Daily Archives: April 19, 2007

Another Original LR Translation: How the Kremlin Wins Friends and Influences People

This is a big week for translations from the Russian media by La Russophobe. First we offered something from Novaya Gazeta, then from Kommersant by way Gazetta.ru, then (see link below) from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and now we are delighted to have from our original translator a page from the opposition group Oborona’s web page detailing how the Kremlin generates support for itself in public demonstrations. Readers can also look forward to an upcoming piece from our original translator from Yezhedevny Zhurnal, a major policy statement from opposition leader Andrei Illarinov.

Imperialists Wholesale and Retail

Oborona

April 6, 2007

I recently had the good fortune to receive the following letter via mass email:

“Greetings! We would like to offer you a short-term job on April 8, from 13:30 – 14:30, at Triumfalnaya Ploshchad’! ICQ 228504397, Tel: 89265815418, Peter.

Anticipating a small addition to my personal budget in a round sum, I dialed the magic number. “Peter” informed me that I would need to come to “A meeting organized by the Moscow city government around national slogans.” When I asked what exactly these slogans would be, the recruiter of fervent nationalists answered in a roundabout way, “Well, there may not actually be any slogans. We’ll just hang around there and see what they tell us.”

But actually, it wasn’t hard to guess what they would tell us at this gathering of paid patriots, if one recalled that by happy coincidence at exactly this time and place a certain “Imperial March” was scheduled to begin – a procession organized by pro-Kremlin fighters against American imperialism and home-grown “defeatists”.

In exchange for listening to an hour-long lecture, Peter promised to reward me with a whole… 120 rubles. This suspiciously un-round figure led me to suspect that a certain percentage of this paltry coinage was finding its way into the pocket of the hard-working recruiter.

My rendezvous was set for 13:15 at the Mayakovskaya metro station. “Peter” would be carrying a yellow package in his hand. Likewise, another gatherer of imperialists promised to meet Roman Dobrokhotov at the Benetton store on Tverskaya Ploshchad’. He would be recognized by the exact same yellow package. It seems there was a whole brigade of “Peters”! :

Onward the fight against the Orange Plague!

Follow the yellow packets!

You can find out more about how imperialists are recruited here. [TN: this link is to a blog in which the blogger followed up on the exact same spam recruitment letter, and made a tape recording of a “Peter” giving his recruitment pitch and providing instructions on where and how to meet for the big event. A predictable torrent of abuse from brigadniki in response to these investigations can also be read in the comments sections of both sites.]

Tymoshenko in Foreign Affairs: Containing Russia

Writing in the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs, Ukrainian politican Yulia Tymoshenko details the horrors of the neo-Soviet Union and outlines her proposed plan of attack. The Russian government has already issued a crazed formal response to this treatise, which you can read on Publius Pundit because of the generous work of LR translator Vova Khavkin

Summary: Russia’s imperial ambitions did not end with the fall of the Soviet Union. The Kremlin has returned to expansionism, trying to recapture great-power status at the expense of its neighbors, warns one of Ukraine’s most prominent politicians. The United States and Europe must counter with a strong response — one that keeps Russia in check without sparking a new Cold War.

THE SOURCES OF RUSSIAN CONDUCT

Sixty-one years ago, a telegram arrived at the State Department from the U.S. embassy in Moscow. Its purpose was to examine the sources of the conduct of the men who ruled in the Kremlin. Its impact was immediate. The “Long Telegram,” penned by a young diplomat named George Kennan, became the basis for U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union for the next half century.

Although the Soviet Union is long gone, the West is once again groping to understand what motivates the leaders in the Kremlin. Many believe that the principles behind Kennan’s policy of “containment” are still applicable today — and see a new Cold War, this time against Vladimir Putin’s resurgent Russia, in the offing.

I do not believe that a new Cold War is under way or likely. Nevertheless, because Russia has indeed transformed itself since Putin became president in 2000, the problem of fitting Russia into the world’s diplomatic and economic structures (particularly when it comes to markets for energy) raises profound questions. Those questions are all the more vexing because Russia is usually judged on the basis of speculation about its intentions rather than on the basis of its actions.

In the aftermath of communism’s collapse, it was assumed that Russia’s imperial ambitions had vanished — and that foreign policy toward Russia could be conducted as if former diplomatic considerations did not apply. Yet they must apply, for Russia straddles the world’s geopolitical heartland and is heir to a remorseless imperial tradition. Encouraging economic and political reform — the West’s preferred means of engaging Russia since communism’s end — is of course an important foreign policy tool. But it cannot substitute for a serious effort to counter Russia’s long-standing expansionism and its present desire to recapture its great-power status at the expense of its neighbors.

THE RUSSIAN JANUS

Thanks to high energy prices, the chaotic conditions that prevailed across Russia in the early 1990s have given way to several years of 6.5 percent annual economic growth and a trillion-dollar economy. Living standards have improved (although life expectancy has not), the middle class is growing and increasingly confident, and the stock market is booming. Russia possesses the third-largest hard-currency reserves in the world, and it is running a huge current account surplus and paying off the last of the debts it accumulated in the early 1990s. The ruble has been made fully convertible and may even be undervalued. Russian membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) beckons. Ordinary Russians are grateful to Putin for the country’s stability and economic growth, and they are proud that Russia appears to matter when great global issues are debated. No wonder, then, that Putin’s popularity rating is around 70 percent — a sustained achievement that any politician would envy.

