Daily Archives: October 18, 2006

Aslund: Putin is Getting Away with Murder

The wagons at last are starting to circle. Writing in the Weekly Standard, Anders Aslund, senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics in Washington (pictured), gives it to Putin with both barrels, starting with the M-word (hat tip to reader Jeremy Putley for pointing out this column):

Putin Gets Away with Murder
It’s time to confront the Russian leader.
by Anders Åslund

IN RUSSIA, gangsters have the macabre custom of making a birthday present of a murder. On Vladimir Putin’s 54th birthday, one of his fiercest domestic critics, the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, was shot to death in her apartment building in central Moscow. She worked for the weekly Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s last independent newspaper. Its deputy editor was murdered a couple of years ago, and the killer was never found. Although Politkovskaya had been tailed by the FSB for years and her murderer was captured on film, he got away. The Kremlin has made no comment. The prosecutor general claims to have personally taken charge of the investigation, but such investigations seldom result in an arrest.

Western policy toward Russia has been an unmitigated failure since Vladimir Putin became president on New Year’s Eve 1999. Every year since then, the Russian government has moved further away from both the United States and the European Union, and Western influence over Russia has waned.

In the last year, President Putin has exported ground-to-air missiles to Iran that can shoot down American F-16s. He has exported arms to Syria that were successfully used by Hezbollah against Israel. A year ago, the Kremlin cheered when Uzbekistan evicted a large U.S. air base, and now it is encouraging Kyrgyzstan to do the same.

Meanwhile, state-controlled Russian media spew out nationalist and anti-Western propaganda. Every evening after the first state channel’s main newscast, one of the Kremlin’s foremost propagandists, Mikhail Leontiev, delivers his daily diatribe against the West.

To consider Putin a strategic partner or even ally would be to close one’s eyes to reality. If Putin persistently behaves like an enemy of both the United States and the E.U., we had better pick up the gauntlet. Only a fool or a coward would do otherwise.

The G-8 summit in St. Petersburg in July became a symbol of all that is wrong with Western policy toward Russia. For three days, the Western leaders participated in this televised celebration of Putin’s new authoritarian powers, and they got nothing in return.

To flatter himself further, Putin invited the presidents of the other eleven former Soviet states for the ensuing week, but they know how to handle him. A few hours before the summit, four of them dropped out–two announcing that they were going on vacations. By contrast, in St. Petersburg it was President Bush who endured Putin’s insult (“We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq.”).

The fundamental problem of Western policy toward Russia is that it is still based on the idea that the Cold War is over. Alas, this truth has become obsolete, as Putin has gone about reviving one feature after another of a police state, including authoritarian rule and an anti-Western foreign policy.

The West has retained the same friendly but half-hearted policy toward Russia it pursued under Boris Yeltsin. But Putin is no Yeltsin. In fact, Putin is the anti-Yeltsin. What ever Yeltsin was, Putin is not. Whatever policy the West pursued toward Yeltsin should be replaced with its opposite–with a few exceptions: Not even Putin wants to revive Communist ideol ogy, and Russia remains a market economy.

Although poorly understood in the West, Yeltsin was a democrat, as Leon Aron shows in his excellent biography. Yeltsin believed in free and fair elections and free media. Putin, by contrast, is a secret policeman. In his book First Person, made up of in terviews, he marvels at his own skillful repression of dissidents.

Putin talks about dem ocracy while systematically destroying it, as Berkeley political scientist Steven Fish has detailed in Democracy Derailed in Russia. Putin has mostly destroyed press freedom, deprived both par liamentary chambers of power, undermined free elections, eliminated the election of regional governors, and seized control over the courts. Where Boris Yeltsin boldly and peacefully dissolved the Soviet empire, giving its peoples freedom, his successor has publicly complained that this was the “greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.”

Yeltsin believed in private enterprise. He has been criticized for privatizing the Russian economy in the only way that was possible, rather than leaving a larger share in the hands of the state. Putin is currently undertaking the greatest re-nationalization the world has seen.

Yeltsin regarded both himself and Russia as part of the free and democratic Western world, while Putin does not. He criticizes both the United States and the E.U. in ever more paranoid and conspiratorial language, while praising China more and more. Unlike Westerners, the Chinese do not ask nosy questions about authoritarianism, corruption, and money-laundering, questions for which Putin has no good answers.

