Daily Archives: February 19, 2007

Krauthammer Blasts the Evil Putin "Godfather" Regime

Over the weekend, the Washington Post provided readers with a powerful combination of punches aimed at the neo-Soviet Kremlin’s glass jaw. First, conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer (pictured above, receiving prestigious journalism award) blasts the evil Kremlin regime of “Godfather Putin” with a withering salvo, then Russia expert Anders Aslund follows with a haymaker. Here’s Krauthammer, confirming that Russia has chosen to become America’s enemy (one which is, just as in Soviet times, both contemptible and ridiculous):

Vladimir Putin — Russia’s president, although the more accurate title would be godfather — made headlines last week with a speech in Munich that set a new standard in anti-Americanism. He not only charged the U.S. with the “hyper-use of force,” “disdain for the basic principles of international law” and having “overstepped its national borders in … the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations.” He even blamed the spread of weapons of mass destruction, which the U.S. has been combating with few allies and against constant Russian resistance, on American “dominance” that “inevitably encourages” other countries to defensively acquire them.

There is something amusing about criticism of the use of force by the man who turned Chechnya into a smoldering ruin; about the invocation of international law by the man who will not allow Scotland Yard to interrogate the polonium-soaked thugs it suspects of murdering Alexander Litvinenko, yet another Putin opponent to meet an untimely and unprosecuted death; about the bullying of other countries decried by a man who cuts off energy supplies to Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus in brazen acts of political and economic extortion.

Less amusing is the greater meaning of Putin’s Munich speech. It marks Russia’s coming out. Flush with oil and gas revenues, the consolidation of dictatorial authority at home and the capitulation of both domestic and Western companies to his seizure of their assets, Putin issued his boldest declaration yet that post-Soviet Russia is preparing to reassert itself on the world stage.

Perhaps the most important line in his speech was the least noted because it seemed so innocuous. “I very often hear appeals by our partners, including our European partners, to the effect that Russia should play an increasingly active role in world affairs,” he said. “It is hardly necessary to incite us to do so.”

Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko once boasted that no conflict anywhere on the globe could be settled without taking into account the attitude and interests of the Soviet Union. Gromyko’s description of Soviet influence constitutes the best definition ever formulated of the term superpower.

And we know how Putin, who has called the demise of the Soviet Union the greatest political catastrophe of the 20th Century, yearns for those superpower days. At Munich, he could not even disguise his Cold War nostalgia, asserting that “global security” in those days was ensured by the “strategic potential of two superpowers.”

Putin’s bitter complaint is that today there remains only one superpower, the behemoth that dominates a “unipolar world.” He knows that Moscow lacks the economic, military and even demographic means to challenge America as in Soviet days. He speaks more modestly of coalitions of aggrieved have-not countries that Russia might lead in countering American power.

Hence his increasingly active foreign policy — military partnerships with China, nuclear cooperation with Iran, weapon supplies to Syria and Venezuela, diplomatic support as well as arms for a genocidal Sudan, friendly outreach to other potential partners of an anti-hegemonic (read: anti-American) alliance.

Is this a return to the Cold War? It is true that the ex-KGB agent occasionally lets slip a classic Marxist anachronism such as “foreign capital” (referring to Western oil companies) or the otherwise weird adjective “vulgar” (describing the actions of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which infuriated Putin by insisting upon a clean election in Ukraine). He even intimated that he might undo one of the unequivocal achievements of the late Cold War era, the so-called “zero option” agreement of 1987, and restore a Soviet-style medium-range ballistic missile force.

Nonetheless, Putin’s aggressiveness does not signal a return to the Cold War. He is too clever to be burdened by the absurdity of socialist economics or Marxist politics. He is blissfully free of ideology, political philosophy and economic theory. There is no existential dispute with the United States.

He is a more modest man: a mere mafia don, seizing the economic resources and political power of a country for himself and his mostly KGB cronies. And promoting his vision of the Russian national interest — assertive and expansionist — by engaging in diplomacy that challenges the dominant power in order to boost his own.

He wants Gromyko’s influence — or at least some international acknowledgment that Moscow must be reckoned with — without the ideological baggage. He does not want to bury us; he only wants to diminish us. It is 19th-century power politics at its most crude and elemental. Putin does not want us as an enemy. But at Munich he told the world that vis-a-vis America his Russia has gone from partner to adversary.

Aslund Exposes Putin’s Cowardice and Weakness

Writing in the Washington Post Anders Aslund (pictured, left), a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics (and author of the upcoming book “How Capitalism Was Built” to be published by Cambridge University Press next fall) exposes the neo-Soviet propaganda being spewed out by Vladimir Putin as a clear sign of weakness, another nail in Russia’s coffin.

Vladimir Putin spoke his mind when he launched into an anti-American tirade in Munich recently, accusing the United States of having “overstepped its national borders in every way: in the economy, in politics, and in the humanitarian sphere it imposes its policies on other states. Well, who likes this?” Given the United States’ Iraq troubles, it is natural that the Russian president would thrive on American weakness. But his speech was as notable for what it said about his domestic politics.

Putin obviously thinks he is riding high. The Russian economy is booming. Incredibly, in the past seven years, Russia’s gross domestic product has grown by 500 percent, measured in current dollars (from $200 billion in 1999 to $1 trillion last year). The world is desperate for Russia’s oil and gas, and Putin remains astoundingly popular at home. His successor is certain to be handpicked by him. One can only marvel at how adeptly he handles a 3 1/2 -hour televised news conference, with detailed answers, alternating charm and combativeness.

