IHT : Russian foreign minister withdraws article critical of U.S.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Russian foreign minister withdraws article critical of U.S.

By Andrew E. Kramer | July 21, 2007

MOSCOW: Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, has pulled an article he submitted to Foreign Affairs magazine, the influential journal of international relations, saying the editors there changed his writing to the point of censorship, an accusation the magazine denies.

In a bristling statement on Thursday, coming after a week of heightened tension with the West on a range of matters — including the Kremlin's decision to suspend its participation in a treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe — the Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the magazine for editing that verged on "the worst features of the Soviet censorship."

"As a result of the excruciating and sluggish exchanges with the editors, the likes of which could only be found in diplomatic history, it was decided to give up trying to place Sergey Lavrov's article in Foreign Affairs," the Russian statement said.

Lavrov's article, called "Containing Russia: Back to the Future," was submitted in May for publication in the September and October issue, the Russians said. The magazine regularly publishes articles written by foreign leaders.

Lavrov's essay, posted this week on the Foreign Ministry's Web site, broadly criticized American foreign policy on Iraq and other issues. It also protested what Lavrov described as a backlash in the West against Russia's efforts to assume a larger role in world affairs, a theme often repeated in Moscow these days and sometimes described here as an effort to counterbalance the United States' global power.

"It is one thing to respect American culture and civilization; it is another to embrace Americo-centrism," Lavrov wrote. Lavrov had been motivated to write for the magazine to articulate Russia's positions on current issues and "ensure a positive development of U.S.-Russian relations," the statement said. Editors at the New York-based magazine said they had been blindsided by the decision to withdraw the article. James F. Hoge Jr., the editor, said in a telephone interview that he had edited it for clarity and to eliminate redundancies.

The changes in the 4,000-word essay, he said, had all been previously approved by Russian officials — some of whom even complimented him on the editing — with the exception of the wording of a subtitle. The Russian ministry statement contended that editors wanted the subtitle "Averting a New Cold War," or "A Conflict Between Russia and America."

Lavrov, the statement said, had objected to the use of the phrase "cold war" because "in Moscow we assume that no new cold war" is possible today.

Hoge said Lavrov had been asked to add a subtitle because all articles in the magazine carry a subtitle, but that he had never insisted on phrasing mentioning the cold war. To be helpful, Hoge said, he had suggested several subtitles, but made clear the wording would be up to Lavrov.

Awaiting a reply from the Russian foreign minister, the magazine delayed delivery of the issue to the printers, he said, only to learn Monday that the Russians would pull the essay entirely. "The unfortunate assertions emanating from the Russian foreign minister's office regarding Foreign Affairs are utterly erroneous," Hoge said.

Surprise announcements have become hallmarks of the government of President Vladimir Putin, projecting a muscular, confident posturing on a range of issues. In the past seven days, beyond pulling out of a major arms control treaty in retaliation for American plans to deploy a missile shield in Europe, Russia expelled four British diplomats in a confrontation over the poisoning of a former KGB agent in London.

These moves have added to a general souring in the relationship with the West. In other recent international disputes, an assortment of branches of the Russian government have been activated to press the political line, including health inspectors, environmental agencies and immigration authorities. Health inspectors banned mineral water from Georgia last year, for example.

Appended to the Foreign Ministry statement was a copy of the article, minus the disputed subtitle. The ministry said it had made the article available to show that "in Sergey Lavrov's article there is nothing that will be harmful for adult Americans to read."

"This tough experience reminded of the worst features of the Soviet censorship past, which it appears some in the U.S. would like to repeat," the ministry statement said, in slightly broken English. "It is a pity, indeed, that in parts of the U.S. media there exists a trend of 'state protection,' which narrows intellectual resources of America. We are convinced the USA deserves better," the statement said.