In the end, Yeltsin was one of us, although larger than life. So it was worth talking to him and exploring our common interests through quiet diplomacy. The opposite is true of Putin. He gives lip service to our values, but regularly undermines them. A liar should not be treated like a gentleman.

On a few points, the United States has got its policy toward Russia right. First, the United States and the E.U. stood up for democracy during Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, and Putin accepted defeat. Second, the West protested loudly against the restrictive Russian draft legislation on nongovernmental organizations, which was softened. Third, the Western outcry over Russia’s cutoff of gas supplies to Ukraine last January led to an immediate resumption of deliveries. Putin was upset, but he changed his policy. And the recent U.S. embargo against the Russian state arms export agency Rosoboronexport and the military aircraft producer Sukhoi because of their deliveries of sophisticated arms to Iran is another step in the right direction.

The lesson is that Putin only responds if protests are loud, public, and backed up by threats. Rather than talking about the Cold War being over (which is true), we should remember that the most successful policies toward the Soviet Union were those of Ronald Reagan.

It could be argued that Western policy toward Russia has not mattered much in recent years because Russia has been too weak to dare to be foolhardy. That is no longer the case. In 1999, Russia’s GDP was $200 billion in current dollars. This year, it will reach $920 billion. Russia has financial surpluses to waste on foolish policies at home, and perhaps also abroad.

Right now, Russia is apparently preparing for a war against the independent former Soviet republic of Georgia. With no justification whatsoever, Putin personally has accused Georgia of state terrorism. He likened the arrest of four senior Russian military spies in Georgia to the acts of Stalin’s henchman Lavrenty Beria. Russia has evacuated its diplomats and citizens from Georgia and imposed a nearly complete embargo. Major Russian military maneuvers are under way.

Most analysts draw parallels to Yeltsin and argue that Russia’s actions are meant only to frighten. I doubt that. Putin is a warrior. He won his presidency on a very dubious war, the second war in Chechnya–the region whose agony Anna Politkovskaya covered at the cost of her life. Putin won his reelection and authoritarian rule with his war against the oligarchs, especially his confiscation of the Yukos oil company. It is a logical next step to illegally prolong that rule by starting a war against Georgia.

It couldn’t be plainer that the United States needs a serious policy toward Russia and needs it fast.

LR on PP

Check out La Russophobe‘s latest on Publius Pundit, where she reviews the two major media reports (from the Economist and Los Angeles Times) regarding Russia’s demographic crisis and its implications for democracy and stability. Your comments on this important topic are welcome. Indeed, lives literally depend on it.


LUKOIL is just about the only Russian company ever to have made a visibile impact on the American market; there are LUKOIL gas stations in some American cities. Perhaps it’s not suprising then that the next target on the Kremlin’s hit list for nationalization of energy resources is LUKOIL, following the obliteration of YUKOS and the sending of Mikhail Khodorkovsky to Siberia. First, with YUKOS, the Kremlin tested its ability to use trumped-up tax charges. Now, it is trying out the environmental club. First the Kremlin acted punitively, now preemptively. The New York Times reports:

In a sign of continuing turmoil in the Russian oil industry, the government threatened on Monday to revoke oil field licenses held by the country’s largest private energy concern, Lukoil.

The action affected 19 of 406 licenses owned by Lukoil, a company that is 20 percent owned by ConocoPhillips of the United States. Lukoil said in a statement that it expected to resolve the complaints soon, and analysts agreed that was likely.

Still, the enforcement action was significant because the same environmental regulator who is behind it suspended a permit last month for a $22 billion project operated by Royal Dutch Shell on Sakhalin Island. That regulator, Oleg L. Mitvol, deputy director of the environmental agency Rosprirodnadzor, has become a closely watched figure by Moscow energy analysts.

Mr. Mitvol vowed that he would eventually inspect all energy companies working in Russia. In the politically tinged atmosphere of Russian energy politics, that statement seemed intended to counter criticism from diplomats and oil analysts that Mr. Mitvol had selectively enforced the rules against Shell. Mr. Mitvol said he would even inspect Rosneft and Gazprom, the state-controlled energy companies. He said he had no specific date to inspect Gazprom, but would do so “before I leave this job.”

Mr. Mitvol said on Monday that he had given prosecutors evidence that Lukoil failed to explore or drill in the 19 fields according to the timelines laid out in the licenses.