Despite all that, Putin has painted himself into a corner as he faces the end of the two terms in office that the Russian constitution allows him. This is a man who speaks the language of a modern leader trying to rebuild his country, when in fact he and his cronies have really just wanted to enrich themselves. Having spent his time as president undermining democracy, property rights, the free press and the rule of law by taking over Yukos oil (and throwing its owner into a Siberian prison) and then other big companies, now he and his coterie must cling to power somehow — or risk losing it all if they cannot stage-manage a transition to the proper person.

The tolerance of corruption in the Putin regime is astounding. Recently, for instance, a Swiss court established that Minister of Communications Leonid Reiman, a close personal friend of Putin’s, was the owner of telecommunications assets in Russia worth more than a billion dollars. But this has not been reported in major media in Russia, and Reiman remains at his post without having offered any explanation or apology, only an implausible blanket denial.

How can Putin and his cronies give this up?

It seems clear that Putin has these worries in mind when he fulminates on the world stage against the United States. Such words have the effect of increasing his popularity and therefore his grip on the country, which has been suffocated by his near-total control of television stations, newspapers, nominations of candidates, political parties and even public meetings. The evidence of a growing Russian authoritarianism is clear: Russia is one of the few countries that has declined since 2000 from “partly free” to “not free,” according to Freedom House’s meticulous ratings.

Russia’s foreign policy in these seven years has changed accordingly, showing how brazen national political values do affect a country’s behavior outside its borders. Recently, for instance, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov boasted: “Not one single significant international problem can be resolved without Russia or against Russia.” Rather than acting as a problem-solver — as Putin did in his first term when, for instance, he cooperated with the U.S. effort against the Taliban in Afghanistan — he is now positioning himself as a spoiler on the world stage when it comes to the United States and its allies.

Nevertheless, Putin has managed to charm some Western leaders — former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, outgoing French President Jacques Chirac and, most notably, President Bush. Just this month, Bush told the Wall Street Journal: “Vladimir Putin has kept his word on everything he’s said to me.” Well, then he cannot have said much. Putin reciprocated in his anti-American Munich speech: “I consider the president of the United States my friend. He is a decent person.” He could as well have said: “He is a useful fool.”

Putin has divided the European Union by pampering its southern members — France, Greece, Italy and Spain — while antagonizing Poland and the three Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which have tied themselves closely to the United States. In Moscow, the four latter states are called the “aggressive new minority” in the E.U.

Russia has shown itself to be most aggressive in foreign policy in its own neighborhood of former Soviet republics. It has antagonized these countries so badly with its bullying — oil cutoffs, transportation blockades, trade shutdowns, immigration crackdowns — that they are all rushing for the exits and seeking closer cooperation with NATO and the E.U. or working to develop new energy pipelines that skirt Russia. Russia’s role in the region is dwindling despite its growing oil- and gas-fueled national wealth. As nationalist intellectual Stanislav Belkovsky, director of the National Strategy Institute in Moscow, recently put it: “In 2006, Russia ceased to be a regional power.”

Likewise, even as it declares itself an energy superpower, Russia has tripped itself up. In the past year, it has bombarded its neighbors with rude surprises: oil taxes and higher gas prices; spigots closed to force a political point. No amount of reassurance at this point can erase concerns in Europe about Russia as a reliable energy supplier. In the post-Soviet space, both friends and foes of Russia are repelled, finding Putin’s regime too unreliable and abrasive. They all now are trying to reduce their dependence on Russia.

The ultimate question is how the Putin regime will end. For the first time in Russian history, the secret police are fully in charge, right to the top. A tightly knit circle of Putin’s friends from his St. Petersburg KGB days rules in the Kremlin. Led by Igor Sechin, Putin’s closest colleague, they control virtually all security organs. There is much speculation about whether they can even be overruled by Putin himself. The closest parallel to the Sechin group in the past is the group controlled by Joseph Stalin’s secret police chief Lavrentii Beria, though there is one great difference: Unlike Putin, Stalin was not a creature of the security apparatus; he manipulated it for his own needs. There is another big difference: This group is interested only in amassing great wealth, not in controlling the lives of its countrymen. Which is why it is alarmed by the prospect of the 2008 presidential election and why Moscow is awash with rumors that Putin will find a way to stay on.

Given what is at stake, the United States can no longer be a mere bystander in this drama. Six years of soft policy on Russia have done nothing but encourage the Kremlin’s anti-Western stand. Bush could learn a lesson from Mikheil Saakashvili, president of Georgia, to carry a big stick when dealing with Putin. When Bush compliments Putin, he evokes only contempt in the Kremlin. President Ronald Reagan knew how important it was to speak the truth loudly and clearly. Vice President Cheney’s speech in Vilnius, Lithuania, last May was a welcome departure, which enraged the Kremlin. It’s the time for the White House to follow through.

The West persuaded Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev to ratify the Helsinki conventions on human rights and free and fair elections in 1975. The Helsinki conventions played an important role in undermining the Soviet dictatorship. The United States should invoke them again as Russia approaches a new round of parliamentary and presidential elections, in which it now appears that every rule in the book is set to be violated.

Indeed, in Munich Putin saved his rudest abuse for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which was founded on the Helsinki conventions and is the international organization for monitoring elections. Like Brezhnev, Putin accused the OSCE of “interfering in the internal affairs of other countries,” but the Helsinki conventions made democracy an international concern. Putin and his cronies may not like that, but given the link between Russia’s domestic policies and its foreign behavior, it’s important for the West to insist.

