Ignoring the Facts, Driving Blithely On
By Yulia Latynina
Last week, President Vladimir Putin stated his hope that, after the bombings in London, the West would stop using double standards when it came to terrorism. The media got their hands on the secret report on the situation in the North Caucasus written by the presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, Dmitry Kozak. And last but not least, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov celebrated when the city lost its bid to host the 2012 Olympics.
What's the connection between these seemingly unrelated events? They are all symptoms of the same disorder: the authorities' absolute imperviousness to realistic information.
Why did the Moscow authorities decide to orchestrate a celebration on Vasilyevsky Spusk as the International Olympic Committee announced the winning city for 2012? Because Luzhkov really, really wanted to host the Games, both to earn political dividends and to help out his wife, one of the biggest players in the Moscow construction business. Since the mayor really wanted the Olympics, he more or less publicly declared that anyone expressing doubt about Moscow's bid was an agent of the West trying to drag Russia into the Orange Revolution orbit.
After this kind of declaration, it became next to impossible for the mayor's close associates to tell him that the city's chances were slim. No one wants to get a reputation as an agent of the West.
Since no one said anything to the contrary, it meant Moscow was destined to win. And if Moscow was going to win, a celebration was in order. It was a lot easier for officials to scare up a crowd than to give the mayor a reality check.
Why did Kozak's secret report get leaked to the press? Because it was the only way to get the president to pay attention. Otherwise, the report would have likely gathered dust in some corner. After all, Kozak warned that Dagestan might break away from Russia, while everyone else around Putin is talking about the peace process unfolding in the Caucasus.
Why did Putin feel the need to harp on "double standards" right after the terrorist attacks in London? Because as many Russians offered flowers and condolences at the British Embassy, Russian state television seemed to say, "See? We told you so!" The implication was that Britain granted asylum to terrorists like Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev, and now it was paying the price. Even Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin joined in the chorus of criticism, which was simply embarrassing.
Putin sincerely wanted to fight terrorism in cooperation with the West. But then came Beslan, when some believe hostages came under fire from tanks and flamethrowers. The morning after the bloodbath, Putin should have bitten the bullet and tried to find those responsible for the mess. And he found them: The culprits were those who still see Russia as a threat.
Now, something similar has struck London. Putin could have faced facts and honestly acknowledged that the terrorists and the West are not in cahoots against Russia. But instead he returned to the old double standards shtick.
The Kremlin is a lot like a driver whose windshield has been replaced by a television screen. Instead of the mountain switchback ahead of him, the driver sees only an open highway. Under such conditions, the joy ride won't last long.
Yulia Latynina hosts a talk show on Ekho Moskvy.