Yet, for every step forward that Russia has taken over the course of Putin’s second term, it has taken a step backward. Greater state control of the economy — especially in the energy industry, where, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the state’s share of oil production has doubled in three years — has bred corruption and inefficiency. Serious political opposition has been muzzled. Newspapers and television and radio stations have been shut down or taken over by the government and its allies. Kremlin cronies have replaced elected regional governors, and Russia’s parliament, the Duma, has been emasculated as part of the Kremlin’s drive to monopolize all state power.

Russia’s foreign policy has been equally troubling. Moscow has given Iran diplomatic protection for its nuclear ambitions, and Russian arms sales are promiscuous. The Kremlin has consistently harassed neighboring countries; former Soviet nations, such as Georgia, have faced near economic strangulation. In February, Putin spoke favorably about creating a “gas OPEC.”

None of this should be surprising, for Putin’s aim has been unvarying from the start of his presidency: restore Russian greatness. Unlike Boris Yeltsin, who accepted dissent as a necessary part of democratic politics — it was, after all, as a dissenter from Mikhail Gorbachev’s rule that he gained the presidency of Russia — Putin was determined from the outset to curtail political opposition as an essential step toward revitalizing centralized power. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, of Yukos Oil, for example, is in prison for daring to challenge the Kremlin’s authority and perhaps aspiring to succeed Putin. Order, power (including the power to divide the spoils of Russia’s natural-resource wealth), and reviving Russia’s international influence, not democracy or human rights, are what matter in today’s Kremlin.

The backgrounds of the people who make up Putin’s government have something to do with this orientation. A study of 1,016 leading figures in Putin’s regime — departmental heads of the president’s administration, cabinet members, parliamentary deputies, heads of federal units, and heads of regional executive and legislative branches — conducted by Olga Kryshtanovskaya, director of Moscow’s Center for the Study of Elites, found that 26 percent at some point served in the KGB or one of its successor agencies. Kryshtanovskaya argues that a closer look at these biographies — examining gaps in resumés, odd career paths, or service in KGB a/liates — suggests that 78 percent of the top people in Putin’s regime can be considered ex-KGB. (The significance of such findings should not be exaggerated: former secret police may hold many of Russia’s highest o/ces, but Russia is not a police state.)

Despite strong economic growth, Russia’s domestic problems are awesome. In the long run, the country’s systemic weaknesses may prove more disruptive to the world than its revived strength. Alcoholism and a collapsing health system are fueling a demographic catastrophe: the population has been shrinking by 700,000 annually for the past eight years despite the fact that the country’s HIV/AIDS epidemic has not yet peaked. Male life expectancy is among the lowest in the world. Most demographers expect that Russia’s population will shrink even more dramatically, perhaps to below 100 million people by the middle of the twenty-first century.

Russia’s robust growth, moreover, is precarious, because it is based on high oil prices that seem unlikely to last and rising production that clearly cannot be sustained, owing to grossly inadequate investment. Natural resources such as oil and gas are a mixed blessing for Russia, just as they are for other countries. High energy prices and raw material exports have allowed Russia to become the world’s tenth-largest economy. Energy exports finance about 30 percent of the Kremlin’s budget. But that figure is based on the assumption that oil will remain at $61 per barrel, which it has already fallen below. Aside from energy, Russian industrial exports primarily consist of armaments, with advanced aircraft accounting for more than half of sales. This lack of economic diversification leaves Russia vulnerable to any downturn in world oil and commodity prices.

Social inequality is vast and growing. Corruption, the OECD reports, is far higher today than it was under Yeltsin. State interference in business decision-making is at its highest level since the end of communism. Moreover, without the rule of law, today’s growing middle class will never acquire the confidence it needs to sustain a modern economy. Meanwhile, the insurgency in Chechnya has been met by the Kremlin’s local strongman, whose minions openly terrorize, kidnap, and kill opponents. The North Caucasus is a tinderbox. The Russian army is riddled with graft, with o/cers selling conscripts into virtual slavery. And dangerous new forms of tuberculosis — as well as of Islamist extremism among the 17 percent of the Russian population that is Muslim — are being incubated through neglect.

Throughout the 1990s, it was fashionable to liken Russia to Weimar Germany — a nation humiliated and shaken to its core by depression and hyperinflation that might fall under the spell of some reckless nationalist. But the defeated Germany of the 1920s was already a modern industrialized state, and the Nazi regime was only possible because it could seize the levers of such a state. These conditions did not exist in Yeltsin’s Russia. Corruption and governmental chaos meant that Russia could not mount any sort of serious strategic challenge. But today’s oil-fueled revival and the more disciplined government Putin has imposed may allow Russia to mount just such a challenge, particularly where world energy supplies are concerned.

