Friday, October 13, 2006

bashing Anna's critics

Russia’s bright star and clouded facts

By Edward Lucas

The murder of my friend Anna Politkovskaya, a gutsy Russian journalist who exposed the abominable mistreatment of the civilian population during the Kremlin’s war in Chechnya, has brought not just rage and sorrow, but also put western attitudes to Russia into sharp focus. Most of the reaction has been rather predictable: “Heinous crime…press freedom…black day in Russian history…perpetrators must be punished.”

That rather annoys me. People are so willing to praise Anna when she is dead, yet they were so deaf to her doom-laden warnings when she was alive. When I discussed Russia with her, we always came to the same conclusion: the outside world just wasn’t interested in bad news about Putin and his thuggish, kleptocratic sidekicks, because it would be bad for business.
What annoys me even more though is the ‘hurrah chorus’. The pack of sleazeballs, useful idiots and nutters who insist that everything in Russia is not just profitable but lovely too are now claiming that Anna’s murder was just one of those things. After all, don’t journalists get killed in other countries? Nobody’s perfect. Why pick on Russia?
Take, for example, a slick Russia-related email service called Quick Takes. I strongly recommend it for anyone interested in Russia and the neighbourhood, although I disagree with every word in it. Its publisher, Mike Averko, describes himself as a “New-York based independent foreign policy analyst”.
Here’s what he had to say about Anna’s death. I have corrected one spelling mistake, but otherwise it’s verbatim:
“There has been a rush to judgment by many in a manner reflective of an ongoing hypocritically applied set of standards.
“In addition to the slain Denver area talk radio host Alan Berg (killed by a right-wing extremist), there’ve been the experiences of Victor Riesel and Yuri Brohkin. Riesel was a not so smooth investigative reporter, who was blinded after writing a series of critical articles about organized crime. Brohkin was a Soviet Jewish émigré journalist who was found murdered. A police investigation ruled Brohkin’s death to be possibly linked with his ties to the so-called Russian mafia.
“Politkovskaya’s murder re-ignites an ongoing theme of a supposed lack of press freedom in Russia. Previous QTs note what views are understood to be worthy for employment at Anglo-American mass media outlets. Politkovskaya’s flaws as a journalist have been covered up in conjunction with that understated censorship.”
To someone who doesn’t know America, that might sound like a reasonable bit of context. Victor Riesel was indeed blinded, probably in retaliation for his trenchant journalism. What Averko doesn’t mention was that this happened in 1956. Yuri Brokhin, a colourful Russian émigré, was murdered, perhaps because of his writing. But it was in 1982. Alan Berg was a provocative talkshow host murdered by neo-Nazis – in 1984. None of them remotely matches Anna in importance or stature.
This oddly forgetful approach to important facts may undermine in some eyes Averko’s argument about “censorship” in “Anglo-American mass media”. Citing “Politkovskaya’s flaws as a journalist”, right now sounds a bit tasteless to me. True, she wasn’t perfect. She never claimed to be. I hope it is not really necessary to point out that over-detailed writing and overly sweeping generalisations are flimsy grounds for a death sentence.
It may have been the clouded skies of Russia’s miserably bribed and bullied media that made Anna seem such a bright star. But whose fault is that? Were I Russian, I would be mourning one of my country’s greatest modern martyrs, not spitting on her grave.
# Edward Lucas is central and eastern Europe correspondent of The Economist.


La Russophobe said...


There are even bigger fish to fry, like David Johnson for instance. In May 2004 he published this attack on Politskaya by crazed Averko cohort Kirill Pankratov (they of the rabid Russian nationalist propaganda outlet

The article accuses Politiskaya, in so many words, of "lies and gross distortions" because, according to Pankratov, the content of a story she wrote in Newsweek differed from an account in, of all things, Izvestia (for which Pankratov provided no citation).

Pankratov has a degree in "Physical Oceanography" and writes "explicit" eroticism. That's the sum total of his qualifications to opine about Chechnya. He cited NO published report accusing Politskaya of even inaccuracy much less dishonesty.

So how about we start with David Johnson? How did he dare to publish something like this? The item now appears on the JRL website but Anna's piece in Newsweek isn't there for contrast; she's not even allowed to defend herself.

People who care about Anna should write David and demand an explanation. If they were willing to say stuff like this about her when she was alive, one can't dare to imagine what they'll try now that she's not. You've given just a taste of what we can expect, it's an issue that requires constant attention.

La Russophobe said...

Read more about Averko here:

Dmitri said...

To la Russofobe: you seem to have trouble typing Russian surnames, try cut and paste next time-- it will bring more gravitas to your informed opinions.

