How Russian and American Oligarchs Benefit from Mutual Demonization
The US has sent observers to watch Russian elections for decades now, so why not have Russia send observers to the US, asks Professor Aleksandr Buzgalin
THE REAL NEWS NETWORK
SHARMINI PERIES:It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
As it was widely reported last week, President Vladimir Putin of Russia announced last week that Russia will not expel anyone in retaliation for Washington’s decision to throw out 35 Russian diplomats and impose sanctions on two of the country’s intelligence agencies. Putin’s response came after President Barrack Obama’s decision to expel 35 Russian diplomats suspected of spying and to impose sanctions on the two Russian intelligence agencies over the alleged involvement in the hacking of Democratic Party emails before the 2016 US Presidential elections.
Now joining us from Moscow to discuss the Russian perspective on all of this, is Aleksandr Buzgalin. Aleksandr is a professor of political economy at Moscow State University. He’s also the Editor of the independent left magazine, “Alternatives,” author of more than 20 books. Thanks very much for joining us this Christmas Eve for you.
ALEKSANDR BUZGALIN:Yes, and I’m very glad to talk with U.S. and other people who have interest and who want to discuss questions of Russia-U.S. relations.
SHARMINI PERIES:So, Aleksandr, Russian Foreign Ministry, Sergey Lavrov proposed that Putin actually respond by expelling 35 US diplomats and banned U.S. diplomatic staff from using some of the facilities in Moscow, similar to what happened and what President Obama did here in the U.S. But Putin didn’t follow suit, or his advice. Why?
ALEKSANDR BUZGALIN:No. First of all, I want to stress that typical diplomatic reaction is, or even must be, the same and if 35 diplomats are expelled, it’s necessary to do the same. It’s tradition. And tradition which is realizing by diplomatic so-called foreign ministers during, I don’t know, 200-300 years. But Putin … something … I can give you different explanations but the most probable are the following. First, Putin wants to create image of how you say, strange, unusual person, who can propose non-traditional decisions of difficult problems. And sometimes he really can do this and he did it. He did such steps, not one time. In this case, I think this is positive model of behavior.
And another reason for such behavior is attempt to show to Obama that he is bad guy and to show to everybody that Putin is a good guy. And also, to make steps for future better relations with Trump. And this new president of United States is a big question mark for Russians, but according to official propaganda, official Russian must be there, Trump is much better for Russia than previous President. Not only Obama, but all other presidents. And Obama became a symbol of all difficulties for Russia. It’s, of course, only partly true but partly it’s true. But if you ask me about Trump, and my opinion, I don’t think that it will be much better for Russia. And I don’t think it will be much better for U.S. citizens to have such president but, of course, this is another question.
SHARMINI PERIES:Aleksandr, President-elect Trump has made overtures towards Russian President Putin, and of course, there’s been a lot of discussion and controversy here about how affiliated the new Trump administration is with Russia, including President-elect Trump’s financial dealings and Russian oligarchs financing some of his hotels as well as some of his appointees to his Cabinet having had relations with oil contracts and so forth. So, Russia and the new administration are going to be closely allied. What is the Russian people’s response to all of this that’s going on?
ALEKSANDR BUZGALIN:First of all, in Russia, we have a lot of official propaganda which showed that all the difficulties in Russia are connected — maybe not all, but a lot of difficulties in Russia are interconnected with U.S. negative reaction on our country, U.S. sanctions and so on and so forth. Really, of course, we have big difficulties in stagnation in economy, growth of social inequality and so on and so forth. But reasons for this are mainly … And the hope is that the new President of United States who said some good words about possible future relations between Russia and the United States, some words of Trump, gave for many people, hopes for better relations with United States and absence of sanctions.
And also in Russia it was, how you say, presented as triumph of Putin that even new President of United States understood finally that Russia is very important. Putin is very strong person and even Americans understood it is necessary to be careful with Russia and so on and so forth and very, how you say, state’s way of explanations of all events.