“No action, no taxes, no jobs,” he said of Lukoil’s alleged failures at the sites in the Komi region, a district that straddles the Arctic Circle almost directly north of Moscow. “If a company doesn’t have the money, isn’t in the mood, or doesn’t have the desire to develop a field, they should return it to the state,” Mr. Mitvol said at a news conference. “We will pass all our evidence to the prosecutors.”

It was unclear why Mr. Mitvol was pressing this issue because his agency is not directly responsible for energy licensing issues.

If followed up, Mr. Mitvol’s latest charges could take a chip out of Lukoil by stripping it of licenses and further the process of nationalizing Russia’s energy industry that began with the Yukos affair in 2003.

Yukos is now in liquidation after the government demanded billions of dollars in back taxes. Its founder, Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, who was a political opponent of President Vladimir V. Putin, is serving eight years in prison for fraud and tax evasion.

Lukoil pumped 1.4 million barrels of oil a day in 2005. The company, which has operations in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, earned $2.2 billion in the second quarter of 2006.
At home, Lukoil was seen as a company loyal to the Kremlin, or at least careful to keep a low political profile; its chief executive, Vagit Y. Alekperov, has reportedly kept a photograph of President Putin on his desk.

Still, Lukoil, as are most oil companies in Russia, is vulnerable on environmental issues. It was responsible for the largest oil spill in recent Russian history, when pipe ruptures caused by corrosion leaked about one million barrels of crude onto the tundra in the Komi region in 1994.

After a tour of Lukoil drilling sites in the region, Mr. Mitvol levied a number of accusations. Mr. Mitvol visited the village of Ust-Usa, where he said inhabitants told him of “black ice” in a local river, which he described as ice floes colored black from oil spills upstream. Mr. Mitvol said he also found a Lukoil drilling rig in a national forest and tundra still contaminated by the 1994 spill.

George Bush, You will Meet the Judgment of History

Bill O’Brien of the Edmund Sun reports on the horrifying similarity between 1930s Europe and 2000s Russia, and the disgusting complicity of the U.S. President in the rise of the Neo-Soviet Union. La Russophobe has nothing but respect for George Bush’s ability to keep the nation 100% free from acts of terror on the homeland since 9/11 and for his ability to hold control of both houses of Congress for the Republican Party, an admirable feat to say the least. But his conduct of America’s Russia policy has been an unmitigated disaster. There is still time for him to come around, and La Russophobe begs him to do so. If he doesn’t, he’ll meet the judgment of history. O’Brien reports:

“He is one cool dude,” President George W. Bush is reported as saying about Russian President Vladimir Putin in “Kremlin Rising, Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the End of Revolution,” a book written by Washington Post Moscow correspondents Peter Baker and Susan Glasser. The correspondents report Bush made that statement after meeting the Russian leader in June of 2001 in a conference in Slovenia in Eastern Europe.

But the authors remind us that Putin was formerly an agent of the Soviet KGB, and while he assured Western leaders like Bush that he was committed to democracy and freedom in Russia, the policies he has pursued as president have served to return Russia to an authoritarian state. Baker and Glasser also make clear that Bush has grown disillusioned with Putin in recent years. The recent North Korean nuclear test and the increase in violence in Iraq have served to distract the world’s attention away from events that are occurring in the Russian Republic and involve the neighboring Republic of Georgia.

Georgia, which had been a member state of the Soviet Union and had close relations with Russia since the dissolution of the USSR, elected a government last year that is committed to aligning it with the West. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has committed his nation to NATO, the American-led defense organization of Europe and to membership in the European Economic Union. Those moves have served to anger Russia. In recent days, Putin’s government forcibly has deported thousands of Georgian citizens and has closed down many businesses and markets that had been operated by Georgian citizens.

It has been reported that children with Georgian surnames have been expelled from Russian schools in the Moscow area. Russian banks have been ordered to cease transmitting payments from account holders to their relatives in Georgia, and rail service from Russia to Georgia has been terminated.

Putin made a statement last week in which he alleged that many outdoor markets in Russia are controlled by ethnic gangs, which was seen as a reference to Georgian merchants, and the Russian people should control them in the future. The Russian media, which takes direction from Putin’s government, has been portraying Georgians in an unfavorable light in recent weeks.

