Hudson/Sommers: Western Media Predictably Minimizes Russia’s Sochi Accomplishments

By Michael Hudson and Jeffrey Sommers, a distinguished professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, respectively, who have both advised members of Latvia’s government on alternatives to austerity. Originally published at Counterpunch by permission of the authors

The Sochi Olympics were the great success Russia hoped for. The opening ceremonies proved a radiant display drawing on Russia’s most compelling cultural assets. This artful look back to Russia’s past greatness proved both a reminder and challenge to its own people to reprise their historical greatness going forward. Meanwhile, its closing ceremonies reprised these themes, reminding the viewer of Russia’s continued vibrancy in the arts.

From an economic vantage point, national hosts for Olympic games always use them as an occasion for enormous infrastructure spending for economic development. One of us (Hudson) was the economist for Montreal brokerage houses back in 1976 when every French Canadian family seemed to become millionaires on the games’ cost overruns. The usual argument by governments is to hire a Keynesian economist who will say, “Spend tens of $billions and the multiplier will generate hundreds of $billions in national income. Taxes at 20% will recover all the expense, so in an economy with under-employment, whatever you spend on the Olympics will be free.” This is the kind of argument that World Bank economists use to justify infrastructure investment by underdeveloped countries, and what any Olympic host city argues to minimize the vast cost overruns that always occur. Construction contracts are about as honest as figure skating judging.

At least this argument is better than trickle-down economics. For Russia, the Sochi Olympics did for that city’s infrastructure what the Olympics did for Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and other sites. But for Russia, it was the first real Keynesian-type investment in infrastructure to start rebuilding the nation physically – in an economy where construction has not been the strong suit that it has in Western economies.

If there were any time for those hostile to Russia to provoke an intemperate move, this was it. The games were supposed to show a positive Russian face to the world, helping heal the old Cold War tensions. So, from Mr. Putin’s vantage point, the worst thing that could happen would be a distraction to remind the world of old Soviet-era repression. So of course, this was precisely what the Western press played up. To read the New York Times or Washington Post, the real sporting event was whether the police would descend on Pussy Riot’s sideshow. Russia did itself no favors by sending Cossacks to deal with what would otherwise have been a nearly invisible Pussy Riot protest performance. If Putin’s aim was to promote a view of Russia as a modern developing country, that of the demonstrators was to identify his government as modern-day Stalinists.

In advance of the games American audiences were regaled with ‘Orange Alert’ tales of impending doom from terrorist attacks on the demonstrations staged by the regime’s opponents. But the Russian government dealt deftly to provide security for the games while seeing the Western anti-public relations ploy and did not overreact. The games were indeed about athletics, not minority rights, separatism and anti-authoritarian democracy. There was nothing like the violence seen in New York City when the city’s police descended on the peaceful Occupy Wall Street demonstration after 1:30 AM and started smashing the equipment of the demonstrators (especially their guitars and musical instruments), trashing their library and driving them out, with liberal use of pepper spray on the defenseless.

Russia poorly conceived Cossack intervention aside, it refrained from doing anything on the scale of what Mayor Bloomberg did to Occupy Wall Street. This contrast was not drawn by the Western media. The last thing that they would promote was the idea of Russia new role as peacebroker on the international stage. So there was no mention of how Russian pressure on Bashar al-Assad in Syria prevented an escalation of conflict there that could have rippled through the Middle East, providing fertile terrain for the expansion of the Al-Qaeda franchise in the U.S.-backed alliance. Putin’s act in saving the US from a disastrous intervention might have helped the ‘reset’ on US-Russian cooperation and security relations.

Leading up to the Sochi Olympics were reports from US media of failed infrastructure on the ground. Hotel rooms were not quite ready. The water was yellow (as usually is the case in newly built and plumbed buildings). The real story, of course, was precisely the vast infrastructure investment in building. This was a new path for Russia, where construction had languished ever since 1917 as the economy pushed industrialization more than residential or commercial building.

Yet here was a regional city that had been living under near-Third World conditions before the Olympic reconstruction began. Sochi even lacked potable water – a condition still found in many parts of Russia since the collapse of the USSR. The economic success of Sochi has been to turn it into a modern city in the making, with infrastructure that will contribute to its long-term potential to become a tourist destination.

The Olympics thus served as a catalyst to bring money and development to the Caucasus. This is, after all, the best tonic against the Islamic fundamentalist movements that thrive most in poverty. The Sochi success thus is a first step in a constructive and peaceful mode of dealing with terrorism, in contrast to the devastation that has been wrought in post-revolution Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.