After the Soviet Union’s collapse, the West made the mistake of assuming that Russia’s reduced status meant it was unnecessary to accord the Kremlin any special diplomatic consideration — that Russia neither deserved nor should be offered a major role in world affairs. Accordingly, instead of drawing Russia into a network of dialogue and cooperation when it was weak — and thereby helping it form habits that would carry on when Russia regained strength — the West ignored Russia. This indifference caused Russia to regard the West’s attempts to reassure eastern European countries about their security and place in the West as unfriendly acts, leading to today’s problems. Had Russia been handled better in the 1990s — had its sense of insecurity not been aggravated — the country’s tendency toward expansionism might well have been moderated.

UKRAINE EXPOSED

Ukraine’s national experience has taught its citizens to regard peace as fragile and fleeting, its roots too shallow to bear the strain of constant social and political upheaval. We Ukrainians accept the lessons of our history and work toward solutions that relieve the sources of this strain, lest neglect allow war to overtake peace and authority to subvert freedom. This is why we see our future in the European Union: the goal of the EU is to confront instability and insecurity with a lasting structure of peace and prosperity in which all of Europe’s nations and neighbors have a stake.

To ensure that Europe’s structure of peace is secure in the former Soviet East, a clear understanding of the existing power dynamic is needed. Much like the periods following the treaties of Westphalia and Versailles, the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse features a powerful country confronting a group of smaller and unprotected new states. Given the economic and institutional links that arose in the decades of Soviet misrule, Russia’s influence in the region was bound to be strong. This is a fact of life that I, as a practicing politician in Ukraine, live with every day. It is a fact with which the EU must come to grips under the current German presidency, by beginning to negotiate a new EU-Russia treaty to replace the one written at the nadir of Russia’s power. In the coming months, German Chancellor Angela Merkel must answer the question of how Europe can forge a lasting and mutually beneficial relationship with the powerful new Russia that has emerged under Putin.

As a convinced European, I support Germany and the EU in this effort. Relations with Russia are too vital to the security and prosperity of all of us to be developed individually and ad hoc. If there is one country toward which Europeans — and, indeed, the entire West — should share a common foreign policy, it is Russia. With high world energy prices allowing Russia to emerge from the trauma of its postcommunist transition, now is the time for a clear-sighted reckoning of European security in the face of Russia’s renewed power. Relying on Russia’s long-term systemic problems to curb its pressure tactics will not prevent the Kremlin from reestablishing its hegemony in the short run.

The backgrounds of the people who make up Putin’s government have something to do with this orientation. A study of 1,016 leading figures in Putin’s regime — departmental heads of the president’s administration, cabinet members, parliamentary deputies, heads of federal units, and heads of regional executive and legislative branches — conducted by Olga Kryshtanovskaya, director of Moscow’s Center for the Study of Elites, found that 26 percent at some point served in the KGB or one of its successor agencies. Kryshtanovskaya argues that a closer look at these biographies — examining gaps in resumés, odd career paths, or service in KGB a/liates — suggests that 78 percent of the top people in Putin’s regime can be considered ex-KGB. (The significance of such findings should not be exaggerated: former secret police may hold many of Russia’s highest o/ces, but Russia is not a police state.)

Despite strong economic growth, Russia’s domestic problems are awesome. In the long run, the country’s systemic weaknesses may prove more disruptive to the world than its revived strength. Alcoholism and a collapsing health system are fueling a demographic catastrophe: the population has been shrinking by 700,000 annually for the past eight years despite the fact that the country’s HIV/AIDS epidemic has not yet peaked. Male life expectancy is among the lowest in the world. Most demographers expect that Russia’s population will shrink even more dramatically, perhaps to below 100 million people by the middle of the twenty-first century.

Russia’s robust growth, moreover, is precarious, because it is based on high oil prices that seem unlikely to last and rising production that clearly cannot be sustained, owing to grossly inadequate investment. Natural resources such as oil and gas are a mixed blessing for Russia, just as they are for other countries. High energy prices and raw material exports have allowed Russia to become the world’s tenth-largest economy. Energy exports finance about 30 percent of the Kremlin’s budget. But that figure is based on the assumption that oil will remain at $61 per barrel, which it has already fallen below. Aside from energy, Russian industrial exports primarily consist of armaments, with advanced aircraft accounting for more than half of sales. This lack of economic diversification leaves Russia vulnerable to any downturn in world oil and commodity prices.

Social inequality is vast and growing. Corruption, the OECD reports, is far higher today than it was under Yeltsin. State interference in business decision-making is at its highest level since the end of communism. Moreover, without the rule of law, today’s growing middle class will never acquire the confidence it needs to sustain a modern economy. Meanwhile, the insurgency in Chechnya has been met by the Kremlin’s local strongman, whose minions openly terrorize, kidnap, and kill opponents. The North Caucasus is a tinderbox. The Russian army is riddled with graft, with o/cers selling conscripts into virtual slavery. And dangerous new forms of tuberculosis — as well as of Islamist extremism among the 17 percent of the Russian population that is Muslim — are being incubated through neglect.

