Staunton, July 23 – Vladimir Putin
has successfully counted on the war he launched in Ukraine to distract the
attention of Russians from their problems at home, but if Russians are to
emerge from the current crisis and save their own country, they will have to “forget
about Ukraine” and focus on Russia instead, according to Vladislav Inozemtsev.
Russian rulers have often used “good
little wars” to distract attention from domestic problems, although over the
longer term, these conflicts have not always worked to the benefit of these
rulers. Instead, when Russians have recognized what is going on, they have
often turned to radical, even revolutionary means to change the situation.
In a commentary on Snob.ru
yesterday, the economist points out that while the Kremlin talks about raising
Russia from its knees, its own “warriors on the ideological front” have done
everything possible to transform their own country into a backward information
They have done so
by focusing on other countries and especially Ukraine and not talking about
what is going on and going wrong in Russia. Last week, he notes, the top three
stories – the anniversary of the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner, the
conflict in Mukachevo, and the situation in Odessa – were about Ukraine.
the fourth most discussed story – the collapse of a military barracks in Omsk
which killed 24 young Russian soldiers – was about Russia; and even it had a
foreign dimension because the way in which Moscow has chosen to spend money on
the military is distorted by its campaigns in Ukraine.
to Inozemtsev, a cursory examination of the major news outlets, government and “even
liberal,” shows that “in the majority of them, news from Ukraine takes up no
less than a third”, and on certain days even more than half, of the news space.” That creates some unexpected and unwelcome
a result, Russians “are better informed about how the Verkhovna Rada voted on ‘federalization’
of the eastern part of Ukraine than about how [Russia’s] regions east of the
Urals live.” They “know more Ukrainian political leaders than they do Russian
ones;” and they “hear a great deal more often about Ukrainian ‘banderites’ than
about neo-Nazis in [their] own country.”
as many have observed, “’Ukraine is not Russia,” he continues. And “by shifting
the focus of attention from our own country, we give birth in ourselves to ever
greater neglect to our own daily life,” forgetting about dead soldiers and a
collapsing economy, ignoring corruption and avoiding discussions of problems in
education and health care.
years ago, Ukraine filled no more than a few percent of news stories in the
Russian media; and that was a more appropriate level, Inozemtsev suggests. He
cites with approval Eli Wiesel’s observation that “the opposite of love is not
hatred but indifference” and argues that Russia should show rather more of that
to Ukraine in the future.
Russia were ‘to forget’ about Ukraine,” he argues, “this would be the best
political move it could take now.” First, he says, Russians are tired of news
that doesn’t affect their daily lives.
Second, “the disappearance of Ukraine from Russia’s information space
could become a serious hit also for Ukraine” because it would lead to less
Western coverage of Ukraine.
it would bring benefits because it would keep Russians from feverishly
responding to developments in a place which “interests us approximately in the
same amount as Paraguay or Laos.” And fourth – and this is the most important
thing, Inozemtsev says – it would allow Russians to focus on what they should
do to improve the situation at home.
I am convinced,” he writes, that those in Russia who want good things both for
Russia itself and its neighbors ought to as quickly as possible ‘change the record’
and do everything possible in order to drop from the agenda foreign policy
continues: “Unfortunately, the Russian political and intellectual elite is
fanatically devoted to concentrating on themes which cannot play a decisive
role in the social and economic development of their own country.” In support of that argument, he points to
something many would find surprising.
Putin has stressed the importance of gas exports throughout his reign. He has devoted 14 of the 16 meetings he has
had with foreign leaders in the last year to precisely that topic. But Gazprom provides only one out of every
200 Russians with a job, and it brings in only 12 percent of the country’s
export earnings. Important but not as decisive as presented.
is a similar kind of issue, Inozemtsev suggests. Whatever its future course
will be, he says, Ukraine “will not define the historic path of Russia.” Those
who assert the contrary “denigrate the size of their own country and forget
about its problems. And if the Russian nation does not want to be transformed
into a community of psychopaths ‘obsessed’ with minutiae, it would to
immediately think about a new agenda.”
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