22 January 2017
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AMBASSADOR'S ARTICLES

22.12.2016

Why the elites blame post-truth politics for their failures, by Ambassador Yakovenko for RBTH, published 22 December

Establishment leaders in Europe and America need a reality check and to address voters' genuine concerns in a globalized world.

The year 2016 has seen truly epic failures of mainstream politics and media, most significantly at the British EU referendum and the American election. In both cases seasoned analysts could not see beyond their Westminster or Capitol bubbles and foresee the outcomes. Enraged as they were, they chose to blame outside forces, often pointing the finger at Moscow, which supposedly has more influence on Western voters than home politicians.

More generally, they blamed their failures on “post-truth politics”, ie, assuming that new-wave politicians (and their line-up crosses the Cold War divide in the Euro-Atlantic) run fake news stories and take advantage of a total breakdown of trust in elites and their institutions. Indeed, progressively, we have been seeing the last of established politicians, and institutions falling into disarray and irrelevance.

Such a viewpoint treats the voters with disdain, and this attitude tends to be taken by the same people who vow to “save democracy”. Would it not be fair to say the voters are disgruntled and reject the mainstream because they want change and the elites cannot deliver it, not because they are “seduced” or fooled? After all, how one can fool a person so easily?

The journalist Tim Dickinson fittingly called “fake news” lazy language. It’s about throwing actual misinformation in one heap with inconvenient truths. So, today the job of the ancien regime establishment in the West has boiled down to name-calling rather than dealing with real issues. Mainstream media and politicians engage in fakes and emotional excess no less than those they accuse.

I learned a subtle difference between the two sorts of “fake news” from a data scientist at the traditional “digital BBQ” at the embassy. A number of websites rooting for Donald Trump in novel ways actually existed, but they were set up, sometimes very far from America, to capitalize on the volume of Internet traffic. In other words, supply followed the demand, not the other way around – this was the thirst for change, for a gasp of fresh air.

Needless to say, these facts ruin the narrative of “Russian propaganda threatening Western democracy". None of the academic experts and journalists I spoke to believed those accusations. It’s just inventing a bogeyman to deflect attention from real flaws of policies, presented to the electorate as alternative-free. Policies and politics have become average, lowest common denominator: they don’t rock the boat but neither do they solve problems. A real debate of real issues was suppressed through political correctness and the newspeak, meant to deny reality. All genres became boring with no appeal to imagination.

Instead of drawing sensible conclusions, the elites engage in scaremongering. For example, The Economist writes that contrary to the initial post-Cold War expectations, Western politics is moving in Russia’s direction. There is no analysis of why this convergence is supposedly on Russia’s terms.

Of course, conformism, of which Alexis de Tocqueville warned, could ensure stability for a while, but nothing is forever. That is why I welcome Niall Ferguson’s words of repentance in The Sunday Times, where he explains why he had allowed petty considerations to have the upper hand over his intelligence, scholarship and instincts.

The Syrian crisis proves that wars cannot be won in the virtual reality of media space. Truth on the ground still matters. Therefore I believe there is nothing new in what is being described as “post-truth”. As Abraham Lincoln was quoted as saying, “you cannot fool all the people all the time”. And another great American said the only thing we had to fear was “fear itself”.

It is not deception or fear that wins the argument, it is the ability to boldly recognize and address the problems. We in Russia, did that 30 years ago. The Western elites seem to be still living in denial.

Alexander Yakovenko is Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom. He was previously Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.




LATEST EVENTS

18.01.2017 - Back to basics in international relations (letter by Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko for Evening Standard, published on 17 January 2017)

Recently we have seen a trend of questioning electoral outcomes in Western nations under the pretext of undue outside interference, first of all “Russian influence”. It follows that outcome of the June referendum in Britain could be also challenged on those grounds. Not all find it preposterous. But will of the people is expressed within domestic environment.


20.11.2016 - Bringing peace to Syria (by Ambassador Yakovenko for "Sunday Mirror", published on 20.11.2016)

It has to be borne in mind that Russia sent its Air Force to Syria only on 30 September 2015. According to our Western interlocutors, it was a critical moment when Damascus was about to fall to the ISIS onslaught. The foreign terrorist organizations, proscribed by the UN, such as ISIS and “Nusra”, are the single most important factor that distorted the entire setup in Syria. In fact, the terrorists are leading the opposition militarily, including in East Aleppo. Accordingly, if they call the tune on the battlefield, they’ll do the same in Syria if they prevail. Our only strategy in Syria is to allow the Syrians to decide for themselves.