Throughout the 1990s, it was fashionable to liken Russia to Weimar Germany — a nation humiliated and shaken to its core by depression and hyperinflation that might fall under the spell of some reckless nationalist. But the defeated Germany of the 1920s was already a modern industrialized state, and the Nazi regime was only possible because it could seize the levers of such a state. These conditions did not exist in Yeltsin’s Russia. Corruption and governmental chaos meant that Russia could not mount any sort of serious strategic challenge. But today’s oil-fueled revival and the more disciplined government Putin has imposed may allow Russia to mount just such a challenge, particularly where world energy supplies are concerned.

After the Soviet Union’s collapse, the West made the mistake of assuming that Russia’s reduced status meant it was unnecessary to accord the Kremlin any special diplomatic consideration — that Russia neither deserved nor should be offered a major role in world affairs. Accordingly, instead of drawing Russia into a network of dialogue and cooperation when it was weak — and thereby helping it form habits that would carry on when Russia regained strength — the West ignored Russia. This indifference caused Russia to regard the West’s attempts to reassure eastern European countries about their security and place in the West as unfriendly acts, leading to today’s problems. Had Russia been handled better in the 1990s — had its sense of insecurity not been aggravated — the country’s tendency toward expansionism might well have been moderated.

PIPELINE POLITICS

One key question is just how reliable the Russian energy supply really is. Despite having the world’s largest gas reserves, Russia now faces a domestic shortage of gas. Gazprom, the country’s dominant gas supplier (which, when it comes to foreign policy, doubles as an arm of the Kremlin), is not producing enough for an economy growing at more than six percent a year. Production from Gazprom’s three biggest gas fields, which account for three-quarters of its output, is in steep decline. The one large field that the company has brought on-stream since the end of the Soviet era is reaching its peak. Overall gas production is virtually flat.

According to the Institute of Energy Policy, in Moscow, Gazprom’s capital investments in new gas production in the years 2000-2006 were one-quarter the size of its investments in other activities: media companies, banks, even chicken farms, as well as its downstream investments in western Europe’s energy networks. Despite the enormous revenues to be gained from the new production of gas, Gazprom rarely attempts to find or produce more. As a result, it is unable to come up with enough gas to meet internal demand and its export obligations.

After more than ten years of delay, Gazprom has decided to develop a big field on the Yamal Peninsula — a barren and barely accessible region in the Arctic. But the earliest that gas from Yamal will reach the market is 2011. Meanwhile, demand for gas — from RAO Unified Energy System of Russia (UESR), Russia’s electricity monopoly, as well as from expanding industrial companies and households — is growing by about 2.2 percent annually, according to a recent report by the investment bank UBS. “The risk of supply crisis is real,” the report noted, if growth in demand accelerates to 2.5 percent.

The impending shortage means that Gazprom will not be able to increase gas supplies to Europe, at least in the short term — something that European countries should be aware of and concerned about. This may explain why Gazprom abandoned its plan to send gas from the Shtokman field, in the Barents Sea, to the U.S. market as liquefied natural gas and diverted it to Europe instead. The decision, initially interpreted as a move intended to irk Washington, may actually have been a sign of desperation: sending Shtokman gas to Europe would free up Siberian output for domestic consumption.

The problem, of course, is not a lack of gas — Russia has 16 percent of the world’s total known reserves — but Gazprom’s investment strategy. Over the past few years, the company has spent vigorously on everything but developing its reserves. It has built a pipeline to Turkey, taken over an oil company, invested in UESR, tried to gain footholds in European distribution markets, and become Russia’s biggest media company. All this was done in the name of creating and sustaining a “national energy champion.” Yet investment in Gazprom’s core business was grossly inadequate.

There is another problem facing Gazprom: the actual engineering costs of developing new gas fields in Russia. In the Shtokman gas field and on the Yamal Peninsula, in particular, the engineering costs, including the cost of transporting the output to Europe, are twice as high as for new gas fields in North Africa and the Middle East. The international gas market is already beginning to recognize this, and, over the long term, it could be enormously dangerous for Russia. Indeed, Russia may actually be putting itself out of the gas business, because high engineering costs for new projects in Russia are signaling to the market that Russia and Gazprom lack the capacity to develop these fields. Western companies could come in and do the job, but given the Kremlin’s recent usurpation of Shell’s investments on Sakhalin Island, these companies would be remiss in their fiduciary duties if they undertook such investments.

The only way to avoid a crisis is to break Gazprom’s monopoly on pipeline infrastructure and to license independent gas producers. Independent producers already account for 20 percent of domestic gas sales in Russia and are boosting their output. Further gains would require market-based incentives. Europe can help by explicitly linking its acceptance of Russia’s WTO membership to Russia’s ratification of the Energy Charter and its attendant Transit Protocol, which would guarantee access to Russian pipelines for Gazprom’s competitors.

Any worthwhile energy security policy for Europe would also seek to loosen Gazprom’s monopolistic grip on the pipelines. European competition policy, which has successfully brought companies as big as Microsoft into line, could — if used skillfully — also help turn Gazprom into a normal competitor. Establishing an independent regulator, as Russian Economy Minister German Gref has suggested, would also be an important step toward splitting Gazprom into a pipeline operator and a production company. But Putin has vehemently rejected such a move. Thus, he now faces a choice between domestic gas shortages that threaten to slow economic growth and losing the Kremlin’s “national energy champion.”

