Tue Mar 4th, 2008 at 03:26:40 AM EST
or, a case study in narcissism.
Yes, it is a true and sad fact: I have become the very person for whom I have the deepest disdain: The Russia Expert. On what grounds do I make this bold assertion? Well, because Jerome said so. And in case there is anyone here who does not take Jerome's word as gospel truth (after his "yes, you should contact Sergei," I'm inclined to count myself among those people), there is also the fact that Peter Lavelle let me join his "expert" discussion group. So right there are two facts in support of my audacious claim. And that, my dear readers, is twice as many facts as you're bound to find in anything you'll ever read in anything calling itself an expert analysis of anything having to do with Russia.
Now, on to the analysis:
from the diaries. The best commentary on the net on all things (and men) Russian! -- Jérôme.
1. Was Dima rocking the presidential couture or what?!
2. Obviously those who have only not very nice things to say about Russian politics ("sham elections" "dictatorship" "a country run by KGB-types who eat babies, alive, and want to turn off your -yes, you- gas.") are just jealous of or intimidated by the sheer rockstar coolness of Vovka and Dima. This would explain why "Russia Experts," when actually given the opportunity to address Russia's leaders directly, suddenly turn into bumbling teenage-esque fools. For example, did you see Rupert Wingfield-Hayes (of whom I am a huge fan, as you know) on the BBC asking Dima at his press conference, "The one question all foreign leaders are asking themselves right now is, who will decide Russian's foreign policy, you or Mr. Putin?" (to paraphrase...) Now, anyone with the reading comprehension skills of a 10 year old and access to the Internet knows fully well that according to the Russian Constitution, these powers lie with the President, not the Prime Minister. Duh. So Rupert, dear dear Rupert, was either 1) unaware that Dima had just been elected President, 2) does not have the reading comprehension skills of a 10 year old or access to the Internet or 3) was suffering a momentary bout of brain-turning-to-mushness in the presence of such hipster leadershipdom. Of course, I can't rule out the first two...
(Seems like the people over at Roget's have been paying attention to Russian politics, as "autocratic" is now listed as a synonym for "cool.")
Interestingly, this intimidating, unearthly coolness is the very same explanation my girlfriends give when I ask why I don't have a date. Because I share this rare trait with Russia's leaders, I believe I am able to garner keen insight into their behaviour and style, insight which is lost on everyone else in the Russia-Expert-o-Sphere.
3. My local news must have been too intimidated by my mind-blowing expertise, so they invited the less formidable and much more available characters of Ahmed Chala..., I mean, Garry Kasparov, and (drum roll...) Edward Lucas! to provide analysis of the Russian elections. So reliable, so willing and ready, these two. Do they ever say, "no?" They are like that girl in high school of the Russia-Expert-o-Sphere. Which makes me kinda sad. Maybe, if they'd just had better role models and more support at home... better self-esteem... Well, it must attest to my own expertiseness that at the very moment I was watching Lucas under the bleachers with some anchor-person, I was also reading this fabulous article about Lucas and the New Cold War(s), in the Exile. It's brilliant, insightful, and totally hi-larious. Alexander Zaitchik and Mark Ames rock my world.
Lucas isn't an idiot. He's just a bit of a fruitcake (and folks, we say that knowing that if this newspaper calls you a "fruitcake," you are no mere slice of raisin bread). Being fairly bright and totally mad, Lucas realizes he might seem to be overdoing the Russian Threat a bit. Again and again, he shrieks that he is not being hysterical and historically obtuse and just plain wrong! Absolutely not! The book at times seems to be written by two men, a Doctor Strangelove howling for a NCW, and a Doctor Jekyll trying to give him a sedative.
On one page, Lucas berates Russia apologists for failing to see the massive threat over the eastern horizon. On the next, he retreats from the implications of his own rhetoric. After suggesting that the Russian threat is more sinister than that posed by Al Qaeda, he takes care to stress that Russia is "not a military menace to the West." Rather, the problem is one of "bombast, bullying, and bribery." (Ah, the three "B"s! Apparently both of our featured authors are fans of alliteration.) Russia, he explains, "has dropped three Soviet attributes from its foreign policy: a messianic ideology, raw military power, and the imperative of territorial expansion." In its place it has embraced trade and investment, exactly as the West has always argued it should. Instead of nuclear weapons and massive heavy tank divisions, the NCW is "fought with cash, natural resources, diplomacy and propaganda... The new cold war is in part a struggle for market share."
If most people find the thought of a suitcase nuke in lower Manhattan more frightening than a growing Gazprom portfolio of downstream German energy assets, well, they obviously haven't spent enough time hanging out in the Polish foreign ministry cafeteria listening to Western-educated bureaucrats griping about Russia's imperial intentions, the way Lucas has.
More extensive quoting, because, as a Russia expert, I'm better at regurgitating what others say than at thinking for myself:
Europe's hopeless lust for the Russian energy-whore is so horrifying to Lucas that he is forced to find comfort in scenarios predicting the imminent exhaustion of Russia's vast oil and gas reserves. Indeed this is another running feature of NCW russophobia: "Yeah, well, just wait till Russia's resources run out/the price of oil drops! It's gonna happen too, just you wait. That's what Tony says, at least, dontcha Tony? 'Raw Dloc! Raw Dloc!' See? Tony says they're gonna run out of gas in about 200 years, and that's good enough for me!"