19.11.2016 - Collectivism and connectivity at the heart of APEC (by Ambassador Yakovenko for RT)

On 19–20 November 2016, Lima hosts regular meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation. 21 countries’ leaders gather in order to discuss pressing global and regional economic issues. The Summit takes place against the background of global political and economic turbulence. The ongoing shaping of new polycentric world order is accompanied by growing instability. In the Asia Pacific, the effects of these tendencies have been mitigated by major technological and financial potential that has enabled the region to maintain its leading positions in world affairs. However, it is evident that the growing challenges will have a negative impact on the prospects of long-term growth in the region.


18.11.2016 - OPCW decision on Syria is deeply regrettable (by Ambassador Yakovenko for RT)

The decision ensures unlimited inspections of the Syria’s military infrastructure and research facilities, which provide for the basic economic needs of the country, and in some cases the region as a whole. According to those who initiated and ensured the adoption of this decision, such inspections would ultimately allow the OPCW to assume total control over the defence, research and technological capacities of the sovereign state of Syria, which has been seriously undermined by the war that is being ignited and actively sponsored by external forces.


06.11.2016 - BRICS: a new model of global cooperation (by Ambassador Yakovenko for RBTH)

BRICS has become a solid inter-continental force within the existing system of global governance. There is nothing revolutionary or iconoclastic about it. It has evolved institutionally and intensified interaction among its members and demonstrated the capacity to contribute to the world’s prosperity and security. Its contribution to global GDP now stands at 31% compared with 24% in 2007.


03.11.2016 - 5 Things Everyone Needs To Know About Russia's Position On Syria (by Ambassador Yakovenko for RT)

1. On 18 October, the Russian Aerospace Forces in Syria and Syrian Air Force ceased airstrikes against terrorists in Aleppo. In coordination with the Syrian authorities Russia continues to take measures to overcome the dramatic humanitarian crisis in Syria. A new humanitarian pause will be declared in Aleppo on 4 November to ease the intensity of confrontation and allow civilians to exit from areas of combat operations. There are 6 humanitarian corridors arranged for the civilians with posts with hot meal and first medical aid, and 2 corridors are opened for the fighters withdrawing from the city with weapons. These efforts echo the initiative of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Syria Staffan de Mistura to allow “al-Nusra” fighters out of eastern Aleppo.


26.10.2016 - It’s time for West to see reason and stop supporting terrorists (by Ambassador Yakovenko for RT)

On 21 October, on the UK initiative the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) met for the 25th special session to discuss the recent situation in Aleppo. Discussions have demonstrated a huge divergence of opinions and views on the realities in Aleppo and the Syrian crisis as a whole.


16.10.2016 - Syria. Who should be ashamed? (by Ambassador Yakovenko for The Observer)

The novel way of diplomacy, proposed by Foreign Secretary Johnson has so far materialized in a lone gentleman with a poster outside our Embassy – not something I would describe as a big diplomatic victory. But the very fact of having to resort to (non-existent) campaigners to make a point is, in my opinion, a sign of the state of Britain’s Syria policy. Some would say that Russia’s record on Syria has “also” been controversial – and here’s where I would strongly disagree.


05.10.2016 - Why Russia was forced to suspend PMDA (by Ambassador Yakovenko for RT)

Russia has suspended the implementation of the Russia-US plutonium management and disposition agreement (PMDA). The agreement was signed at a time when our relations with the US were on an upswing. There was considerable hope that the role of crude force in politics would decline, international tensions would lessen and the practice of politically motivated sanctions would become history.


05.10.2016 - Russian position on OPCW-UN JIM report on Syria (by Ambassador Yakovenko for RT)

Recently, the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) has presented to the UN Security Council its third report, in which it concluded that the Syrian Armed Forces were allegedly involved in two cases of use of chemical weapons in Syria. While appreciating the significant amount of work done by the JIM and its experts, conclusions drawn by its Leadership Panel are hardly convincing. It has become obvious that due to objective reasons it had very little chance to conduct an effective investigation. One of the main problems was lack of access to the locations due to the dire security situation on the ground.



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