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.

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