Sochi represents the kind of development that should take place across all of Russia. It is much better than building up sovereign wealth funds to play in stock markets. Russia’s money and resources – above all its labor – is best employed at home, and construction has been lacking for too long. It typically accounts for 10 percent of GDP in advanced countries. (In hothouse Ireland it rose to 25% of GDP by 2007.) Where better to spend credit and money than on infrastructure to transform Russia’s economy and living standards?

What has collapsed the past two decades is not only much of Russia’s infrastructure, but its prospective middle class. Nothing would go further toward rebuilding prosperity than a national program to transform the country’s infrastructure. Sochi has shown the way forward. That is the real story that the Western media have sidestepped.

The usual corruption charges were leveled against the Sochi Olympics, as in every such games within memory. That is what happens with big construction projects everywhere. Yet there was no reminiscing about similar events over the pasts three or four decades, or for the role in such infrastructure investment in catalyzing an economic takeoff. If Russia becomes a leading actor in the struggle for clean government in the realm of big construction, it will be nearly among the first nation to do this, and let’s hope it can be.

The other major criticism of Russia as the games approached led to many Americans not attend: Russia’s recent discriminatory laws against the LGBT community. These laws are mostly designed to pacify socially conservative elements in Russia (as right-wing as American Christian churches – well, maybe not quite as intolerant, but you get the picture). But the reality is that these laws are not being enforced in any serious way. While we hardly support these measures, the best way to deal with this issue will be real economic development of the type presented by Sochi. Development leads to tolerance.

The most serious human rights challenge in Russia is that from ethnic vigilante groups. They are the gangs taking real action against their targets as they once did in the US. In this instance the Russian government has moved aggressively to thwart this dangerous trend.

What would Dick Cheney have done if Russian NGOs sponsored separatist movements in Texas, California or New England? How would US police have reacted against armed revolutionaries seizing the armory and throwing Molotov cocktails and bombs at public buildings, killing police, painting swastikas on Jewish houses and claiming vigilante justice? If this is Obama’s “reset” with Russia, he is resetting the Cold War by setting the neocons loose in the former Soviet economies. If there is one thing that the CIA has shown its competence in, it is in setting one ethnic group against the others – Sunni vs Shiite, Kurd against Arab, Persian against them all. When other countries seek to defend a multi-ethnic secular state, the US foreign office in all cases has backed the fundamentalists for the past half-century. Let’s hope Obama moves away from these hardline elements in his State Department and more toward the type of cooperation with Russia that prevented a US invasion of Sryia.

Sochi shows that Russia can pull off world-class projects on the global stage. The games proved how Russia can transform its economy through infrastructure investment in a way that can build up a middle class while countering religious and racist fundamentalist discontent.

The US has a curious double standard when it comes to Russian leaders. The Western press applauded Boris Yeltsin for unleashing tanks on Russia’s elected parliament in 1993, and Wall Street applauded when he turned over the country’s wealth to oligarchs. Contrast this with the treatment of Putin. Although not an ideal democrat in the ‘Western’ mold, he has shown himself a potentially valuable partner for the US in foreign affairs and he hasn’t unleashed tanks on parliament.

Would not the world be a much better place with a developed and thriving Russia, building up a middle class through a construction boom? Wouldn’t Russia better develop if blocked the escape of its national wealth to offshore banks located in the West? What terrifies the West is that Russia may in fact do as the Americans have historically done in building up protected industry and agriculture and introducing a rule of law aiming at nationwide development rather than a client kleptocracy. That is the real nightmare of the US press, judging from its Olympic coverage: that Russia may succeed and provide an alternative to the renewal of Cold War-like belligerence now being encouraged by the American “resets” from Ukraine to Sochi.

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  1. Ditto

    As a gay man, I am going to cheer Russia as much as I would Uganda.

    At the end of the day, we have to get out of these simple frames of us v them.

    The U.S. sucks.

    Russia sucks too.

  2. Lafayette

    Indeed the winter Olympics were an event Russians can be proud of carrying off well, in fact very well. Also given that they proved to be champion medal winners.

    Still, the fact that the program development was one Giant Bamboozle favoring Putin’s crony-oligarchs cannot be forgot. And those worker who have yet to be paid … what is to become of them whilst Putin, in particular, bathes in its post-games glory?

    I would be particularly pleased if the Russianscould understand that they have the werewithal amongst them, as a nation of people, and do not need oligarchs to tell them what to do and how to do it.

