Georgia/Russia: Remnick surfaces, with a roar -

Georgia/Russia: Remnick surfaces, with a roar


The New Yorker editor must have cursed the way his magazine’s publication schedule popped out a double issue during the busiest two weeks in the summer. So he’s had to watch, a little helpless, for two weeks while Solzhenitsyn died and Russia launched its first shooting war on foreign soil in decades. This has been more than a busy couple of weeks to David Remnick, who was a great Moscow bureau reporter for the Washington Post and whose book Lenin’s Tomb is one of the definitive chronicles of the Soviet Union’s collapse. I have been waiting to see what he would make of all this. His column is now up on his magazine’s website. It has been worth the wait.

Remnick’s New Yorker has — understandably, given its editor’s interests — paid far closer attention to Vlad Putin’s assorted perfidies than any other U.S. general-interest magazine. So perhaps Remnick will be able to avoid cheap accusations of being soft on post-communism when he writes that “even as the world rightly condemns (Putin’s) ruthless invasion of Georgia, imagining the world as he sees it is a worthwhile exercise.

“Taken individually, the West’s actions since the collapse of the Soviet Union—from the inclusion of the Baltic and the Central European states in NATO to the recognition of Kosovo as an independent state—can be rationalized on strategic and moral grounds. But taken together these actions were bound to engender deep-seated feelings of national resentment among Russians, especially as, through the nineteen-nineties, they suffered an unprecedentedly rapid downward spiral. Even ordinary Russians find it mightily trying to be lectured on questions of sovereignty and moral diplomacy by the West, particularly the United States, which, even before Iraq, had a long history of foreign intervention, overt and covert—politics by other means. After the exposure of the Bush Administration’s behavior prior to the invasion of Iraq and its unapologetic use of torture, why would any leader, much less Putin, respond to moral suasion from Washington? That is America’s tragedy, and the world’s.”

Remnick goes on to warn that the “familiar analogies” of “neoconservative commentators” (1938, anyone?) “can lead to heedless policy.”

I won’t crib more of a short column — it seems destined to lead this week’s Talk of the Town section, which, thanks to the insanities of Canadian magazine distribution, won’t be available on Canadian newsstands until Thursday at the earlies. Perhaps I can draw a bridge from Remnick’s comment to our own domestic Canadian situation, though, by noting with Remnick that “in the 2008 election, [Putin] made a joke of democratic procedure and, in effect, engineered for himself an anti-constitutional third term.”

It would have been handy, given what has ensued, if Western leaders had made more of a fuss about that bit of trickery while it was happening. But Stephen Harper, who fancies himself a world-striding leader on a scale few of his predecessors even attempted, made no official statement about the Russian election and no public comment that anyone remembers. The Foreign Affairs website contains no comment by the former minister, Maxime Bernier. As for Georgia, it might be easier for Canada to argue any strategic interest in that country if its governments had ever bothered to open an embassy there.


Georgia/Russia: Remnick surfaces, with a roar

  1. Putin is smarter than his Western counterparts, in part because he is ruthless and not constrained by ideology. He is constrained by economics and demographics.

    Surprisingly the American government seems to be more enlightened than usual. Even Karl Rove says “don’t write off the Europeans”. The military aid sent in by Bush is more for the benefit of Poland than it is for Georgia.

    I doubt that Remnick’s column is going to keep the usual commentators here from falling back on clichés about NATO and the Cold War. But it’s too bad. The West has blown its opportunity to support Europe by rushing into Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The only thing going for our NATO colleagues is that China and Russia are more interested in maintaining free markets tahn we are.

  2. Thanks for the link. It’s not only the newsstand copies that haven’t arrived yet.

  3. pw writes: “It would have been handy, given what has ensued, if Western leaders had made more of a fuss about that bit of trickery while it was happening.”

    I’m not sure what you’re getting at here, or why it would have been handy. How?

    We don’t comment publicly when the US President is alleged to have undertaken acts that are unconstitutional, or on suggestions that Dick Cheney been the defacto President on matters Iraqi (after he selected himself as the VP designate).

    Can you elaborate? I don’t follow your point.


  4. I think you’ve got this backwards – “it might be easier for Canada to argue any strategic interest in that country if its governments had ever bothered to open an embassy there.” I think embassies should follow our strategic interests, not the other way around. Shouldn’t we open embassies where we actually have strategic interests, rather than opening them so we can more persuasively pretend we have strategic interests? Substantively, I don’t think this makes much sense anyway. If we had an embassy there, what would that change? Why would the Russians take our umbrage more seriously if four or five DFAIT employees were in Tblisi? Maybe you’re thinking they could have sent Holy Fuck over there to drive the Russians out? I like the band, but this might be asking a bit much of them.

  5. Actually, Bunnybuns, we don’t disagree. Precisely my point: embassies should follow strategic interests. No embassy followed our strategic interests to Georgia because we have none, or not enough.

  6. My mistake – I wondered why you were changing your mind about the strategic importance of Georgia. I was thrown off since the paragraph begins by suggesting Canada and others should have condemned the recent Russian elections, then seems to include the absence of a Georgian embassy in a list of other things Canada failed to do. I think you’re right that the bigger interest is in promoting democracy in the region, particularly in Russia (although I wonder how important Canada thinks term limits really are). It’s difficult to see what Canada should do now to pursue that goal. Supporting Georgia in the current situation might undermine democracy in both Georgia and Russia…Remnick’s conclusion is a nice challenge: “Putin’s is a new and subtler game: he is the autocrat who calls on the widow of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. To deal with him will require statecraft of a kind that has proved well beyond the capacities of our current practitioners.” It will be interesting to see some suggestions for this new kind of statecraft.

  7. Being perhaps creepily-familiar with Paul’s repertoire of running jokes, I have to confess to some surprise that he hasn’t yet suggested Harper advance Canadian interests in the region by reappointing Sarkis Assadourian to the position of Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on Near Eastern and South Caucasus Affairs.

  8. You know me too well, Tom. Biting my tongue has taken heroic restraint.

    Actually, the Sarkis thing shows how hard it is to actually be forward-looking in politics. His assignment was the worst kind of political cynicism — and it turns out Canada could actually have used a special Caucasus advisor. Hmm.

  9. Well, I have previously acknowledged his mastery of sarcasm, so perhaps I got sucked in again.

    I think, or not.