Beyond tackling Gazprom’s monopolistic power, a realistic energy policy for Europe would also seek to share the risks of any possible energy blockade equally among all Europeans, rather than allowing separate deals that leave others vulnerable to energy blackmail. Such a policy would need to incorporate a consensus that no country could reach a deal with Gazprom that undercuts EU plans to help construct pipelines from Central Asia that bypass Russia. Another counterweight could be built through trade. By extending the single market eastward to include Ukraine, the EU would shift the center of gravity for the region’s trade relations. Today’s negotiations over a “deep free trade agreement” between Ukraine and the EU need to lead, eventually, to an agreement that will give Ukraine candidate status for EU membership.

A NORMAL COUNTRY

The West should support Russia when it pushes for democracy and free markets but bolster the obstacles to its imperial ambitions. Indeed, Russian reform will be strengthened if Russia is encouraged to concentrate — for the first time in its history — on developing its national territory, which sprawls over 11 time zones from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok, leaving no rational cause for claustrophobia.

It does Russia no good to be treated as if it were immune from the normal considerations of foreign policy; treating it so will only force Russia to pay a heavier price later on, by luring it into taking steps from which it cannot easily retreat. The West should not fear frank discussions about where its interests and Russia’s converge and diverge. Western leaders should not hesitate to insist that signed agreements, such as those to withdraw troops now stationed in the countries of the former Soviet Union, be fully honored. Realistic dialogue will not unhinge the leaders in the Kremlin. They are smart and can readily grasp a policy based on mutual respect. In fact, they are likely to understand such a calculus better than appeals to goodwill and friendship.

Two objectives must be kept in balance when dealing with Russia: influencing Russian attitudes and affecting Russian calculations. Russia should be welcomed in institutions and agreements that foster cooperation — most important, Europe’s Energy Charter and the Transit Protocol, with their reciprocal rights and responsibilities. But Russia’s reform will be impeded, not helped, if the West turns a blind eye to its imperial pretensions. The independence of the republics that broke away from the Soviet Union, including Ukraine, must not be tacitly downgraded by the West’s acquiescence to Russia’s desire for hegemony.

Ukraine can help Europe and the United States create a viable structure within which Russia can exist securely. Our destiny is to be neither a forgotten borderland nor a bridge between the so-called post-Soviet space of “managed democracy” and the real democracies of the West. By strengthening our independence, we can shape Europe’s peace and unity as we roll back the crony capitalism and lawlessness that are now the norms of the post-Soviet world. During my premiership, we sought to achieve just that, working with Moldova and Romania to standardize the region’s customs regimes and thereby crack down on criminal enterprises in the breakaway region of Trans-Dniestria (which is trying to secede from Moldova only because of Russian support).

We acted in concert with our neighbors because we know that self-determination does not mean isolation. Achieving national independence today means having a new status, not withdrawing from the world scene. New nations can build with their former occupiers the same kind of fruitful relationship that France now has with Germany — a relationship founded on equality and mutual interests. That is the relationship I seek with Russia, and that is how Ukraine can help extend the zone of Europe’s peace.

The real test of statesmanship is the ability to protect one’s country against unfavorable and unforeseen contingencies. The fatal flaw in Russia’s current oil- and gas-powered assertiveness is that the leaders in the Kremlin have lost their sense of proportion. Today’s budget surpluses have allowed them to overestimate the extent of Russia’s economic renewal, and they seem to have forgotten that by bullying their immediate neighbors they are also sending shock waves across the entire West. Of course, the Kremlin leadership will find it hard to admit that the centralized system that it is re-creating lacks the capacity to spur initiative, that Russia, despite its vast natural resources, remains a very backward country. The subservience that the Kremlin demands is stifling the vitality and creativity that Russia needs if it is to grow for the long term, let alone sustain its place in the world.

Russia will damage its own interests if it turns down serious U.S. and European offers to participate on an equal basis in the structures of European and Middle East security. Failure to cooperate sincerely on energy security would eventually isolate Russia in the face of serious strategic challenges to its south and east; it would deprive Russia of all but the crudest methods of influence.

Russia’s leaders deserve understanding for their anguished struggle to overcome generations of Soviet misrule. They are not, however, entitled to being handed the sphere of influence that tsars and commissars coveted for 300 years. If the West, particularly Europe, is to ensure its economic prosperity and energy security, it must be ready to demand of Russia what Russia has so far been unwilling to provide. And if Russia is to become a serious partner for the West, it must be ready to accept the obligations of stability as well as its benefits.

Putin will Stop at Nothing

Writing in the American Spectator, the brilliant columnist Anne Applebaum (pictured) once again warns the world of the peril it faces from the neo-Soviet Union:

About two years ago, Mikhail Kasyanov, ex-prime minister of Russia, made a private visit to Washington. Off the record, he told a handful of journalists that he was disturbed by the authoritarianism of President Putin. Then, in maybe a dozen or so more ‘off the record’ meetings, he told more journalists, several politicians and a lot of other people in Washington that he was disturbed by the authoritarianism of President Putin. In other words, he might as well have got himself a megaphone and walked down the street, shouting his intention to oppose President Putin. There was no reaction in Russia.

