Daily Archives: January 21, 2007

The Sunday Magazine: New American

Reader Steven Montgomery points us to the latest edition of New American magazine, which contains a multi-item feature on Putin’s Russia subheadlined “The Return of the Iron Fist.” Below is the lead item, offering a chilling review of the growth of the Putin dictatorship. If you are interested you can purchase additional special features pursuing further detail such as Putin, Poison, and Murder (Excerpt) and Putin’s New Soviet Economy (Excerpt) and Silent Suffering in Russia (Excerpt). The New American is a publication of the ultraconservative John Birch Society. La Russophobe has no connection with the organization and does not express or imply any opinion about it with this post. The high quality and timeliness of its analysis of the Russian question as expressed in the issue speaks for itself.

Putin’s Russia
by William F. Jasper
January 22, 2007


The return of the iron fist.“KGB influence ‘soars under Putin,'” blared the headline of a BBC online article for December 13, 2006. The following day, a similar headline echoed a similarly alarming story at the website of Der Spiegel, one of Germany’s largest news magazines: “Putin’s Russia: Kremlin Riddled with Former KGB Agents.”

In the opening sentences of Der Spiegel’s article, readers are informed that: “Four out of five members of Russia’s political and business elite have a KGB past, according to a new study by the prestigious [Russian] Academy of Sciences. The influence of ex-Soviet spies has ballooned under President Vladimir Putin.”

The study, which looked at 1,061 top Kremlin, regional, and corporate jobs, found that “78 percent of the Russian elite” are what are known in Russia as “siloviki,” which is to say, former members of the KGB or its domestic successor, the FSB. The author of the study, Olga Kryshtanovskaya, expressed shock at her own findings. “I was very shocked when I looked at the boards of major companies and realized there were lots of people who had completely unknown names, people who were not public but who were definitely, obvious siloviki,” she told Reuters.

Other supposed experts — in Russia and the West — have also expressed surprise and alarm at the apparent resurrection of the dreaded Soviet secret police. After all, for the past decade and a half these same experts have been pointing to the alleged demise of the KGB as the primary evidence supporting their claim that communism is dead.

From the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the Russian security apparatus Cheka (and its later permutations: OGPU, NKVD, MGB, KGB) had been the “sword and shield” of the communist world revolution.

“We stand for organized terror,” declared Felix Dzerzhinsky, the first chief of the Cheka for Soviet dictator Vladimir Lenin. In 1918, Dzerzhinsky launched the campaign of arrests and executions known as the Red Terror. Krasnaya Gazeta, the Bolshevik newspaper, expressed the Chekist credo when it reported approvingly in 1918 of the terror campaign: “We will make our hearts cruel, hard and immovable, so that no mercy will enter them, and so that they will not quiver at the sight of a sea of enemy blood.”

Unflinching cruelty and merciless, bloody terror have been the trademark of the communist secret police, from the Cheka to the KGB. Obviously, the demise of such an organization would be cause for much rejoicing. Hence, when the KGB was ordered dissolved and its chairman, General Vladimir Kryuchkov, was arrested in 1991 after attempting to overthrow “liberal reformer” Mikhail Gorbachev in the failed “August Coup,” many people in the West were only too willing to pop the champagne corks and start celebrating our supposed victory over the Evil Empire.

But, as Mikhail Leontiyev, commentator for Russia’s state-controlled Channel One television, recently noted, repeating a phrase popular among the siloviki: “Americans got so drunk at the USSR’s funeral that they’re still hung over.” And stumbling around in their post-inebriation haze, many of these Americans have only recently begun noticing that they had prematurely written the KGB’s epitaph, even as it was arising vampire-like from the coffin.

However, there is really no excuse for Olga Kryshtanovskaya or any of her American counterparts to be stunned by the current siloviki dominance in Putin’s Russia. For nearly a decade, even before he became Russia’s “president,” The New American has been reporting on Putin’s KGB pedigree and his steady implementation of a long-range Soviet deception strategy, including the public rehabilitation and refortifying of the KGB-FSB.

We reported in 1999, for instance, on Putin’s ominously revealing speech for Security Organs Day, celebrating the accomplishments of Dzerzhinsky and the Cheka. We reported in 2002 on Putin’s restoration of important communist symbols:

• the Red Star, as Russia’s official military emblem;

• the Red Banner, as Russia’s military flag;

• the music of the old Soviet anthem, albeit with new words;

• and his attempt, along with Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, to restore the giant statue of Dzerzhinsky to its former place of honor in Moscow’s Lubyanka Square.

Public opposition to the glorification of “Iron Felix” have (temporarily) scotched Putin’s plans for Dzerzhinsky’s statue. Nevertheless, as we have reported, in 2005, Putin did restore a smaller bust of the mass-murdering Chekist to a pedestal at the infamous Lubyanka headquarters of the KGB-FSB.

Any reasonable person would have seen these events as very significant clues that maybe Vladimir Putin is not the “reformer” and the “democrat” that Boris Yeltsin, Bill Clinton, George Bush, and the New York Times told us he is. And if those clues weren’t enough, there is a trail of corpses from Chechnya to London, as well as Putin’s Soviet-style foreign and domestic policies that hearken to Brezhnev and Andropov, if not Stalin. The recent murder-by-poison of KGB-FSB defector Alexander Litvinenko in London (see article on page 17) and the murders of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, special forces operative Movladi Baisarov, central bank official Andrei Kozlov, and ex-FSB general Anatoly Trofimov — to name but a few — are sending an unmistakable message to everyone with eyes to see and ears to hear that the KGB (though not under that name) is firmly in control of the Kremlin.

Defector Exposes Deception

The media-anointed Russian experts have proven time and again to be spectacularly, dangerously wrong. We, at The New American, have chosen instead to rely upon verifiable facts, combined with analysis informed by the incomparable insights of Anatoliy Golitsyn, arguably the most important Soviet defector ever to come to the West.

