Friday, March 25, 2016

Moscow’s Reaction to Brussels Attack Highlights Growing Gulf between Russia and the West, Yakovenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 25 – Almost no Russian official or pro-Kremlin commentator limited himself to expressions of sympathy in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Brussels, Igor Yakovenko says. Instead, nearly all the representatives of the Russian establishment sought not only to blame the victims but to exploit the attacks for Moscow’s political gain.

            This pattern, the Moscow commentator says, both raises questions about how such people view the world around them and both underscores and expands the growing gulf between Putin’s Russia, on the one hand, and the countries of the democratic West, on the other (

            “Observing the reaction of Russian politicians and media figures to the tragedy in Brussels,” Yakovenko says, he “constantly has asked himself how such people behave in their own families and among their friends. Do they at the funerals of friends or relatives also declare that the person who had died is guilty in his own death?”

            But that is exactly how Moscow commentators have responded to the Brussels tragedy, he continues. “Practically none of the Russian representatives of the establishment could limit themselves to simple sympathy, which is the normal human  reaction to the death of people and the suffering of those nearby.”

            Instead, in Russia’s public space, reactions ranged from “open happiness” at what happened in the Belgian capital to claims of the “we told you so” variety and statements that the Europeans can only defend themselves against terrorism if they adopt measures like Vladimir Putin has and cooperate with Moscow on Moscow’s terms.

            Yakovenko says this set of attitudes was prominently displayed on Wednesday on the Politics program of Russia’s first channel hosted by Petr Tolstoy and Aleksandr Gordon.  “Naturally,” they gave the first word on this subject to the outspoken and outrageous Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia.

            “It is extremely difficult to find someone who can at one and the same time pose as an angry opposition figure, a loyal patriot, a convinced enemy of the West and the real opposition, and at the same time who is 100 percent loyal to the authorities and regularly collects the votes of the 10 percent of the supporters of a caricature of fascism,” the commentator says.

            Zhirinovsky said on the program with regard to Brussels: “Europe is burning and let it burn. One needs to be happy about this. No cooperation … We will declare sanctions against them forever!”

            After that outburst, almost anyone else might appear to be a complete liberal.  Certainly several of the other participants on the show were less extreme, but a careful examination of their comments shows that they were inclined in the same direction but were constrained from expressing it so dramatically.

            Thus, for example, Petr Tolstoy, one of the hosts complained that Federica Mogerini, the EU’s foreign minister, had made to reference in her press conference about the Brussels tragedy to the losses Russia has suffered. “And he added that Europe has been wrong about Russia for 25 years, “thinking that [it] has the right to give [Moscow] advice.”

            Other participants, including military expert Igor Korotchenko, adopted a similar line, something that showed that “the terrorist acts and the reaction to them had displayed the gulf not only between the values of Europe and the Islamic world but also between those of Europe and those of Russia,” Yakovenko continues.”

            And “this gulf between Europe and Russia became ever deeper” with the comments of the participants of this program and of others in the Russia media over the last few days.

            In an article in today’s “Novaya gazeta” entitled “The Apocalypse was Yesterday,” Aleksandr Mineyev, that Moscow paper’s Brussels correspondent, shows how that gulf is deepening and widening from the perspective of Europe (

            The Brussels attacks, he says, have prompted the expert community in Brussels and elsewhere in Europe to begin “a profound analysis” of why these attacks happened and what must be done to prevent them in the future without sacrificing the freedoms Europeans have long been accustomed to. 

But none of these analyses make any mention of Russia, Mineyev points out, or even statements like those of Zhirinovsky.  “For Belgian and French experts and politicians, excluding persons like Marine Le Pen, the terrorist acts in Brussels and earlier in Paris are not the subject of geopolitics of the time of the Holy Alliance but a new internal problem of Europe.”

“Belgium gratefully received a delegation of the FBI from New York,” he notes, “but it did not react to Russian calls to cooperate with its special services.  Such cooperation on issues like terrorism requires trust,” and “towards Russia after Crimea, ‘Novorossiya,’ and Litvinenko,” that doesn’t exist and will take many years to restore.

“Russia is not considered either a cause or a factor of the resolution of the problem of terrorism in Europe.” For Belgium and the European Union, the main issue is “not the struggle with ISIS and the role of Russia in the victory over this terrorist organization.” Instead, it is maintaining the balance between the struggle against terrorism and human rights.

Russians and Europeans thus do not see the problem in the same way. “Perhaps,” Mineyev says, “the problem is rooted in the mentality” of the two. “Judging from the Russian media,” he concludes, “out compatriot is ready for ‘Crimea is ours’ to suffer losses of a material and reputational kind.” The Europeans in contrast are not.

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