Round about the same time Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion, decided to abandon his chess career in order to oppose President Putin. ‘Russia is in a moment of crisis and every decent person must stand up and resist the rise of the Putin dictatorship,’ he wrote in the Wall Street Journal, definitely not off the record. Again, there was no reaction in Russia — though an angry fan did hit him over the head with a chessboard. (‘I’m lucky the national sport of the Soviet Union is chess, not baseball,’ he said afterwards.)

Both men are now vocal opponents of President Putin — though any way you look at it, they don’t have much in common. Kasyanov is a slick talker, a technocrat and a former insider who is, fairly or not, suspected of corruption. Kasparov is a blunt-speaking outsider, half-Armenian and half-Jewish. No one suspects him of corruption, since his chess career made him plenty rich.

But if the two have little in common with one another, they have even less in common with the rest of President Putin’s open opponents. They have little in common, for example, with Anna Politkovskaya, the extraordinary journalist, Chechen war reporter and Kremlin critic who was murdered late last year. They have little in common with Lyudmila Alekseyeva, a former and current leader of the Moscow Helsinki Group — a venerable institution created in 1976 to force the Soviet Union to live up to the international human rights treaties it had signed, now re-organised to protest against the creeping authoritarianism of Putin’s post-Soviet Russia. They have little in common with Eduard Limonov, a writer and ex-punk rocker whose National Bolshevist Party, though best known for thuggishness and stunts, also opposes Putin.

Moreover, none of these opposition figures seems to have anything at all in common with President Putin’s loudest opponent either: Boris Berezovsky, the exiled Russian oligarch, who told the Guardian last week that ‘we need to use force to change this regime’. Asked if he were plotting a revolution, he said ‘you are absolutely correct’ — thereby inspiring mocking headlines in Moscow about Berezovsky following in the footsteps of Lenin.

Actually, I should rephrase that. It is perhaps possible to imagine a bond between Kasyanov, a politician who knows the value of money, and Berezovsky — though the former denies it. But a political pact between Berezovsky and, say, Alekseyeva? A slick mogul who hungers for media attention, and a ferocious, white-haired lady who hungers for justice? Not a chance.

On the contrary, if there is anything that characterises this new generation of Russian dissidents, it is their deep differences. Some want street demonstrations, some want television time. Some are incensed about the Chechen war, some are interested in personal power. Some live in British country houses, others in grubby Moscow flats. No wonder they have yet to formulate a cohesive movement.

Oddly enough, in their mixed motives and varying backgrounds this new generation of dissidents does resemble its Soviet predecessors. They, too, were unpopular. Peter Reddaway, then the leading scholar on the subject, reckoned that at its zenith in the early 1980s the dissident movement had made ‘little or no headway among the mass of ordinary people’. Today, the mass of ordinary people are probably not merely indifferent but actively hostile to Kasyanov with his liberal economics; to Kasparov with his mixed ethnic origins; to Alekseyeva with her high principles; to Limonov with his madness. Yet despite this — or perhaps because of it — the Putin regime increasingly treats these new dissidents in much the same manner as the Soviet regime once treated its dissidents.

Until recently, the Putin doctrine of managed democracy was relatively mild and rather clever. Although television was entirely Kremlin-controlled, small opposition newspapers were allowed to exist, so long as not too many people read them. Although they would never receive serious airtime, small opposition political parties were also allowed to exist. Anyone who went too far was slapped down, of course: they could receive visits from the tax police or, if they got too powerful, they could be arrested by the tax police, as was the oil baron Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Still, this system was mild enough to allow President Putin to go on posing as a ‘reformer’ for many years, and to continue being invited to the G8.

But in the past year or so, that carefully calibrated tolerance for a manifestly weak political opposition has begun to deteriorate. The visits from the tax police are now augmented by visits from the secret police. Independent groups of all kinds — environmentalist, human rights, even educational — find it difficult to register legally. Most of all, two extremely open and brutal murders of two well-known people — Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko — appear to have changed the terms of the game. Politkovskaya was shot in broad daylight, in her apartment building, by a confident killer who left his weapon at the scene of the crime. Litvinenko, as we all know, was murdered in central London with radiation poisoning. These were not murders carried out by people who were anxious to prevent bad publicity, or indeed cared in the least what the rest of the world thinks about Russia.

Most recently, the language used publicly about President Putin’s opponents has begun to change too. No longer tolerated as powerless oddballs, they have begun to appear in the press in a new, more demonic guise. Kasparov is a particular target: last week, the website Pravda.ru called him a ‘political pawn who has sold his soul to the traitors who plot Russia’s demise’ as well as a ‘wild-eyed Azeri Berezovsky supporter’ who ‘sits amidst his Western habits in his millionaire apartment’. The same article called the new dissident organisations a ‘motley army of deviants, criminals, wannabe politicians, fraudsters and gangsters on the fringes of Russian society’. Nice, no?

