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The US and Russia (Today)

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. The war of words between Moscow and Washington increases in its intensity. Putin has decided that Americans helped influence the protest movement in December, but that’s only the most recent part of this rhetorical war that’s going on. If one looks at RT, Russia Today, which is—claims to be independent but, I believe, has a lot of Russian government influence and money in it—if you watch Russia Today, most of the guests on Russia Today are American leftists and others doing a very vigorous critique of the United States. In fact, you would think there was almost a conflict going on with Russia, given the amount of criticism on RT of U.S. policy. Now joining us to talk about U.S.-Russian relations is Boris Kagarlitsky. He’s a sociologist based in Moscow. He’s currently the director of the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements. Thanks for joining us, Boris.


JAY: So what do you make of this war of words? I’m particularly interested in Russia Today, because, you know, we know Russia Today is heavily influenced, if not controlled, by the Russian government. What does that tell us about broad—more broadly, U.S. and Russian relations?

KAGARLITSKY: Well, I think that Russia Today is a very strange phenomenon, because initially I was very skeptical about its perspectives, because it’s a government institution, and if you watch Russian television, which we see here, I mean, it’s terrible. It’s just terrible in every sense of the word. Not only it is politically terrible, but it’s also very poorly done. It’s of a very, very poor quality, even compared to the Soviet television, which was, of course, heavily censored but probably not so bad in terms of quality for that period, for that time.

And then I think what was interesting about Russia Today: that they managed to simulate, or emulate, if you want, some kind of public television network. And in that sense, yes, they did hire quite a few professionals, not just from Russia only, but also from other countries. And in some ways they managed to gain a reputation outside of Russia, proving that they were not just a propaganda tool but something different. And now the situation is getting worse, I think, in the sense that they are not allowed by Russian government to do something which earlier gave them credit of being a kind of more or less—I shouldn’t say independent, but at least autonomous, because, of course, you are not allowed to speak there openly about what’s happening in Russia. I used to be invited to Russia Today quite a few times also to speak on Russian politics, and, of course, well, you can guess what my views are. [incompr.] I was pretty critical, especially about social and economic policies of the government. They don’t invite me anymore. They probably keep inviting me when they want me to talk about United States.

JAY: Yeah. I found the same thing. I was interviewed on Russia Today. I’d written a piece about the way Petraeus was talking about finding all these minerals in Afghanistan, and I had written a piece saying there’s nothing new about this, this is just part of a propaganda to support the U.S. role there. And I just try—I even just suggested that Russia had to have known about these minerals years ago. Every time I said the word "Russia", I would get cut off. Three times I got cut off. And I actually had to finally—’cause it was live—insist they let me finish my point. But it seems like if you’re critical of U.S. policy, almost anybody can get on Russia Today, but you can’t say a word about democratic rights in Russia, you can’t talk about what’s happening to journalists in Russia.

KAGARLITSKY: Well, again, you’re saying it’s getting worse. It was not as sad as that, like, a year ago. That’s a big irony because it is exactly the existence of a serious democratic movement in Russia these days which is actually provoking more censorship on television rather than less, because they’re frightened, they are frightened that some voices can get through, though I think that will also change, because the situation in Russia, it’s really fragile, and even the immediate situation is changing, and it’s very kind of terrible and volatile. Like, at some point the government television was saying nothing about protests. They were just not mentioning protests. They were saying that everything was quite okay, everything was calm. And, like, I don’t know. Like in Libya under Gaddafi, the first days of revolt, there was just no reports, and then all of a sudden they got the order to speak about protests, and the line was like saying, look, we’re a normal European country like anybody; we have people protesting and we let them protest; look, there are crowds of people protesting; which means that Russia is a free country, period.

JAY: Right. Now, let’s back up a bit, then, and look at what is the state of the relationship between Russia and United States now. How would you characterize it?

KAGARLITSKY: Well, I think that Russian government is very confused because they expected Americans to kind of back up their policies. And in many ways, actually, Russia is continuing to get closer to the United States. Russia joined WTO recently. It was exactly in December during the protests Russian government actually signed the final agreement to join the WTO. And that actually makes Russia closer to the United States in most important issues, and very much following the free-market line and so on. So they want to follow American advice on economy, but they don’t want to follow American advice on politics. That’s basically it.

JAY: But at the level of sort of geopolitical maneuvering, you know, where missiles are being placed, and the whole level of contention at that level, it seems to be rather intense, even while they seem to play very more or less well together on the economic side.

KAGARLITSKY: Well, but that’s typical for today’s world. I think it’s—also will be the case, say, with China or some other places. But I think it’s also very much for domestic consumption, because for domestic consumption, they’re trying to be as anti-American as possible. And then exactly they’re getting into another trap, because you cannot do certain things for domestic consumption without having international consequences when it comes to international policies. And that’s why they have to actually decrease their level of friendship with Americans, even though they’re not very happy about it either. I think the Russian government is [incompr.] unhappy when they are forced by events to get into a conflict with the United States. So that is a kind of effort which seems to pay well, to work well for domestic consumption, but it creates really serious kind of unintended consequences internationally for these very same people, because they have their money in America, they have their children studying in the West, they have their palaces in London, and so on. So they don’t want to have really serious problems with the West.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Boris.


JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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