La Russophobe said...


Just curious: Do you think your message is one likely to cause me to respect and hence heed your advice, in other words a good example for me to follow? Or were you drunk when you wrote it?

Let me suggest that you read Mark Twain and try to open your mind a bit to the way other people think, rather than trying to impose your own strictures upon them. It might help you to deal with other cultures better, and avoid giving the impression that you a Russophile autocrat. Twain wrote: "It's a man with very little imagination who can only spell word one way." It's a bizarre notion to Russians, to be sure, which is they destroy Huckleberry Finn by translating it without Twain's grammar errors.

What's more, I love my spelling errors. Because they create the opportunity for someone to be unable to deal with any substantive point I make and therefore to attempt to attack me for spelling. I like this much better than getting a compliment from an admirer. When I don't misspell, the alternative is pathetic personal abuse that betrays the true character of the speaker, which is almost as good. But you wouldn't know anything about any of that, would you?

Next time, ask a question before you open your mouth and stick your foot in.

Edward Lucas said...

Dear Kim

Again. thanks for posting but please be civil to dmitri. I want the discussion here to be an exemplary model of how to deal with controversies, not stooping to their level


Anders36 said...

Isn't it a bit late to hold yourself up as a model of civility, Edward? In your article you label your opponents "sleazeballs, useful idiots and nutters." Surely you could have made room for the possibility of a fourth category, namely that some people simply don't see the world in stark black and white.

I do not agree with you on many of your views on Russia. I find them extreme in the extreme. At the same time, I don't consider myself a "In his worldview, they are either "sleazeballs, useful idiots and nutters" and if you think that I should be tagged with one of these labels then you are just a stop away from the notorious "Kim" (who may be actually a man, as you can see elsewhere on the Internet).

Dmitri said...

to edward lucas: do not bother with civility-- people choosing la russophobe as a pen-name do not possess any by default.

to la russophobe: do not bother to answer your grunts are not interesting.

Edward Lucas said...

Anders, I don't dispute that there are sincerely-held different views on Russia. Not all of them are from mad, bad or sad people. But I think to be truly enthusiastic in a Panglossian way about Putin is does fall into those categories. I'm really attacking the "Hurrah Chorus" of people who have a direct personal financial interest in Russia, and use their seemingly respectable western positions as lawyers, bankers etc to claim that everything is OK or better than OK, when they know in their hearts that it is not.

Hope that clears it up


Anders36 said...

Yes, that clears it up. They would be the sleazeballs, right?

You should try to make that clear in your articles, too.

But for every banker or others with direct financial interest, you can find two (to not put too high a number on it) who do not get paid.

We are activists with sincerely-held different views on Russia and, as one, I am sure that I speak for many when I say that I object to being called a "nutter" or a "useful idiot" ...

Anders36 said...

I am from Sweden. The poster below is from Finland. He does not have an account here, so I am reposting it for him:

Anna Politkovskaya and the Self-Defense of Democracy

By lawyer Jon Hellevig, Finland

The murder of Russian journalist Anna
Politkovskaya has once again induced a surge of
anti-Russianism in Finland. Politicians,
so-called researchers and media declare that
Russian leaders masterminded the murder. Many
people cautiously avoid these direct expressions,
while being highly critical of the Russian
government. Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja falls
somewhere between the two groups, whereas Markku
Kivinen from the University of Helsinki
affiliated Aleksanteri Institute and MP Heidi
Hautala clearly belong to the latter. It is
obviously not in the interests of the Russian
President to have a well known journalist killed
(pointing this out would not be necessary, but
for the continuous smear campaign against
Russia). Based on information I received from
Jukka Mallinen (translator of Politkovskaya's
"Putin's Russia" into Finnish), there were no
Russian government officials behind the murder.
On the other hand, there is reason to put forward
an alternative motive, which is quite possible --
that the murder was orchestrated by those wishing
to create the kind of public opinion climate to
compliment an anti-Russian agenda.

In our culture, we usually honor the memory of
the deceased by saying positive things about the
departed in times of sorrow. One would like to
show the same respect for Politkovskaya as well.
But I cannot keep quiet when I see how her memory
has been turned into a weapon to hit the Russian
people in a manner that hinders Russia's development.

Some are not happy with the opportunities that
have been created during Putin's presidency.This
includes the chance for many to now actively
participate in a democratically run market
economy. Upon the Soviet breakup, criminal
elements took advantage of the weakness of a
young nascent democracy by grabbing and stealing
enormous possessions. Putin, courageously
challenged the Mafia and oligarchs (often
separated through a fine line drawn on water).