Aslund Exposes Putin’s Cowardice and Weakness

Writing in the Washington Post Anders Aslund (pictured, left), a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics (and author of the upcoming book “How Capitalism Was Built” to be published by Cambridge University Press next fall) exposes the neo-Soviet propaganda being spewed out by Vladimir Putin as a clear sign of weakness, another nail in Russia’s coffin.

Vladimir Putin spoke his mind when he launched into an anti-American tirade in Munich recently, accusing the United States of having “overstepped its national borders in every way: in the economy, in politics, and in the humanitarian sphere it imposes its policies on other states. Well, who likes this?” Given the United States’ Iraq troubles, it is natural that the Russian president would thrive on American weakness. But his speech was as notable for what it said about his domestic politics.

Putin obviously thinks he is riding high. The Russian economy is booming. Incredibly, in the past seven years, Russia’s gross domestic product has grown by 500 percent, measured in current dollars (from $200 billion in 1999 to $1 trillion last year). The world is desperate for Russia’s oil and gas, and Putin remains astoundingly popular at home. His successor is certain to be handpicked by him. One can only marvel at how adeptly he handles a 3 1/2 -hour televised news conference, with detailed answers, alternating charm and combativeness.

Despite all that, Putin has painted himself into a corner as he faces the end of the two terms in office that the Russian constitution allows him. This is a man who speaks the language of a modern leader trying to rebuild his country, when in fact he and his cronies have really just wanted to enrich themselves. Having spent his time as president undermining democracy, property rights, the free press and the rule of law by taking over Yukos oil (and throwing its owner into a Siberian prison) and then other big companies, now he and his coterie must cling to power somehow — or risk losing it all if they cannot stage-manage a transition to the proper person.

The tolerance of corruption in the Putin regime is astounding. Recently, for instance, a Swiss court established that Minister of Communications Leonid Reiman, a close personal friend of Putin’s, was the owner of telecommunications assets in Russia worth more than a billion dollars. But this has not been reported in major media in Russia, and Reiman remains at his post without having offered any explanation or apology, only an implausible blanket denial.

How can Putin and his cronies give this up?

It seems clear that Putin has these worries in mind when he fulminates on the world stage against the United States. Such words have the effect of increasing his popularity and therefore his grip on the country, which has been suffocated by his near-total control of television stations, newspapers, nominations of candidates, political parties and even public meetings. The evidence of a growing Russian authoritarianism is clear: Russia is one of the few countries that has declined since 2000 from “partly free” to “not free,” according to Freedom House’s meticulous ratings.

Russia’s foreign policy in these seven years has changed accordingly, showing how brazen national political values do affect a country’s behavior outside its borders. Recently, for instance, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov boasted: “Not one single significant international problem can be resolved without Russia or against Russia.” Rather than acting as a problem-solver — as Putin did in his first term when, for instance, he cooperated with the U.S. effort against the Taliban in Afghanistan — he is now positioning himself as a spoiler on the world stage when it comes to the United States and its allies.

Nevertheless, Putin has managed to charm some Western leaders — former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, outgoing French President Jacques Chirac and, most notably, President Bush. Just this month, Bush told the Wall Street Journal: “Vladimir Putin has kept his word on everything he’s said to me.” Well, then he cannot have said much. Putin reciprocated in his anti-American Munich speech: “I consider the president of the United States my friend. He is a decent person.” He could as well have said: “He is a useful fool.”

Putin has divided the European Union by pampering its southern members — France, Greece, Italy and Spain — while antagonizing Poland and the three Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which have tied themselves closely to the United States. In Moscow, the four latter states are called the “aggressive new minority” in the E.U.

Russia has shown itself to be most aggressive in foreign policy in its own neighborhood of former Soviet republics. It has antagonized these countries so badly with its bullying — oil cutoffs, transportation blockades, trade shutdowns, immigration crackdowns — that they are all rushing for the exits and seeking closer cooperation with NATO and the E.U. or working to develop new energy pipelines that skirt Russia. Russia’s role in the region is dwindling despite its growing oil- and gas-fueled national wealth. As nationalist intellectual Stanislav Belkovsky, director of the National Strategy Institute in Moscow, recently put it: “In 2006, Russia ceased to be a regional power.”

Likewise, even as it declares itself an energy superpower, Russia has tripped itself up. In the past year, it has bombarded its neighbors with rude surprises: oil taxes and higher gas prices; spigots closed to force a political point. No amount of reassurance at this point can erase concerns in Europe about Russia as a reliable energy supplier. In the post-Soviet space, both friends and foes of Russia are repelled, finding Putin’s regime too unreliable and abrasive. They all now are trying to reduce their dependence on Russia.

The ultimate question is how the Putin regime will end. For the first time in Russian history, the secret police are fully in charge, right to the top. A tightly knit circle of Putin’s friends from his St. Petersburg KGB days rules in the Kremlin. Led by Igor Sechin, Putin’s closest colleague, they control virtually all security organs. There is much speculation about whether they can even be overruled by Putin himself. The closest parallel to the Sechin group in the past is the group controlled by Joseph Stalin’s secret police chief Lavrentii Beria, though there is one great difference: Unlike Putin, Stalin was not a creature of the security apparatus; he manipulated it for his own needs. There is another big difference: This group is interested only in amassing great wealth, not in controlling the lives of its countrymen. Which is why it is alarmed by the prospect of the 2008 presidential election and why Moscow is awash with rumors that Putin will find a way to stay on.