No other defector has had access to the KGB’s inner sanctum, where the Soviet Union’s top-secret, long-range plans for strategic deception were hatched. And no other Russian expert comes close to matching Mr. Golitsyn’s accurate analysis and prescient predictions concerning the Soviet bloc and its current incarnation as Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Golitsyn’s astounding track record, which stretches back more than 40 years, fundamentally challenges every major assumption underpinning U.S. policies concerning Russia, the CIS, China, and the global communist system.

If Golitsyn is correct, then rather than winning the Cold War, as Western politicians, military leaders, academicians, and media figures have been proclaiming since 1991, we instead have been celebrating while in very grave peril. Like the ancient Trojans, we have fallen for one of the oldest deceptions. Unable to breach Troy’s impregnable walls, the Greeks feigned defeat and pretended to fade away. Believing that they had finally defeated the Greeks, the Trojans brought the Greeks’ peace offering — the giant wooden horse — inside their formidable walls. And while the Trojans were engaged in celebrating — well, we know the rest of the story.

According to Golitsyn, in 1960 the Communist Party Central Committee of the Soviet Union, with implementing help from the KGB, secretly set in motion a long-range plan that is still playing out today. A key feature of this plan would be a whole series of controlled “splits” within the communist movement and between communist countries that the Kremlin strategists would use to manipulate Western policies. This was initiated at the 1960 Moscow Congress of 81 communist parties from around the world. All genuine factions, splits, and power struggles within the communist bloc were completely ended at that meeting. From that point forward, any such infighting between communists, or any popular resistance against communism, would be artificial and under the full control of the extensive secret-police networks permeating societies under communist rule.

The “Sino-Soviet Split,” the alleged splits between the USSR and Romania, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia, and Moscow’s “break” with so-called “Eurocommunist” moderates in Western Europe were all elaborate deceptions managed by the Kremlin and its KGB strategists. An equally elaborate deception is the KGB-created “Russian Mafia,” which is blamed for the corruption, violence, chaos, and mayhem that have plagued Russia and the CIS since they “went capitalist.” In truth, all of the leading Russian crime bosses, the “oligarchs,” — Loutchansky, Gusinsky, Berezovsky, Khordokovsky, Mogilevich — are veterans of the KGB-FSB and/or the Komsomol, the Communist Youth, and were “set up” in business by the KGB, following a refined version of Lenin’s New Economic Program of the 1920s. Besides providing the fictitious appearance of a genuine free market to attract Western capital and technology, the KGB-Mafia also provides an efficient means for dealing with political undesirables: when a foreign or domestic “troublemaker” needs to be liquidated, it can be done with the blame falling on unidentified criminal elements, rather than the State, or communist officials.

Amazingly Accurate Predictions

With his intimate knowledge of the KGB strategy, Golitsyn accurately foresaw, years ahead of actual events, many specific developments that have now occurred. He correctly predicted that Soviet dictator Yuri Andropov would be succeeded by “a younger leader with a more liberal image,” perfectly describing Mikhail Gorbachev and the political restructuring process that would be carried out under the name “perestroika.”

In his 1984 blockbuster book, New Lies for Old, Golitsyn correctly predicted that Solidarity would be legalized in Poland and allowed to form a coalition government with the communists after sham multiparty elections. He also foresaw, with astonishing precision, democratization in Czechoslovakia, with a revival of former communist dictator Dubcek and close allies; the opening of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany as the core for a United Europe; the implementation of “democracy” in such countries as Romania and Hungary; the end of the Warsaw Pact; and the efforts of Eastern European governments to join the European Community as a prelude to unification with the West. Golitsyn even stated that these changes would begin during the five years following his 1984 book — which actually happened, from Gorbachev’s appointment in 1985 to the renewal in Eastern Europe since early 1989.

Mark Riebling, author of the important 1994 book Wedge: The Secret War Between the FBI and CIA, says of Golitsyn’s predictions in New Lies for Old: “139 out of 148 were fulfilled by the end of 1993 — an accuracy rate of nearly 94 percent.” That record is even more astonishing when one considers that Mr. Riebling’s assessment includes only the more prominent of Golitsyn’s projections; it does not include many of his more subtle analyses and forecasts. No other foreign policy analyst even comes close to Golitsyn’s level of accuracy and depth of analysis.

James J. Angleton, the CIA’s chief of counterintelligence, and Alexander Count de Marenches, who headed French intelligence, both saw Golitsyn as an invaluable ally and an indispensable asset in our efforts to understand the Soviets’ geo-political chess game. Unfortunately, both of these men were opposed by powerful forces in their governments who wanted to believe in and embrace the perestroika deception. Angleton and de Marenches were fired, while Golitsyn and his warnings were ignored — when they weren’t scorned and ridiculed.

A Not-so-grand Bargain

On May 20, 1991, Russia’s economic adviser Grigory A. Yavlinsky met with a group of cognoscenti from the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the private U.S. organization that has dominated both Republican and Democratic administrations since at least FDR’s time. The group, which included Stephen Sachs, Graham Allison, Stanley Fischer, and Robert Blackwill, drew up what they termed a “grand bargain” which recommended granting the Soviets $15 to $30 billion per year for several years. A few days later, on May 24, the New York Times went even further with an editorial (“A Western Spur to Soviet Reform”) urging a Soviet bailout package of $150 billion. This was followed with an article by Allison and Blackwill in the CFR’s prestigious journal Foreign Affairs calling for aid of “$15 billion to $20 billion per year for each of the next three years.”

At a 47-nation Soviet aid conference convened in Washington in January 1992, President George Bush (the elder) pledged more than $5 billion. But that was just to prime the pump; untold billions have followed since.

As costly as our Russian foreign policy has been financially, the cost to our national security has been immeasurably greater. For more than two decades, America’s leaders have marched our nation headlong into the deadly perestroika trap, ignoring the warnings of Anatoliy Golitsyn and the overwhelming evidence that vindicates those warnings. They have embraced the Russian and CIS leaders as our “allies” and intertwined our military, police, and intelligence agencies as “partners” in global security.

Now, with Putin’s FSB Chekists coming brazenly into the open, it is long past time to repudiate this deception and reverse course — before the trap door is shut and bolted behind us.