    Let’s hope that they rise to the challenge of embarking upon real Russian democracy … Sochi proved that they are certainly capable of doing so …

  3. vlade

    I have to say that this reminds me entirely of the support for Stalin regime (and Hitler’s) in 1930s by variety of Western “intelectuals” (or not, as was the case in Germany).

    Served to bring money to Caucasus – well, yes. But the money didn’t go down, it stayed in pockets of the local rich (and not-so-local rich). The poor, as always, were the ones who were showed out of their homes so that gigantic stadiums could be built (and some had no replacement to go to as late as early Feb).

    There’s no question that there’s corruption in West. But in Russia it’s THE game in the town. There’s pretty much no other. I have expereince with it, as does a number of my friends. I know at least two people who started a club/restaurant in Moscow only to be “bought out” by locals (I hesitate to call it organized crime since some were memebers of the police and law enforcement) by pittance when it started being successfull. And the choice was “you sell or you/your family will have accidents”.

    Talking about Russia from a nice comfy office in the US w/o living there for a few years (not for a few months as a guest of the govt or some large corporation) is just dumb. About as dumb as invading Iraq/Afghanistan w/o understanding the country.

    Of course there’s a lot of hypocrisy in the West re Russia, China etc. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have problems (and aren’t equally hypocritical re West).

  4. Frank

    I’ve admired a lot of Hudson’s work, but this is laughable. Brushing off an incredibly expensive outlier of waste as the “usual corruption” is bizarre. Individual oligarchs may have made 100s of millions of dollars…for what? Shoddily constructed Olympic villages? Luge tracks that may never be used again? If that’s their idea of “development,” how can they turn around and complain about inequality?

    Never mentioning the crushing of the LGBT community, to consolidate fascist power, is cowardly. The authors need to face up to the full consequences of their “it takes a few broken eggs to make an omelette” attitude.

    The rap on mindless Keynesianism has long been “these people would try to stimulate growth by burying money in bottles and then paying people to dig it back up.” That would be a more productive project than Sochi.

    I’m really hoping this post is some overly subtle joke or satire.

    1. Clive

      Yes, I’m right with you there Frank.

      I can mostly “get” what the authors were trying to do here. My neighbour who was born in Columbia and who’s family still lives there (where they are members of the 1% and so definitely come at this issue from a specific angle and with a definite agenda) offers much the same conclusions as the authors do — in simple form, the US in many ways preferred Columbia when it was a failed state. It is happy enough with Columbia when it fully embraces the neoliberal cause (that is “good Columbia”). If it forgets it place and starts to think about responding to its population’s long held clamour for equality and social justice, then it quickly becomes “bad Columbia”. What the US seemingly can’t abide is an economically successful Columbia on its own terms. If it tries to do too much of that, the US would rather see it come unstuck than make it work. Then it could revert to its familiar role of “rescuers” of central American “problem countries”. The Harry Potter series has less volumes than that story.

      But… but… but… that doesn’t excuse wrongdoing. And there’s plenty of that to go round where Russia is concerned. The authors don’t actually go as far as talking about “acceptable collateral damage”. On reading their feature though, it sounds like that’s what they are driving at.

    2. TimR

      Well in the West, the LGBT community is moving from triumph to triumph — and yet somehow TPTB still manage to consolidate fascist power!

      1. Synopticist

        The west using gay rights as a stick to hit Russia with really pisses me off. So the Russians are 15 years behind the US and the UK. The Saudis are 200 years behind, and we don’t make a fuss.

        It’s just bollocks.

      2. OIFVet

        That’s because identity politics are used to distract the sheeple from the fact that both parties are shearing them to the skin. Get the sheeple to fight about gay marriage or abortion and keep them fighting lest they develop class conscienceness and take on the American oligarchy and its political servants. I am happy for the gays but their right to marry has exactly zero effect on anyone’s financial well-being (except perhaps lobbyists and lawyers).

    3. Banger

      I don’t think the LGBT community is being “crushed” in Russia. Colbert had a reporter cavorting at a gay bar in Sochi. I’m sure that the situation in Russian is something like our own situation a couple of decades ago. Also, let’s be clear here, much of the opposition to gay sex there comes from the Russian Orthodox church that Putin has used to consolidate power in the countryside.