Thirsty for "revenge", some of the non-Russian
former Soviet states egg on the EU to engage
Russia in a confrontational manner They overlook
that Russia and the Russian people were the
biggest victims of communism. Led by Yeltsin, the
Russian people freed themselves from that burden
and encouraged this spirit to other former
prisoner-countries. Due to Russia's large land
mass encompassing troubled regions, Russia
unwillingly gets drawn into dirty games. This
predicament gets twisted into the claim of a
revanchist Russia bullying small, defenseless others.

Given the uncritical fanfare accorded to
Politkovskaya's work as a journalist, there is
reason to critically review it. A case in point
is her book "Putin's Russia", (published in 2004)
which has been translated into several languages.

In this book, she emotionally focuses on peoples'
life situations (a style used in Karl Marx's Das
Kapital, where he childishly tries to prove his
theories of capital through the stories of
people's everyday lives). Politkovskaya begins
and ends her book with a stated disgust of Putin
(as per the English translation of the book, see
the Introduction as well as pages 281 and 282).
She states her dislike of Putin "because he was a
product of the Russian security service" (as if
George Bush Sr.'s politics should be condemned on
the grounds that he headed the CIA; a prevalent
talking point in some circles). According to
Politkovskaya, the KGB influenced Putin "does
nothing but destroy civil liberties as he has all
through his career". No mention is made of
Putin's support for the late democratic mayor of
St. Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak. At the end,
Politkovskaya states she is disgusted with Putin
because there is a war in Chechnya (as if he
started it). She adds that in her view, he is a
cold, cynical, racist, who is prone to lying
(among other references in her book, see pages
281-82). Politkovskaya does not like the fact
that this evil (in her view) man goes to Easter
church services (pages 279 and 280).

Politkovskaya attacks Putin for being a "racist"
and then like a racist claims that Silvio
Berlusconi as a European has better powers of
thinking than Russia's Putin (page 279).

Politkovskaya's likening of Putin with Stalin
(page 272) shows that neither the journalist nor
her prize givers and back patters have any sense
of proportion. But one should remember that the
purpose of this investigative journalist was to
tell us about her feelings on why she abhors another person

Politkovskaya displayed no perception that all
phenomena in society are based on social
practices and that only a positive historical
process can promote the wellbeing of society. She
does not understand that the basis of a working
society was totally destroyed in the Soviet Union
and that it was not until 1990 that the building
of a democracy, market economy and society at
large was started from the ruins of the bankrupt
Soviet estate. Through glimpses of peoples' life
experiences, she brings up some of Russia's
problems, such as the undeveloped democracy,
criminality, corruption, the poor condition of
the army, low pensions and the state of the
judicial system. In her state of disgust,
Politkovskaya did not analyze what has been done
about these matters during Putin's presidency.
Nor does she consider the impact of decisions
taken under him. Instead, she writes of human
tragedies like the suicide of an alcoholic and
about a former friend of hers; a busy
businesswoman who went into politics to grab more
riches, etc. She tries to convince the reader
that Putin is to be blamed for a tragic suicide
and a woman politician's ruthlessness (who
succeeded remarkably well). Politkovskaya's idea
was that from day one of his presidency, Putin
alone had to make sure that all in Russia was
right. Much like if President Tarja Halonen was
responsible for the unemployment in Kainuu and
drunks at Hakaniemi Market Square.

In one of her brief accounts, Politkovskaya
mentions an 80 year old man, who had been found
frozen to a floor in Irkutsk, Siberia (page 194).
The journalist says the emergency services
refused to come to the rescue claiming "the man
was so old he could obviously not be all right".
According to Politkovskaya - Putin should have
stopped this. She seemingly suggests that it was
brave of her to have said as much.

Politkovskaya writes of an impoverished former
navy captain Aleksey Dikinin (page 198). His fate
is attributed to Putin (with Politkovskaya having
the guts to say so). She does not even think of
referencing Soviet Communism as the main culprit
Mind you, her chronicling of Dikinin was in the
first year of Putin's presidency (2000). Since
then, there has been an enormous increase in
pensions. I have personally experienced this in
the Russian hinterland. At the beginning of this
year, I visited a friend of mine in the native
village of Azikeevo, situated in the Ural
Mountains region of Bashkortostan. A road
connection to Azikeevo was opened about ten years
ago, at approximately the same time that gas and
heating systems were installed. A couple of years
ago, phone connections were completed to every
cottage. Without any prompting, my friend's 70
year old uncle repeatedly lauded how good living
conditions had become. In a healthy spirit, this
senior citizen regularly takes care of horses,
cows and chickens. Some retired teachers in that
village (a married couple) said that pensions
were now so good that they could support their
children's families (there is a photo report of this trip at

Politkovskaya was far from expert on government,
military and legal matters. Topics which Putin
has frequently discussed in an openly candid way.

