Obsessed With the War

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Speaking at the City Day celebrations on Sunday, Mayor Yury Luzhkov turned back to Moscow's history, saying, "During previous wars, Moscow was the central point from which Russia and the Soviet Union defeated its enemies. From the walls of Moscow, we defeated fascism. ... This serves as a stern and very timely reminder to those who are encircling Moscow with missiles and military bases. This is also a warning to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili."

What is the connection between Moscow's City Day and U.S. missiles? Even more, what is the connection between the holiday, the war against fascism and Saakashvili? Russian politicians love to toss everything into the same pot, and Luzhkov is no exception.

Since I live in the center of Moscow, I am quite accustomed to dealing with streets that are closed off during public holidays. But when I drove home from my dacha on Sunday, I was unprepared for the extreme security measures that the authorities had put in place -- a cordon of police officers stationed every 2 meters along the entire length of Tverskaya Ulitsa, effectively blocking off all traffic into the center.

I had to argue with a traffic policeman to get through this impenetrable barrier, and my wife had to wave her passport showing our home address at the five or six police checkpoints erected along the final 500 meters to our building

The whole scene looked more like a military curfew than a public holiday, and I couldn't be sure if the police were on our side or the enemy's. Although they were dressed in white shirts for the holiday, they barked at drivers the way members of an occupation force would speak to its enemy.

It seems to me that the absurd security measures for City Day is in response to the West's opposition to Russia's handling of the war in Georgia. Whenever there is a crisis, Russia's knee-jerk reaction is to set aside any liberal political or economic policies and to militarize almost every aspect of public and economic life -- including something as mundane as the City Day holiday.

I would not be surprised if Luzhkov started blaming delays in apartment or road construction on U.S. plans to install elements of a missile-defense system in Central Europe or on a NATO plot to seize Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol.

Before the Georgia war, President Dmitry Medvedev spent a lot of time talking about modernizing the country, but since the conflict, these plans have been completely ignored. Moscow's political agenda is now devoted entirely to opposing the West, and especially the United States.

The president and prime minister have been giving interviews almost every day, mostly to the Western media but also to Russian journalists. The topics are always the same -- the new Cold War, sanctions and who started the war. It seems as though Russia's leaders are obsessed with these issues.

They never got this worked up over the country's decrepit medical and educational systems, the backward technology and science sectors, the underfinanced pension system or the ailing transportation and housing sectors. All of these crucial infrastructure areas are in a state of deep crisis and urgently require modernization.

We almost never hear the word "modernization" from our leaders anymore, and that could indicate a worrisome, fundamental shift in their political priorities.

Georgy Bovt is a political analyst and hosts a radio program on City-FM.