Given what is at stake, the United States can no longer be a mere bystander in this drama. Six years of soft policy on Russia have done nothing but encourage the Kremlin’s anti-Western stand. Bush could learn a lesson from Mikheil Saakashvili, president of Georgia, to carry a big stick when dealing with Putin. When Bush compliments Putin, he evokes only contempt in the Kremlin. President Ronald Reagan knew how important it was to speak the truth loudly and clearly. Vice President Cheney’s speech in Vilnius, Lithuania, last May was a welcome departure, which enraged the Kremlin. It’s the time for the White House to follow through.

The West persuaded Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev to ratify the Helsinki conventions on human rights and free and fair elections in 1975. The Helsinki conventions played an important role in undermining the Soviet dictatorship. The United States should invoke them again as Russia approaches a new round of parliamentary and presidential elections, in which it now appears that every rule in the book is set to be violated.

Indeed, in Munich Putin saved his rudest abuse for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which was founded on the Helsinki conventions and is the international organization for monitoring elections. Like Brezhnev, Putin accused the OSCE of “interfering in the internal affairs of other countries,” but the Helsinki conventions made democracy an international concern. Putin and his cronies may not like that, but given the link between Russia’s domestic policies and its foreign behavior, it’s important for the West to insist.

Aslund Exposes Putin’s Cowardice and Weakness

Writing in the Washington Post Anders Aslund (pictured, left), a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics (and author of the upcoming book “How Capitalism Was Built” to be published by Cambridge University Press next fall) exposes the neo-Soviet propaganda being spewed out by Vladimir Putin as a clear sign of weakness, another nail in Russia’s coffin.

Vladimir Putin spoke his mind when he launched into an anti-American tirade in Munich recently, accusing the United States of having “overstepped its national borders in every way: in the economy, in politics, and in the humanitarian sphere it imposes its policies on other states. Well, who likes this?” Given the United States’ Iraq troubles, it is natural that the Russian president would thrive on American weakness. But his speech was as notable for what it said about his domestic politics.

Putin obviously thinks he is riding high. The Russian economy is booming. Incredibly, in the past seven years, Russia’s gross domestic product has grown by 500 percent, measured in current dollars (from $200 billion in 1999 to $1 trillion last year). The world is desperate for Russia’s oil and gas, and Putin remains astoundingly popular at home. His successor is certain to be handpicked by him. One can only marvel at how adeptly he handles a 3 1/2 -hour televised news conference, with detailed answers, alternating charm and combativeness.

Despite all that, Putin has painted himself into a corner as he faces the end of the two terms in office that the Russian constitution allows him. This is a man who speaks the language of a modern leader trying to rebuild his country, when in fact he and his cronies have really just wanted to enrich themselves. Having spent his time as president undermining democracy, property rights, the free press and the rule of law by taking over Yukos oil (and throwing its owner into a Siberian prison) and then other big companies, now he and his coterie must cling to power somehow — or risk losing it all if they cannot stage-manage a transition to the proper person.

The tolerance of corruption in the Putin regime is astounding. Recently, for instance, a Swiss court established that Minister of Communications Leonid Reiman, a close personal friend of Putin’s, was the owner of telecommunications assets in Russia worth more than a billion dollars. But this has not been reported in major media in Russia, and Reiman remains at his post without having offered any explanation or apology, only an implausible blanket denial.

How can Putin and his cronies give this up?

It seems clear that Putin has these worries in mind when he fulminates on the world stage against the United States. Such words have the effect of increasing his popularity and therefore his grip on the country, which has been suffocated by his near-total control of television stations, newspapers, nominations of candidates, political parties and even public meetings. The evidence of a growing Russian authoritarianism is clear: Russia is one of the few countries that has declined since 2000 from “partly free” to “not free,” according to Freedom House’s meticulous ratings.

Russia’s foreign policy in these seven years has changed accordingly, showing how brazen national political values do affect a country’s behavior outside its borders. Recently, for instance, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov boasted: “Not one single significant international problem can be resolved without Russia or against Russia.” Rather than acting as a problem-solver — as Putin did in his first term when, for instance, he cooperated with the U.S. effort against the Taliban in Afghanistan — he is now positioning himself as a spoiler on the world stage when it comes to the United States and its allies.

Nevertheless, Putin has managed to charm some Western leaders — former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, outgoing French President Jacques Chirac and, most notably, President Bush. Just this month, Bush told the Wall Street Journal: “Vladimir Putin has kept his word on everything he’s said to me.” Well, then he cannot have said much. Putin reciprocated in his anti-American Munich speech: “I consider the president of the United States my friend. He is a decent person.” He could as well have said: “He is a useful fool.”

Putin has divided the European Union by pampering its southern members — France, Greece, Italy and Spain — while antagonizing Poland and the three Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which have tied themselves closely to the United States. In Moscow, the four latter states are called the “aggressive new minority” in the E.U.

Russia has shown itself to be most aggressive in foreign policy in its own neighborhood of former Soviet republics. It has antagonized these countries so badly with its bullying — oil cutoffs, transportation blockades, trade shutdowns, immigration crackdowns — that they are all rushing for the exits and seeking closer cooperation with NATO and the E.U. or working to develop new energy pipelines that skirt Russia. Russia’s role in the region is dwindling despite its growing oil- and gas-fueled national wealth. As nationalist intellectual Stanislav Belkovsky, director of the National Strategy Institute in Moscow, recently put it: “In 2006, Russia ceased to be a regional power.”