Embedded in the insults is a deep, Soviet-style paranoia about foreigners, who are suspected of supporting this motley army of deviants with money and asylum. Though America is usually the main target — the claim that the US funds Chechen terrorism comes up regularly — Britain has begun to play a prominent role in this line of public propaganda too. Since agreeing to speak at a small opposition conference, organised by Kasparov and Kasyanov, the British ambassador has been followed and harassed by a group of thuggish nationalist Kremlin supporters, one of whom accused him of assault. (‘When I go out of the house to buy cat food, they follow me and start waving banners,’ he has said.) Now that London has become the residence of choice for exiled oligarchs and ex-KGB dissidents — Berezovsky is wanted by Russian police, after all — it isn’t hard to find headlines referring to the ‘British Bullshit Corporation’ (following a news item on Siberian pollution: ‘Suppose the BBC tried for once to report the truth about Russia instead of distorting it?’) and articles gloating over the British hostages captured by Iran (Pravda.ru wrote gleefully last week that the hostage incident had ‘humiliated’ Britain, destroying forever the ‘myth of their stoicism’.)

Soon, no doubt, the Russian government will be printing posters of fat British capitalists in bowler hats squashing Russian workers with their shiny boots. A recent survey reported that more than a quarter of Russia’s leaders — in the presidential administration, government and parliament — had served in the KGB or another intelligence service. A whopping 78 per cent appear to have had some relationship with intelligence services, clandestine or otherwise.

Slowly, Russia’s new political class is bringing not just a change in rhetorical tone, but a familiar kind of violence. Last weekend, some 2,000 members of the political opposition — among them Kasyanov, Kasparov and Limonov — organised a march in Moscow. They were met by 9,000 club-wielding riot police. At least 170 people were arrested, among them Kasparov, who was charged with ‘shouting anti-government slogans in the presence of a large group of people’.

Kasparov has deemed these harsh new police tactics evidence that the regime is ‘scared’. Others suspect the Kremlin fears a repeat of the Ukrainian Orange Revolution, whose adherents used street protests to change the regime. I am not so sure. The new aggression might, on the contrary, be evidence that the Kremlin is now so self-confident that it no longer needs to make any gestures to Western public sensibilities at all.

There are many reasons why this might be so. That 80 per cent public support — backed up by a television monopoly which gives no time to potential opponents — is part of it. High oil prices are even more important. Soviet dissidents at least knew that even in the darkest times, they could get some attention paid to their cause in the West: in 1980 a group of Russian women political prisoners sent a message to President Ronald Reagan, congratulating him on his election. It arrived within three days, to the President’s delight, infuriating the KGB. But nowadays, the West is so anxious to please President Putin, and so keen to buy his gas and oil, that Kasparov and Kasyanov can’t count on much press coverage. Reagan is not in the White House; it is hard to imagine a letter from a Russian prison raising many eyebrows today.

In the end, though, some of that self-confidence surely comes from a sense of vindication. For a brief period, in the early 1990s, it looked like the KGB was finished. Now it is back, and more important than ever. If nothing else, the past decade has proven to Putin and his colleagues that the values they imbibed during their years in the Soviet secret services were the right ones. They no longer care if others disagree.

Expel Russia from the G-8

Writing in the Canadian National Post, pundit Lorne Gunter (pictured) calls for Russia’s expulsion from the G-8, something LR has advocated for months now. When the Candians start talking expulsion, you know Russia’s gone way over the brink.

Quite frankly, there’s not much the world can do to make the Russian government behave civilly toward its own people. Nor can we prevent the kind of brutal repression of peaceful democratic protest witnessed in St. Petersburg over the weekend. But the world’s major industrial nations can at least register their disgust at Russia’s slide into autocracy. And the best way to do that is by expelling Russia from the G8 and scuttling its efforts to join the World Trade Organization.

It’s easier for the West to put economic (and perhaps even military) pressure on a country such as Iran. Sanctions have a better chance of success with countries that rely so heavily on outside trade.

Squeezing a former superpower that still possesses one of the world’s largest armies, not to mention thousands of nuclear warheads, is much tougher, though. Still, the Kremlin craves international respect and a place at the table setting trade policy. We should deny it that privilege for as long as it refuses to respect the basic democratic rights of its citizenry.

President Vladimir Putin is afraid of a Russian version of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. In 2004, ordinary Ukrainians, desirous of true democratic freedom, protested night after night for weeks to prevent their country’s Russian-allied political parties from stealing an election win. They remained on the streets until they were guaranteed free and fair elections (which pro-Western democratic parties eventually won).

In Russia, over the past few months a number of “Dissenters’ Marches” have been held by a loose coalition of anti-Putin parties and organizations calling themselves the Other Russia. Led by former world chess champion Garry Kasparov and former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov, Other Russia casts the protests as the only way to get out the message that Mr. Putin is slowing turning Russia into an oligarchy run by himself and a score of billionaire businessmen. They worry that he might declare the Russian constitution void so

that he may seek a third term as president next spring, something the constitution forbids.

