Soviet-style vitriol taints Russian presidential campaign

February 1, 2012

A staunchly pro-government newspaper published a warning Wednesday that Russia faces ruin if Vladimir Putin is not returned to the presidency next month, but critics said the lengthy article recalled the old Soviet Union and contained vitriol so extreme that it appeared probable to backfire.

The 1,900-word piece, full of flamboyant belligerence and fawning praise for Putin, was published on the front page of the Kremlin’s most loyal newspaper, Izvestia. In fits of Soviet-style language, it raised the level of hostility toward the United States and toward Putin’s domestic opponents to new heights.

It pronounces, melodramatically, that “Putin is the only leader left in Europe not to be crushed down by U.S. hegemony.” And it warns that Russia will be ruined by its enemies if he is not elected president on March 4. Putin, 59, served as president from 2000 to 2008, then stepped aside because of term limits and became prime minister.

The author of the Izvestia article was Dmitry Rogozin, until recently the Russian ambassador to NATO and now a deputy prime minister in charge of armaments. His piece appears to be an aggressive attempt to protect Putin’s nationalist flank, at a time when most of the nationalist movement has turned its back on Putin and joined liberals in protests.

But the language is so intemperate, said Stanislav Belkovsky, president of the Institute for National Strategy here, that “it sounds ridiculous.”

Rogozin was writing in praise of a recent essay by Putin on ethnicity, in which Putin says various minorities are welcome in Russia as long as they recognize the supremacy of Russian culture.

“The publication of V. Putin’s article on the ethnic question is an unprecedented event,” Rogozin’s piece begins. “From the point of view of the development of our nationhood, it will have long-term positive consequences.”

Even in Russian, the language is stilted. “It sounds like something from the mouths of Soviet leaders in the 1980s,” Belkovsky said.

The mood quickly turns dark, with Rogozin writing about this being a century of “war and turmoil.”

“One does not need to be a prophet in his own land to see the obvious: A weak Russia will become the next victim of a world that is rapidly losing its mind,” he writes. “This world respects only force, but real brutal armed physical force rather than some ‘smart’ and ‘soft’ force invented by our political analysts.” Those who don’t have it, he says, “will be raped and robbed.”

He attacks the United States: “U.S. officials do not feel any shame over their hegemonic plans. . . . A weakened Russia is running the risk of becoming another victim of this policy.”

But the United States, he writes, has dangerous allies, too:

“The threat for Russia is coming not only from outside, but also from inside. . . . Today political impostors, who ruled the country in the bandit nineties and demand again ‘to continue the party,’ are seeking to control the street protests.”

Then, he suggests what will happen if Putin loses at the polls next month:

“Putin’s defeat will make many people happy. For instance, Mme. [Madeleine] Albright, who dreams of managing the riches of Siberia. Mme. [Hillary Rodham] Clinton will be happy, too. Certainly, our liberal ‘fifth column,’ which is lining up at the U.S. Embassy, will be glad. But for Russian citizens, Putin’s defeat will mean the loss of the independence of our country.”

Belkovsky laughed at the implication that there is something especially menacing about two women — former and current U.S. secretaries of state — eagerly anticipating Russia’s fall. One commenter on the Ekho Moskvy Web site wrote about the Soviet tone and use of language: “If my grandfather rose from the dead and read Rogozin, he would think that time on earth had stopped from the moment he went to heaven.”

Nationalism has become a growing concern for Putin. Over the years he encouraged it as a way of keeping liberals cowed, but in late 2010 nationalist youths began demonstrating against him. As the election campaign began, he voiced increasingly pointed nationalist themes, suggesting that Clinton instigated the recent protests. (A television report accused protest leaders of going to the U.S. Embassy to pick up their pay.)

But it’s too late, said Andrei Piontkovsky, a political analyst. The nationalists have turned against Putin. “They know Putin is a crook and a thief,” he said.

Rogozin’s article, he said, “is another manifestation that Putin has lost contact with reality.”

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