Sounding the Warning

In 1984, ex-KGB officer Anatoliy Golitsyn’s important book New Lies for Old appeared, warning of a coming spectacular disinformation offensive by the communists. This strategic long-range offensive, he said, would be aimed at convincing the West that communism had disappeared, in order that the West might accept gradual convergence with the “former” communist states. Here are some of his (then) startling predictions:

• “The ‘liberalization’ [in the Soviet Union] would be spectacular and impressive. Formal pronouncements might be made about a reduction in the communist party’s role; its monopoly would be apparently curtailed. An ostensible separation of powers between the legislative, the executive, and the judiciary might be introduced. The Supreme Soviet would be given greater apparent power and the president and deputies greater apparent independence.”

• “The communist strategists are equipped, in pursuing their policy, to engage in maneuvers and strategems beyond the imagination of Marx or the practical reach of Lenin and unthinkable to Stalin. Among such previously unthinkable strategems are the introduction of false liberalization in Eastern Europe and, probably, in the Soviet Union and the exhibition of spurious independence on the part of the regimes in Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Poland.”

• “If [liberalization] should be extended to East Germany, demolition of the Berlin Wall might even be contemplated.”

• “The first communist strategy of strengthening and stabilizing the bloc politically and economically has been assisted by Western economic aid and by the acceptance of détente and cooperation with communist governments…. By accepting Sino-Soviet rivalry as genuine … the West is creating opportunities for the construction of new alignments that will rebound, in the long run, to its own detriment…. By providing advanced technology first to the Soviet Union, then to China, the West has helped to shift the balance of military power against itself…. Taking détente at its face value, the West has been ready to accept the notion of a long-term evolution of communism and its ultimate convergence with the democratic system.”

• “The European Parliament might become an all-European socialist parliament with representation from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. ‘Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals’ would turn out to be a neutral, socialist Europe.”

In 1995, Golitsyn published The Perestroika Deception, a 250-page book updating the unparalleled insights of his earlier analysis in New Lies for Old.

• “The [Soviet] strategists are concealing the secret coordination that exists and will continue between Moscow and the ‘nationalist’ leaders of [the] ‘independent’ republics…. This is not true self-determination but the use of ‘national’ forms in the execution of a common Communist strategy.”

• “The power of the KGB remains as great as ever…. Talk of cosmetic changes in the KGB and its supervision is deliberately publicized to support the myth of ‘democratization’ of the Soviet political system.”

• “Scratch these new, instant Soviet ‘democrats,’ ‘anti-Communists,’ and ‘nationalists’ who have sprouted out of nowhere, and underneath will be found secret Party members or KGB agents.”

• “After the Second World War the victorious allies correctly applied a de-nazification program to eliminate former Nazis and their influence from the institutions and political life of the new Germany. No equivalent de-communization program has been applied in the USSR or Eastern Europe. The Soviet Party, the KGB, and the armed forces with their political commissars remain intact.”

Georgia Whips Russia, so Russia Turns on Estonia

The Telegraph reports that mighty Georgia has brought big bully Russia to its knees, proving that all that is required in dealing with Russia is a firm, resolute hand (as is the case with all bullies). HOORAY FOR GEORGIA! The world must take a lesson here and apply it to all aspects of its Russia policy.

RUSSIA BACKS DOWN IN SPAT WITH GEORGIA

Russia blinked first in its four-month spat with Georgia yesterday, agreeing to restore diplomatic relations with its neighbour.

In an embarrassing climbdown that will bring cheer to leaders across Europe, President Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian ambassador to return to Tbilisi.

The Kremlin’s security council admitted that sanctions imposed against Georgia after a vitriolic diplomatic dispute last year were not working. Kremlin officials last night suggested that a land and air embargo imposed on Georgia could be lifted within the next few days, which would be welcomed by President Mikhail Saakashvili. The dispute was sparked by Georgia’s arrest and expulsion of four Russian officers on spying charges last September. The row escalated to the point that relations between the two countries sank to their lowest since the break-up of the Soviet Union. Russia imposed a raft of sanctions, closed the border and deported more than 1,000 Georgians living there. The heavy-handed response was seen as an attempt to strangle Georgia’s economy and depose Mr Saakashvili. The dispute was fuelled by Moscow’s suspicions that the Georgian president was developing pro-Western leanings. Ever since he was swept to power by the 2003 Rose Revolution, Mr Saakashvili has tried to loosen the Kremlin’s grip on his country, even applying for Nato membership. When Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy giant, doubled gas prices at the beginning of the year, Georgia’s economy showed a resilience that the Kremlin did not expect. “The impact on the Georgian economy was not nearly so drastic as those who designed this policy hoped it would be,” said Georgia’s deputy foreign minister, Valeri Chechelashvili. “The damage to the economy was only in the region of about $150 million [£76 million], while GDP still grew at over seven per cent.”

Worse still for the Kremlin, Georgia increasingly began to show that its dependence on Russia was actually shrinking. Exporters found new markets, while the Georgian government looked to buy its gas from Azerbaijan and encouraged other countries in the region to band together against Russian bullying. Mr Saakashvili emerged stronger too as his people forgot about the wrangling and corruption allegations tarnishing his government and rallied around the president. Russia’s surprise retreat comes as Mr Putin prepares to host Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, over the weekend. Mrs Merkel, who was furious when a Russian spat over energy prices with Belarus earlier this month briefly cut off oil supplies to Germany, could find her counterpart in a surprisingly emollient mood. Egged on by hard-liners in his administration, Mr Putin has used energy as a political weapon to subdue recalcitrant ex-Soviet neighbours, like Ukraine, for pursuing a pro-Western course, and Belarus, for standing in the way of Gazprom’s determination to control pipelines bound for Europe. But Russia’s assertiveness is now beginning to look like a foreign policy debacle by alienating former allies and prompting Europe to begin looking for alternative sources of energy to reduce its dependency on Moscow.

