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Anne Applebaum's deluded interpretations of peace with Russia

Anne Applebaum, a journalist, wrote an anti-Russian rant for the Slate and the Washington Post. The titles are Authoritarianism’s Fellow Travelers and Russia’s new kind of friends. The similarity of her texts to the anti-American and anti-dissent tirades I remember from the official communist press is hard to overlook.

Her main thesis – the thesis of this text just like the previous ones – is that whoever refuses to "hate" Russia and cooperate on the destruction of Russia or its current government or something of the sort has to be called out, demonized, and perhaps also isolated or punished. Czechia is the world's #1 source of the politicians she decided to defame. However, the reality is very different.

Russia is the largest country in the world (by area), an important business partner of many others (especially in Europe and especially because of the fossil fuels), and it's enjoying one of the most promising epochs in its history when it comes to the degree of freedom, prosperity, stability, and contributions to the peace in the world. It just happened that Russia also became the #1 country by effectiveness that started to do something against the Caliphate.

Not surprisingly, the approval rate of the Russian president and perhaps some other institutions is closer to 100% than to 50%. Everyone who is thinking about the "isolation" of this country or some kind of removal of its government is either a jihadist or a full-fledged sociopath or both. Nothing like that may "naturally" occur without some kind of a big war that no decent person in the world wants.

But let me look at her text in some detail. She discusses the “Dialogue of Civilizations”, a meeting at the Greek island of Rhodes organized by Yakunin who has been, up to recently, the boss of the Russian Railways. He's also a close enough friend of Miloš Zeman, the current Czech president. Zeman didn't attend the event in this year. Instead, his conservative predecessor Václav Klaus went there.

Applebaum starts with Yakunin himself. He must be corrupt or something like that, she suggests without any trace of material evidence. Perhaps the evidence is supposed to be his having a watch worth $160,000? Why shouldn't the boss of such a large Russian company possess a very expensive watch? It's plausible that it's one of his most expensive assets.

Václav Klaus, the Czech ex-president, is her first participant of the event she mentions. Klaus has surely said lots of things but Applebaum had to choose a "damning quote". So she said that Putin's Syrian intervention seems like a "logical step" to Klaus. That must surely be some heresy to point out that it is a logical step – which it undoubtedly is.

For Russia, the Caliphate is a special problem. It's close enough to Russian borders and there are lots of jihadist Russian citizens fighting for the Islamic State, too. They may return to Russia and destabilize it. Moreover, Russia unequivocally considers Bashar Assad to be the current legitimate leader of Syria – every country with some basic respect towards the international law should agree (natural death, voluntary resignation, or lost elections are the only legitimate methods to dethrone Assad) – and it has an understandable motivation to prevent Syria from an even faster slide towards instability. The Caliphate is highly unpopular in most of the world and fighting this entity is undoubtedly increasing Russia's prestige and popularity (and, in some important sense, removing Russia from any kind of isolation) – another reason to send airplanes there. I've been predicting Russia's activities in Syria for some time – also a few hours before they were actually authorized. Who doesn't understand that Russia's excursion to Syria was a logical step simply doesn't have a clue about international politics.

John Laughland, a smart British Euroskeptic whom I know from the Russia Today "CrossTalk" discussions, suggested that the European Union was conceived by the CIA in order to subjugate Europe. It does sound like a conspiracy theory to me. I don't see any convincing enough evidence and the decisions that have led to the EU as we see it today "seemed" to be done by the Europeans. But it is true that the behavior of the U.S. politicians – and not only politicians – seems to be compatible with Laughland's thesis.

Henry Kissinger has been often quoted as the guy who wanted a single telephone number to call whenever he wants to "talk to Europe". He has never said such a thing but it seems obvious that many other Americans actually love the idea of the European integration, whatever it means for the Europeans. Americans' knowledge of the geography is poor and if there were approximately one important country on the European continent, it would make their geography easier. It would also make it easier to politically deal with Europe.

Wise enough Americans should know – and I hope that they do know – that these motivations are irrelevant in comparison with the costs and benefits that the European Union brings to the Europeans themselves. And at least the integration steps in the recent 5 if not 10 or 20 years have brought us many more costs than benefits.

