If you can't trust the Russian government, who can you trust? This must be the question running through the mind of David Satter, a longtime journalist who now posesses the dubious and unfortunate distinction of being the first American scribe denied entry to the land of nesting dolls and Ivan Drago since the fall of the Soviet Union. The journalist has been barred from visiting Russia for at least the next five years.
Satter has been working in Moscow since this past September as an adviser to the U.S.-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. A slouch by no means, he has been a correspondent for such outlets as the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal, and has written three books on his former host country, including Darkness At Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State. The book is as critical of the regime of Vladimir Putin as the title suggests.
Satter's body of work has essentially (and rightly!) been devoted to accusing Putin of presiding over a massive kleptocracy. Meanwhile, Putin has sought to clean up his image with the Sochi Olympic Games set to start in a few weeks, going so far as to free political prisoners and assure homosexual athletes of their safety despite Russia's controversial new legislation against gays. As such, Satter's claim that he was told by a Ruskie functionary that he has been branded an "undesirable" is more believable than the Russian counter-claim that his explusion was the result of Satter's failure to file for visa renewal in time. Either way, it looks like Satter will need to find someplace to cool his heels since he won't be Putin on the ritz for the next five years.
It is heartening, however, that Western media outlets have stood united in their defense of the freedom of the press. From Fox News to the Washington Post, from Time to the BBC, Satter's tale is getting the exposure it deserves. His story should serve as a harsh reminder to some conservatives who were quick to praise Putin for averting President Obama's ill-advised promise of U.S. military action in Syria. Putin opposed the administration out of his own interest, and not out of shared principles.
A great statesman and scholar of U.S.-Russian relations once said the following beautiful and profound words:
During this fight… I seen a lot of changing: the way you felt about me… and the way I felt about you. In here… there were two guys… killing each other. But I guess that’s better than twenty million. What I’m trying to say is… if I can change… and you can change… everybody can change!
Let's hope that at some point true, Western-style liberalization will come to Russia as opposed to the dog-and-pony show brought on by the coming Olympics.
(Full disclosure: I do some consulting work with the Hudson Institute where David Satter holds the title of senior fellow. I have never met him, though we have exchanged e-mails on two occasions, and I was not asked by the Hudson Institute to write this blog post.)
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