But did Russia learn anything from the experience? Not yet. As RIA Novosti reported, it issued a “warning” to little Estonia that it better not dare to touch any Soviet memorials in the country, which Estonians view as symbols of their rape and torture at the hands of Soviet imperialist occupiers:

Moscow has issued its first official warning to Estonia amid an escalating row over the possible demolition of Soviet war memorials in the ex-Soviet Baltic state. Estonia’s parliament adopted a law last week paving the way for the dismantling of Soviet-era war memorials and the reburial of the remains of Soviet soldiers who died fighting German invaders during the Second World War, but who are seen by many Estonians as former occupiers. The Russian Foreign Ministry said it had summoned Estonia’s ambassador to Russia, Marina Kaljurand, who was told that in spite of protests from Moscow, Estonia was continuing attempts to form a legal basis for disinterring Soviet soldiers and destructing monuments, and that such moves could harm bilateral relations. “The implementation of these plans is fraught with serious consequences for Russian-Estonian relations,” the ministry said in a statement. The controversial bill, which was passed in its first reading in November 2006, resulted from a dispute over a Monument to a Soviet Liberator in central Tallinn, which authorities want removed. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday that Soviet war memorials in Estonia should remain where they are. “We must insist that the monuments remain in place,” he said, adding that the move was a disgrace, and had nothing to do with preserving historical accuracy. “The task is to prevent a repetition of the lessons of World War II,” he said. “We hope common sense will prevail and an understanding will be reached in order to avert the desecration of monuments to liberators.” The State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, is considering a draft resolution on severing contacts with the political forces that initiated and passed the law. The Russian leadership has repeatedly called the European Union’s attention to attempts by Estonia, which declared its independence from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s and joined NATO and the EU in 2004, to glorify Nazi Germany, including with parades by former Nazi SS fighters. Moscow has also harshly criticized Estonia’s discriminatory policies with respect to ethnic Russians who moved to the republic following its annexation by the Soviet Union in 1940 and their descendents. Many members of Estonia’s Russian community are denied citizenship and employment rights, and cannot receive an education in their native language. Amnesty International has condemned the situation in the Baltic country, and called on its leadership to respect the rights of ethnic Russians.

This is the hallmark of Russian society: No matter how many times you make a stupid mistake, no matter how much you suffer or humliate yourself as a result, the thing to do is just keep making it.

The sign directs the bear to the right direction,
on the path away from the hunters.
The bear says: “If you don’t mind, I think I’ll go my own way.”

Freedom House 2007 on Russia

Freedom House has released its 2007 report on the state of Freedom in the world. Russia retained it’s status of “not free” alongside the worst offenders to freedom in the Middle East and Central Africa and creating a giant purple unfree blot on FH’s world map, covering 1/6th of the Earths’ surface.

The report lumps Russian in with the world’s biggest transgressors of human rights:

Freedom House also noted that the trends reflected the growing pushback against democracy driven by authoritarian regimes, including Russia, Venezuela, China, Iran, and Zimbabwe, threatening to further erode the gains made in the last thirty years. The pushback is targeted at organizations, movements, and media that advocate for the expansion of democratic freedoms.

There was little significant change in the state of freedom in the former Soviet Union in 2006. As was the case in the previous year, the only relatively bright spots were Ukraine, which enjoys a Free rating, and Georgia, a Partly Free country. On the negative side, Russia continued to serve as a model for authoritarian-minded leaders in the region and elsewhere, and the country experienced a modest decline as a result of its crackdown on non-governmental organizations. Modest declines were also noted in Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan.

Arch Puddington, director of research at Freedom House, stated:

While the past year was not a good year for freedom, the trend over the past decade is even more disturbing. Not only have we failed to make significant breakthroughs, but we have seen the emergence of authoritarian regimes—Russia, Venezuela, and Iran are good examples—that are aggressively hostile to democracy, are determined to crush all domestic advocates for freedom, and stand as models for democracy’s adversaries everywhere.

What’s really important to note is that Russia is contributing significantly to the deteriorating situations in both Iran and Venezuela by giving military assistance and diplomatic cover to both rogue regimes. So it’s quite easy to argue that Russia is the single biggest threat to freedom in the world today — and La Russophobe readers are not surprised by that fact, since it’s an argument we have been making here ever since April 2006.

Annals of Russian Hypocrisy

The Moscow Times reports that in neo-Soviet Russia those who protest AGAINST the Kremlin go to prison while those who protest FOR the Kremlin get audiences with power. As the MT puts it: “Some activists get jail, some get Lavrov.”

National Bolshevik youth get arrested for protests. Nashi youth get invited to meet with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The difference? One is an anti-Kremlin, unregistered youth organization, while the other is a pro-Kremlin youth movement. Twenty-one National Bolshevik activists are currently in police custody, awaiting trial on various charges, group officials said at a news conference Wednesday. Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of the Russia’s oldest human rights organization, the Moscow Helsinki Group, said at the news conference that the National Bolsheviks who had been arrested under President Vladimir Putin’s reign were “the biggest group of political prisoners in Russia.”

“Under [President Boris] Yeltsin, there were no problems for us,” National Bolshevik leader Eduard Limonov said in a subsequent telephone interview. “It was when Putin began his term that our political repression began.” Limonov said more than 120 National Bolshevik activists had been through the prison system since 1999, including Limonov himself. In most cases, the activists were sentenced for participation in nonviolent protests, such as the hanging of posters demanding that Putin resign or the brief seizure of federal government offices during calls for better social guarantees. Limonov and Alexeyeva said the disparity in authorities’ treatment of the anti- and pro-Kremlin activists should no longer be tolerated. Meanwhile, Lavrov invited Nashi leader Vasily Yakemenko to the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday to ask his activists to stop harassing British Ambassador Anthony Brenton.

“Organized political protests should keep within the framework of the law, including Russia’s international obligations under the Vienna Convention,” Lavrov said, Interfax reported. Lavrov added that he respected Nashi’s constitutional right to protest.

