Russian 'liberals' are hailed as heroes in the West. In Russia, they're widely viewed as traitors
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
Over the past month, the chattering classes in Moscow have had some saucy news to digest, much of it about the bizarre career choice of Maria Gaidar. Masha, as she is generally known, is a third generation member of Kremlin elites best known as the daughter of the reforming prime minister of President Boris Yeltsin whose neo-liberal economic policies broke up what remained of the Soviet command economy without succeeding in replacing it with a functional market economy. The net result of her father’s work was to give Liberal politicians and democracy promotion a bad name in Russia for at least a generation. Notwithstanding that legacy of her father, in public life, Masha Gaidar has been a torch-bearer of the Liberal Opposition to the Putin ‘regime.’
In mid-July, Gaidar left behind her NGO in Moscow for a new job in Ukraine as deputy governor of the Odessa region, where her immediate boss is the Kremlin’s arch-enemy Mikhel Saakashvili. That breaking news was followed shortly by the revelation that she had accepted a Ukrainian passport in keeping with her new official position. And finally the delicious detail emerged that she has written to the Russian authorities asking to be relieved of her Russian citizenship.
A defection in the full sense of the word!
In the past week, some further red meat was thrown to the chattering classes. Another ‘princess,’ Ksenia Sobchak, daughter of Leningrad/St Petersburg’s first post-Communist freedom fighting mayor, Anatoly Sobchak, turned up on Ukrainian television, where she has accepted a star position with a channel financed by the local oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, another bête noire of the Kremlin. Kolomoisky is widely assumed to be financing the neo-fascist Pravy Sektor thugs who have been wreaking havoc in the Donbass in a no-holds-barred war on the Russian-speaking population.
Sobchak claims that the redirection of her career was in response to her being frozen out of Russian television, where she had been a very successful presenter before going into politics. When she was still enjoying the Moscow limelight, Sobchak was a socialite, a kind of Russian Paris Hilton. Then in December 2011 she came out on behalf of the ‘non-systemic opposition’ that emerged from protests over the Duma elections.
It will be interesting to see how long Sobchak can continue her balancing act of Moscow residency and open work for the enemy in Kiev. Given the incarceration she narrowly escaped a couple of years ago over charges of acting as go-between, moving substantial sums of U.S. dollars to the seditious movement she embraced, it is not hard to imagine Sobchak’s choosing resettlement and a new identity in Ukraine over a prison term in Russia.
These cases serve as a reminder that ‘dashes’ or ‘leaps for freedom’ such as brought Kirov ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev to the front page of U.S. newspapers back in 1961 have continued unabated in post-Communist Russia. The cases above have in common two elements: politics and money. More commonly, the real driver is just money. The usual escapees to London or Paris these days are business people who are merely staying one step ahead of Russian state prosecutors investigating embezzlement, false bankruptcies and other forms of theft. Such cases cropped up this summer as well when officers of the Skolkovo science and technology center and of Rosnano chose flight to the West over responding to charges of felonies in Moscow.
Very often what is blown up by Western media as ‘civilizational choices’ between Russia and the West in the context of current testy relations actually form part of a hoary tradition. For those of us who studied Russian history and even dipped into its medieval past, the issue appeared full-blown already in the 16th century with the defection to Lithuania of a boyar in Ivan the Terrible’s retinue, Prince Andrei Kurbsky, who was disappointed at his own career setbacks in the tsar’s service. Russia’s first ‘political émigré,’ entered our history courses as a polemicist in a series of letters exchanged with the tsar from his new military command in the Polish state.
At the time, Russian diplomacy was less mealy-mouthed than today. The following denunciation of Kurbsky was given to the Russian ambassador for delivery in April 1581 at the court of Polish king Stefan Batory:
“He [Kurbsky] became a traitor not because he was forced into it but of his own free will. While still in Muscovy he did not wish the state well but left his country for the enemy and fought against the Orthodox lands, and having become a traitor he wrote a rude letter to the Sovereign.”
These words bring us to another Opposition figure in today’s Russia, former Minister of Foreign Affairs under Boris Yeltsin, Andrei Kozyrev. In a moment I will address the question of whether Kozyrev has been wishing his country well going back to the years of his service in the cabinet. First let us consider his latest of several ‘rude letters to the Sovereign.’
