When Nikolai Khrushchev visited the United States for twelve days in 1959 he refused to believe what he was seeing. The vast choice of tacky consumer products available in a typical US supermarket, he thought, was entirely a put-up job – smoke and mirrors. There simply couldn’t be so many different things available to ordinary citizens. This reminds me of a soprano I once knew slightly in the 1980s. She’d escaped from Romania to sing in the United Kingdom (and to obtain British Citizenship as a singing asylum seeker). On her first visit to a well-stocked Woolworth’s she cried – not so much, I suppose, with joy at what she’d found there, though she did buy a pair of multi-coloured slippers with bright pink pom-poms, as for the miserable paucity of choice available to the family she’d left behind, and for all the other indignities of living in a ruthlessly misruled nation that she had escaped and in which they still languished.
That it would have taken implausibly extraordinary efforts to deceive Khrushchev so extravagantly counted for nothing. The almost impossible was easy enough to believe because the Soviet Union would have stopped at nothing to deceive a visiting President, Prime Minister or Monarch.
Blunt denial, lying, and deception, have characterised Russia’s response to the West ever since. Take the allegations in yesterday’s WADA report into doping at the Sochi (and other) Olympics. If they are to be believed, which, probably, they should be, the FSB and the Russian Sports Ministry colluded in massive deception, substituting clean urine samples for contaminated ones. The scale of their operation was vast – agents pretending to be plumbers passing samples through a wall separating the testing laboratory from the FSB building next door. They also employed special methods for opening ‘sealed’ test tubes but these, it turns out, were not quite clever enough because they left tiny scratch marks invisible to the naked eye, but detected by WADA.
Smoke and mirrors
Some Russian media have dismissed the WADA report as part of an organised conspiracy against Russia. But even if they know the allegations to be true, those involved will simply believe they were unlucky to get caught, and that the rest of the world must be doing exactly the same kinds of things, only doing them better, and getting away with it. That is their mind-set – all governments deceive their people and each other. If no one can prove it, then they’re just doing it vey well indeed.
From the Russian point of view, truth and moral principle are irrelevant, because the assumption is that every government must share their point of view and their methods, whatever they might say. I am sure the President Putin sincerely believes that, whatever assertions there might be to the contrary, the so-called independent judiciaries and media of Western states MUST be, in reality, tools of the state.
The report into the murder of the ex-FSB agent Litvinenko in London MUST be a fabrication. Well, of course, they also know it to be correct, but they could never believe that the truth was independently arrived at. The allegation that Russian troops have been assisting the rebels in Eastern Ukraine MUST be false, just as there was no advance guard in Crimea before the referendum on its absorption into Russia (well, actually, they later admitted that the ‘little green men’ were theirs, but it was certainly a false allegation for a while). And the suggestion that the rebels in Eastern Ukraine shot down a Malaysian passenger jet using rockets supplied by Russia, MUST be false. Carefully fabricated photographs showed, beyond a shadow of doubt, that a Ukrainian jet shot the ill-fated Malaysian jet down from the air.
Somewhere in the Kremlin, Putin’s henchmen will be smarting at the fact that they’ve been caught out doping their athletes, but you can be sure that they will simply be smarting at the fact they lost at a game that everyone else plays, but which they believe they’re generally best at. Perhaps I am a victim of Western ideology and too credulous in believing that by and large we’re not dupes of our Western governments in the way Russian citizens are of theirs.