in the post-Soviet territory as a certain game at democracy: “The United States has no desire to see Russian influence in these areas diminished. In fact, we see this as not a zero-sum game, but one in which everybody has much to gain, when there are prosperous, democratic countries in the area of the neighboring states around Russia. So, it is not a zero-sum game.”

The topic of “color” revolutions in the post-Soviet territory is actually very sensitive for Russia.

Vitaly Portnikov says in Novoye Vremya magazine that these revolutions proved to be an unexpectedly thrilling topic: the overthrow of Shevardnadze in Georgia, Yuliya Tymoshenko with her braid in a coil and an orange scarf at Kreshchatik, and looting of stores in Bishkek. “This all is so spectacular that even the most cautious observer is breathless,” Portnikov says. All that remains is “methodological,” says the author of Novoye Vremya, question: “Have we actually observed any revolutions?”

As a matter of fact, the states remained unchanged: “the same rules of the game, the same legislation, even the same elites.”

Some changes are undoubted, but, according to Valery Portnikov, they are ore likely to be of outward nature: “the summands changes places, slogans changed, but the horizon of opportunities has slightly altered.”

Admitting that those “at the top” in the countries where color revolutions happened were “criminalized, corrupt and unpatriotic,” which became the reason for their displacement, gives rise to a question: “how all of these unscrupulous people could designate their future grave-diggers to senior state posts?”

Proponents to the new leaders, continues Portnikov, will “habitually explain to you with regard to this that the people tend to change, that they have understood and realized everything and that they are in general bright people.”

However, on coming to power even these “bright people” don’t change rules of the game.

Moreover, says Novoye Vremya, “construction of paternalist states” is underway in all of the abovementioned states after the revolutions have occurred.

In this sense, notes Portnikov, the new Ukrainian authorities continue the policy of Prime Minister Yanukovych, who regularly raised pension and wage rates for budget recipients – instead of calling the people to “tighten their belts and endure a couple of years for their future sake.” However, predicts the author, once it becomes clear that the “sobs from the budget” don’t raise the living standards but only spin up the wheel маховик of inflation, not the specific actions of the authorities alone, but also the slogans of the “orange revolution” can be called into question – “Europe, NATO, freedom of speech…”

The revolutionists of yesterday will then “either start missing another strong hand, or rush into the embrace of a new populist, who promises a new miracle to them.”

On the whole, maintains Portnikov, in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan “we are still dealing with transition regimes, which have replaced the old nomenklatura but have also originated from it.” Even if those who replaced previous leaders in those states realize the hopelessness of the former course, link this “no to problems of the state and public system, but personal qualities of top officials and their circles;” that is, “suffice it to enroll honest people to get everything working.”

However, predicts Portnikov, no effective operation must be expected from the post-Soviet state machinery – “this is when the time of new-generation politicians comes.”

The author warns that “we don’t know what they will be like – they will be working with the electoral material they inherited from their predecessors.”

These rulers may prove to “to be no democrats, though authentic authoritarian rulers, who blame the West, Russia, separatists, corrupt officials (cross out the superfluous) for all their troubles,” Novoye Vremya says.

Anatoly Chubais, a right-wing leader, gave a similar opinion with regard to the color revolutions in CIS states and the probability of this revolution in Russia in his extensive interview with Izvestia.

Chubais derives an upbeat conclusion for Russia based on the fact that “in all countries where revolutions happened post-Soviet regimes have fallen and post-Soviet leaders have ruled for long:” “It seems to me that we’ve passed the crucial period,” – that is, our country is not threatened with an “orange” coup. The reason is evident to Chubais: “Putin is not a post-Soviet leader, he’s a post-Yeltsin leader.”

However, realistic as he is, Chubais admits that our country is subjected to an “unwholesome political situation,” since the entire political structure of Russia is “based on the single foundation known as Vladimir Putin’s popularity rating.”

Nevertheless, Chubais told Izvestia, this doesn’t mean that efforts must be taken to down his rating according to a principle “have my ears frostbitten to spite by grandma.”

Chubais stressed that Russian politicians who approve of an orange revolution in Russia and even call to it, cause an “internal protest, indignation and rejection” in his inner self. Chubais thinks these people “don’t at all realize what is politics, what is a revolution and what is Russia.”

Chubais cites the opinion of “some significant people who say that our revolution of the 1990s was about fighting for freedom, while the next revolution will be in favor of justice.” However, says Chubais, “God forbid that we should see such a revolution in Russia, and if anybody thinks it will be colored orange – no, it will be scarlet, like blood.”

Fortunately, adds Chubais, “the revolutionary scenario is very unlikely in Russia.”

It is noteworthy that the most radical left-wing politicians in Russia are using almost the same color to describe a potential revolution in our country.

In particular, Ilya Ponomarev, a leader of the Youth Left Front and member of the National Strategy Council, stated in his interview with Versiya weekly with regard to the opportunity of an orange revolution in Russia: “We do want a revolution in Russia, but it should be red, not orange.”

The difference is as evident to Ponomarev as to liberal political consultants: “The “orange revolutions” have only involved one political clan replacing another. What we want, however, is a complete change of the political system in Russia.”

