In this week’s Western media highlights, Steven Lee Myers explains in the New York Times Trump’s fascination with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. In her column for the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum spells out a potential scenario of Russian hackers undermining the U.S. presidential election. In the Russian media, experts discussed the reasons for putting Levada Center on the “foreign agents” list, and disserted upon the country’s development path and the so-called “legacy of the past.”

 

.So far the only successful project that Donald Trump had done in Russian was 'Miss Universe 2013' beauty pageant. Depicted above is Trump with Gabriela Isler of Venezuela, with Russian pop singer Philip Kirkorov seen at the back. Photo: Vyacheslav Prokofyev / TASS

 

From the West 

Trump’s Love for Putin: a Presidential Role Model

Steven Lee Myers, New York Times

Following the recent Commander-In-Chief Forum, which is part of the ongoing U.S. presidential campaign, the New York Times correspondent and author of The New Czar, a biography of Vladimir Putin, Steven Lee Myers dissects Donald Trump’s presidential plans for changing the U.S. foreign policy. These plans should be viewed against the backdrop of his fascination with Vladimir Putin’s own policies and “strong leadership.” The author observes that during his interview Trump “as before, ignored the many issues that divide the United States and Russia” and never revealed the actual policy that would lead to warmer relations. But some Russia experts that Lee Myers cites observed how Trump is thrilled by the fact that “everybody pays attention to [Putin],” and that the latter’s intervention in Syria helped him put Russia in the center of international diplomacy. Both men can be said to share the characteristics of a “tough authoritarian leader.”  During the interview, Trump stipulated that he did not necessarily endorse Putin’s regime. Trump’s comments on Putin drew sharp criticism not only from his rival Hillary Clinton, but also from some of the members of the Republican establishment, notably House Speaker Paul Ryan, who underlined many reasons why Putin is America’s adversary, not a potential ally.

 

Vlad the corrupter and the crisis on the left

Nick Cohen, The Spectator

British journalist and columnist for the Observer Nick Cohen analyzes what he calls “the crisis of the left,” evident in its links to Russia—from the controversial relationship between WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange and the Kremlin to Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-imperialistic claims and support for Vladimir Putin. The double-standard policies, self-censorship, and blind spots are at the root of the problem, writes Cohen. For example, criticizing the United States for its alleged “neo-imperialism,” the left falls silent when it comes to “reactionary and oppressive power,” the hallmark of Putin’s Russia. Cohen argues that after so many scandals, including remarks by Corbyn in conversation with Russian state-run media, “it has become commonplace to say that the radical left is so intellectually bankrupt and morally null that it is reduced to saying that any enemy of the West is better than none.” To make things worse, by indulging Putin, Western leftists are aligning themselves with the right—politicians such as Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump. Digging deeper into the left thinking, the author suggests that corruption may be the central problem—not in a financial sense, but rather in terms of morals and politics. “The left has voluntarily given itself away for nothing, and proved in the process that it has nothing left to give,” concludes Cohen.

 

How Russia Could Spark a U.S. Electoral Disaster

Anne Applebaum, The Washington Post

In her latest column for The Washington Post, Anne Applebaum, director of the Global Transitions Program at the Legatum Institute in London, lays down a scenario in which Russian hackers could conceivably throw the U.S. presidential elections this November. A number of factors will have to be at play. First, Trump will continue his narrative that the “election is rigged,” “polls are lying,” and “real people aren’t being counted.” Second, Russia will go on with leaking documents acquired by hacking the DNC, Soros’s Open Society Foundation, and former NATO Supreme Commander General Philip Breedlove. The Kremlin is aiming not just at undermining the Clinton campaign, but at discrediting the whole democratic process in the U.S. Third, on the eve or day of the election, Russian hackers may try to sway the outcome by breaching the voting system itself, falsifying the ballot in favor of Trump or, worse, in favor of Clinton, leaving a trail of evidence pointing at her. The ensuing media hysteria and legal minefield would provoke a full-blown constitutional crisis in the country. Applebaum contends that even if such an attack fails to materialize, the mere idea of “Russia’s presence” in the center of the American and international discourse might be something the Kremlin ultimately craves.