The New York Times quoted one observer in Moscow who said the Russian government is now engaged in ethnic cleansing against the Georgians in Russia.On Nov. 10, 1938, the Nazi regime began a violent campaign against the Jewish residents of Germany that included the destruction of hundreds of Jewish-owned businesses and synagogues Several days earlier, a young Jew whose family had been expelled from Germany had shot a German diplomat in the French capital of Paris, and the attacks on Germany’s Jews were done by Hitler Youth Groups and Nazi storm troopers at the direction of the government in response. The event would be known to history as “Kristallnacht” due to the shards of broken glass from businesses owned by Jews that filled the streets throughout Germany.

British historian Martin Gilbert, who has written a definitive history of Kristallnacht, points out that six weeks prior to the attack, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and other European leaders had met with Adolph Hitler in Munich and had agreed to give Germany what is now the Czech Republic in the hope that doing so would ensure there would not be war in Europe. Gilbert makes clear that after the violence and brutality displayed on Kristallnacht many people began to realize that efforts to appease Hitler were doomed to fail and he eventually would plunge Europe into war.

It remains to be seen if a similar lesson will be gleaned from Putin’s treatment of Georgia and the Georgians who reside in Russia.

Now, the Georgians are Dying in Custody

As the Russia’s pogrom against Georgia continues, the Herald Tribune reports that people arrested for being Georgian are starting to perish in their chains. Do we dare imagine how Russia would react if this happened to a Russian in Georgian custody? Welcome to the Neo-Soviet Union!

A Georgian about to be deported from Russia died Tuesday at a Moscow airport from an asthma attack, the Georgian Embassy said, accusing Moscow of “inhuman” behavior for depriving him of medical attention during five days of detention.

The death marked the first such incident since Russia launched a crackdown on Georgian illegal migrants, deporting hundreds in retaliation for Georgia’s arrest of four alleged Russian spies last month. In the acrimonious dispute, Russia also has slapped a transport and postal blockade on its small, southern neighbor.

Tengiz Togonidze, 58, was taken into custody by immigration officials in St. Petersburg and was kept in detention for five days before being taken to Moscow for deportation, said Georgian Embassy spokesman Vakhtang Tatunashvili.

He began to feel unwell, but his requests to be allowed outside for fresh air and access to a doctor were denied, and on Tuesday he collapsed and died at Domodedovo airport, the diplomat said.

“Georgia has repeatedly drawn attention to the fact that the deportation of Georgian citizens from Russia is being carried out in gross violation of international standards,” Tatunashvili said, complaining that the deportees were being kept “in inhuman conditions.”

The Federal Migration Service confirmed the death of the Georgian, who was being deported along with some 150 others, but gave no further details.

Meanwhile, Russian police said Tuesday that they had busted a Georgian-led criminal gang that allegedly laundered almost US$8 billion (€6.3 billion).

The Russian Interior Ministry said more than 10 banks and credit organizations had been involved in the laundering of these funds between April 2004 and January 2005.

The proceeds, gained mostly from illegal banking operations, casinos, thefts and embezzlement of government funds, had been largely transferred abroad to Georgia, Latvia, the U.S. and other countries, the ministry said in a statement.

As part of Russia’s retaliation over last month’s spy row, police have been targeting the large Georgian Diaspora in Moscow with raids of businesses and restaurants. Several Georgian-owned casinos allegedly linked to criminals have been shut down.

Relations have steadily grown worse between Russia and the impoverished Caucasus Mountain state since pro-Western Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili came to power in 2003 vowing to throw off historic Russian influence and join NATO and the EU.

Annals of Cold War II: Russian and Cuba are at it again (get a room guys)

Radio Cadena (Cuba) reports: Havana, Oct 16.- The Russia-Cuba Friendship Society joined world actions against the more than 40-year US economic, commercial and financial blockade of Cuba with a strong denunciation of Washington’s new anti-Cuba measures. During a meeting between the board of directors of the Russian organization and the Cuban embassy in Moscow, First Vice President Arnold Kalinin reiterated the solidarity of all friends of Cuba and denounced the Bush administration’s plan aimed at toppling the Cuban Revolution. The top executive also called for increasing international actions to demand the White House release of the secret section of the so-called Plan Bush, aimed at further stiffening the economic blockade against the Cuban people. The Russia-Cuba Friendship Society expressed its confidence that Cuba will garner one more victory next November in the United Nations when a vote comes up on a resolution condemning the US blockade.