February 13, 2010
The Ambassador and His Twitter AccountBy Kim Zigfeld
Relying upon the unfettered ego of public figures and the sense of anonymity offered by the internet, the online messaging system Twitter is proving itself a valuable, if sometimes disconcerting, means of gathering insight into the psyche of powerful people, and even of governments themselves. This is especially true where Russia is concerned.
Russia's ambassador to NATO, the rabid nationalist Dmitri Rogozin, for instance, maintains a Twitter blog which he inundates with stream-of-consciousness missives, sometimes while present at NATO security meetings in lieu of paying attention. He vacillates between Russian and English, sometimes translating the Russian material for his English readers (he has around three thousand Twitter "followers").
When tweeting, Rogozin often includes the same sort of crude, vulgar forms of verbal expression relied upon by Russian nationalist commenters in the blogosphere when they try to harass liberal bloggers into submission. He even uses smiley faces to mock his opponents. I recognize this form of expression instantly, since I see it every day on my Russia blog La Russophobe.
Rogozin's Twitter page proudly announces to the world that he holds the rank of ambassador, as if to confirm that, yes, this particular form of harassment is officially endorsed by the Kremlin. Twitter, of course, doesn't allow anyone to comment on Rogozin's posts. How convenient.
But even faithful readers of Rogozin were not prepared for the deluge of political pornography he unleashed last week. By reviewing it -- and remembering that this man was appointed to his post by the highest authorities in Russia, who never censure him -- one can get a pretty good idea of how serious Russians are about working cooperatively and peacefully with the NATO alliance countries.
At 8:22 am on Feb 10, Rogozin wrote in two posts (to get around Twitter's pesky per-post character limitation):
Comparing these posts, we can clearly see that even Rogozin himself knows how virulent and barbaric his Russian text was, because he didn't have the nerve to properly translate it into English. Rogozin translated his phrase "надерет задницу" as "beat up" but that's not what he said in Russian. In Russian, he used vulgar speech to say the equivalent of "kick the ass of."
Remember now: This man is Russia's official representative to the world's most powerful military alliance, an alliance about which Russia routinely expresses serious security concerns and complaints. In response to those complaints, even though the alliance essentially came into being in response to the Russian (and then Soviet) threat to Western security, NATO has allowed Russia a seat at the table. And this is how Russia formally and officially responds.
Rogozin's reticence in regard to his Russian vulgarity in English, however, did not last long, and soon he was openly celebrating it.
At 7:07 am on Feb. 11, he wrote:
Thus, once the Western press had picked up and translated his remark from the Russian, so that he was not the first one to put it in English, Rogozin had no problem announcing that fact to the world on his Twitter page, complete with smiley faces. There is no indication that Rogozin is anything but delighted with the attention, nor that the thought of apologizing ever entered his mind.
Writing for The Telegraph, James Corum, a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve and Dean of the Baltic Defence College in Estonia, states: "Russian foreign policy is based on a truly weird combination of nostalgia for the old Soviet Union and the imperialism of the Tsarist Empire. One of the strangest aspects of the new Russian ideology is the revival of the old Tsarist symbols to include the double-headed Romanov Eagle -- complete with crown -- displayed on official buildings and in the Russian parliament." At the same time, of course, when Russia wins gold at the Vancouver Olympiad, spectators will hear the music of the Soviet national anthem, written to glorify Josef Stalin, and the country is ruled by proud KGB spy Vladimir Putin.
When scholars need to use words like "weird" in mainstream papers like The Telegraph to describe Russian foreign policy, you know things are getting pretty extreme. But reading the comments of Russia's "ambassador" to NATO, one must wonder if Corum was being blunt enough.
Indeed, the issue is not limited to Putin's underlings. Putin himself routinely uses the same coarse rhetoric of the street tough in his own declarations, even joking in front of journalists about the rape charges leveled at the President of Israel. Seeing his example, Rogozin himself may be worrying that he isn't going far enough with his verbal fisticuffs.
Meanwhile, America is offering no reason for Russians to reconsider their aggressive posturing. Barack Obama is accused by Russian opposition leader Garry Kasparov of "going wobbly" on Putin, and for good reason. Obama's first visit to Moscow conveyed hapless weakness on issues like human rights and Russian imperialist aggression, and since then, we have seen the clear results of his neo-appeasement strategy. Russia has become only more aggressive.
If Rogozin's tweeting is any indication, then there's a great deal more to come.