Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Character arguments and Sharon Tennison's article on her working relationship with Putin

Sometimes it's possible to make a good character argument. Here's an article from someone who worked with Putin before he became President. There will be a few surprising details for those who only know about Putin through mainstream media reporting. But then again, you can go ahead and lump us all together in the "Putin apologist" pile, because we know how logical and analytical that type of thinking that can be: If someone don't compare Putin to Hitler or Stalin, they must be apologists and therefore be shot on sight. Or at least, they must be idiots or brainwashed imbeciles. You're welcome.

I did not mean "good character argument" to be interpreted as "good character" argument--that an article needs to glorify Putin in order for me to consider it a persuasive and convincing piece. (That's actually a formula for a really awful piece. See Russia Today for examples. Yuck.) In fact, some months ago Masha Gessen published a little piece in 2012 about her phone call and meeting with Putin--and this is better than most of the rubbish that's being published in the past few months. While I do not completely agree with her conclusions, she supports her arguments with an account of the meeting, rather than resorting to name-calling and character attacks--even though she hates him. I don't know if this is the case with her book, Man Without a Face, but this was written before the face-to-face meeting.

One thing I can assure you, though, is that someone who actually has had a working relationship with him (or at least have met and spoke with him for 20 minutes) is a lot more credible than an armchair Russia-watcher (such as myself... OK, save for the 3 years living in Putin's Russia in early 2000s). I'll be a lot more inclined to believe someone like Tennison or Gessen than with some hack from CNN or Fox News who can't even pronounce his name right.


RUSSIA REPORT: PUTIN

by Sharon Tennison

Friends and colleagues,

As the Ukraine situation has worsened, unconscionable misinformation and hype is being poured on Russia and Vladimir Putin.

Journalists and pundits must scour the Internet and thesauruses to come up with fiendish new epithets to describe both.

Wherever I make presentations across America, the first question ominously asked during Q&A is always,  "What about Putin?"

It's time to share my thoughts which follow:

Putin obviously has his faults and makes mistakes.  Based on my earlier experience with him, and the experiences of trusted people, including U.S. officials who have worked closely with him over a period of years, Putin most likely is a straight, reliable and exceptionally inventive man. He is obviously a long-term thinker and planner and has proven to be an excellent analyst and strategist. He is a leader who can quietly work toward his goals under mounds of accusations and myths that have been steadily leveled at him since he became Russia's second president.

I've stood by silently watching the demonization of Putin grow since it began in the early 2000s –– I pondered on computer my thoughts and concerns, hoping eventually to include them in a book (which was published in 2011). The book explains my observations more thoroughly than this article. Like others who have had direct experience with this little known man, I've tried to no avail to avoid being labeled a "Putin apologist".  If one is even neutral about him, they are considered "soft on Putin" by pundits, news hounds and average citizens who get their news from CNN, Fox and MSNBC.

I don't pretend to be an expert, just a program developer in the USSR and Russia for the past 30 years.  But during this time, I've have had far more direct, on-ground contact with Russians of all stripes across 11 time zones than any of the Western reporters or for that matter any of Washington's officials.  I've been in country long enough to ponder Russian history and culture deeply, to study their psychology and conditioning, and to understand the marked differences between American and Russian mentalities which so complicate our political relations with their leaders.  As with personalities in a family or a civic club or in a city hall, it takes understanding and compromise to be able to create workable relationships when basic conditionings are different.  Washington has been notoriously disinterested in understanding these differences and attempting to meet Russia halfway.

More: Russia: Other Points of View: RUSSIA REPORT: PUTIN

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Some advice from David Johnson (Johnson's Russia List)

Just received my daily dose of Johnson's Russia List, and found this in the header:

"DJ: It's time for some wishful thinking about how to start to understand recent events vis-a-vis Ukraine and Russia. The first step is humility. You simply don't know as much as you think you know. Some semblance of an open mind about events as they unfold is needed. Very hard for some people. Second, you need to be able to accept that Russian perceptions of what has happened in Ukraine have some quality of legitimacy. I realize that for some people anything of the sort makes you a Putin apologist. Actually, you have to stop trying to interpret everything thru the Putin prism. There is much more to the Russian posture than the personality of Putin. Demonizing Putin is not helpful to accurate perception and understanding. This is not a matter of choosing sides. It is a matter of choosing not to take a side, at least on occasion. If you can't move on from that you can stop here.
    "Third, I am referring in part to Russian perceptions of what happened in the Maidan events and their consequences. You need to be willing to accept that there is complexity and uncertainty and some fuzziness about the facts. If you have a romantic view of Maidan you will stop here. So... the main thing is to try to understand events and unload the partisan burden. Of course, a lot of people WANT to be partisan. That's their current role and compulsion. I hope there are still some that want to try to understand. JRL has always presented diverse information and interpretation. It is one of the few sources of genuinely balanced information about Russia. And, incidentally, going in this direction does not mean that everything becomes clear and understandable. Probably quite the contrary. But if prediction is your thing you might get a little better at it. Of course, I could be wrong and it is Armageddon."

Sound advice, it is. I have no interest with discussing politics with partisans. They need no discussions and want no discussions. This includes people from both the pro-Russia/Putin camp and the EuroMaidan camp.