Nashi activists have hounded Brenton since August for his decision to take part in the oppositional Other Russia conference, which promoted civil society in Russia and in which Limonov was a participant. Nashi has staged noisy protests outside the British Embassy. Nashi activists have intimidated Brenton, the British Embassy has said, leading it to file a complaint with the Foreign Ministry. The British Embassy welcomed Lavrov’s remarks, saying in a statement, “We look to the Russian authorities to ensure there is no repeat of the harassment experienced by our ambassador in recent months.” Nashi had no immediate comment on whether it would leave the ambassador alone, but it scorned Alexeyeva’s support of Limonov. It said in a statement that the state of human rights in Russia had entered a “deep crisis” because “never before has a defender of human rights come out in defense of a fascist punk.”

Russophile Bozo Anna Arutunyan: Crazed Kremlin Mouthpiece

Moscow News News Editor Anna Arutunyan had a lengthy recent piece in Asia Times discussing the extent of Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship in Russia, continuing a theme of asking whether proud KGB spy Vladimir Putin is “really that authoriarian.” The whole wretched, offensive, propagandistic screed appears below (in censorial black), with LR’s running commentary (in blood red).

The Moscow News is well known to students of Russia and oft quoted in La Russophobe. It is edited exclusively by Russians and the editor in chief, Anton Nossik, also operates the most authoritative Russian language Russia blog in the world, according to Technorati. For whatever reason, the blog rarely deals with serious political analysis.

Arutunyan also contributes to the flaky, extremist left-wing screed The Nation, and in her piece she quotes the husband of Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, namely the crazed Russophile Steven Cohen, who La Russophobe has previously exposed (his wife is just about the only one goofy enough to publish him these days, it seems, as he regularly appears on her pages). On one occasion, she trashed “Putin’s Foes” in the Nation‘s pages, and trashed hero reporter Yevegenia Albats and hero media outlet Ekho Moskvy in, of all places, the pages of the eXile, edited by lunatic Russophile punk Mark Ames, likewise previously exposed by La Russophobe. She’s also the English Editor of the obscure Russian Journal put out by the murky “Russian Insitute” and edited by Gleb Pavlovsky, an ardent supporter of crazed Russophile Ukrainian Prime Minister Victor Yanukovich. In other words, this woman’s out there . . . way, way out there. Impressively, Nossik seems to have her under control as far as the MN is concerned; in fact, it’s pretty clear that Arutunyan doesn’t actually read the paper she edits much, or else she’d never be able to spew forth so much propagandistic gibberish. It’s interesting that she never mentions its reporting once in her long diatribe, yet finds time to quote The Nation.

Here, she tries mightly to convince us that Putin isn’t as bad as he seems, perhaps just a big misunderstood teddy bear who needs a hug. Allow LR to point out just a few spots where she strays from the path of truth and light, won’t you?

Russia, according to the Western news media, is increasingly slipping toward totalitarianism. The man allegedly pulling all the strings is Russian President Vladimir Putin, ex-spy and apparatchik extraordinaire. This misconception of Putin as a powerful dictator whose control over his citizens must be countered through punitive measures is deeply ingrained. The myth is embraced by journalists and politicians alike. According to Le Point, “Putin is endlessly displaying his might.” His government, according to The Guardian‘s Marc Rice-Oxley, is more “brazen and confident” than it ever was in the 1990s. Max Boot reiterated the repetitive claim in another syndicated column: “Having taken power in a nascent democracy six years ago, Putin has been reestablishing authoritarian control.” And to “secure” that “control”, The Independent editorialized, Putin “knew where to turn for help” – none other than the siloviki (power elite) of the former KGB. He is, in the words of US Senators Lindsey Graham and Joseph Biden, “a one-man dictatorship” who “continues to consolidate power” in Russia. While all myths, including this one, have origins in reality, Putin’s perceived might can lead policymakers to dangerous oversimplifications. But how do these perceptions arise, what is the real state of Putin’s administration, and how harmful can this myth of total control really be for policymakers in Washington and Europe?

LR: Note the language. “dangerous oversimplifications” and “myths.” Know what that means? Translation: “I’m smart and everyone in the world who disagrees with me is a crude, barbaric, unevolved moron.” This is exactly, almost word for word, the language Chamberlain used about Hitler. It’s because we listened to propagandizing idiots like Ms. Arutunyan that we had to wage seven decades of cold war and millions upon millions of Russians were butchered by the KGB regime of which “President” Putin is so proud. This woman, and people like her, are far greater enemies of Russian than all her foreign foes put together.

Origins of the myth

Journalists covering Russia can hardly be blamed for interviewing the sources closest at hand – usually those with a good command of English, contacts with the West and a deep distrust of the current Kremlin crew. While perhaps well-meaning, such editorial policy, particularly in the case of US media, succumbs to the tendency to dumb down what it cannot grasp.

LR: “Dumb down.” Does anyone notice a theme developing? And how about that “perhaps” — pretty rough, isn’t she? Can’t we Russophobes even be allowed our good intentions? Nope, not with Russophiles around, we can’t.

As such, the news media often censure concepts that fail to fit into the familiar dichotomy of dictatorship vs democracy. Of course, this simplification applies practically to any country outside the West’s scope. But given its size and energy potential, Russia is a particularly fertile breeding ground for grandiose theories and myths regarding power grabs and malign leaders. The fault lies not only with simplifying journalists. The myth derives as well from the self-serving perspective of Russia’s failed reformers.

LR: Ah yes. Those who seek to reform Russia are its foes. Just what Brezhnev said about Solzhenitsyn before he chucked him into a concentration camp and then out of the country. She’s channeling Kremlin propaganda, folks. Luckily, this kind of crap can only make it into the Asia Times.

“Russia’s liberal opposition has a vested interest in feeding this myth,” said Boris Kagarlitsky, a prominent expert (and former dissident) with the Institute for Globalization Studies. “First, it helps them get help from abroad. Second, it helps explain away the failures of the liberal opposition itself. Instead of saying, ‘We didn’t offer anything that the people could support and that is why we failed,’ they end up saying that a fascist regime kept them from getting there and that everything is so terrible they couldn’t have done anything in the first place.”

LR: Remember dear Mr. Kagarlitsky? Certainly not a trace of agenda or bias in that man, nosiree!!

