By Arab News
September 19, 2013
By Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
Many people were not surprised when they read Russian President Vladimir Putin’s article in the New York Times. Having a head of state write a column is very appealing to any newspaper’s editor-in-chief.
It is also become breaking news when a head of state writes an article in the foreign press. After the article was out, many people were surprised and asked about the motive behind the article and wondered how would a head of state contact a foreign paper to write an article in a country, which was a former enemy. And people were more surprised when they leant that the Russian president has an American public relations firm representing him. After the article was published, it became an instant hit. It was read by many people around the world and was translated in different languages. The article brought many memories to many Americans about the Cold War between the United States and the Soviets. It was a time when the people of the two countries never spoke to each other, let alone having the leader talk to the others through their own paper.
Many Americans still remember the day when reading Soviet (Russian) literature or giving a complement to communism would put one in the eye of the storm. There was a time when some American Hollywood movie stars had their careers ruined when they were suspected of being communists or admirers of communism. At that time, Moscow was undermining the credibility of the news coming out from Washington. No one in Russia believed that an American paper worked independently without any pressure from the federal government. And this is why Russia realized the importance of the press many years after the fall of communism.
The publication of Putin’s article brought many Americans memories of the exercises and drills meant to survive a Soviet nuclear attack. I am talking about the Duck and Cover civil defense exercise. Also, what happened to Bert, the Turtle? Yes, it was a Cold War, but who really believed that hiding under a school’s desk could save you from nuclear fallout? At that time, there was a constant fear of seeing a Soviet spy on American soil. Until recently, Mad Magazine had a section titled, Spy versus spy, which reflected the widespread mistrust during the Cold War years. Both countries spent billions of dollars on armament, but, it was the media which had more power than the war machine.
Now, there is no more Soviet Union, only Russia. And Russia wanted to enter the democratic countries’ club. They have elections, but, we all know who is going to win. We saw Vladimir Putin go. Then he came back again and became the Russian president. This time the Russian president knew about America’s most lethal weapon. That is the media. In the past, Moscow had papers, which reflected the official side of the stories such as the Pravda. But, in the age of the Internet, the Russians realized it is time to use the media. But, he used the American media to talk to the Americans. And it is ironic because in Russia the media freedom is very restricted compared to the western media and journalists in Russia are restricted to what to say and what not to say.
Remarkably, after getting overshadowed by the US, it was the Arab Spring that helped Russia jump back to the world stage. And now, there is stalemate between the Americans and Russians regarding Syria. Putin was urging the American people to oppose an American attack on Syria. In other words, he was trying to convince the American people to stand against their president’s decision to attack Syria. And he used the American media to propagate his views.
The American president helped the Russian president in the argument when he hesitated about the Syrian conflict. Obama drew a lot of red lines. So, Putin grabbed the opportunity to return to the game. Putin wants to solve the Syrian conflict by doing nothing and without losing face. Russia knows it is no match to the American war machine. But, Russia doesn’t want to lose more of its world image by not standing by its ally, Syria. The Syrians know that Russia will not confront America for them. But, why did Putin talk to the Americans about Syria? Syria had always been a strategic ally of Moscow and never had any warm relations with Washington since its independence from the French in 1946. So, it is important for Russia to show solidarity with Syria, even by using editorial space of an American paper. For this reason many will ask: If America attacks Syria, how would Russia react? The answer is simple: Nothing. And why didn’t Putin write the article in a Russian newspaper? Because no one will read it and the world will not take a note of it. The Russian papers are not well read or followed globally. And it is only recently that Russia was able to establish a TV Channel (Russia Today), which is broadcasting to a wide range of audience. But, still, the Russian media is still far away from the American media giants.
After the Russian president’s article was published, many people didn’t agree with Putin on the Syrian issue. So, did the article achieve the intended goal? The answer is no, it didn’t. May be the article served the Americans more. The American analysts now have a clearer picture of how a Russian president thinks. And while the Americans and the Russians debating who is right and who is wrong, it is the Syrians who are exposed to more violence and no one knows when will the world act to stop the ongoing killings.
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Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz.
Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).
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