Patrick Armstrong is a former political counselor at Canadian Embassy in Moscow
I wrote the first of these in March 1997. Since then I have produced more than 600 at the rate of about 45 a year. I used to have no trouble filling a page with the events of the preceding week; but, of late, I have had to work hard to fill the page. So, a year or so ago I announced that I would not be able to do it every week.
Yesterday I gathered the events since the last Sitrep and found nothing much. More violence in the North Caucasus – but that’s steady: worse some weeks, better others; sometimes the authorities win, sometimes the jihadists do. More corruption cases begun but I’ve already commented on this: it’s good that people are being arrested but it will be better when they’re convicted. The Greenpeace thing is amusing (
I, of course, exercise editorial choice. I don’t give much attention to the stunt issues that take up so much space in the Western media. Pussy Riot, an offshoot of a tiresome "art collective” that performed childish and obnoxious publicity stunts (NSFW) that the authorities usually ignored, went a step too far in Russia’s premier church. But the anti-Russia crowd, with heavy input from Berezovskiy’s propaganda machine, built the whole thing into a huge issue and American human rights NGOs, today fully-owned subsidiaries of "smart power”, joined in. Likewise I gave the anti-homosexual propaganda thing little coverage: a regulation providing not very heavy fines for something that wasn’t happening anyway was played up as a terrible outrage. I believe the Obama White House was behind the campaign as a petty revenge for its failure on the Snowden case. (Those who think it doesn’t do petty should try to visit a Washington war memorial or Mount Rushmore this weekend). In any event, after their Syria embarrassment I doubt they have much interest in dissing Putin so this will die away in time too. To be replaced, no doubt, by something else to keep the anti-Russia pot bubbling. (McCain’s choice of Pravda – and the wrong one at that – illustrates how laughably ill-informed the anti-Russia lobby is). But, returning to editorial choices, I don’t cover these propaganda stunts much because experience tells me that they will be forgotten soon. (Incidentally, a good rule of thumb is to throw away anything that mentions no accusation older than six months; it’s lazy propaganda. Another rule of thumb: trash anything that quotes de Custine as if he were an authority on today or starts "Since the days of Ivan the Terrible…”. Pseudo-historical claptrap.) But, they leave the bad odour that is the purpose of propaganda. I often wish that I had kept a list of all the alarums that came to nothing. Anyone remember Moskalenko? How about "the family”, "moral idiocy”, "virtual economy”? Suitcase nukes and red mercury? The predpols? Remember when "colour revolutions” were the coming thing? Here’s an old favourite of mine. And, of course, from earlier times, Gorbachev isn’t changing anything, there will be a coup that will stop the change, Moscow will never leave Germany or Estonia. Remember the Golitsyn theory? Soon the "gas weapon” and Saakashvili the democrat will be forgotten too. A fool can indeed ask more questions than ten wise men can answer: easy to say Putin said the breakup of the USSR was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe, harder to show that he didn’t. Easy to intimate he killed Litvinenko, more effort to assemble the facts against that conclusion. And that can be depressing: why do people seek to turn Russia into an enemy? Do we need more enemies? Is it so important to keep NATO officials in tax-free employment? As George Kennan said, "There was no reason for this whatsoever”.
When I worked, my group used to meet regularly with Russia watchers south of us. At the social events, an ice breaker question our leader used to ask was "What got you interested in Russia?”. The answers all had to do with Tchaikovsky, Tolstoy, Moscow Art Theatre and so on. So, Dear Reader, what’s your interest? Russia is a player in Western culture – it’s not Italy but it’s significant. Is that it? Or is it something else? Russia, whatever it is, is not negligible; not something to be kicked to the curb; not something to be made angry; not to be spat on. No gain in that for anyone. That’s my point. Russians have a point of view, let’s try to understand it. It’s better for everybody. There are real threats; we don’t have to invent them.
But I’m not quitting: I’ll keep doing the Sitreps as long as I have a page full