Fed these perspectives, the West still perceives Russia’s political playing field mainly as a struggle between pro-Kremlin forces and a Western-leaning, liberal, pro-market opposition. Meanwhile in Russia itself, the liberal opposition is marginalized. Its representation in the media, where it still has access to the printed page, exaggerates its influence among the population.

LR: She’s right on target here, of course. From Day 1, Russians have utterly repudiated those who dared to suggest reform, starting with poor old Grigori Yavlinsky. They voted for a proud KGB spy because they like the KGB. As is often the case, this clueless, ideologically drunk Russophile has proved the Russophobic point by accident. If a country like that isn’t cause for immediate opposition, what would be?

Who rules Russia?

Instead of a one-man dictatorship, experts close to the Kremlin administration, as well as pro-Kremlin ideologues, describe a struggling, fractured corporation that at best is trying to become transparent and at worst is acting directly against the national interest. That the Kremlin’s “propaganda machine” is willing to take such a grim view of things should be a signal that Putin’s power, and Russia’s government, is far less strong and stable than Western observers care to admit. Stanislav Belkovsky of the National Strategy Institute is perhaps the chief proponent of this corporate view of the Kremlin. What is ascribed to Putin’s KGB past and his siloviki-saturated government, Belkovsky argues, is actually the legacy of the putatively liberal tenure of Boris Yeltsin. “In the beginning of the 1990s, when the seemingly immortal KGB fell apart, many agents became in demand outside of the system … because of their value as a qualified … workforce,” Belkovsky writes. “As the post-Soviet security structures continued to fall into disarray, the specialists that had survived physically began to leave Lubyanka [KGB headquarters] to take up civilian posts – not just in the government, but in purely commercial structures as well.” As for the allegations regarding Putin’s anti-liberal track record, Belkovsky describes how under the current administration “privatization has gone further than [former vice premier Anatoly] Chubais could have ever imagined during the early 1990s”. The Yukos affair, in which the Russian government threw entrepreneur and Yukos oil company head Mikhail Khodorkovsky in jail, was less a tightening of political control, Belkovsky argues, than the result of various bureaucratic clans vying for a piece of the energy pie.

LR: Her definition of “expert” is rather . . . bizarre, isn’t it? Ever heard of this guy, my dear Russia watcher? Google Stanislav Belkovsky. You get 700 hits. Google the correct spelling Stanislav Belkovski. You get 2,000. Google National Strategy Institute. You get 600 (and that includes lots of different organizations). Now Google La Russophobe. You get nearly 60,000 hits. Nuf said. She might as well be quoting a lemon. Did he really say that under Putin “privatization has gone further than [former vice premier Anatoly] Chubais could have ever imagined during the early 1990s.” Guess he hasn’t heard about YUKOS or Shell or British Petroleum. Meanwhile, would she care to tell us where the NSI gets its funding? Nope, guess not. Wonder why . . .

Is Putin, then, a powerful chief executive officer taking charge of his company or a weak corporate leader held hostage by an increasingly powerful bureaucracy of institutional players? “The bureaucracy is spreading,” Kagarlitsky told me. “It is very involved in business. And in the West this is understood as lack of business freedom in Russia – as though all business is controlled by bureaucracy. In reality it’s the other way around – the more the bureaucracy is involved in business, the more each bureaucrat becomes a hostage of the business interests he’s involved in.”

LR: Do you notice how this malignant little jellyfish doesn’t even try to give her readers the slightest bit of background either about (a) how obscure or (b) how utterly biased and corrupt by Kremlin influence and blind Russian nationalism her so-called “sources” are? Gee, I wonder why that could be . . .

In the end, it is hard to say whether Putin controls Gazprom and Lukoil or whether Gazprom and Lukoil control Putin. Viktor Militarev, a colleague of Belkovsky at the National Strategy Institute, also argues that Putin’s possibilities are limited. Although conceding an increase in authoritarian tendencies during Putin’s administration, Militarev points out that “a majority of the population would be willing to forgive Putin this ‘managed democracy’ if those very authoritarian tendencies were directed at raising the standard of living”.

LR: Yeah, and it’s also real hard to decide who’s in a Siberian labor camp, Putin or Mikhail Khodorkovsy. Russia is such a mysterious country! By the way, would it be too much to ask that the third “source” was not a functionary of the second? Who does this wacko think she’s fooling, anyway?

As for Putin’s alleged consolidation of vertical power, Militarev added, “That is all Western nonsense. Putin can’t even fire [Mikhail] Zurabov,” the current minister of health and social development, despite a series of corruption scandals and demands for his sacking by the ruling party in the parliament.

LR: Who says he can’t? What evidence is there that he wants to? A kindergarten student could so better reporting than this. In fact, many do!

If this is true, then Putin’s control over his ministers is considerably limited. He can’t issue directives for his ministers to follow in part because his ministers don’t control their people either. The chain of command, in other words, is broken. This failure to assert vertical hierarchies of authority can be seen in the new practice of appointing regional governors rather than electing them. In this view, the new governors face the same problem at the regional level that Putin faces at the top. As Kagarlitsky put it, “Either the new governor has to fire everyone and appoint his own people, or he must come to terms with the fact that he only controls what’s going on in his office, while real life is in the corridors, and he has no control over that.” The Stalinist system of one-man rule and even the Leninist concept of partiinost – following the party’s directive – simply do not apply. Instead, several bureaucracies of power based in personal clans contend for power. And whatever authority Putin once commanded to forge coalitions has been significantly diminished by his announcement that he will step down in 2008.

LR: IF it’s true? And suppose it’s NOT true? I mean, she’s admitting it might not be. Do you notice how she doesn’t say ONE SINGLE WORD about what we should do if she’s wrong, or what the consequences of following her advice would be in that case — i.e., we’d be dropping our guard and allowing a new Stalin to consoldiate his power. Have you ever seen such brazen, shameless dishonesty? THIS woman is telling us that OTHER people have a one-sided or simplistic view of Russia? Yikes.