Unfortunately, I don’t think that Trump is a really good person for everybody, neither for Americans nor for Russians. He is right-wing politician with a lot of elements of strange behavior and he is oligarch, if you use Russian words for this, and we know that oligarchs never will realize policy which can be better for the interests of majority of population, working people, intelligence, everybody. That’s why I am afraid that you also have a lot of difficulties with Trump and I don’t think that Russia-U.S. relations will be much better when Trump will come, instead of Obama.
SHARMINI PERIES:What is the reaction of the allegations of hacking into the U.S. electoral system and exposing emails related to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the DNC, specifically, the hacking of John Podesta, who was running Hillary Clinton’s campaign for her? This kind of interference with the U.S. elections, if the allegations are true — how are the people in Russia reacting to this sort of thing?
ALEKSANDR BUZGALIN:There are two types of reactions, but both are very interconnected. One reaction is very simple, how strong is Russia? How good is our Secret Service? We cannot(?) hack United States and they cannot do anything. So, if the U.S. Administration wanted to increase our(?) anti-influence of Putin and our Secret Service, you did, not you personally, not your studio of course, and you journalist, leftist people, but officials of United States make all possible, impossible in order to increase Russian bureaucracy and central government. But some Russians rated how strong we are, long life, our secret services are. Majority, I think, decided that this is just a game which was organized in the United States in order to find explanations for defeat of Democratic candidate. And Russia was used as one of the reasons(?) to explain why Democrats lost the victory and why Trump is now President of the United States. So this was the most typical explanation.
And I think it’s really true, but I want to make one important remark. During 1990s and after, the U.S. government, U.S. mass media, U.S. secret service, and so on, made a lot of practical steps without anyone, secret aspects in order to change political and economic relations in Russia. They had terrible influence in Russian internal politics. It was a lot of U.S. observers(?) in our elections — and this is, by the way, practiced even now.
So, from my point of view, it could be and should be important and useful to have Russian observers on U.S. presidential elections, U.S. parliamentary elections, U.S. regional elections. Why not? To have people from China, to have people from, I don’t know, being there, from Russia, from Ukraine, from different countries to check if you have real democracy in United States, or you have manipulations, specifications(?) or your oligarch uses mass media in order to influence political process, and so on and so forth. This is, I think, not a bad idea and it can use this practice in order to propose this for U.S. officials if … of course.
SHARMINI PERIES:Yes. And is there an institution in Russia that oversees electoral processes? I know that’s lacking here in the U.S. There’s something called the Electoral College, which basically affirms what, supposedly, the people had voted for. But in this case, the popular vote was quite against what the Electoral College had done. But that’s the only body that the U.S. has to affirm. There’s no electoral observation or independent body that oversees the elections in this country and then calls the elections here. Basically, the media calls the election. Is there such a body in Russia?
ALEKSANDR BUZGALIN:So, of course, Russian elections are not the best example of democracy and honest, pure, I don’t know, really democratic system. We have some elements of control both, how you say, in practice when people are coming for electoral places to control the process. We have some attempts to make control in Internet or through electronic means. But this is only elements of such control. Unfortunately, I’m not a real specialist in this very specific topic. What I can say, this election, past parliamentary elections, of course, have a lot of falsifications but result was predictable and it could be a little bit more delegates members of parliament… I’m sorry, some more deputies from a position in parliament. But real situation is created not by specification but by manipulation and domination of officials, oligarchs and bureaucracies. They control most… they control all ideological process.
We have some elements of freedom of speech, by the way. I have a weekly radio program on federal radio but this is only elements of freedom of speech and, generally, of course, there are a lot of manipulations and this is much more important than the elections itself.
SHARMINI PERIES:Now, apparently, the Russian television programs and so forth, according to some reports in the Moscow Times and a columnist by the name of Maxim Trudolyubov, he said that the conflict between the U.S. and Russians are amusing to watch. Particularly, because it demonizes Russia and this actually helps Putin in the process. Now, President Putin is going to be running in the 2018 election, I imagine?
ALEKSANDR BUZGALIN:Yeah, in 2018. Yeah.
SHARMINI PERIES:How does this come across now? Is he himself going to be standing for election and I think, by that time he would have as Prime Minister or President, he would have been running Russia for almost 20 years.