Politkovskaya's writing on terrorist dramas
sugarcoated the actions of terrorists. Through
their deeds, terrorists try to hurt the society
they hit. By killing innocent people, they create
public discussion designed to fault the leaders
of the target country (reference how terrorists
sparked a change in government in Spain). This is
incomprehensible logic for a sound person to comment on.

In "Putin's Russia", Politkovskaya blames Putin
for government corruption in Ekaterinburg. There
is no acknowledgement on her part that this
political environment was evident BEFORE Putin
became president. Putin proposed to correct this
by having the political center play a more active
role with the outlying regions. Instead of
lauding this action (a popular one with most
Russians), Politkovksaya wrongly concluded it to
be anti-democratic. A stance overlooking how the
political center was more democratic than the
most "independent" of Russian regions. The
regional governors operated under the cloak of
democracy. They were chosen through "democratic"
elections, as in the Soviet Union (in another
connection, Politkovskaya remembered how people
were elected in the Soviet Union, page 271). A
colorful bunch of criminals and adventurers
appointed themselves as governors under the
shelter of formal electing and voting
procedures. This view is acknowledged by the
European Commissioner for Human Rights (see:
Alvaro Gil-Robles, Report on Visits to the
Russian Federation, 2004). In these conditions,
anyone wanting to be governor had himself elected
by using threats, bribes, blackmail and bodily
harm. Putin's proposal to strip the regional
governors of their mandates made a positive
impression. Democracy is now practiced in much
more civilized circumstances, based on a
democratic competition between the regional
parliament and the president. To have the courage
to rise against a powerful elite and to succeed
is an unbelievably big achievement. In the West,
this reality is not fully appreciated, let alone
understood. Instead, Politkovskaya's blinded
disgust with Putin is uncritically accepted as the gospel.

Politkovskaya characterizes Putin as seeking
"revenge" against the oligarchs. Her
characterization of the Mikhail Khordorkovsky
owned and operated YUKOS is flawed (pages 275,
276, 284 and 285) She erroneously claims that
this business entity "operated in daylight" and
"gave five percent of its profits to charity".
YUKOS flagrantly violated tax laws and other
legislation through (among other things) criminal
tax paradise companies (I reference a Sitra
Report: Suuri Maa Pitka Kvartaali, Big Country Long Quartile, 2005).

Furthermore, Politkovskaya claims that
Khodorkovsky got into trouble with Putin because
he supported "the liberal opposition". She omits
the fact that Khodorkovsky supported the
Communist Party. The romantic side of her
activity would be lost if this point was made.
She did not state the ulterior motive behind
Khodorkovsky's political activism The
"democratic" parties sold him top positions in
electoral candidate lists to enable him to place
his own trusted candidates. This was how he
planned to carry through a takeover of the
Russian Duma. But is this the kind of democracy
desired by Politkovskaya, Tuomioja and Hautala?
In Finland, this advocacy would be considered treason.

A number of anti-Putin analysts admit that former
YUKOS CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky had committed
crimes, while rhetorically asking "but why
Khodorkovsky, just Khodorkovsky"? The answer is
clear: others were quicker to realize that their
criminal activities in Russia were over. A
society cannot be built on revenge. Putin offered
an invitation for all to move forward. Russia
loses if there is a large scale injustice. This
does not mean that democracy has no right to
self-defense. This is Putin's Russia, and mine.

The writer is a Finnish lawyer who has lived in
Moscow for 15 years. He has written the book
Expressions and Interpretations
discussing Russia's social development from the
viewpoint of philosophy and judicial philosophy.
He is also the author of several books on the Russian tax and labor law.

Anonymous said...


If you find my grunts uninteresting, why do you comment on them?

Do you mean to imply that you feel you've said something interesting in this forum? If so, pray tell what it was. I think I missed it.

I call myself La Russophobe so a hypocrite like you will judge me based on my name while demanding that I not judge Russians. But if you'd read my blog before you judged me you'd know that. Delicious. You're a truly world class hypocrite, just the type who has brought Russia to her knees.

Anonymous said...


Do you attack me personally because you can't find any factual error to attack? If so, thanks for the compliment!

And, just curious, do you think that your discussion in this forum is a model of proper civility for others to follow?

Anonymous said...

ANDERS: As I understand it, you feel that your "Finnish lawyer" (who cites virtually no source material) is more reliable than the world's leading media, right? Just curious: Do you also believe that the world was populated by little green men on a spaceship from another dimension and that L. Ron Hubbard is their prophet?