Feature

Why Putin is actually a moderate.

The week's news at a glance.

Russia

Vremya Novostei

Outsiders tend to see Russia as divided between Kremlin forces and dissident forces, said Alexander Dugin in Moscow’s Vremya Novostei. That’s too simplistic. Under Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin has, in fact, been a kind of middle force between pure nationalists and pure liberals. The liberal, dissident camp wants to foment a kind of Orange Revolution that would create its version of true democracy: “meaning loyalty to the interests of the West and the United States, with external management imposed in Russia.” The patriotic, nationalist camp sees democracy as far less important than sovereignty and independence. If democracy can strengthen Russian independence, fine; if not, out it would go. Putin, though, is in neither camp. “He’s not a harsh ruler, and he’s not the leader of a nation rising up against American hegemony.” He espouses a kind of “managed democracy,” in which Russia maintains democratic institutions—“a parliament, elections, a multiparty system, civil society, liberalism, a free market, capitalism, human rights, and so on”—but the Kremlin retains control of the processes. “Those who portray Putin as a kind of Ivan the Terrible or Stalin” are underestimating the wisdom of his compromise.

United Kingdom: Why no one is weeping for Tony Blair

Even as he leaves office, Tony Blair is shamelessly self–aggrandizing, said Lynda Gilby in the London Sunday Life. Having announced last week his intention to step aside next month, Blair is now marketing his “farewell tour” of Britain with such fanfare, “you would think the man is a heady mix of Gandhi, Churchill, and Mother Teresa.” As we all know too well after 10 years of his leadership, he shares only their confidence, tempered with none of their humility. Blair’s final speech to the Labor Party displayed barely a pang at having “dragged us into an illegal war” in Iraq, “making war criminals out of every last one of us.” If he really thinks Britain will miss him, “his capacity for self–delusion borders on the pathologic.”

Blair’s messiah complex was on full show, said Fergus Shanahan in the Sun. “In his best gulpy quaver, Saint Tony” reminded us that ultimately he would be judged not by history but by a higher power. “I half expected him to be borne aloft on a cloud.” It’s that holier–than–thou attitude that has irritated so many of us for so long. The overdone piety led him to his worst mistake: Iraq, said Dominic Lawson in The Independent. Many people assume he supported the U.S. invasion because he “was above all an actor looking for the biggest stages to display his histrionic talent.” But that’s not the whole truth. Blair was simply convinced he was morally right, in Iraq as in all things. As he said two years ago justifying the invasion, “I only know what I believe.” Most Britons would see that as backwards: We should only believe what we know. But Blair’s was a “faith–based politics” in which “the person we are being asked to have faith in is Mr. Blair himself; he, in turn, obeys the emanations of his own conscience.”

Many see him as a “mendacious, spin–obsessed, manipulating fraudster,” said Matthew Parris in The Times. In reality, he is a “smaller, meaner” figure. “It’s not the big lies” that so disappointed us, “but the grubby little half–truths.” Remember the tragic case of Defense Ministry scientist David Kelly, who killed himself after being outed as the source who complained of political pressure to cook the intelligence on Iraq? Blair insisted he had not “leaked” Kelly’s name. Maybe not technically, but his office leaked Kelly’s job and title, and of course the name followed. Perhaps if Blair hadn’t appealed so often to morality, we wouldn’t have focused so much on the petty corruption—the selling of peerages, the bribery in weapons sales. “It is because Mr. Blair’s work has been so unsolid, so bereft of any real sense of direction, that we obsess about the surrounding spin. When the picture’s blank, you do tend to look at the cheap, faux–gilt frame.”

Mary Ann Sieghart

The Times

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