The other day I received a URL to an article from The Guardian in the UK. It was titled “Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a creaking ship. Don’t fall for the propaganda”.
I read it, and wondered if the writer ever has spent any time in Russia. I do not mean as a footie tourist, but actually lived and worked in the country. The recently held World Cup was certainly a well thought through showcase event as it would be anywhere in the world. To call it an “illusion” strikes me as simply spiteful and false. Life pre-World Cup and post-World Cup is the same here, only with less tourists. This I can say with great certainty as I have lived and worked here for the past 20+ years.
Years ago, before the birth of the Russian Federation, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) one could have said about the country as the writer did “now the sports pageantry is over, Russians are back to the grey reality of everyday life, and a dire lack of prospects”. That statement caught my eye and made me wonder whether she was writing about Russia at all. It is not the Russia I work and live in daily, which certainly is not grey nor is it without constantly evolving opportunities and prospects from the Baltic to the Pacific.
As far as Putin is concerned, the arguments and comparisons the writer makes by saying: “In fact, there are three Russia’s”. The first is Putin’s Russia. The second is the average man’s Russia. The third is of the professional elites and upper-middle class. The statement seems an observation of the obvious that would equally apply to “Trump’s America”, “May’s Great Britain”, or “Merkel’s Germany”, not to mention the assorted EU power players out of Brussels.
Perhaps the only real difference is readily apparent when one bothers talking with Russians across the nation. Putin does indeed have broad and deep support among all three “Russia’s”. I would recommend anyone to simply walk the streets of any village, town or city and ask randomly in Russian, English or Chinese – although the pithiest results will be in Russian unsurprisingly. The 60, 70 or 80+ percent support is in line with my observations living here and travelling the length and breadth of the country, and that support is genuine and tracks deeply – at the end of the day it is not a product of PR or marketing.
As concerns “The overwhelming majority of Russia’s 140 million people worry about declining living standards, falling health and education levels, material insecurity, and corruption”. I think it more accurate to have said that the overwhelming majority of the world’s population worry about exactly the same things. Ascribing these global realities as specific only to Russia does keep to the script that most of the world’s ills are Russia’s fault, or Putin’s fault, and that the western “we” do not experience such worries. Tossing negativity around is easy, looking in the truth mirror in one’s own soul is far harder and usually avoided.
Another statement made: “Over the past decade, however, many professionals have packed their bags and left Russia. Tens of thousands now live in Europe, North America, Ukraine, Georgia and a few Asian cities”. The writer does not go far enough. Emigration was at flood levels throughout the “brain-drain” era in the late 1980’s and throughout the 1990’s, with the country on its political and financial knees following the collapse of the USSR.
Emigration has lessened dramatically since then, still, a number of Russian professionals have and do choose to live elsewhere, and after all, they have that freedom. Similarly, for most of the world where one can practice various professions for greater or lesser remuneration, just like Americans, Asians, Europeans or Englishmen living and thriving in all corners of the world. Neither money nor “brain drains” play politics, they go to places where they get the best returns at a given point in time.
In sum, according to the writer, the ills of Russia are many; they further include domestic social anger, civic demands, youth opposition and “temporary Diasporas”, political repression, and so forth. The more I re-read this view, the more I am certain the writer does not know Russia, Russians, and is blind to the human condition worldwide as if only Russia could fully meet such dismal criteria.
The view expressed in the Guardian article does meet all the currently popular criteria for painting Russia and President Putin with every dark shade imaginable. It is like saying that if it weren’t for Putin, we would never have elected Trump, May, Merkel, or any other leader in the western world. Who is kidding whom?
Oddly enough, not one positive aspect is mentioned, despite the pressures ganged up against Russia for daring to be simply an independent sovereign nation that is developing conservatively and with modest (in these global economic times) sustainable success.