Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

The Russian Enigma

Posted by Charles II on February 25, 2007

Two very different articles about what is going on in Russia came out today. Michael Specter describes a gangster state, in which

Since 1999, when Vladimir Putin, a career KGB officer, was, in effect, anointed as president by Boris Yeltsin, 13 journalists have been murdered in Russia. … The attacks have not been limited to journalists. In September 2004 Viktor Yushchenko, a candidate for president of Ukraine, who helped lead the Orange Revolution and who was vigorously opposed by Putin, barely survived a poisoning. Doctors determined that he had been given the deadly chemical dioxin, which left his face disfigured and his health severely impaired. Since then two members of the duma, the Russian parliament, have been assassinated, and last September Andrei Kozlov, the deputy chief of Russia’s central bank, was shot outside a Moscow stadium following a company football match. Kozlov had initiated a highly visible effort to rid the country of banks that were little more than fronts for organised crime. And just a few weeks ago, in an execution that could have been planned by Al Capone, Movladi Baisarov, a former Chechen special forces officer who had come to be seen by the prime minister Ramzan Kadyrov as a rival, was gunned down on Leninsky Prospekt, one of Moscow’s busiest thoroughfares. … In July…the duma passed a law, introduced by the Kremlin, to permit the assassination of ‘enemies of the Russian regime’ abroad….On 14 April 2001 the state-controlled energy monolith, Gazprom, forcibly took over NTV … Networks soon became wholly owned by the state or by companies – like Gazprom, which owns three networks and also Izvestia – that function as corporate arms of the government….With 30 per cent of the world’s gas exports, Russia can impose its will for one simple reason. ‘The entire world is obsessed with energy security and resources,’ Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor of Russia in Global Affairs, told me. ‘You need it. We have it. It is up to us to decide how to deal with that. India and China are seeking new sources of energy to secure their very rapid growth. The US is lost in its war in Iraq, the European Union has no idea what it is any more. And then there is Russia: stable, wealthy, controlled very solidly….’

Then there is a second article, this by Toronto Sun columnist Eric Margolis

Vladimir Putin’s harsh criticism of U.S. military and foreign policy on February 10 should have set off alarm bells in the West, but apparently did not.  In a startlingly blunt speech at a Munich security conference, Russia’s president accused Washington of seeking world domination, undermining the UN and other international institutions, monopolizing world energy resources, destabilizing the Mideast by its bungled occupation of Iraq, and unleashing a new nuclear arms race by planning to deploy anti-missile systems in Eastern Europe. Russia has long fumed over NATO’s advance to its western borders, and Washington’s attempts to replace Moscow’s influence in Ukraine, the Caucasus, and Central Asia…Putin’s speech also suggested Russia will take a more active role in the Mideast. This could be a positive development given the striking inability of the Bush/Cheney Administration to separate itself from the interests of Israel’s right wing parties and return to its traditional role of at least semi-honest broker. Some Europeans also quietly welcomed Putin’s declamation.

These represent two views: one of Russia as a nascent gangster state, the other of an authoritarian Russia as a rational response to US as gangster state. A gangster state, by itself, would pose little challenge, since the populace tends not to support the regime. But if the rise of totalitarianism in Russia is a response, at least in part, to American hegemony, at least as incompetently practiced by George W. Bush, that could be more durable than Putin’s leadership, and far more dangerous. Does Putin see the defeat of the American army in Iraq as an opportunity to expand Russian influence into the Middle East and Europe?

Houston, we have a problem.

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