The changes will be radical: “The assets privatized in the Soviet period should be working in the interests of all Russian citizens.”

Ponomarev found good words for the authorities, the oligarchs, including the oligarchs associated with the state, who Anatoly Chubais obviously belongs with. Contrary to a widespread opinion, “instead of fighting oligarchs, the authorities are only rearranging property and assets in their own interests,” said the leader of the Youth Left Front. “Moreover, while the state does have the private-sector oligarchs more or less under control, the oligarchs associated with the state itself are practically uncontrolled and uncontrollable.”

Against the backdrop of similar statements one better understands Chubais’ words that in Russian elite he knows “many serious, independent, come-to-be people with real political convictions, for whom the slogan “Away with Putin’s police regime!” sounds lightly” (a quotation from the same interview with Izvestia).

In contrast to the overwhelming growth in the left (and even the radical, Ponomarev’s Youth Left Front is not a unique phenomenon) moods in the country the liberal press issued publications with relation to the “Kremlin’s new course.”

According to Vedomosti, the essence of this course is the “alliance of the authorities with loyalist big business.”

It doesn’t seem necessary to specify goals of the business in this alliance. The authorities are aimed at “ensuring the effective and accommodating solution with regard to the succession of power in 2008 after Putin’s powers elapse.”

At the same time, says Vedomosti, the business is expected to “show non-involvement in supporting potential alternative political projects,” rather than “financial, organizational and media resources” – the authorities possess a sufficient number of the latter. This particularly concerns the most “electorally promising” projects, enabling “presidential candidates not controlled by the Kremlin, like former prime minister Mikhail Kasianov or Dmitri Rogozin, who has irrevocably alienated himself from the Motherland party.”

In general, concludes Vedomosti, the Kremlin’s new political project “resembles an updated version of the Election 1996 project, when the oligarchs were offered property in exchange for supporting Yeltsin’s clan.”

The project was a success in 1996, Yeltsin stayed at the Kremlin, and the communists wouldn’t arrange a “velvet” or, if you wish, “color” revolution, “though they had many grounds to feel that their victory had been stolen.” However, notes Vedomosti, “certain representatives of the elite consolidated in 1996, currently resident in Israel, express public regret that they didn’t let Zyuganov seize the power then.”

Undoubtedly, argues Vedomosti, the 2008 Project might seem as the one lacking democracy to many people.” However, the newspaper proposes to regard it in comparison to potential alternatives, as in 1996: “Imagine any of the current opposition’s leaders at the Kremlin – and the choice against the 2008 Successor doesn’t look that evident anymore.”

“Most significant is not to yield the power to a psycho,” Gleb Pavlovsky, president of the Effective Politics Foundation (EPF) said in one of his interviews.

Therefore, maintains the newspaper, in 2008 the authorities yet have the “chance to win,” which only requires “convincing the voters that the authorities is not creating problems in life and it could be endured further on.” The article in Vedomosti has an expressive headline: “Lesser Evil.”

In other words, the business (and society on the whole) has to choose between fear to the authorities and a color revolution.

Undoubtedly, renowned columnist Vitaly Tretiakov notes in Rossiiskaya Gazeta, the political class of Russia is being afraid: “no mater, whether or not it has grounds for this.”

In the opinion of Tretiakov, this is bad: “Not for the authorities, but for the country first of all,” since there are some other things to be afraid of, for instance collapse of the country, a possibility of which was mentioned by Dmitri Medvedev, director of the presidential administration, in his notorious interview with Expert magazine; he called the elite to consolidate in order not to admit this collapse.

As Tretiakov notes ironically, Russian politicians derived the only conclusion from this statement: “The Kremlin will be consolidating elites using some awesome methods.”

According to the author, the fear of this consolidation, which is evident in numerous comments with regard to Medvedev’s interview, “is the fear of the authorities, instead of consolidating under the patronage of which many would even prefer disappearance of the country.”

The same applies to fears of the orange revolution, which have lately become the major tone in statements of the majority of elite members, state officials, businessmen and politicians – in defiance of their statements that a revolution is not possible in Russia.

It should be mentioned this fear is obviously favorable for the authorities: choosing between the option offered by the Kremlin (“the alliance of the authorities and the private companies loyal to them”) and an orange revolution, which has every chance to become scarlet in Russia, many are likely to prefer the first option.

As for the West, as represented by Rice it is yet making quit a correct expression of a hope that Vladimir Putin will resign in 2008 and won’t try reelection for a third term (who is actually saying this?).

According to Rice, the United States wouldn’t approve of violating the decencies by means of amending the Constitution for the sake of the incumbent president.

According to Ms. Rice, “It wouldn’t be a positive development at all if it requires amendments. I hope it will not happen. We are taking Putin at his word. (quoted from Kommersant newspaper).

According to Kommersant, “no US state officials have ever made such bold statements before with regard to the fate of the presidency in Russia.”

Most likely, the very idea that Putin “has been taken at his word” (i.e. a promise not to run for president in 2008) enabled Ms. Rice to state that she’s not afraid “for Russia’s future, which could be brilliant,” even if orange, but never scarlet as the color of blood.

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