Anders Aslund: RE: Response [re: Ukraine, Russia, Putin, Media, JRL]

Map of Commonwealth of Independent States, European Portion

Subject: RE: Response
Date: Tue, 26 Aug 2014
From: Anders Aslund <AAslund@PIIE.COM>

Dear David,

Thank you for your inordinate attention you have given to my personal words to you. I appreciate your kind consideration.

At the same time, I am surprised that anybody can object to me calling your list biased in favor of Putin. Whenever you get a chance, you open with Stephen Cohen, Thomas Graham, Dmitri Trenin or other minor Putin apologist from the newly-rearranged Carnegie stable. Major figures in our fields, such as Michael McFaul, Strobe Talbott and David Remnick, receive scant attention. What I find most surprising is that you have several items from RT every day, which is to Putin’s rule what Julius Streicher’s Der Stürmer was to Nazi Germany.

The major drama in our field is of course Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine. Three issues are important in this context. First, Putin started a war of aggression without any provocation. Second, Ukraine is a democracy, while Putin has turned Russia into an authoritarian state. Third, Ukrainian media are abundantly free and of good standard, while major Russian media have degraded into propaganda with only minor liberal outlets offering truth.

Putin’s annexation of Crimea started with unmarked Russian special forces seizing the parliament, then appointing a prime minister, and the next day occupying the two main airports. That was and should be called an occupation followed by an annexation. Putin denied that he had pursued military interference until he admitted that he had. As Strobe Talbott so elegantly has argued in his recent article in Politico, this is not a man to trust.

Similarly, the military insurgence in eastern Ukraine was started and has been maintained with massive Russian military support. Abundant evidence is available. This was not an internal feud in Ukraine but Putin aggression once again. Who could divine that from Johnson’s List?

The ultimate unfortunate is that Putin has imposed an authoritarian state upon our beloved Russia, while Ukraine has become a democracy after the ouster of Viktor Yanukovych. Unlike Russia, Ukraine has free media. Therefore, we had better listen more to them then the Russian media that produce massive propaganda, often without any relationship with reality.

Looking upon the Johnson list, however, official Putin propaganda is given much more space than independent Russian journalism or the excellent Ukrainian journalism, much of which is available in English. Why listen more to proven liars than evident truthsayers if you seek the truth? To my mind, the Russian sources of interest today are Vedomosti, Ekho Moskvy and Slon, while the Moscow Times has fallen to the Barbarians (Putinistas). Among these sources, only Vedomosti is reasonably represented on the Johnson list.

If anybody is left with a doubt about what is true and false, think of the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner. Can anybody find any truth in anything that Putin and his crowd said about it in the face of overwhelming evidence that Russian-supported mercenaries with Russian equipment shot it down? Let me leave it at that.

In the end, no true friend of Russia can want this great country with its outstanding people and intellectuals to suffer from the primitive dictatorship of a lieutenant colonel from the Soviet KGB. When Russia once again become free as it was under Boris Yeltsin, we should read Russian media with our old interest. Given the ever worse absurdities of Putin, my dream might not be too far away.

Anders Åslund
Peterson Institute for International Economics

Map of Ukraine, Including Crimea, and Neighbors, Including Russia