Applebaum claims that some organizations had nothing to do with the event even though their names appeared on banners on Rhodes. I can't verify that. More importantly, she makes it clear that she wants to describe the people who dare "not to hate the contemporary Russia" as counterparts of the "useful idiots" – the fans of the Soviet Union (when it existed) in the West.

However, the Soviet Union was a totalitarian country with a big goal to spread something extremely special – the communist system – to the whole world. Today, Russia is basically a democratic nation that displays much more tolerance for the diversity of political systems in the world than e.g. the contemporary United States. The very suggestion that people like Klaus and Laughland etc. are "allies" of Russia in some big plan analogous to communism is just totally ludicrous. There isn't any plan like that. Russia is just one important country with some system and with a lot of links to others. Most of the time, it wants to preserve the status quo. So any dramatic tone used for the people who just "okay" the rudimentary behavior of Russia is laughable. There is no valid analogy to the Soviet times. There is no single huge "cause". Russia, like other nations, is a conglomerate of lots of different opinions and interests that compete and that overlap with some non-Russian opinions and interests and conflict with others.

She admits:

But times have changed, and direct parallels cannot be drawn.
But the whole point of her article seems to be to contradict this basic thesis, to sell direct parallels between the Soviet Union and its allies; and Russia and those who want to respect it and cooperate with it. I think that the sentence saying that "direct parallels cannot be drawn" has been included in her text so that she may show this sentence to anyone who dares to point out that her whole program of drawing the parallels is absolutely sick. On the other hand, she places this sentence in the middle of her article so that none of her superficial readers actually notices.

In the following sentence, she gets tougher:
Klaus, who is not an idiot, doesn’t hide his financial links to Moscow.
As you may see, she has "praised the intelligence" of one of the smartest living Czech – and beyond – although she is not terribly good at praising. However, what the comment about the financial links is supposed to be aside from an utter stupidity and a demagogic sleight-of-hand addressed to the readers with the intelligence of chimps?

Czechia has a huge open economy that depends on the exports. And 5% of our large exports go to Russia; and 5% of our large imports come from Russia. So obviously we have many financial links to Russia – links that were incomparably larger (as a percentage of the GDP) 25+ years ago. Sensible people in my homeland are surely not "ashamed" of such things. They're common sense. We're doing business with much more questionable regimes than Russia, too.

But what does it mean to single out Klaus? During communism, Klaus temporarily worked in the national bank which had no direct links to Russia. And since the Velvet Revolution, he's been a professional politician basically paid by the Czech taxpayer. The presidential salary was pretty good. He has also earned some money by writing books etc. When he left the Prague Castle, he continued his work at the Václav Klaus Institute which is funded by Petr Kellner, Czechia's wealthier man ($10 billion). Klaus said that it's an ideal kind of a sponsorship – Klaus doesn't have to meet Kellner at all (perhaps at most once a year). Kellner stated that an important enough country shouldn't turn the president to an average pensioner when he leaves the office – and I agree with that. A big portion of Kellner's assets is located in Russia but that doesn't make him Russian or Moscow-based – and it doesn't imply any close relationship to the Russian government, either. He is an entrepreneur. A Czech one.

So the statement that "Klaus doesn't hide his financial links to Moscow" is neither true in any nontrivial sense; nor damning (even if it were true). Applebaum pretends that it's both. It's clear that she relies on the existence of hopelessly brainwashed imbeciles who are satisfied when they hear a vague (and untrue) comment about "someone's link to Moscow" and they immediately hate someone. Sorry but people like that are a cesspool of our societies. Their IQs may at most match the chimps'. I don't know whether Applebaum belongs to this class herself but her job surely depends on the large number of these imbeciles.
The forum does not hide its links to Russia, either. Instead, they both seek openly to legitimize the anti-NATO, anti-European, anti-Western views of the Russian elite.
This is quite a pile of stinky garbage, too. First of all, no one needs to "legitimize" the Russian elite's negative attitude towards NATO, the European political institutions, or the West in general. Russia is basically a free country today so it's undoubtedly 100% legitimate for its citizens, whether they belong to the elite or not, to have negative opinions about these political entities. (And another point is that the Russian elite's relationship to the West and Europe is vastly more positive than it was 40 or 50 years ago.)

