Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Star Power

Every time I hear news about Russia these days, I think back to that Simpson's episode where the Russian ambassador pushes a button and in effect reveals that Russia has reverted back to communism. Perhaps I'm being too negative, but I'm half expecting that button to be pushed any day now. Al Jazeera picked up an AP story about the Russian Defence Ministry's lauching of Zvezda (Star), a new television channel which, according to the channel's creators, aims to "boost the prestige of the nation's military." Understandably, those who have concerns for what has happened to Russian free speech are not optimistic about the annoucement. As the article explains, "All of Russia's four television channels are either owned or tightly controlled by the government, prompting critics to express doubt over the need for yet another TV channel promoting state views." In response, "Zvezda producers pledged the channel would not only praise, but also air critical coverage of the Russian armed forces. 'But we won't paint the pictures only in black colours as is usually done now - we will tell the true story,' said Alexander Lebedev, head of the Defence Ministry's TV and radio operation."

Well thank goodness the true story will finally be told! I'm sure the state has been having a hard time improving its image when it only controls the entire Russian media. I apologize for the sarcasm, but reading some of this stuff is unreal. There is, of course, another side to the story. As the article explains, the Russian military is trying to boost morale, which has gotten so low that "numerous desertions, suicides and other violent incidents, including vicious hazing by older conscripts" have recently plagued the Russian armed forces. Still, creating a TV station to combat morale problems seems to be an odd solution to a problem that probably has more to do with the conditions the soldiers live in and less to do with how they are perceived by the general public. Why can't the funding that is being put into the TV station be diverted to improving the soldiers' living conditions or salaries? It doesn't make sense that the government would be using the profits generated by the station to fund the military. Seeing that they already control all the TV channels, why would another one generate more ad revenue?

It appears that Russia is backsliding into some version of its former self. The worst part about this is that the United States can't really address it right now because we're so desperate for help in Iraq. Hopefully, the future narrative of the United States will not be that it gets so tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan that it fails to effectively react to emerging threats or problems with North Korea, Iran, Russia, and China, leaving itself economically and militarily vunerable in the coming decades. That's being a bit extreme, but I think it would be a much more accurate prediction to say that America will face a worse situation with at least one of those countries because it has become so bogged down in the Middle East. As it stands, little seems to be going right in the former USSR, and we can't do much to stop it.

Too gloomy? I'd be more than glad if you can tell me why.


At 2:40 PM, Blogger Chris said...

While it's certainly gloomy, I think it is a reasonable possibility. Especially with respect to ignoring Iran (if anyone else reading this is interested in this issue, I highly recommend you get an Atlantic subscription and read James Fallows' arguments along this line-- or at least stop by the library and read them.)

However, Josh Chafetz over at the group blog that acted as a semi-inspiration for this one, made this post the other day. Certainly belated and not guaranteed to do much, but supposedly Bush will not let Putin stomp all over him like he did in their last meeting.

At 8:47 PM, Blogger Nick said...

The worst part of this situation is that Russia faces far more severe problems than media consolidation right now. As an Atlantic piece from a few years ago declared (subscriber only, sorry), "Russia is finished" - not because of the declining political status quo there but due to the far direr demographic straits it is in. As this NYT piece states, a death rate increasing as rapidly as the birth rate is falling is condemning Russia to a predicted population drop of over 20 million by 2050. This loss will be disproportionately centered among ethnic Russians, raising the specter of Yugoslav-style ethnoreligious strife as Russia's Muslim minorities become a larger percentage of the population.


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