ALEKSANDR BUZGALIN:First of all, it’s not only Putin. There are a lot of examples. In Germany, for example, where you have leaders who can run country for 10, 15, 20 years. So, it could be in democratic countries so it’s all positive or negative features of both of our democracies. But of course, in Russia we have much more authoritarian model of political system and we have partly democratic, partly authoritarian political system now.
As far as the question of U.S.-Russia relations, yes, terrible critique from the West created image of Putin as hero who protects Russia from aggressive America. And this is really dangerous — dangerous for Russians because idealization of Putin is a negative process; is dangerous for United States because you are also creating image of enemy which is not a real enemy. Russian people are not enemies of U.S. people. And in order to at least criticize this or maybe to change a little bit the situation, we must stress every time that there are peoples of United States and peoples of Russia. And all peoples can be friends and must be friends and in many aspects, cultural and so on, we are colleagues, friends, comrades, we work together … could be together in struggle against terrorism and many other spheres. But we have leaders who often create real contradictions between our peoples. And this is not problem of personality, such personality as Putin, or such personality as Trump or Obama, or Clinton or anybody else. This is a problem of ruling circles both in Russia and in the United States.
With them, from time to time, it’s profitable to show that U.S. is the best friend of Russia. It was very typical for Russia in 1990s, now it’s more positive to show that U.S. is enemy of Russia. The same for United States — Gorby was the best friend of United States. Yeltsin was also very good friends of United States. Even Putin, 15 years ago, was very good friend and we were creating initiatives of integration of NATO and Russian forces, something like Friendship for Peace between NATO and Russia. So now you are playing… not you but U.S. official, U.S. oligarchs, are playing another game. It was the same with Iraq. It was the same with Iran. It can be the same with any other countries. It’s political duty, political gain, wherefore are beneficial only for political and economic elites of U.S., sometimes of Russia and vice-versa.
SHARMINI PERIES:Right, and Aleksandr, President Putin seems to be hoping that Russian relations with the U.S. will improve under Donald Trump’s presidency, particularly given Trump’s pick of Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who is close to President Putin from what we can see from pictures and so forth of various celebrations together. This seems to be, I guess, reasonable given that there are some relationships between at least the Cabinet of President-elect Trump and I should say Russians affiliated with President Putin. Now, but would such improved relations be useful for President Putin domestically because these anti-American sentiments in the Russian population that has been propped up by President Putin recently, is helpful for him domestically, particularly running into an election year?
ALEKSANDR BUZGALIN:It’s a very interesting question. Not very important, but very interesting. Not very important because popularity of Putin can be created by different means and there are a lot of opportunities to create such popularity. The only one example are relations between Russia and Tokyo. Before crash of Russian military plane, we had more or less good, or maybe even very good relations with Turkey. Then Turkey became symbol of enemy and President of Turkey became son of a bitch who is the best friend of terrorists and so on and so forth. Then now we have again very good relations with Turkey and every time our mass media creates an image of Putin as a hero who can create positive situation, who can protect Russia from terrible Turkey, who can make from Turkey friend of Russia. So, it can be different game. The same with Trump and Obama and changing of relations between U.S. and Russia — but what is important? Of course, improvement of relations between our countries is useful and important and necessary for U.S. people, for Russian people, for people of many other countries, maybe for all over the world. Because Russia and U.S. have terrible amount of nuclear and other terrible weapons and participate in many local… so-called local wars.
But what is important also is the question, what kind of socio-economic political basis will be for such more or less good relations? Because both Putin and Trump are right-wing politicians. And in Russia we have a very strange mixture of far-right neoliberal economic policy with neoconservative ideology elements of even feudalism in our socio-cultural and spiritual life. And I am afraid that the same trend will be typical for U.S. during Trump presidential power. And good relations on such very negative conservative basis can be not very useful for our countries, for our peoples.
SHARMINI PERIES:All right, Aleksandr Buzgalin, I thank you so much for joining us today and this was very enlightening.
ALEKSANDR BUZGALIN:Thank you very much. I’m very glad to have such discussions. It’s very useful for us, not only for you. So, thank you for the invitation and I hope to continue our dialogues.
SHARMINI PERIES:We certainly will. And thank you for joining us in The Real News Network.