      Russia, like Iran is a deep culture Americans, generally, would not be able to understand. Political systems are deceptive and we are way too obsessed with political ideology. Culture is far more important than either politics or economics. For example, poetry and all that represents in terms of a deeper level of consciousness is very important in both Russia and Iran–while in the U.S. poetry is an object of fun or ignored. In Russia art is important on the level of the soul and in the U.S. it is mainly a product to be bought and sold based on fashion not depth of feeling.

      BTW, I don’t like the Russian attitudes towards the LGBT community but that is not all there is to Russian society.

      Also, the mass corruption of the Sochi project pales in comparison with the mass corruption that is a daily part of life in the USA.

      1. susan the other

        Mass corruption is almost synonymous with massive overruns. It cost Russia a fortune to build Sochi in so short a time frame. It was money that seems to have gone unaccounted for. Underground. That means only one thing to an old-timer like me: hidden military expense. Whether or not Sochi was considered a strategic outpost on Russia’s southern border, a place to mark its territory, is not talked about even tho’ Ukraine has just blown up. But considering all that is going on in the northern middle east it is not a stretch to imagine Russia planning Sochi as a strategic point of defense. Not to mention that Sochi has traditionally been a summer resort. Go figure.

        1. Banger

          Not bad–there is probably something in what you say. Building there puts “facts on the ground” as the Israelis like to say.

    4. Calgacus

      @Frank: Sochi was not “an incredibly expensive outlier of waste.” Potable water for a city is not a waste.
      Vlade: But in Russia it’s [corruption is] THE game in the town.

      This misses the true “outlier of waste”.
      It is much better than building up sovereign wealth funds to play in stock markets.

      The USA and Wall Street are far more corrupt than Russia. After all, if you’re a thief, who do you rob? The richest country in the world, and by corrupting it, the whole world? Or a formerly great power struggling to get up? Russia – corruption on the scale or restaurants and construction. Whoop-de-do. USA – corruption on the scale of whole countries at a time – like sovereign wealth funds = give wealth created by a country’s people and resources directly to Wall Street. It just isn’t possible to run a construction project wastefully enough, corruptly enough to compare with having Russia (or Norway) squander its wealth and labor by these idiocies.

      Keynesian economics. When there is unemployment, government (or other) “waste” is productive. Efficiency is inefficient.
      All still true.

      1. vlade

        The problem with the “waste” (i.e. corruption) in Russia is that the money wasted leaves the country to be parked in London/NYC housing and swiss bank accounts, or pay for Ferraris/Porsches etc. Very little of it flows to the local economy.

        1. Calgacus

          Right. But this is Hudson’s point too that boondoggles like Sochi are positive overall, especially considering the historical lack of needed construction.

          1. vlade

            Yep, as per his comment lower. But I still don’t buy it. One reason I don’t buy it is because it makes the corruption even more visible than a lots of smaller projects. Or should I say, it makes it even more visible that there’s no downside to corruption (now, that was a chance wasted..). I believe that the distortion from that more than offsets any potential up-skilling and skill transfers, if there was much of that (again, I doubt but am open to being persuaded otherwise by someone who has the data).

      2. vlade

        Incindentally, if you believe that the state corruption in Russia is any less than in West, you’re gravely mistaken. The main difference here is that in the West the middle-level corruption (as in say pay the beaurocrats to get into the right school, be able to build a house, run a small company etc.) is relatively small, the corruption is mostly concentrated at the high levels (and renamed lobbying). In Russia (and elsewhere) it peermates the whole society, from the poorest to the richest. I doubt you’d meet many people who lived in Russia for more than a year and didn’t meet with corruption in one form or another.

  5. George

    The claim that Western media is downplaying the Russians’ accomplishments at Sochi is bizarre. Commentary I’ve seen (e.g., Boston Globe), has been highly praiseworthy, referring to the Cossacks beating of women with horse whips as merely a “blip” and barely mentioning at all the three-year sentence of environmentalist Yevgeny Vitishko for simply opening his mouth about the negative environmental impacts of the game preparations. Imagine what these thugs do to dissenters when the world is not watching.

    1. kk

      The Cossack beating was a schtick arranged by Pussy Riot themselves. (That is not to detract from other cases where their criticism is useful and valid. But…. It is not what it seems!)