The near abroad

Another perception in the West is that Putin’s Kremlin is taking a more muscular stance toward the post-Soviet territories known in Russia as the “near abroad”. The current government has reinforced this perception that it is attempting to re-establish influence in former Soviet republics – particularly the more Western-leaning ones such as Georgia and Ukraine – with aggressive rhetoric of its own. Russia’s approach to its neighbors has proved more worrisome to Europe and Washington than the president’s harsh policies at home. But some analysts in Russia are questioning this stance as well. According to political analyst Alexander Khramchikhin, who writes for Russky Zhournal, which is run by the pro-Kremlin think-tank Foundation for Effective Politics, Russia’s foreign-policy clout declined not during the Yeltsin era but under Mikhail Gorbachev and his foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze.

LR: Well, now at least she’s following the basic rules, and disclosing the identity of her source. So who does she choose for her next “source” after quoting a bunchh of Russophile propagandists? Why, the pro-Kremlin think-tank Foundation for Effective Politics, of course. No possible reason THEY’D lead us astray, right? I mean, if Putin WAS the next Stalin, they’d tell us, right? Don’t you just want to vomit?

Yeltsin, not Putin, re-established Russia as a prominent player in the world arena. Khramchikhin cites such “achievements” as Russia’s membership in the Group of Eight and the use of Russia’s Black Sea fleet to quell unrest in Georgia in the autumn of 1993. “It was then that Russian peacekeepers appeared in the Commonwealth of Independent States [CIS], and showed themselves to be the only effective peacekeepers in the world,” writes Khramchikhin. “Russian soldiers were prepared to kill and be killed, and that is exactly how they were able to quickly stop the bloodshed in Georgia, Moldova and Tajikistan.” Whatever the validity of Khramchikhin’s assessment of Yeltsin’s operations in the near abroad – as well as Russia’s minor standoff with North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops over Kosovo – such activism does contrast sharply with Putin’s administration, which has made concessions to withdraw bases from Georgia and other CIS countries.

LR: CONCESSIONS? Well, I guess by that definition Hitler made the “concession” to vacate Russia after he invaded it, and the South made the concession to end slavery after the Civil War in the U.S. Gosh, LR never realized what a nice, reasonable fellow that Hitler was. Of course, there was that little matter where Putin tried to overthrow the elected governments of Ukraine (with a poisoning) and Georgia (with a coup d’etat). But those are probably just minor details, right?

“It was Putin who made Washington the source of legitimacy for post-Soviet regimes,” concurred Belkovsky. “Even under Yeltsin the source of that legitimacy was Moscow: not a single leader in the former USSR could feel safe if he had deliberately turned his back to the Kremlin. Now … the position of the Kremlin doesn’t really interest anyone.”

LR: Right back to Belkovsky again! Does this woman have ANY shame? Is she EVER going to quote the analysis of ANYONE who is even A LITTLE BIT critical of the Kremlin, or at least not paid by it? By the way, lady, tell that stuff about how harmless and unfeared the Kremlin is to Victor Yushcheko, Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko, you crazed wombat.

As for the recent “gas wars” that are widely viewed as Russia exercising its energy muscle, analyst Mikhail Delyagin, who actually laments Russia’s loss of control in the post-Soviet sphere, writes in Yezhednevny Zhurnal: “The principal approach of Russia’s bureaucracy toward the CIS is absolutely correct: if you are truly independent, then pay for your gas like independent countries and not like satellites.” According to the Western argument, Russia is “bullying” its neighbors by threatening to raise the price of the gas it sells to the near abroad. But this argument gets it backward. By the time the “gas wars” are over and the agreements are signed, Ukraine and Belarus walk away without the subsidized energy benefits that they enjoyed as satellites. In the economic sense, Moscow loses leverage. By weaning Ukraine and Belarus from Russia’s gas and gradually forcing these “sovereign states” to pay for their energy resources like any other country, Moscow is undermining the cohesion of the CIS and giving a clear signal to its former “satellites” that they are on their own. Without the concessions of cheap gas, there is little that Moscow can demand in return.

LR: Oh, now she’s really gone over the edge. Is she REALLY saying that Russia threatened to cut off gas supplies to Eastern Europe and doubled the price those countries pay because it was GOOD for them, and Russia was looking out for their best interests? How do these countries become “independent” of Russian power if huge new quanties of their budgetary revenues get transferred to Moscow to pay for energy? Isn’t it even POSSIBLE that the Kremlin’s goal is to put so much financial pressure on these states that they face bankruptcy and beg to be readmitted to the Russian fold?

It is certainly open to debate which policy – Yeltsin’s or Putin’s – was the wiser. But given its professed fears of expanding Russian influence, the West appears to be responding not so much to theKremlin’s muscular policy as to its muscular rhetoric. That rhetoric, in turn, may actually reflect a loss of control rather than a surge of power.

LR: It’s certainly true that Russia’s attack on Georgia, Ukraine and Belarus gives the West a chance to drive a wedge between Russia and those states, and to help further democratize them. Notice how she doesn’t say ONE SINGLE WORD about that? What she wants, and what the Kremlin wants, is for the West to back away and allow Russia to try to consolidate its sphere of influence.

The dangers of misinterpretation

Russia is neither the first nor the last country to be direly misunderstood in the West. In this case what makes Russia unique is its size and its energy potential, and also the fact that Putin’s government still faces westward, whatever it mumbles to domestic television audiences. A destabilized Russia after the 2008 elections means a destabilized world oil producer, which has major implications for the global economy.

LR: Just a question, my dear. Is the West at ALL misunderstood in Russia? Is it even remotely possible that YOU misunderstand it? By the way, your veiled threat that if we in the West do anything to oppose Putin’s autocracy Russia will cut off our oil supply was music to the Kremlin’s ears. So congratulations on pleasing your master. But didn’t you just say that Russia wasn’t dangerous to the West?

The dangers of misinterpretations are twofold. First, a weak argument often generates an equally weak counter-argument. With the abundance of negative spin in the Western media, some nonconformists are apt to wax apologetic about a Russian president who allegedly is no more authoritarian than his US counterpart, and to accuse the United States of judging Russia according to double standards.