Likewise, even as it declares itself an energy superpower, Russia has tripped itself up. In the past year, it has bombarded its neighbors with rude surprises: oil taxes and higher gas prices; spigots closed to force a political point. No amount of reassurance at this point can erase concerns in Europe about Russia as a reliable energy supplier. In the post-Soviet space, both friends and foes of Russia are repelled, finding Putin’s regime too unreliable and abrasive. They all now are trying to reduce their dependence on Russia.

The ultimate question is how the Putin regime will end. For the first time in Russian history, the secret police are fully in charge, right to the top. A tightly knit circle of Putin’s friends from his St. Petersburg KGB days rules in the Kremlin. Led by Igor Sechin, Putin’s closest colleague, they control virtually all security organs. There is much speculation about whether they can even be overruled by Putin himself. The closest parallel to the Sechin group in the past is the group controlled by Joseph Stalin’s secret police chief Lavrentii Beria, though there is one great difference: Unlike Putin, Stalin was not a creature of the security apparatus; he manipulated it for his own needs. There is another big difference: This group is interested only in amassing great wealth, not in controlling the lives of its countrymen. Which is why it is alarmed by the prospect of the 2008 presidential election and why Moscow is awash with rumors that Putin will find a way to stay on.

Given what is at stake, the United States can no longer be a mere bystander in this drama. Six years of soft policy on Russia have done nothing but encourage the Kremlin’s anti-Western stand. Bush could learn a lesson from Mikheil Saakashvili, president of Georgia, to carry a big stick when dealing with Putin. When Bush compliments Putin, he evokes only contempt in the Kremlin. President Ronald Reagan knew how important it was to speak the truth loudly and clearly. Vice President Cheney’s speech in Vilnius, Lithuania, last May was a welcome departure, which enraged the Kremlin. It’s the time for the White House to follow through.

The West persuaded Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev to ratify the Helsinki conventions on human rights and free and fair elections in 1975. The Helsinki conventions played an important role in undermining the Soviet dictatorship. The United States should invoke them again as Russia approaches a new round of parliamentary and presidential elections, in which it now appears that every rule in the book is set to be violated.

Indeed, in Munich Putin saved his rudest abuse for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which was founded on the Helsinki conventions and is the international organization for monitoring elections. Like Brezhnev, Putin accused the OSCE of “interfering in the internal affairs of other countries,” but the Helsinki conventions made democracy an international concern. Putin and his cronies may not like that, but given the link between Russia’s domestic policies and its foreign behavior, it’s important for the West to insist.

Aslund Exposes Putin’s Cowardice and Weakness

Writing in the Washington Post Anders Aslund (pictured, left), a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics (and author of the upcoming book “How Capitalism Was Built” to be published by Cambridge University Press next fall) exposes the neo-Soviet propaganda being spewed out by Vladimir Putin as a clear sign of weakness, another nail in Russia’s coffin.

Vladimir Putin spoke his mind when he launched into an anti-American tirade in Munich recently, accusing the United States of having “overstepped its national borders in every way: in the economy, in politics, and in the humanitarian sphere it imposes its policies on other states. Well, who likes this?” Given the United States’ Iraq troubles, it is natural that the Russian president would thrive on American weakness. But his speech was as notable for what it said about his domestic politics.

Putin obviously thinks he is riding high. The Russian economy is booming. Incredibly, in the past seven years, Russia’s gross domestic product has grown by 500 percent, measured in current dollars (from $200 billion in 1999 to $1 trillion last year). The world is desperate for Russia’s oil and gas, and Putin remains astoundingly popular at home. His successor is certain to be handpicked by him. One can only marvel at how adeptly he handles a 3 1/2 -hour televised news conference, with detailed answers, alternating charm and combativeness.

Despite all that, Putin has painted himself into a corner as he faces the end of the two terms in office that the Russian constitution allows him. This is a man who speaks the language of a modern leader trying to rebuild his country, when in fact he and his cronies have really just wanted to enrich themselves. Having spent his time as president undermining democracy, property rights, the free press and the rule of law by taking over Yukos oil (and throwing its owner into a Siberian prison) and then other big companies, now he and his coterie must cling to power somehow — or risk losing it all if they cannot stage-manage a transition to the proper person.

The tolerance of corruption in the Putin regime is astounding. Recently, for instance, a Swiss court established that Minister of Communications Leonid Reiman, a close personal friend of Putin’s, was the owner of telecommunications assets in Russia worth more than a billion dollars. But this has not been reported in major media in Russia, and Reiman remains at his post without having offered any explanation or apology, only an implausible blanket denial.

How can Putin and his cronies give this up?

It seems clear that Putin has these worries in mind when he fulminates on the world stage against the United States. Such words have the effect of increasing his popularity and therefore his grip on the country, which has been suffocated by his near-total control of television stations, newspapers, nominations of candidates, political parties and even public meetings. The evidence of a growing Russian authoritarianism is clear: Russia is one of the few countries that has declined since 2000 from “partly free” to “not free,” according to Freedom House’s meticulous ratings.

Russia’s foreign policy in these seven years has changed accordingly, showing how brazen national political values do affect a country’s behavior outside its borders. Recently, for instance, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov boasted: “Not one single significant international problem can be resolved without Russia or against Russia.” Rather than acting as a problem-solver — as Putin did in his first term when, for instance, he cooperated with the U.S. effort against the Taliban in Afghanistan — he is now positioning himself as a spoiler on the world stage when it comes to the United States and its allies.