  6. TimR

    I was struck by the tone of the reporting as well, and I don’t even watch TV, so I probably missed the brunt of it. I did talk to a few people who watched the TV coverage, and they found the constant carping on Russia very off-putting, and just plain rude (as in, we’re guests in their country so simple good manners is to not be in a confrontational mode.)
    Sometimes the media seems to be too obviously playing their propaganda instructions. My acquaintances are skeptical of the media, but not to the point of entirely giving up on them; and yet even they found it over the top.
    I wonder how many others in the public felt uncomfortable, as they tried to square their own common courtesy with the media’s attempt to normalize Russophobia. Or are my acquaintances unusual. Perhaps the USAers are just a lot of techno-buffoons with heads rammed in rumps, as Morris Berman has it, and they didn’t bat an eye at the media coverage.
    (Maybe some will reply that “courtesy” and “manners” are incommensurate to the seriousness of Russia’s offenses? But if one believes that, why would you take part in sporting events with them.)

    1. Banger

      I was offended by the coverage of the opening ceremonies that, ironically, any gay man would love. This was arty stuff they produced–compare that with the absolute drek that is normal for the Super Bowl.

      While I was watching the commentators were talking about how repressive the government was and how misleading the Russian history part of the show was. Just let us watch it! Are American entertainments even remotely correct about our grand mythologies?

      1. Klassy

        Oh god, so right. One of the commentators (included the execrable David Remnick) speculated on how they were going to cover the Soviet era as if 1)that was the only era in Russian history with any repression (umm… didn’t Dostoyevsky spend some time in a gulag?) and 2)that the US would be sure to incorporate all the atrocities committed by the government in a similar ceremony. Oh sorry! The US does not have any such history.
        Actually, I was charmed by the ceremonies. Russia’s celebration of their cultural achievements beats Great Britain’s celebration of the industrial revolution and the national health service. One is an end. The other is simply a means to an end.

  7. Carolinian

    Cronyism and corruption, oligarchs running the show, religious figures sponsoring laws against gay rights….thank gawd we don’t have anything like that here.

    I think some of the commenters are missing Hudson’s point–which is not to soft pedal the problems in Russia but to highlight the double standard of deliberately seeing it through a single issue lens. It’s like the old Cold War days when readers of Pravda might think the U.S. was about nothing more than homeless people and race riots.

    Personally I’d like to know more about Russia–the real Russia–so all hail Hudson and other internet sources that try to go a bit deeper. It’s hard to deny that the mainstream media filter all things Russian through what can only be described as a propaganda lens.

  8. Harry Shearer

    Like Los Angeles? In 1984? The whole point of the LA bid, coming as it did after the near-bankrupting of Montreal and the boycott of Moscow, was that the city would deign to take the Olympics, but on condition of almost no new infrastructure building. LA, after all, had hosted the 1932 Olympics, and most of those structures were still standing. The LA Olympics used very little if any public money, becoming the first instead to open the Games to private sponsorship. I believe only an updated swim stadium and a new velodrome were constructed in LA, and no new road or other basic infrastructure building was undertaken. Like London 1948, LA was an “austerity Olympics”.

    1. Bruno Marr

      …well, sort of.

      The 1984 LA Olympics required enormous volunteerism and “stay off the highway ” discipline by the locals to a heroic extent. That is what allowed the Games to function smoothly; since many of the pre-existing venues were scattered across the LA landscape. (But, of course, Peter Uberoth took all the credit.) Go figure.

  9. Banger

    Coverage of Russia and the Olympics in Sochi was not very good. The “line” comes out of Washington that Russia is “the enemy” now so all things Russian, particularly Putin and his people are constantly made fun of at Comedy Central and elsewhere on the left and right, canards like Ukraine was a dictatorship now liberated from corrupt pro-Russian oligarchs persist in all parts of the media just as the media ignores negative stories about “friends” like Saudi Arabia. The mainstream media has evolved into, largely, a propaganda organs for the Deep State and reflects various disagreements within that State but is nothing even remotely close to a “free press.”

    Russia has problems and is run by oligarchs but so is nearly every country in the world and this should be obvious to people who pay attention. Each culture handles dissent differently–in the U.S. demonstrators like there were in Kiev who are intent on overthrowing a freely elected government of corrupt leaders would be shot down like mad dogs in the street had they done what the Ukrainian demonstators did. In fact these mobs overthrew the government with direct aid from the US/EU alliance. Not to say that Russia is some innocent bystander–they supported the corrupt government so now we will have a corrupt government that favors the EU–will it make a difference for Ukraine? Not much–which is better IMF control or Russian control? I don’t know–sounds like a bad choice either way but such is power politics.

    My point is that we are now positioning ourselves to get into a series of confrontation with the Russian state and that should make sure that international tensions are maintained and the dollars flowing into the Deep State.