It's true that 43 trillion cubic meters of gas reserves won't last forever, or even the century. Some studies show that as early as 2020, Russia could need to keep all of its gas for domestic use. But if these numbers are accurate, there's not much use in getting so riled up, is there? Why not just write a book about alternative energy? Answer: it ain't scary enough. And if it ain't scaring John Q Public, then John Q Public ain't gonna lay down $20 bucks to buy it. Besides, free market nut cases get nervous talking about that hippie stuff. Every time they bring it up they can see their hero Cheney sneering at them, and it makes them feel faint.
So Lucas's only idea for fighting Russia's massive resource advantage is a kind of "Better Stone-Aged Than Sovereign Democracy" policy, the Episcopalian equivalent of suicide bombing: he argues that we stop buying Russian fuel altogether. If frozen toes and cold baths once a month are good enough for us Brits, they're good enough for the rest of you softies!
But that sort of talk goes down better in North Korea than in free-market countries, as poor Lucas realizes. "Now the fellow travelers are capitalists," writes Lucas, speaking about accountancy firms, individual investors, and public relations officials. Although he doesn't use the word, he implies strongly that they are traitors. Lucas has an ally in this view in Tony Blair, who left office with a Eisenhower-esque exit warning in which he urged Western firms to stay away from the Russian werewolf. Don't believe it when you see profits to be made and resources to be traded: when there's a full moon out, those natural gas reserves and IPOs turn into werewolves, and they... KILL YOU! Raw Dloc! Raw Dloc! Tony, no!
I suppose if foreign leaders and journalists all over the world can't be bothered to Google to see whether the President or Prime Minister is in charge of foreign policy under Russia's Constitution, I should not hold out any hope that they'll learn how to say "Medvedev." In fairness, it does not roll effortlessly off the English tongue. But if I hear "Mehvdehv" one more, time I'll scream. For the love of god, there is even a little doo-dad on Dima's Wikipedia page where you can hear how it's meant to be pronounced. Do foreign leaders and journalists all over the world know what "Wikipedia" is? Izzy was recently bemoaning the overuse of nicknames in the Russian language. Personally, given the choice, I'll take "Dima" over "Medvedev" any day. "Deem-ah." How hard is that? I've actually read commentary by "Russia Experts" asserting that the Western Media's refusal to accept that Putin is going to step down is a projection of their own desires. They finally got a Russian leader with a name they could say and don't want to give this up. Who with an American education can pronounce "Medvedevology?" !!!
5. My own refusal to accept that Putin is going to step down is a little different. As you all know.
God. I'm so effing depressed! I just can't comprehend life without him. I can't believe he's leaving! What the hell am I going to write/swoon about? I mean, Dima can work a leather jacket and all, but the fishing trips, the smart-ass remarks, the great sweaters, the general curiously appealing nuttiness of Vladimir Putin... No one can replace that rare combination of cheeky hooliganism, cut biceps and shockingly effective -if evil- governance! Sniff... Don't go, Volodya... Please... Sniff... I mean, I saw this coming, but I guess I, sniff, just wasn't prepared, ya know, for, sniff ... (Excuse me a moment while I collect myself. Deep breath ... Ok.) I just can't ... It's just hard, you know. I know. I know. I'll get over him. Somehow... It's, sniff, just going to take a lot of time and support. And wine. Lots of wine.
Damn it. That's it! I'm giving up this terrible habit. No, not smoking, J. Russian men. (Apologies to my wonderful readers who fall into this demographic. I absolutely adore you, of course. Well, that's the whole problem, isn't it?) These men will kill me before cigarettes. Men who place the good of their county and rule of law before my needs as a writer. Thanks, Vlad. Men who have a wife in Minsk, but it's Minsk, so it doesn't count. Thanks, "Alexei, but you can call me Alex." Men who, tears streaming down their face, won't let me get on that plane, but who now cannot even be bothered to check their facebook acct., or, are dead(***). Thanks, Sergei/Sergueï. I give up. Never again. In fact, I'm just going to include all men in this, so as not to be accused of being anti-Russian by lana or something. Sorry, that includes you too, LEP. Seriously. I'm going to go adopt 10 cats, buy some comfortable shoes, get one of the rabbit things and write Gothic novels...
Wait. This is a diary about the Russian Elections. Sorry about that. Kinda got off topic there for a minute...
6. Medvedev will be the next President of Russia. No one knows what it means. And that is the full extent of my expert analysis. Believe me when I say to you, this is the most honest analysis of the subject you are going to find anywhere on the Internets.
Ciao! & Thanks for reading!
p.s. I really should add that, despite his being a "Russia Expert," I actually like Peter Lavelle and find him smart, gracious and charming in a nerdy kinda way, if a bit sensitive. Unfortunately, he's also male, so I'm harboring some completely irrational and, Dai Bog, fleeting animosity toward him.
p.p.s. Nothing to do with the Russian elections, but I've developed a new Obama Theory. Americans are miserable, anxious, depressed, generally freaking out. However, because of our sham health care system, no one can afford a prescription for Paxil, Vicodin or Valium. Obama is like the human Vicodin. He makes you feel all blissed out even though whatever is causing your pain is still there. Treats the symptoms, not the underlying causes. Not a long term solution. ... I just wanted to throw that brilliant observation out there.
(***) ok, not dead. whew.