Nevertheless, Putin has managed to charm some Western leaders — former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, outgoing French President Jacques Chirac and, most notably, President Bush. Just this month, Bush told the Wall Street Journal: “Vladimir Putin has kept his word on everything he’s said to me.” Well, then he cannot have said much. Putin reciprocated in his anti-American Munich speech: “I consider the president of the United States my friend. He is a decent person.” He could as well have said: “He is a useful fool.”

Putin has divided the European Union by pampering its southern members — France, Greece, Italy and Spain — while antagonizing Poland and the three Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which have tied themselves closely to the United States. In Moscow, the four latter states are called the “aggressive new minority” in the E.U.

Russia has shown itself to be most aggressive in foreign policy in its own neighborhood of former Soviet republics. It has antagonized these countries so badly with its bullying — oil cutoffs, transportation blockades, trade shutdowns, immigration crackdowns — that they are all rushing for the exits and seeking closer cooperation with NATO and the E.U. or working to develop new energy pipelines that skirt Russia. Russia’s role in the region is dwindling despite its growing oil- and gas-fueled national wealth. As nationalist intellectual Stanislav Belkovsky, director of the National Strategy Institute in Moscow, recently put it: “In 2006, Russia ceased to be a regional power.”

Likewise, even as it declares itself an energy superpower, Russia has tripped itself up. In the past year, it has bombarded its neighbors with rude surprises: oil taxes and higher gas prices; spigots closed to force a political point. No amount of reassurance at this point can erase concerns in Europe about Russia as a reliable energy supplier. In the post-Soviet space, both friends and foes of Russia are repelled, finding Putin’s regime too unreliable and abrasive. They all now are trying to reduce their dependence on Russia.

The ultimate question is how the Putin regime will end. For the first time in Russian history, the secret police are fully in charge, right to the top. A tightly knit circle of Putin’s friends from his St. Petersburg KGB days rules in the Kremlin. Led by Igor Sechin, Putin’s closest colleague, they control virtually all security organs. There is much speculation about whether they can even be overruled by Putin himself. The closest parallel to the Sechin group in the past is the group controlled by Joseph Stalin’s secret police chief Lavrentii Beria, though there is one great difference: Unlike Putin, Stalin was not a creature of the security apparatus; he manipulated it for his own needs. There is another big difference: This group is interested only in amassing great wealth, not in controlling the lives of its countrymen. Which is why it is alarmed by the prospect of the 2008 presidential election and why Moscow is awash with rumors that Putin will find a way to stay on.

Given what is at stake, the United States can no longer be a mere bystander in this drama. Six years of soft policy on Russia have done nothing but encourage the Kremlin’s anti-Western stand. Bush could learn a lesson from Mikheil Saakashvili, president of Georgia, to carry a big stick when dealing with Putin. When Bush compliments Putin, he evokes only contempt in the Kremlin. President Ronald Reagan knew how important it was to speak the truth loudly and clearly. Vice President Cheney’s speech in Vilnius, Lithuania, last May was a welcome departure, which enraged the Kremlin. It’s the time for the White House to follow through.

The West persuaded Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev to ratify the Helsinki conventions on human rights and free and fair elections in 1975. The Helsinki conventions played an important role in undermining the Soviet dictatorship. The United States should invoke them again as Russia approaches a new round of parliamentary and presidential elections, in which it now appears that every rule in the book is set to be violated.

Indeed, in Munich Putin saved his rudest abuse for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which was founded on the Helsinki conventions and is the international organization for monitoring elections. Like Brezhnev, Putin accused the OSCE of “interfering in the internal affairs of other countries,” but the Helsinki conventions made democracy an international concern. Putin and his cronies may not like that, but given the link between Russia’s domestic policies and its foreign behavior, it’s important for the West to insist.

Aslund Exposes Putin’s Cowardice and Weakness

Writing in the Washington Post Anders Aslund (pictured, left), a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics (and author of the upcoming book “How Capitalism Was Built” to be published by Cambridge University Press next fall) exposes the neo-Soviet propaganda being spewed out by Vladimir Putin as a clear sign of weakness, another nail in Russia’s coffin.

Vladimir Putin spoke his mind when he launched into an anti-American tirade in Munich recently, accusing the United States of having “overstepped its national borders in every way: in the economy, in politics, and in the humanitarian sphere it imposes its policies on other states. Well, who likes this?” Given the United States’ Iraq troubles, it is natural that the Russian president would thrive on American weakness. But his speech was as notable for what it said about his domestic politics.

Putin obviously thinks he is riding high. The Russian economy is booming. Incredibly, in the past seven years, Russia’s gross domestic product has grown by 500 percent, measured in current dollars (from $200 billion in 1999 to $1 trillion last year). The world is desperate for Russia’s oil and gas, and Putin remains astoundingly popular at home. His successor is certain to be handpicked by him. One can only marvel at how adeptly he handles a 3 1/2 -hour televised news conference, with detailed answers, alternating charm and combativeness.

Despite all that, Putin has painted himself into a corner as he faces the end of the two terms in office that the Russian constitution allows him. This is a man who speaks the language of a modern leader trying to rebuild his country, when in fact he and his cronies have really just wanted to enrich themselves. Having spent his time as president undermining democracy, property rights, the free press and the rule of law by taking over Yukos oil (and throwing its owner into a Siberian prison) and then other big companies, now he and his coterie must cling to power somehow — or risk losing it all if they cannot stage-manage a transition to the proper person.