  10. Michael Hudson

    I hear your complaints about the tone. Those of you who know my background know that there’s no way I ever could be a pro-Russian apologist.
    What I am trying to encourage there is recognition that they need to set up a construction industry, not merely manufacturing as their perverse reading of “Marxism” led Stalin to do. The great failure of Russian capital investment was to ignore construction — just look at what they built as far west as Dresden and Riga, buildings that were hopelessly crude with only a 20-year lifetime.
    They have a steep learning curve in construction, and have to begin SOMEWHERE. Better to build condominiums and apartment buildings and office buildings than tanks.
    One also could criticize China for building cities that are largely empty. My point was that the cost overruns are typical of most Olympics and other fairs. that’s endemic. I was pointing to the double standard at work.
    For Russian economic planners, the fact that construction does not yield a “profit” (unless used for rack-renting) often means that the sector should be ignored. Or, under Stalin, it was viewed as a “consumer good,” not capital investment and thus was ignored. Jeff Sommers and I wrote this largely for Russian consumption along lines we’ve been urging them to follow in re-thinking their economic planning.

    1. vlade

      Ok, now I understand the post better. That said, if you do want to build a construction industry, there are better ways than massive projects. For example, Russia could do with a massive road network improvement (something like postwar building of the interstates in the US). Or even rail network improvement. Or improving residential building (some of the concrete apartments building _could_ actually be improved, their lifetime massively extended and made into actually pretty good living, see experience from some places in Czech/Poland etc.)
      It’s not like they are going to build many more curling stadiums in Russia, but they could use much more infra.
      But the corruption there is still a problem – why would you try to build well if you can build shodily and make more money? To be fair to Russia, it’s a problem in pretty much all of ex eastern block, _especially_ in construction. There were massive corruption scandals in Poland around the construction for the recent soccer European Championship, and IIRC Skanska had a big corruption problem in Czech recently.

      All of them (poles, czechs etc.) can build well if they want to, but often they have no incentive to do so. There’s a very good example of incentives here. Polish builders were coming en-masse here (the UK) five years ago, and for the first few years you got excellent quality for low prices (compared to British builders). That was because they believed that in capitalist west you have to do quality to sell (unlike at home). This is a quote from one of the chaps I talked to. Then they found (as the housing boom was going on), that shoddy quality will do, and reverted to (the UK) type, so right now there’s no difference between polish and british builder (i.e. quality is more related to the builder’s personality than nationality, while 8-9 years ago nationality was not a bad indicator of quality/price)

      So it’s more about incentives than economic planning per se. Say when Moscow olypmics were on, the quality was driven by “quality or gulag”. I’m not saying that Russians can’t get incentives right to do quality build, and that those incentives can’t be entirely different from US/UK ones. But they do have to look at what the incentives are.

  11. Jeffrey Sommers

    I can understand why some might see the article’s tone as too pro-Russian. Our intention on one level was to counter-balance the reflexively anti-Russian tone present in US media. Yeltsin, who trashed Russia’s economy and middle class, and in doing so, made if fertile ground for homophobic and racist ideas to fester, was celebrated in US media during the 1990s. Meanwhile, Russis under Putin, while certainly not without problems is always reviled.

    Our intention was to send a positive signal to Russia and Russians that we think the way forward for Russia is precisely with the type of real development (construction/infrastructure) that was seen in Sochi. Lecturing them on human rights is likely to have no effect (or even be counter-productive). Meanwhile, their successful development would re-build their middle class and create conditions fostering tolerance for diversity.

    1. Banger

      Anti-Russian propaganda is not just a distaste for Russia’s political culture but for Russia’s culture as a whole. Personally, I have always loved Russian culture but the issues that, for example, Russian literature deals with (depth) is not well-liked in the US.

      1. TimR

        Yes, there are some qualities (wisdom) that the US lacks.
        It would seem that Russia has certain properties (soul) that we Americans are missing.
        It’s just too bad that we in the US can’t appreciate certain things (poetry, art) that other cultures can.
        haha. Sometimes I just gotta say “maybe Berman is right…” (and Banger, though you’re not as brutal as he is.)

        1. Banger

          No, I know Berman’s work well and I’m definitely not that disgusted with the U.S. though I agree with him about the South being a better place to live than where I spent most of my life in the Northeast. It took me awhile to understand it.

    2. Abe, NYC

      I disagree. I may be wrong but my impression is that Yeltsin’s honeymoon with Western media only lasted a couple of years (indeed, it was shorter than Putin’s, who was widely respected in his first 4 or 5 years in office). After that, Yeltsin was despised and ridiculed – a fact that was not lost on Russians.