On 20 July, The New York Times published an op-ed essay by Kozyrev entitled “Russia’s Coming Regime Change.” In it Kozyrev used a sleight-of-hand that is commonplace among his fellow Russian freedom-fighters, describing a catastrophic eventuality that he formally distances himself from but actually is inciting day after day by his political activities, regime change.
I call this advocacy catastrophic, because under circumstances of the overwhelming popularity of the current Russian president, regime change can only occur by assassination or other violence perpetrated by a small group of conspirators likely in the pay of a foreign power.
In the best of circumstances and with greatest likelihood, regime change would bring to power someone from the Kremlin’s inner circle. Regime change might spark civil disturbances and political instability generally. The outcome of the power struggle would be totally unforeseeable. And we are talking about a nuclear superpower, whose rulers literally can decide the fate of mankind. Most of the obvious candidates to succeed to the presidency are far less experienced, far less prudent than the incumbent.
What is the justification for Kozyrev’s courting sedition? His allegations include “15 years of authoritarian rule,” a “K.G.B.-style state security and propaganda apparatus” that “holds the general population in its custody.” He tells us that “the nation is truly on its knees” economically because it is “hostage to the capricious price of oil and a gluttonous military-security complex.”
Obviously Kozyrev has not taken note of what $50/barrel of oil has done to the highly advanced Western economy of Norway. Nor has he noted that the 4.5% of GDP which Russia spends on its military is roughly the same percentage as the USA spends.
I remind readers that in the year leading up to his removal from office, Kozyrev suffered a mental breakdown which was widely commented upon at the time. His observations on today’s Russia in his op-ed in the New York Times are once again delusional.
This was not a one-off appearance in the American media by Kozyrev. Back in March, following the murder of Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, Kozyrev was given the op-ed page of The Washington Post to sound off about the evils of his native country: “The West has a duty to stand up for human rights in Russia.”
Here he cited the usual suspects from among his comrades in arms, the likes of eternal presidential hopeful Grigory Yavlinsky of Yabloko and radio host Yulia Latynina (Ekho Moskvy) in their wholly irresponsible statements putting the murder at Vladimir Putin’s door. Kozyrev presents Russia as violent and aggressive. While careful to say that the West “cannot and should not interfere in Russian domestic affairs,” he is calling on the West to stand up to Russia, to pursue a hard line and to view his country through his eyes, as a threat to the peace. If this is not what we used to call in US politics ‘giving comfort to the enemy’ and playing up to the John McCain’s of the American political establishment, then what is? Is this pandering to outside powers the behavior of someone who genuinely wishes his native country well?
At the time of his removal from office, Andrei Kozyrev had become an embarrassment even to his American handlers at the U.S. State Department because of his volatility and unpredictability, notwithstanding his accommodating response to most every U.S. demand on Russian foreign policy orientation. Nonetheless, his replacement by Yevgeny Primakov, who was made of sterner stuff, was regretted in Washington because it spelled the end of America’s one-way bet on a supine Russia.
With the passage of time, the inconvenient peculiarities of Kozyrev have been forgotten in the United States and he is remembered as a valued member of the group of Liberals headed by Yegor Gaidar whom Yeltsin brought into the cabinet. Kozyrev’s English language entry in Wikipedia takes this line, telling us that Kozyrev “was viewed by many as one of the most important voices for liberalism and democracy in post-communist Russia.” Presumably those “many” are folks living within the Beltway.
It is interesting that the Russian language entry for Kozyrev tells a different story, highlighting the serious questions Russians have had about his patriotism and common sense. In what is otherwise a very sketchy outline of his career in the Ministry, the commentators considered it relevant to point out that Kozyrev was called “Mr. Da” by one and all in contrast to his long-serving Soviet predecessor, Andrei Gromyko, known as “Mr. Nyet.” His was the “yes” to every American initiative in his pursuit of acceptance of Russia as an ally. The conclusion of this analysis in Russian Wikipedia carries the essentials of the controversy surrounding Kozyrev in his homeland: “…notwithstanding all the efforts of Kozyrev, who was accused by his opponents of betraying the national interests, Russia did not become part of the Western world.”
Andrei Kozyrev is not a heroic figure. The fact that this modern day Kurbsky has not felt the need to move out, to defect in the full sense, gives the lie to his attacks on Vladimir Putin for running a police state.
Gilbert Doctorow is the European Coordinator of The American Committee for East-West Accord
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
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