Their protests have been attracting ever greater numbers. So this past weekend, Mr. Putin started to crack down. When Other Russia protesters went ahead with planned demonstrations, even after they had been denied permits, Mr. Putin sent 9,000 police officers and Interior Ministry troops into the street of Moscow, and as many as 5,000 in St. Petersburg, to rough up marchers and arrest their leaders.

On Sunday, the police charged into demonstrators in St. Petersburg and injured scores of them with their batons. In all, more than 300 were arrested on the weekend, including Mr. Kasparov and Mr. Kasyanov.

Never truly a democrat during in his seven years in office, of late Mr. Putin’s dictatorial instincts have become much more brazen. He has pulled the plug on independent broadcast media and closed most independent papers. During his rule, over 80 anti-government reporters have been killed, too. Also, just after Christmas, opposition Web sites began being blocked, although no one in the Kremlin will admit it is behind the move.

President Putin has banned local and regional elections, and centralized all decision-making in Moscow. He has seized the assets of businessmen who oppose him, even jailing those who refuse to relinquish control to him or his supporters. And he has revoked leases granted to foreign natural gas companies. This past winter, he even shut down gas supplies to Western Europe, in part to warn EU nations not to speak out too harshly on his tightening grasp on power or his meddling in the politics of Ukraine,Georgia and Belarus.

The galling things is that Russians themselves seem to like Mr. Putin’s strongman tactics. Earlier this year, the EU-Russia Centre think-tank said a survey it had commissioned showed only 16% of Russians favoured the “Western model” of democracy, while 35%, said they prefer “the Soviet system before the 1990s.”

Mr. Putin’s personal popularity is rated near 70%. The West cannot force those attitudes to change. But neither do our governments have to silently accept the slow descent of Russia into a new totalitarianism. Canada and the other nations of the original G7 should tell Moscow that if such state violence is repeated, Russian will be drummed out. And they could warn that Russia’s membership in the WTO — now merely awaiting approval from Vietnam and Cambodia — will be obstructed by the major industrial nations as well.

That may not stop Mr. Putin. But even if it doesn’t, Westerners are under no obligation to consort with the Russians if they won’t respect human rights and the rule of law.

Russia: The World’s Most Dangerous Airways

Reuters reports that if you board a plane in Russia, you take your life in your hands (not that driving a car is any safer, Russia has among the world’s most dangerous highways too).

Russia remains the most dangerous place to fly despite global improvements that made 2006 the safest year on record, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported on Tuesday. Russia and other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) had an accident rate 13 times the global average, IATA said. Improvements in Africa were part of a positive annual report from the Geneva-based trade organisation, which said major global accidents fell to 77 from 111 a year earlier. The industry on average had 0.65 serious accidents per million flights for Western-built jets or one accident for every 1.5 million flights. In the CIS the rate was 8.6 accidents per million flights, or twice the rate of Africa, where the level fell to 4.31 from 9.2. IATA Director General Giovanni Bisignani said the industry’s expected growth of 5 to 6 percent per year would force airlines to continue to do better. “The safety results for 2006 are impressive. Air transport remains the safest form of travel,” he said, but added: “The accident rate must decrease just to keep the actual number of accidents in check. The goal will always be zero accidents.” IATA’s tally of accidents focuses on those which involve the loss of the aircraft. Bad weather, miscommunication and lapses in crew training remain the key factors that cause accidents. IATA, which includes some 250 airlines and more than 90 percent of the world’s scheduled international air traffic, endorses safety through a programme which helps airlines adopt global safety practices and standards. Its latest report underscored the need for tighter safety for cargo airlines, noting cargo accounted for just 4 percent of traffic last year yet 24 percent of the serious accidents.

Russia: The World’s Most Dangerous Airways

Reuters reports that if you board a plane in Russia, you take your life in your hands (not that driving a car is any safer, Russia has among the world’s most dangerous highways too).

Russia remains the most dangerous place to fly despite global improvements that made 2006 the safest year on record, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported on Tuesday. Russia and other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) had an accident rate 13 times the global average, IATA said. Improvements in Africa were part of a positive annual report from the Geneva-based trade organisation, which said major global accidents fell to 77 from 111 a year earlier. The industry on average had 0.65 serious accidents per million flights for Western-built jets or one accident for every 1.5 million flights. In the CIS the rate was 8.6 accidents per million flights, or twice the rate of Africa, where the level fell to 4.31 from 9.2. IATA Director General Giovanni Bisignani said the industry’s expected growth of 5 to 6 percent per year would force airlines to continue to do better. “The safety results for 2006 are impressive. Air transport remains the safest form of travel,” he said, but added: “The accident rate must decrease just to keep the actual number of accidents in check. The goal will always be zero accidents.” IATA’s tally of accidents focuses on those which involve the loss of the aircraft. Bad weather, miscommunication and lapses in crew training remain the key factors that cause accidents. IATA, which includes some 250 airlines and more than 90 percent of the world’s scheduled international air traffic, endorses safety through a programme which helps airlines adopt global safety practices and standards. Its latest report underscored the need for tighter safety for cargo airlines, noting cargo accounted for just 4 percent of traffic last year yet 24 percent of the serious accidents.