In Background, Media critique, Russia

By Roger Annis, New Cold, March 16, 2015

Russian President Vladimir Putin held an official meeting today in St. Petersburg with the president of Kyrgyzstan, Almazbek Atambayev. Why is that big news? Because for the last ten days, mainstream media and political leaders in the West have been stoking the fires of destabilization in Russia by wildly speculating on President Putin’s health, travels, personal life and countless variations thereof.

Vladimir Putin meets Kyrgystan President Almazbek Atambayev in St. Petersburg on March 16, 2015

Vladimir Putin meets Kyrgystan President Almazbek Atambayev in St. Petersburg on March 16, 2015

The president had not been seen in public for some days, unleashing torrents of speculation in the capitals and editorial offices of the imperialist West. This is a very familiar script. Every attempt by the large Western powers to destabilize and eventually overthrow an elected leader they do not like or who does not dance to their tune is always accompanied by character assassinations. The targeted opponent becomes–name your condition—psychologically unstable, demented, power hungry, a threat to world order, etc., etc.

In this latest case, President Putin was variously claimed to be ill, suffering depression, attending a birth of a child in Switzerland who he fathered with a woman half his age, and so on.

Today, the president’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov mocked the rumors about his boss’s alleged disappearance. From Reuters: “Have you seen the president [Putin] crushed with paralysis and captured by the [Russian] generals?” Peskov asked the journalists, smiling, “[He] just arrived from Switzerland where he was delivering babies, as you know.”

Putin told journalists in St. Petersburg that life “would be boring without gossip”.

Last week, Peskov and other Russian government officials had another tongue–in-cheek answer comment for the rumor mills. They said that ‘the president’s handshake was firm and he is reviewing documents’. This is a phrase that brings smiles to the faces of Russians because it refers to how aides of the former Russian president so beloved by the West, Boris Yeltsin, would explain their boss’s frequent absences from office, sometimes caused by his penchant for alcohol.

In the present case, many in Western media treated the handshake comment as serious and used it to further mock the Russian leader and government officials.

One of the more absurd and downright abusive of the speculative reporting on President Putin’s condition was penned by Mark MacKinnon in the Saturday, March 13 edition of the Canadian daily Globe and Mail (online access available to subscribers only). MacKinnon is the newspaper’s correspondent in Europe on matters Ukrainian and Russian. The Globe devoted a full page to his speculations.[1]

The president’s purported absence from office is a sign he has “drawn an iron curtain” around Russia and around his office, says the headline writer for MacKinnon’s article. The journalist writes, “No one outside the Kremlin walls has a clue as to what’s happening inside them right now.”

MacKinnon’s article goes on to stoke another part of the current, destabilization effort directed at Russia—the blaming of Putin for the murder of Russian politician Boris Nemtsov on February 27. He says there is a “power struggle” going on inside the halls of power in Moscow as a result of the murder. In its investigation, Russia’s federal police is “butting heads” with the President of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, who happens to be, according to MacKinnon, a “Putin protégé”.

Kadyrov, says the Globe journalist, may be involved in the murder and so Putin wants to protect him.

Mainstream media has, of course, been full of speculation that ‘somewhere, somehow’, Putin has a hand in the murder of Boris Nemtsov. The right-wing U.S. Senator John McCain summed up the opportunistic political and editorial response in the West in a February 27 statement in which he wrote, ” But regardless of who actually pulled the trigger, Boris is dead because of the environment of impunity that Vladimir Putin has created in Russia, where individuals are routinely persecuted and attacked for their beliefs, including by the Russian government, and no one is ever held responsible.” [Emphasis added.]

(A calming voice of reason and update amidst the rampant speculation over the Nemtsov murder was published yesterday in Russia Insider by Alexander Mercouris. He is a regular contributor to the online publication.)

In another pirouette by MacKinnon, we learn that the goings-on in the Kremlin resemble the conduct of political affairs in North Korea and China. A coup de grace against Russian president is delivered in the final two sentences of the article:

The similarity to China and North Korea, as Mr. Bershidsky noted, is clearest in how obsessed Russia and the world have become with the fate of Mr. Putin the individual.

Because – as in a full dictatorship – no one knows what would happen in Russia if and when Mr. Putin disappears for good.

Here we get the real point of the story and of all the rumour-mongering and caustic speculation of the past week: Maybe, with luck, a “disappearance” of the Russian president is looming. “For good”, no less.

Rally in Ottawa on March 14, 2015 against 'police state' Bill C-51

Rally in Ottawa on March 14, 2015 against ‘police state’ Bill C-51

As it turns out, lots of readers of the Globe and Mail as well as other people in Canada are, indeed, showing considerable concern about “authoritarian rule”. But the concern is focused on Canada. As many as ten thousand people rallied in more than 40 cities across the country on March 13 to protest a proposed federal law that many lawyers and civil libertarians are calling a “police state act”.

The Conservative Party government in Ottawa is trying to ram through Bill C-51, a new law that would greatly strengthen the powers of Canadian police agencies to spy upon, disrupt and detain people whose views they don’t like. The targets of the law include those protesting the climate vandalism of the oil and gas industries. A leaked internal document of the RCMP, Canada’s federal police, labels as “violent, anti-petroleum extremists” those who are protesting Alberta tar sands production, the related pipelines and railway lines that transport that toxic product, and protesters against the fracking of natural gas that pollutes air and waters.

Maybe the furious speculation about Vladimir Putin is occasioned by the terrible blows suffered of late by the prime case for aggression against Russia–the vote one year ago in Crimea to secede from Ukraine. Recently published polling surveys as well as newspaper reports (including in The Moscow Times) show ovewhelming satisfaction in Crimea with the secession decision. Now the editors of the conservative Moscow Times daily newspaper are calling out the U.S. government for its parade of lies concerning allegedly dire conditions concerning human rights and economic conditions in the breakaway republic.

Caustic speculations of the fate of Russian leaders and clampdowns on civil rights are an inevitable part of the offensive by the NATO imperialist powers against the peoples of Russia and the surrounding region, including Ukraine. The populations of the NATO countries are already weary by the state of permanent war that their governments have created in the Middle East. Let’s hope that plans to replicate a similar disaster in eastern Europe will be thwarted by protest action and political change.

[1] The Globe and Mail was once Canada’s newspaper of record. Today, the volume of daily news coverage in the print edition has been sharply pared back. Which makes all the more notable the fact that Mark MacKinnon’s speculations about Vladimir Putin would be given a full page in the Saturday edition of March 13.

Further recommended reading:
Police state Canada?, by Joyce Nelson, in Counterpunch, March 13, 2015

Thousands across Canada protest ‘police state’ Bill C-51, dossier of articles about Canada’s proposed Bill C-51, on the website ‘A Socialist in Canada’, March 15, 2015

Canada’s Globe and Mail daily joins in extolling Ukraine’s extreme-right, by Roger Annis, March 10, 2015

Putin’s back. It was fun freaking out though, wasn’t it?, by Russia Insider staff, March 16, 2015



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