In fact, something much more important is true. Even the citizens and elite of Czechia or any other member of the European Union have the unquestionable "legitimate right" to have a negative attitude towards NATO, the EU, or the Western institutions in general. I am sure that individuals such as Ms Applebaum would love to delegitimize the right to hold these views – she would love to declare the views "illegitimate" and ban any "legitimization" of such views, at least an "open" one – but people are guaranteed the right to have these views by the Czech constitution (and constitutions of other countries). These opinions may be held, shared, spread, openly praised, and embraced; they may also be disputed and criticized.

So if Applebaum and her friends believe that it's "illegitimate" to consider the EU or NATO etc. or some fads in the West to be counterproductive or outdated or harmful, it must be pointed out to her that her views about "illegitimacy" contradict the basic laws and values in countries such as mine. If Applebaum believes that any such views are "illegitimate", she and her friends are just stinky objects floating in a cesspool but these people don't belong to the heart of our societies.

Another paragraph begins with another anti-Czechoslovak tirade:
Even harder to categorize are the actions of some genuinely legitimate politicians. For example, Andrej Babiš, the Czech finance minister, and Miloš Zeman, the Czech president — once a regular at the forum — frequently echo or repeat Russian slogans, as occasionally does the Slovak prime minister, Robert Fico.
What's "harder" about categorizing them? Their remarks about Russia may be easily categorized as common sense. She sort of hides how sufficiently far these politicians are from one another. Miloš Zeman and Václav Klaus have been mostly allies, often very close allies in a certain kind of attack by their foes (primarily by the political and apolitical forces affiliated with the Prague Lumpencafé), since 1998. But in the early and mid 1990s, these two men represented the "main official left-right competitive fight" in Czech politics.

They still differ in many ways – and not just in the left-vs-right topics. Miloš Zeman considers himself a Eurofederalist and added the EU flag at the Prague Castle, something that Klaus never wanted to tolerate. (By the way, a court decided yesterday that the people won't be punished for the underwear replacing the presidential flag because there's no evidence that the Onehundredshits activists caused any damage.) Zeman has some tolerance if not respect for Babiš. But Babiš has said that he entered politics mostly because he didn't like Klaus. Klaus himself says that Babiš is just the name of a random person that emerged from the post-democratic atmosphere that filled our homeland. It would be very hard for you to find something like Klaus' respect for Babiš or vice versa. (I am obviously on Klaus' side – I have to add this comment because the previous sentences sound "too impartial".)

But despite these differences, all these politicians find it obvious that it's right for us to try to have smooth relationships with Russia and that we must also respect Russia's influence over the international affairs that must be comparable to the influence of any comparably strong power. It's not a country we may erase from the map or we should be trying to erase from the map.

All these opinions – that we shouldn't deliberately cripple our relationships with Russia – are common sense. All sane European politicians more or less agree with them. Even the European Union's quasi-prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker said that the EU has to improve its relationships with Russia. Juncker criticized Obama for suggesting that Russia was just a "regional power" and Juncker stressed that the U.S. mustn't be allowed to "dictate" the EU's policies towards Russia.

If some American politicians could have embarrassed Europe and manipulate many political forces on the continent into some mad and irrational hostilities towards Russia, well, maybe you should notice that it will be much harder to repeat such a thing in the future.