The tolerance of corruption in the Putin regime is astounding. Recently, for instance, a Swiss court established that Minister of Communications Leonid Reiman, a close personal friend of Putin’s, was the owner of telecommunications assets in Russia worth more than a billion dollars. But this has not been reported in major media in Russia, and Reiman remains at his post without having offered any explanation or apology, only an implausible blanket denial.

How can Putin and his cronies give this up?

It seems clear that Putin has these worries in mind when he fulminates on the world stage against the United States. Such words have the effect of increasing his popularity and therefore his grip on the country, which has been suffocated by his near-total control of television stations, newspapers, nominations of candidates, political parties and even public meetings. The evidence of a growing Russian authoritarianism is clear: Russia is one of the few countries that has declined since 2000 from “partly free” to “not free,” according to Freedom House’s meticulous ratings.

Russia’s foreign policy in these seven years has changed accordingly, showing how brazen national political values do affect a country’s behavior outside its borders. Recently, for instance, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov boasted: “Not one single significant international problem can be resolved without Russia or against Russia.” Rather than acting as a problem-solver — as Putin did in his first term when, for instance, he cooperated with the U.S. effort against the Taliban in Afghanistan — he is now positioning himself as a spoiler on the world stage when it comes to the United States and its allies.

Nevertheless, Putin has managed to charm some Western leaders — former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, outgoing French President Jacques Chirac and, most notably, President Bush. Just this month, Bush told the Wall Street Journal: “Vladimir Putin has kept his word on everything he’s said to me.” Well, then he cannot have said much. Putin reciprocated in his anti-American Munich speech: “I consider the president of the United States my friend. He is a decent person.” He could as well have said: “He is a useful fool.”

Putin has divided the European Union by pampering its southern members — France, Greece, Italy and Spain — while antagonizing Poland and the three Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which have tied themselves closely to the United States. In Moscow, the four latter states are called the “aggressive new minority” in the E.U.

Russia has shown itself to be most aggressive in foreign policy in its own neighborhood of former Soviet republics. It has antagonized these countries so badly with its bullying — oil cutoffs, transportation blockades, trade shutdowns, immigration crackdowns — that they are all rushing for the exits and seeking closer cooperation with NATO and the E.U. or working to develop new energy pipelines that skirt Russia. Russia’s role in the region is dwindling despite its growing oil- and gas-fueled national wealth. As nationalist intellectual Stanislav Belkovsky, director of the National Strategy Institute in Moscow, recently put it: “In 2006, Russia ceased to be a regional power.”

Likewise, even as it declares itself an energy superpower, Russia has tripped itself up. In the past year, it has bombarded its neighbors with rude surprises: oil taxes and higher gas prices; spigots closed to force a political point. No amount of reassurance at this point can erase concerns in Europe about Russia as a reliable energy supplier. In the post-Soviet space, both friends and foes of Russia are repelled, finding Putin’s regime too unreliable and abrasive. They all now are trying to reduce their dependence on Russia.

The ultimate question is how the Putin regime will end. For the first time in Russian history, the secret police are fully in charge, right to the top. A tightly knit circle of Putin’s friends from his St. Petersburg KGB days rules in the Kremlin. Led by Igor Sechin, Putin’s closest colleague, they control virtually all security organs. There is much speculation about whether they can even be overruled by Putin himself. The closest parallel to the Sechin group in the past is the group controlled by Joseph Stalin’s secret police chief Lavrentii Beria, though there is one great difference: Unlike Putin, Stalin was not a creature of the security apparatus; he manipulated it for his own needs. There is another big difference: This group is interested only in amassing great wealth, not in controlling the lives of its countrymen. Which is why it is alarmed by the prospect of the 2008 presidential election and why Moscow is awash with rumors that Putin will find a way to stay on.

Given what is at stake, the United States can no longer be a mere bystander in this drama. Six years of soft policy on Russia have done nothing but encourage the Kremlin’s anti-Western stand. Bush could learn a lesson from Mikheil Saakashvili, president of Georgia, to carry a big stick when dealing with Putin. When Bush compliments Putin, he evokes only contempt in the Kremlin. President Ronald Reagan knew how important it was to speak the truth loudly and clearly. Vice President Cheney’s speech in Vilnius, Lithuania, last May was a welcome departure, which enraged the Kremlin. It’s the time for the White House to follow through.

The West persuaded Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev to ratify the Helsinki conventions on human rights and free and fair elections in 1975. The Helsinki conventions played an important role in undermining the Soviet dictatorship. The United States should invoke them again as Russia approaches a new round of parliamentary and presidential elections, in which it now appears that every rule in the book is set to be violated.

Indeed, in Munich Putin saved his rudest abuse for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which was founded on the Helsinki conventions and is the international organization for monitoring elections. Like Brezhnev, Putin accused the OSCE of “interfering in the internal affairs of other countries,” but the Helsinki conventions made democracy an international concern. Putin and his cronies may not like that, but given the link between Russia’s domestic policies and its foreign behavior, it’s important for the West to insist.