      Anti-Russian bias does exist. In the US, you hardly see any recognition of Russia’s vast contribution into art, science, and technology. But whatever Russia has achieved in Putin’s years has been mostly despite his policies rather than thanks to them.

      $100/barrel oil definitely didn’t hurt either. Russia could afford infrastructure spending on a vast scale if it wasn’t for corruption that defies imagination. Instead, untold trillions have financed the development in the Mediterranean, London, and New York.

      Russian middle class doesn’t need help, it has largely revived and is best left alone to develop and flourish. Instead it is harassed by police and vast, incredibly corrupt bureaucracy that has slowly strangled the economy even in the face of pretty favorable environment.

      Finally, Putin has played the nationalist card, and in a multi-ethnic country like Russia that is playing with fire. When the economy hits the wall – and that’s bound to happen sooner than later – the tension that the rising wealth has kept under lid is bound to boil over. And then you can easily have a repeat of 1990s or in the worst case, 1910s.

  12. Abe, NYC

    Sochi surely helped fuel a construction boom, right here in Manhattan. I don’t know what part of the $51 billion turned up in London or New York real estate, but surely more than a trivial billion or two, driving property prices further out of reach of disappearing middle class folks like myself.

    Corruption around Olympics is a part of life. But to quote Marx, quantity transforms into quality, and the quantity of Putin’s Russia’s corruption is in a class of its own, witness the games that cost times more than the next most expensive Olympics. The very selection of the site, tucked in a southernmost corner of the most developed part of the largest and coldest country on the planet, speaks for itself. Snow had to be stored from last winter at significant cost, and competitions took place at 70F. A site at the Ural mountains, or in Siberia, or at least Northern parts of European Russia would be far more appropriate and transportation links and other construction built for that, far more valuable for long-term development of the country.

    Anti-Russian bias of Western media (even the BBC) was very evident during the Olympics, that is true. It’s dwarfed by the anti-Western bias of Putin’s media – like all dictators, he likes to hide his incompetence and corruption behind encircled-by-enemies rhetoric – but that’s beside the point. The Games were apparently well organized and went very well (they better, for the record expenditure). But most of what Western media say about Putin’s Russia is actually true. I admire Michael Hudson’s analyses, but this article is neither here nor there, and the justification of unjustifiable policies is indefensible.

  13. JerseyJeffersonian

    Well, with a few notable exceptions, this thread has been an unedifying experience. My local paper of record has, even today when you think that they might have eased off a bit, been indulging in a mindless orgy of Russophobia. A few days ago, and all in the same issue, they printed some story of ginned-up loathing concerning Sochi, an embarrassingly vile political cartoon, and a screed from one of their regular columnists that amounted to an unhinged rant about President Putin taking his shirt off when playing the outdoorsman. Of course, had President Obama doffed his shirt while playing basketball, she would have found all sorts of reasons that this was a salutary example for the nation that Fitness Counts, or some such fawning “Cult of Personality” tripe.

    You know, George Orwell, in his novel 1984 described the daily ritual, inescapably administered via the television to all of the unlucky citizens of Oceania, of the Two Minutes Hate. Would that the concerted blast of hate against all things Russian being vomited out through every television, print publication, and yes, internet comment section were limited to only two minutes, rather than being the unrelenting flood that it has proven to be. Information operation anyone?

    You know, I found this passage in the Wikipedia article, Two Minutes Hate, and thought it rather apposite to what I have lately been seeing:

    “Within the book, the purpose of the Two Minutes Hate is said to satisfy the citizens’ subdued feelings of angst and hatred from leading such a wretched, controlled existence. By re-directing these subconscious feelings away from the Oceanian government and toward external enemies (which likely do not even exist), the Party minimizes subversive thought and behavior.”

    So here we all are: the Rule of Law, that we were told was the distinguishing hallmark of our so-called society is twisted beyond all recognition; those who protested via Occupy, had their heads split, and their eyes and throats seared with pepper spray when the transparently co-ordinated nationwide crackdown closed off that avenue; more and more of us are living closer to the bone, our jobs a subject of anxiety, pensions imperiled, our young peoples’ futures at risk; our mis-leaders not at all interested in the welfare of the citizenry (citizenry? to them at best we are “consumers”) here at home, while at the same time they are instigating and prosecuting wars all over the globe.