I've mentioned Klaus, Zeman, and Babiš. Applebaum also listed the Slovak prime minister Robert Fico in this "short list" of (Czechoslovak) villains. You know, Fico is a social democrat and some years ago, he said that he didn't consider the Velvet Revolution to be a very important event in his country's history. I was rather shocked by that and this quote still means that I am very far from this guy – even though he's currently a top European hero in his opposition to the Islamization of Slovakia and Europe. (And I actually liked his government's attitude to the Greek negotiations as well, and so on.) But it's clear that he was much closer to a Komsomol member of a sort than I could even imagine! And in Slovakia's exports or imports, Russia represents 10% – a much higher percentage than what it has in Czechia. It's not surprising because Slovakia is geographically closer to Russia than we are. You shouldn't be expecting that Slovakia will be working hard on the destruction of its relationships with Russia. And of course, they read the Russian views as well – and they may influence the formation of the Slovak views, too, just like the Western views can. Do you really want to doubt such a thing? There is no Iron Curtain anymore – and a new Iron Curtain that would separate Slovakia from Russia hasn't been built! Czechia+Slovakia and Russia have undergone comparably deep transformations in the recent 30 years. Czechia and Slovakia are "more Western" – but they were always more Western than Russia. In spite of that, there isn't any "qualitative gap" that couldn't be jumped over.
In August and early September of 2014, all three argued against Western sanctions on Russia, using similar language. Zeman called them “ineffective,” Babiš called them “nonsense” and Fico called them “pointless.”
Great. Long before them, in March 2014, I called the possibly emergent trade war with Russia an insanity. All of us describe this idiotic policy using similar words because the policy is objectively idiotic.
Later, they shifted their rhetoric, and began to point to the refugee crisis and radical Islam as the “real” threats to Europe. “The refugee crisis threatens the Czech republic more than Russia,” said Babiš in September. “Islamist terrorism is a greater threat to Europe than Russia,” said Zeman in May.
These new quotes don't prove any "shift of their rhetoric"; they are simply propositions about a different topic, the topic of Islamization of Europe. But yes, the politicians have also compared the threats coming from the Muslim world and coming from Russia and almost no one in our countries doubts that the threat coming from the Muslim world is much larger than the current risks posed by Russia itself.

It may be heretical to point out this fact in Applebaum's cesspool but it's common sense in Czechia, Slovakia, and similar countries (including Hungary). In August 1968, 150,000 mostly Soviet soldiers invaded Czechoslovakia to stop the Prague Spring. You know, these days, there is no sign that Russia plans to send hundreds of thousands of soldiers to Central Europe. However, the influx of a million or millions Muslims towards the Central Europe is underway. One doesn't need a PhD to see which of the ongoing processes is a bigger issue.
Like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, all of these men have domestic political reasons for offering verbal support to Putin: They want to ride the anti-European Union, anti-“establishment” wave that has washed across all of Europe, and to capitalize on economic discontent.
These claims are pure lies. They have absolutely nothing to do with the reality. At least Zeman, Babiš, and Fico are staunchly pro-European. They (or most of them, with different choice of the majorities for different questions) have supported the federalization of the EU, the Euro, and lots of other things that are staunched pro-EU. For example, Fico has even endorsed the qualified majority voting in the EU – even though he obviously doesn't like a major result of this setup (the migrant quotas). So they are riding no anti-EU wave. Instead, they are some of the most important representatives of the EU and the integration meme on our political scenes.

There is nothing anti-establishment about them, either. Almost all politics discussed in Czechia and Slovakia is – thankfully – still determined by the nation states' political spectra and Zeman, Babiš, and Fico currently define the political establishment or mainstream in Czechia and Slovakia! And it's been so for quite some time. So what the hell is Applebaum's claim about their being anti-EU and anti-establishment supposed to mean except for an obviously pathetic lie?

Also, there is no economic discontent. Czechia's most recent GDP growth around 4% is the highest figure in the European Union. One poll after another shows that over 60% of Czechs are currently satisfied with their living standards and economic situation. Applebaum's assertions are just plain lies. She is deliberately trying to paint our whole nations as some troubled ones or unhappy ones or nations of professional mavericks but none of it is true at all. We are rather prosperous, growing, happy, and often pro-establishment (and those politicians are, sometimes unwisely, pro-EU).

These nations of ours just have opinions that don't agree with Applebaum's. If she insists that the disagreement is due to one side's being f*cked-up, shouldn't she consider the possibility that it is her, and not the Czechs or Slovaks, who is f*cked-up?
Since the E.U. began, politicians have long found it useful to blame “Brussels” for problems that they cannot fix.
It may have been the case in some isolated situations but in most of the cases that matter, it's just rubbish. Politicians and people don't have to talk about "problems they cannot fix" if they would like to criticize the EU institution or the process of integration. The recent signs that the actual Brussels-based system is dysfunctional are so numerous that there is no need to invent anything.