LR: That’s not the danger of misinterpretation. It’s the danger of disagreeing with this Russophile nutjob if she’s right. Do you notice how she doens’t say ONE SINGLE WORD about the danger of disagreeing with her if she’s WRONG?

Instead of assessing Russia on its own terms, such apologists turn Russia’s government into a mere argument in the slew of accusations against the administration of US President George W Bush. Neil Clark of The Guardian writes, for instance: “Even though Putin has acquiesced in the expansion of American influence in the former Soviet republic, the limited steps the Russian president has taken to defend his country’s interests have proved too much for Washington’s empire builders.” According to this argument, the first thing to consider when joining the “current wave of Putin-bashing” is whose cause these “Russophobes” are serving. When dialogue comes down to either criticizing Putin for being a dictator or defending him for being a dictator, there is little room left for a sober assessment of where Russia as a whole is heading.

LR: Do you notice how the only Russophile she criticizes is a non-Russian, and the only reason she criticizes him is for being too hard on George Bush, who looked into “Pooty-poot’s” eyes and saw a reasonable fellow? How neo-Soviet can you get?

Second, when Western op-ed columnists call for a tougher stance toward the Russian leadership in advance of summits and state visits, and when newspapers like The Guardian publish editorials with titles like “The rise and rise of Putin power”, the signal to Western policymakers is clear: there is much to fear from a strong Russia with a control-freak president. In the end, this overestimation of the might of Putin and the Kremlin in dictating the fate of 140 million people obscures the very real dangers of a weak, dilapidated Russia. Amid talk of a nation turning into a police state, the recent ethnic clashes in Kondopoga, rampant crime and corruption and a demoralized army that is in the news only on the occasion of brutal hazing incidents – all suggest that the police have a great deal less control over the state than either Western pundits or Russian law-enforcement officials themselves would like to believe.

LR: And the underestimation of Putin might allow a new Stalin to consolidate power and launch Russia on a new Cold War. Which is the lesser of two evils? How in the WORLD does it get to be evidence of Putin’s weakness that racism is rampant? Putin has said virtually NOTHING to oppose racism publicly, for all we know he APPROVED of Kondopoga.

Most important, however, policymakers and Western businesses are themselves unwittingly buying into a deterministic, top-down management system for Russia – and hence perpetuating it. The rights abuses decried by watchdog groups and the media do exist, and Putin, as president, inevitably takes the blame. The problem arises, however, when this belief in the dictatorial nature of Putin’s government translates into the belief that if he wanted to, the Russian president could make all the “murky murders”, journalist arrests and big-business muscling disappear. The bleak reality is that pressuring Putin will not alleviate problems that have other causes besides Putin himself.

LR: So she knows why Politikovskaya got killed and she knows how to stop it, but she won’t tell because we’re not good enough to hear her wisdom. Double yikes.

Russia may indeed be using strong rhetoric. But a sound foreign policy needs to mind its inherent weaknesses. A government that, in the words of Viktor Militarev, is suffering a “crisis of corporate management”, could use better medicine than constant reminders about a “democratic course”. If such a crisis is indeed imminent, how can Washington help correct it? Ironically, by understanding that the best it can do is doing nothing at all. Russia expert Stephen Cohen wrote in The Nation last summer, “Do no harm! Do nothing to undermine [Russia’s] fragile stability, nothing to dissuade the Kremlin from giving first priority to repairing the nation’s crumbling infrastructures.” In his view, it is Washington’s own muscular stance in Russia’s “back yard” that has generated protectionist rhetoric in Moscow. By continuing to meddle, the West may just be provoking the kind of suspicious, isolationist attitude that it is decrying.

LR: Ah yes, Steven Cohen. ANOTHER ardent Russophile, writing in the propaganda screed where, as noted above Arutanyan also publishes her drivel. Seriously, this woman has absolutely no shame at all.

Whatever Putin’s shortcomings and the weakness of his administration, regime change is by far not the best option for further stability and domestic growth in Russia. Putin’s government has made progress, however small, in rebuilding Russia’s infrastructure in his seven-year tenure. It is hard to imagine how a more liberal and pro-Western successor, whose top priority will be a total overhaul of the government apparatus, could successfully continue this process. It is even harder to imagine how such an overhaul could ameliorate the immediate problems of corruption and lack of accountability. In this sense, foreign-sponsored non-governmental organizations aimed at strengthening various supposedly liberal opposition forces are at best a waste of time and resources, and at worst a potential catalyst for instability. Programs aimed at stimulating Russia’s internal development would do better by de-emphasizing political opposition and stimulating small business and grassroots organization.

LR: Did you get that? If Putin’s policies go, then Russia will fall apart. Putin is Russia, and Russia is Putin. Stability depends on Putin, and the West’s happiness depends on stability. Now WHERE have we heard THAT before?

Finally, the West is understandably worried by the perceived isolationist tendencies of Russia. But once again, the current gas wars reveal the complexity of Russia’s energy-driven integration. The recent price hike in gas supplies to Belarus – and Europe’s reaction – points to a paradoxical, twofold problem. On the one hand, already dependent on Russian energy, the West is dealing with a seemingly integrated world power, a major player that the West depends on. But on the other hand, Russia’s relations with Belarus, and their impact, show just how incomplete the transfer from a Soviet power to a loose confederation really was. We can view Russia as a bully using its energy muscle to discipline a former satellite. Or we can look at the conflict as a last attempt to draw badly needed boundaries of sovereignty and thus establish Russia’s identity by redefining relations with its former holdings. In the latter case, whatever side is right, self-interested meddling by outside powers will only perpetuate Russia’s long-standing, oftentimes tragic, paradox: its constant struggle to be a major player in the world arena at the expense of domestic development and national identity.

LR: In the former case, sitting idly by as this crazed Russophile maniac suggests will allow the Kremlin to consolidate its power, destabilize and seize Belarus, start a new Cold War and begin another century-long period of abusing and destroying Russian population for parochial, insular, oligarchial “gain” that will ultimately destroy the country. Notice how she doesn’t say ONE SINGLE WORD about that variant? It’s for you, dear reader, to choose the lesser of two evils.