    Now, re-read that quoted passage, and reflect on this; we have been reduced to tormented beasts trapped in the Skinner box of the authoritarian neo-liberal surveillance state through having had every expectation of justice and mercy denied us, our lives coarsened, and our hopes for the future of ourselves and of our children stripped. An inchoate rage suffuses our minds, because we are denied redress. You want to – or it is convenient for somebody else to have you – lash out to give outlet to the suppressed loathing for your enslavement?

    Time for Two Minutes Hate?

    WARDANCE by Killing Joke

    The atmosphere’s strange out on the town
    Music for pleasure, it’s not music no more
    Music to dance to, music to move
    This is music to march to

    It’s a wardance, a wardance

    Look at the victim scrawled on the wall
    You know the, the reason
    Outside the door you got something
    Nasty in your mind, trying to get out

    It’s a wardance, a wardance

    We walk round the pitch, honesty is sick
    Try to be honest, look what you get
    The food runs short and then the money talks
    One way out, your premonition is correct

    A wardance


    As Pete Townsend had it in one of the songs from Quadrophenia,

    “My karma tells me
    You’ve been screwed again.
    If you let them do it to you
    You’ve got yourself to blame.
    It’s you who feels the pain
    It’s you that feels ashamed.”

    Do not unreflectingly think or do things of which you will later have reason to be ashamed. It may very well be convenient for the Elites to have you deflect your rage against them onto other people. They pay people to engineer this very outcome all of the time; surely you can cite cases of this from your own experience. Can you do better than to accede to the manipulation?

    1. Abe, NYC

      The Cold War is long over. All the reflexive negativity poured on Russia may be a relic of the Cold War, but Islamic Terrorism replaced Russia as the Existential Threat years ago. In Russia, however, American gay imperialists and their European puppets are routinely presented as an existential threat that should cause the people to rally around Dear Leader Putin and Spiritual Leader Kirill in defense of Russian sovereignty, culture, and religion.

      I admire Russian culture and arts, but just because Putin is reviled in MSM doesn’t mean the criticism is all wrong.

      1. JerseyJeffersonian

        Did I say that? No.

        What I did say was that the great game of redirecting the thoroughly justified anger and frustration of US citizens away from their appropriate target – the Elites who fleece, abuse, and mock them – is on. The vilification of The Other is a time-tested tactic of great utility to the powerful in any hierarchical society; get the people that they abuse pervasively and constantly, and deprive of meaningful redress, to direct their frustrated hostility against another people, another society, whatever. Anything but their genuine tormenters. But when the Elite, for their own purposes, have mobilized these powerful forces, they play a dangerous game, one that can have consequences over which they have no control.

        Think about this; the Russians have been pounded upon for years and years by those in charge of the neo-liberal security state in a variety of ways. When the Soviet Union was dissolved, there were assurances that NATO would not aggressively push into the near abroad of Russia. This was immediately violated, although there were other ways that it could have gone. Internal subversion of the southern tier of Russian territory was launched, some directly with CIA assistance, some through encouragement of our little Wahabi pals from Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States (like in Syria). The Boyz from Chicago were unleashed on Russia, and the Oligarchs were superempowered, with dire consequences for the citizenry of Russia. It was a multifront aggressive stance that was a continuation of the Cold War, something that never ended in the minds of our Deep State. The object was to stomp Russia and the Russian people into the dirt.

        So is it any wonder that they would feel themselves backed into a corner and under siege? Here’s where the danger of the non-stop hatefest against Russia lies; you give a proud people the sense that they will never be permitted to enjoy sovereignty and safety from aggression, they get fearful. Fearful nations, like an abused and apparently cowed dog, may finally lash out from a need for self preservation. Have our Elites ever given you any reason, any reason whatsoever, to believe that they are not so arrogant and self-deluded that they will keep pushing until something bad happens? Throw in the much ballyhooed “Pivot to Asia”, a transparent attempt to contain China, and a pattern of thoroughgoing aggression stands revealed.

        In whose interest is it to besmirch whole peoples with the broad brush of scorn? Certainly not the people – that would be us – who are being riled up through the agitprop; we only stand to suffer through having our substance eaten up by the militarized state that these tactics inevitably necessitate, and potentially through the wars that may stem from this aggression.

  14. Brian Scanlon

    Good article. I’ve been concerned by the constant din against Putin. He’s the guy who the Russians elected him, so, shut mouf! It’s the Russian’s country; let ’em run it.

    Who wants to see Russia return to the disaster of the late Yeltsin era?

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