Thursday, December 29, 2005

During the Cold War, the most vicious anti-American propaganda was carried out by the Soviet newspaper Pravda, founded by none other than Vladimir (Nikolai) Lenin. The language used by Soviet journalists and commentators was so rude and hysterical that even people sympathetic to the Communist cause were turned off. We used to call it Soviet language rather than Russian.

One should admit that American and European media were more civilized and usually used pretty mild language when criticizing the Soviet Union. As someone who at that time was trying to plant hard-line anti-Soviet rhetoric into Western newspapers, I have first hand knowledge why the editors were often reluctant to print it. Smart people explained to me that most of the media was leaning to the left and did not want to go too tough on the Socialist experiment. In addition, some editors believed that it was not a good idea to make the Soviet bear mad since it had plenty of nukes and it was better not to get on its nerves and try to avoid dangerous confrontations.

Suddenly, things changed dramatically. “Pravda” is out of business and the new Russian mainstream media became quite civilized, never mind the yellow press. Needless to say that many articles are still very critical of the United States, but the language used by Russian journalists is pretty professional and no longer resembles that of Communist times.

The irony is that in this zero-sum game, there are some Western newspapers that have picked up the old Soviet style, and use the tone and expressions closely resembling Pravda vocabulary. The leader in this Soviet-American linguistic exchange is obviously The Washington Post. Read the articles on Russia, and if you had any nostalgia for agitprop, be my guest.

For example, take a look at two recent articles in The Washington Post on Russia. One (Dec 23) is signed by Fred Hiatt, and another (Dec 26) is the editorial piece which was most likely written by him as well. Here are some of the quotes: “using energy revenue to prop up friendly dictators,” “buying a German ex-chancellor,” “clique of former KGB agents” — one can almost see the foam coming out of Mr. Hiatt’s mouth. He is also very unhappy with the American president because President Bush is getting ready to go to St. Petersburg in July for the G8 summit and is not giving orders to Mr. Putin regarding how much Russia has to charge for its natural gas.

I naively thought that America was trying to teach Russians to use free-market mechanisms, and that the WTO is demanding from Russia to use market prices for gas. So, I made a few clicks on Google and discovered that the real gas price these days is around $450 per 1,000 cubic meters. The latest Russian offer to Ukraine is almost half that, but Mr. Hiatt believes that it is too high and demands that the White House get into action and start regulating prices.

I wish I could say that it is only The Washington Post that is engaged in this campaign. Unfortunately, there are other U.S. papers with similar zeal. For example, the Wall Street Journal provides generous space to Garry Kasparov’s hysterical op-ed pieces. Never mind that Kasparov has as much respect and following in Russia as Bobby Fischer in United States.

One can easily predict that the closer we get to the G8 summit in St. Petersburg the more we see the articles of this sort which are intended to sabotage this meeting. One can also predict that like in the past many U.S. papers will carry full-page hate-Putin ads paid by Boris Berezovsky and other disgraced oligarchs. I wonder if they get discount prices for these ads since they are so close to the ideological position of the op-ed editors that free-market mechanisms can be conveniently overlooked.

The good news is that Mr. Bush understands Russia’s importance for American security and economy. As new U.S. Ambassador to Moscow William Burns recently said: “President Bush has been very clear about our strong support of Russia’s chairmanship in the G8 in 2006. The main themes that Russia has identified for its presidency, its chairmanship in the G8 — energy security, infectious diseases, education — seem to us to be very worthwhile. We also view the St. Petersburg G8 Summit next July as an opportunity for Russia to highlight its potential; to highlight its commitment to a business climate, for example, which is predictable and transparent; and to continue to move along the path of creating modern political and economic institutions.”

I assume that this message was cleared by the State Department and the White House, so, hopefully we can ignore the new agitprop and raise the glasses for the happy New Year.

Edward Lozansky is president of the American University in Moscow.

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