It's obvious that the monetary and fiscal rules within the EU have been violated and the integration has supported counterproductive fiscal policies in countries like Greece. The EU turned out to be almost unable to solve the consequences of this development, thus showing the problematic features of the economic and monetary integration. Similarly and even more seriously, the ongoing migration wave shows that the common immigration policies of the EU (the Schengen Area) seem to be dysfunctional as well because countries that are unable or unwilling to enforce the treaties and EU laws (Italy and especially Greece) cannot be effectively forced to fix their mess. And some European politicians don't even agree that this is the main mistake that is taking place – or that a mistake is taking place at all. To summarize, we have seen huge flaws in the economic and migration aspects of the European integration. There are flaws in other aspects of the EU, too. There's really no need to blame the EU for things we should solve ourselves. The powers that EU openly wants to control are enough to show how badly designed the EU is.
But there may be other motives, too. Zeman’s close adviser ran the office of Lukoil, the Russian oil company. Babiš, who is also one of the Czech Republic’s richest men, owns companies that consume a good deal of Russian gas.
Martin Nejedlý – the boss of Lukoil Czechia – has been a friend of Zeman's and his aide but he is a virtually unknown person in the Czech public. And there was nothing shocking about someone's being a boss of Lukoil Czechia. For example, they had lots of gas stations. In 2004, Lukoil left Czechia and sold the gas stations to Hungary's MOL. These are business-as-usual events. Someone may be a boss of Lukoil CZ or MOL CZ but he is doing pretty much the same thing. Why would someone make a big deal out of a gas station's being "Russian"?

I have an account with lots of money in Expobank which has a Russian owner now – because he bought it. Before, it was LBBW, a Czech branch of a German regional bank, and I remember it even as BAWAG, a smaller Austrian bank. (Similarly, my CoreStates in New Jersey became First Union and then Wachowia and Wells Fargo. My Fleet at Harvard Square became Bank of America. "My" banks have gone at least through 10 transformations.) Companies are being bought and sold, merged and divided, and people at the top have various nationalities. Applebaum's efforts to "look for the Russians everywhere" is exactly as pathological as the Nazis' anti-Semitism in the 1930s.

And the comment that Babiš uses Russian fossil fuels? What would you expect from a big agricultural corporation?
But I shouldn’t unfairly single out Central Europeans, for there are many other Europeans who support Russian foreign policy with similarly mixed motives.
Almost all Europeans who live in environments where Russia sufficiently matters have similar attitudes – whose motives are a mixture of common sense, balanced and just attitude to different nations, and desire to grow (and not destroy) business and increase (not endanger) security.
Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi maintains both a political and a financial relationship with Putin. So does Gerhard Schroeder, the former chancellor of Germany. These men aren’t idiots either — but neither are they secret agents, spies or traitors.
We have heard the same compliment about intelligence in the case of Klaus. Berlusconi and Schröder aren't idiots, either. Congratulations!
At the same time, they are working steadily, in their own ways, to undermine Western security and support the spread of Russian authoritarianism in Eastern Europe as well as the Middle East.
Holy cow. So Berlusconi, Schröder, and all the Central Europeans above are "working to undermine Western security". And this claim is made by a woman who basically does everything to start an open and totally unmotivated conflict against the world's #1 nuclear superpower and who is eager to use any event, including the reunification of Crimea (a historically Russian peninsula) with Russia, and many other things. This lady's chutzpah is staggering.

None of the peaceful or friendly attitudes towards Russia brings "Russian authoritarianism" anywhere in Europe. With the exception of the post-Soviet realm that has never quite left the Moscow's sphere of influence, there isn't even a remote threat of Russia's regaining the direct control over countries in Europe. And what it's doing in the Middle East is nothing like the "propagation of the Russian authoritarianism". In Syria, it is helping the legitimate government – according to the international law – to win his war against the terrorists (the Caliphate, al-Nusra, and others, whether some of them just happen to be friends with a guy in D.C. or not) on his government's territory. Every sensible person in Europe is grateful to Russia for these airstrikes.

The major political forces in the Muslim nations don't seem perfect. They don't seem perfect to me, to most people in the West, and to the Russian politicians, either. But Russia isn't trying to microscopically social-engineer the internal political landscape of those countries, like "peace Nobel prize winner" Obama and believers in the "Arab spring" delusions tried after the American public has been brainwashed to believe that some random people (usually bosses of stable, functional, and mostly secular governments) were "bad guys" while some Islamist terrorists were "good guys". Instead, Putin and druzya are just trying to enforce the international law in Syria.
So what do we call them? We need a new vocabulary for a new era.
What about the old vocabulary? We may call them "sensible people" while Ms Applebaum is a "psychopath and an unhinged demagogue". No new words are needed.

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