Wait...didn't they just say...you can't do that, can you? Let's pull up another 2001 quote:
"Russia's opinion polls still show Mr Putin as very popular. But they are not completely trustworthy - and in any case his standing is artificially bolstered by a servile state-run television." (March 17, 2001.)
Ah, that's what I likes to hear. Yeah, feed me more of that anti-Putin moral crusading, baby. Come on, daddy-o, feed me:
"Mr Putin's huge popularity means that his new foreign policy faces no direct threat. Most Russians are delighted to see their country more popular and respected, and glad to avoid a direct entanglement in Afghanistan. Even slow and patchy economic reforms are better than none." (November 3, 2001)
Wait - you can't flip-flop like that. Or can you? Yup indeed, if you're The Economist, you can go a-flippin' and a-floppin' all you want, on any issue you please. Even the most sacred issue of all: Putin's human rights record:
"Other western allies, such as Turkey, have plenty of blots on their human-rights record too." (May 18, 2002 "What Russia Wants")
Wow. So first it was unsettling and foreboding, and these days it's Hitlerian, but way back in 2002, it's just... a "blot." And blots like these are par for the course for the West's friends, so therefore it's not really an issue.
By now, it's pretty obvious why The Economist decided to switch to pillow-talk mode with Putin: In the months after 9/11, it looked like he was going to be America's best, most submissive friend in the whole authoritarian world.
To put it in their own words, "On acute issues, such as American involvement in the former Soviet empire, Mr Putin is shunting Russia's policy in the right direction, towards accepting the inevitable." (May 18, 2002)
Inevitable indeed. They really called that one. But at the time, they were gloating like a clique of English villains proud of their own deception: "That's a good Pootie-Poot! Good boy! Now go run along and play with, Blair. Go on, be a good doggie!"
The Economist's flip-flopping is so over-the-top absurd and unapologetic that it reads like a scene out of a bad Mel Brooks skit, with Harvey Korman playing Edward Lucas, by turns grotesquely sweet-talking or contemptuously dismissing the character of Putin, played by Cloris Leachman. One minute Putin's popularity is "not trustworthy" and "artificially bolstered by a servile state-run television," a few months later, "Most Russians are delighted" and "Mr Putin's huge popularity means that his new foreign policy faces no direct threat."
In the sleaziest of all of these flip-flops, they even managed, in the above-quoted November 2001 article, to brush off a future martyr's threat to her safety, balancing it positively against a grotesquely obvious PR exercise:
"Change is least visible in politics...The squeeze on the independent press continues: Anna Politovskaya, the most intrepid Russian reporter dealing with Chechnya, has fled to Vienna after receiving threats. But the competent and well-publicised salvaging of the Kursk did strike a good note, in sharp contrast to the lies and confusion that surrounded the tragedy of its sinking as it unfolded in August last year."
I-bee-bee-bee-bee-whuhhh? So what you're saying is, Politkovskaya had to flee for her life, but hey, didja see the way they pulled up those Kursk corpses? Pretty impressive, wasn't it? If I was a drowned corpse, that's how I'd want to be dredged...Yeah, so, how 'bout them Red Sox, eh? Dang, lost my train-a thought here... I forgot what we were talking about. Oh yeah, Putin... Right, what a guy! (Incidentally, speaking of flip-flops, they supported John Kerry in 2004...after supporting Bush in 2000, and the Iraq War in 2002-3.)