 

From Russia

How Far Until the Grief? Why the Authorities Got Scared of Levada Center

Grigory Golosov, Slon.ru

On September 5, Levada Center, Russia’s last independent, reputable polling organization, was labeled a “foreign agent” by the Ministry of Justice. According to political commentator Grigory Golosov, there are two explanations as to why. The first relates to a formal complaint filed by the pro-Kremlin movement Anti-Maidan that the Center received foreign funding for conducting political activities. The second points to the fact that Levada’s latest polls revealed a drop in United Russia’s approval ratings—a trend not reflected in the surveys published by two other national pollsters, the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (WCIOM) and the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM). That fact comes as no surprise, since both organizations receive state funding. The second version is indirectly confirmed by top Putin’s aide Vyacheslav Volodin, who recently claimed that the ruling party was still riding high. Golosov argues that the issue goes beyond mere ratings, since the discrepancy between Levada’s and official polls was not that great. The actual problem likely lies in the Kremlin’s fear of losing control: WCIOM and FOM have never cast doubt on the regime’s grip on power, unlike Levada.  Given the extent of its Maidan-induced paranoia, Golosov concludes that the Kremlin’s “mania of total control is not a flip side of its persecutory delusion, but rather a natural consequence.”

 

Go Russia?!

Vladimir Pastukhov, Novaya Gazeta 

Political scientist Vladimir Pastukhov revisits Dmitry Medvedev’s flagship article titled “Go Russia!” which was published seven years ago in Rossiyskaya Gazeta, and compares its key messages to the current situation in the country. The article’s message was two-faceted: “Everything is rotten” and “We can’t live like this anymore.” Seven years ago, the newly elected President Medvedev proclaimed the idea of a “European path” for Russia, and many people expected that under his presidency Russia would see real reform. However, Medvedev never sided with the Bolotnaya protest movement indirectly fueled by his calls for modernization. As a result, the face turned heel, while his attempts at perestroika 2.0 triggered a powerful reactionary impulse, leading the elites and the public to form an “anti-modernization consensus.” This consensus could have brought catastrophe, writes Pastukhov, had it not been based on primitive utilitarianism and stripped of ideology. By asking a crucial question: what happened to the very idea of modernization, Pastukhov conducts a historical analysis that shows how the logic of Russia’s development follows the modernization trend, repeatedly obstructed along the way by a string of “anti-modernization” doctrines from the likes of Pobedonostsev, Suslov, and now Patrushev. The author argues that despite all of that Russia remains part of the European paradigm and develops, by turns, at right angles and in parallel with the West. The country’s own logic of evolution thus predestines the collapse of the current reactionary regime, which finds itself at odds with “the people’s basic instincts.”

 

Who Benefits from the “Legacy of the Past”

Vladimir Gel’man, Vedomosti

One of the key ideas of the current political discourse in Russia and the intellectual reflections on the country’s development is the notion of the “legacy of the past,” which suggests the constant reproduction of bygone institutes and practices and their redeployment to the present and the future. According to political scientist Vladimir Gel’man, the current Russian elites view this “legacy” as a “socially constructed instrument of maintaining bad governance.” At their suggestion, references to the past have become perhaps the only tool of political legitimization, as cultural patterns excavated by the elites from the Soviet past are established as the baseline for norms and ideas in society. The author argues that in today’s Russia the “good Soviet Union”—a certain political order vaguely reminiscent of the USSR, but lacking some of its defects—serves as a fabled normative ideal. He also contends that appeals to the “legacy of the past” sustain the status quo, as do discussions about the Russian “matrix” or “path.” Such conversations turn the country’s development trajectory into a never-ending vicious circle. Gel’man concludes that countries that reject the legacy idea along with the Communist past (examples include a number of Eastern European countries, the Baltic nations, and recently Ukraine) stand a far greater chance of breaking the proverbial circle.

 

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