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Echo of Munich
by Alexander Podrabinek

Alexander Podrabinek is editor-in-chief of PRIMA News Agency, based in Moscow, which publishes the daily news and analysis in Russian and English on human rights and democracy issues around the world. This article was published in Novaya Gazea (March 1, 2007) and may also be viewed on the PRIMA web page at

President Putin's Munich attack against the USA may have produced the effect of an exploding bomb, but now the dust has settled. Analysts, commentators, and politicians have expressed themselves, and readers, listeners, and spectators have discussed the prospects for a new “Cold War." But presidents rarely speak in vain.  Their words are a guide to action for their subordinates

Recalling the rhetoric of the “Cold War" is not too difficult. Last Sunday, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, in an interview with television channel TVTs, attacked the Western press, which, in his opinion, is the main instigator of an anti-Russian campaign. The Minister stated that this campaign began “exactly when Russia began to be strong, when Russia became financially independent". The enemy's methods may not be completely understood, but its evil intention is already sufficiently clear. “The stronger we become, the
greater, probably, is their desire to fight for influence, to prevent us from getting stronger," explained Lavrov. According to him, the anti-Russian campaign "is designed to cause us stress, to cause us irritation."

The offence taken by the minister against the press is completely incomprehensible. Generally, a good press must cause stress for even good authorities, to say nothing of poor authorities. This is one of the indicators of a quality press. The Russian authorities are not used to this, and do not hide their irritation. After crushing a substantial part of the independent domestic press by threats and financial maneuvers, the authorities want to bask in the illusion that they are universally loved, but the harmful Western press does not want to consider this. To recognize that a free press is the only mirror in which the face of the country can be reflected, is a difficult step for the Kremlin. It is easier to reproach the mirror, than to look at itself. From this, naturally, was born the theory of the “anti-Russian plot". The rest was a matter of the technicality, partially forgotten, but easily adapted to the new political realities. It was only necessary to change the customary “anti-Soviet" campaign to “anti-Russian", “American imperialism" to “single-polar peace", “ideological war" to “anti-Russian plot" "and so forth. Mr. Lavrov's reproaches may sound fantastic, but he either does not understand this or is attempting to ignore reality. To coordinate the entire Western press for a campaign is completely impossible. Only a controlled press in a country with a controlled democracy, or, frankly, a totalitarian regime, could arrange such coordination.

The State Duma demonstrated similar incomprehension, when it adopted, on February 21, an appeal “To the Congress of the United States of America in Connection with the Citizens of the Republic Cuba." After breathing in a steady anti-American wind, the State Duma decided to begin a propagandistic campaign in the style of Angela Davis [a leading figure in the U.S. Communist Party]. The appeal deals with five Cubans, arrested in1998 in Florida on charges of attempting to penetrate American military targets and do reconnaissance on Cuban emigre organizations. In June 2001, a Federal Court in Miami sentenced three members of this group to life imprisonment and two more to prolonged periods of prison. The Castro brothers' Communist regime sees these people as national heroes; Americans are criminals; and the State Duma of Russia sees this as an occasion to make a statement in the thus far “Cool War". The deputies are completely unconcerned with the fact that there are scores of prisoners of conscience in Cuban prisons, held for many years because they attempted to attain for their country those rights and freedoms, which the very Deputies of the State Duma enjoy everyday. Among the imprisoned, by the way, is a correspondent of the Russian news agency PRIMA -News, who got a 15-year prison sentence for reporting about life in Cuba. The State Duma does not act in defense of these people. This would not be in the spirit of the Munich speech of the President.

The propagandistic essence of the State Duma's appeal consists not only in the selection of the object of protection, but also in the selection of addressee. “The State Duma issues a call the Congress of the United States of America to use all measures to reverse the sentences and bring about a valid solution for the citizens of the Republic Cuba...," stated the appeal. But the Congress of the USA cannot reverse an American court's sentence, and does not have the ability to change a judicial proceeding or sentence. Theirs is a system of constitutional authority. . . . Once Russia itself dreamed of the separation of executive, legislative, and judicial authority, but instead the executive is a vertical line running through the judicial and legislative branches. For the State Duma, it is not the result of the appeal but the process that is important. The Cold War did not have a visible goal before. For the Soviet Union, the Cold War was only a justification for internal repression and external expansion if the “Iron Curtain". The Cold War rhetoric used now by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the State Duma is not a threat to the West nor to the USA. It is a threat to the democratic future of Russia, a future in which it is harder and harder to believe.