And now For Something Completely Different . . . and completely full of Crap

Contrast the two devastating articles from the Washington Post with one from Nikolai Petro, a professor at the University of Rhode Island, in the Asia Times (only an obscure forum of that kind would publish views this weirdly pathological). It’s far too long, boring and crazed to reprint, click through to have a gander. To sum him up, Petro’s thesis is that “hostility toward Russia is rooted in a mental image” — in other words, we are just imagining that Russia is dangerous, a thesis he himself admits “sounds simplistic and naive.” In other words he’s saying: “trust me, it’s not, put your life in my hands. If it doesn’t work out, don’t worry, you’ll get a really sincere apology from me as they lay you into your grave.”

Petro is a card-carrying member of the Russophile cabal over at Intelligent.ru (though that nefarious outfit seems, we are happy to report, to be down at the moment), which LR has previously exposed for the Kremlin-sponsored propaganda sham it is.

A reader says this about Petro’s credentials (in the article he’s identifed as “the US State Department’s special assistant for policy on the Soviet Union under president George H W Bush”) :

Another truly sad performance by the absent-minded professor. [Almost makes one] wonder how much the FSB is paying him to write this sort of nonsense? Probably a depressingly small amount. I’ll bet it’s nothing more than an occasional plane ticket and hotel room while he attends some phony “conference” where he gets to listen to suave “former” SVR officers expound on the subtle truths of “sovereign/managed democracy” and the bright future of “Russia – The Energy Superpower.” Barf!

The credentials he gives himself at the end of the article is total made-up bulls**t according those who know him. [One minute he's an obscure academic,] next thing you know, he’s “THE US State Department’s special assistant for policy on the Soviet Union under president George H W Bush”. If you changed the word “the” to “a”, and knew that “special assistant for policy” is the title the bureaucracy gives to its temp workers in lieu of salary, and that he only worked about 6 months at Main State and less than 2 mos in Moscow, you would have an accurate picture. In his “biography”, from his website, he simply drops the article altogether (perhaps relying on his Russian ancestry for justification?):

“In 1989 and 1990, as an International Affairs fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations, I served as special assistant for policy in the Office of Soviet Union Affairs in the U.S. Department of State and as temporary political attache at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. While in the Soviet Union I monitored local elections in central Russia, Belarus, and Latvia.”

The resume he posts (though not on his website) is basically accurate, and a lot more modest — tellingly, it also available only as a cached document.

This is all we can expect from the neo-Soviet propagandists and their apologists in the West. They will lie to us, while accusing us of lying to them. It is this phenomenon, more than any other, that brought the USSR to its knees.

The Rise of the Skinheads

CNN: Whats Going On In Russia? – video powered by Metacafe

CNN reports on the rise of the skinheads in Russia

Update on Svetlichnaya

The Times of London has issued the following statement on their reporting about Julia Svetlichnaya:

Correction: Julia Svetlichnaja Our report on the investigation into the death of Alexander Litvinenko (“Kremlin wants to quiz exiles”, December 10) referred to reports that Julia Svetlichnaja, a researcher at the centre for the Study of Democracy at Westminster University, may have been part of a Kremlin-orchestrated campaign to discredit Mr Litvinenko and said it was believed that she had previously worked for a state-owned Russian company. We are happy to make it clear that Ms Svetlichnaja has never worked for a state-owned Russian company and we accept that she was not part of any Kremlin-inspired campaign to discredit Mr Litvinenko.

This does far more to muddy the waters than to clear them. Here are the four reasons why:

First of all, the article cited by the Times makes no reference to Svetlichnaya as it currently appears on the Times website. So what was actually said about her by the Times remains unclear.

Second, it wasn’t the Times which reported the issues about Svetlichnaya, it was the Norwegian daily Aftenposten. If the Times did anything, it repeated what Aftenposten reported. Not only has Aftenposten not issued a correction, Svetlichnaya’s threat to sue the paper has not materialized (in fact, it hasn’t even been reported that she’s obtained legal representation in Norway).

Third, the Times is just saying that it can’t prove her denials of Kremlin affiliation are false, so it “accepts” her word that there are none. There’s a big, big difference between that and the Times concluding she has no such affiliations. To begin with, the issue isn’t whether Svetlichnaya ever worked for a “state-owned” Russian firm, it’s whether she ever worked for a firm that was controlled by the Kremlin or one of its sycophant oligarchs. Svetlichnaya has done nothing to establish who owned the companies she worked for. Moreover, it’s perfectly possible that Svetlichnaya was nothing more than a patsy, an unknowing pawn being manipulated by a Kremlin-connected Svengali. In that case, it could be perfectly true that she herself is unaware of her own connections to the Kremlin. That wouldn’t mean she’s not their agent.

Fourth, Svetlichnaya has still not come forward to publish the e-mails and tape recordings of Litvinenko that she claims she has. She still has not explained how she got in touch with him or why (it has nothing to do with her dissertation work), nor has she explained why she needs to work with the Marxist extremist James Heartfield or what her relationship is with him. She’s claimed to have been no friend of the Kremlin in the past, but hasn’t documented any published statements critical of it, and she hasn’t explained who is paying for her education and her lawyer (these are just some of the critical questions she has left hanging, her story is chock-a-block with inconsistencies that need attention).

Now let’s be clear: Nobody in the world would be better pleased than LR to learn that Svetlichnaya can’t be counted among the Kremlin’s henchmen. They’ve got more than enough as it is. If she’s simply a ham-handed young lady who’s ended up unintentionally giving aid and comfort to the Kremlin’s anti-democratic forces in their hour of need, that’s the best-case scenario we can imagine. But she’s done virtually nothing to help clear up the confusion, and that can only cast the shadow of doubt upon her.