Daily Archives: June 28, 2007

Putley on Lugovoi

A Little Accusation is a Dangerous Thing

by Jeremy Putley

Original to La Russophobe

It can be a dangerous thing to say that a man is guilty of a murder before he has been tried and found guilty of that crime by a jury in a court of law – as Mr Wopsle found to his cost, in Dickens’s Great Expectations. If you have read that novel you will remember that Mr Wopsle was holding forth in the Three Jolly Bargemen about the guilt of the accused in a recent murder case. Listening to Mr Wopsle’s words was the great London lawyer, Mr Jaggers. In an overwhelming demolition of the unfortunate Wopsle, Jaggers pronounces one of the supreme principles of English jurisprudence. “The law of England supposes every man to be innocent until he is proved – proved – to be guilty.”

That is probably why no British newspapers have pointed out that the first, obvious conclusion to be drawn from President Putin’s refusal to extradite former KGB officer Andrei Lugovoi to the United Kingdom to face trial on a charge of murder is that it amounts to a tacit admission of guilt. Newspapers do not publish what they deem to be defamatory statements even if they are true.

But if the accused will never face a court of law to answer to the charges, what then? Must there be perpetual silence on the question of guilt? That would be to compound the wrong that has been done. It would not be right to the victims. It would not be right to Russia, nor to the people in London poisoned by polonium-210.

Andrei Lugovoi was employed (with others) to assassinate a Russian dissident, naturalized as a British citizen and living peaceably in London. President Putin is well aware of that. He also knows that a finding of guilty against the accused in a British court of law will involve a simultaneous finding in the court of world opinion that the murder of Alexander Litvinenko was ordered by the Russian leadership. This much is only too clear.

Possibly, during court proceedings in the UK, if Lugovoi could ever be brought to trial, his testimony would provide confirmation of one theory of why the murder was committed and at whose instigation, in relation to which a number of facts are already in the public domain. It is now known, from BBC TV, that an 8-page “due diligence” dossier prepared by Alexander Litvinenko was about Victor Ivanov, currently chairman of Aeroflot. It follows, from the hypothesis advanced in a BBC Radio Four programme by Yuri Shvets, that Victor Ivanov is the Mr X described as the “powerful, dangerous and vindictive” individual, “closely associated with President Putin”, who may have ordered the murder of Litvinenko. According to the BBC radio programme, when Litvinenko gave the dossier to Lugovoi, in early October 2006, and Lugovoi delivered it (or reported its contents) soon afterwards to Mr X (Ivanov), the decision to assassinate its author was made, in revenge for the termination of a contract worth “dozens of millions of dollars”. Perhaps Mr Lugovoi’s evidence would shed light on the truth of this collection of allegations.

It would also be interesting if Titon International, the firm which allegedly employed Litvinenko to carry out the due diligence on Victor Ivanov, would publicly disclose the identity of the British company which commissioned the due diligence report, and subsequently pulled out of the deal.

But this is only one view of why Litvinenko was murdered. There were previous murder victims connected with the 1999 apartment building explosions, about which Litvinenko wrote in his (recently re-issued) 2002 book co-authored with Yuri Felshtinsky, “Blowing Up Russia: Terror From Within”. These include two State Duma deputies: the prominent liberal politician, Sergei Yushenkov, murdered by shooting in April 2003, and Yuri Shchekochikhin, a veteran investigative journalist, poisoned in July 2003, possibly with thallium. The assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, who was hated by the Russian hierarchy as a “traitor” to the organisation formerly known as the KGB, now the FSB, confirms the truth of what he wrote. The testimony of Andrei Lugovoi, supposing he could be persuaded to give it truthfully, would disclose that the FSB under its present head, General Nikolai Patrushev, is a corrupt, totally compromised, criminal organisation, so far beyond a possibility of being cleansed and reformed that it must be considered fit only to be disbanded.

There are only two commonly-held views of the 1999 apartment building explosions which killed more than 300 sleeping Russian citizens, and served as Putin’s pretext for starting the second war in Chechnya: that they were carried out by the Rusian FSB at the behest of the Russian power structures; and that of the Russian authorities, that they were the work of unidentified others for no known motive. The refusal of President Putin to allow Lugovoi to come to the UK to be tried for murder stands as implicit confirmation of the FSB’s guilt, in that it shows the government of the Russian Federation believes that his testimony would incriminate the guilty. And they are nervous.

When Tony Blair had a “frank discussion” with Vladimir Putin about the British government’s demand for Lugovoi’s extradition, earlier this month, Blair may, at last, have begun to understand the truth of the unsavoury character of his enigmatic interlocutor. (To Putin, by contrast, Blair’s lack of understanding of the truth seemed merely obtuse – hence, perhaps, Putin’s comment that British insistence on extradition is “stupid”.) A lawyer himself, Blair may now, as he leaves office, finally and too late have learned, from the refusal to surrender a criminal to justice, one reality of today’s Russia: that it is run by people who are not averse to the commission of crimes when they seem expedient, or convenient, or financially rewarding to members of the siloviki.

On Putin’s Constitutional Gambit

The Associated Press reports on the fine points of “President” Putin’s neo-Soviet gambit to have his cake and eat it too:

Two top Kremlin officials have shown up on state-controlled television regularly for months, appearing decisive and statesmanlike, inspiring speculation that they are competing for the job of President Vladimir Putin. And so they may be. But at least one prominent analyst predicts the two men will split the current presidential powers when Putin leaves office next year, with one serving in a weakened presidency and the other becoming a stronger prime minister.

Many who follow Russian politics assume Putin, barred by the constitution from seeking a third consecutive term, plans to endorse either the stern Sergei Ivanov, 54, or the boyish Dmitry Medvedev, 41, in the March presidential contest. Both are first deputy prime ministers. Other experts suggest that late this year Putin will throw the weight of the Kremlin behind a surprise candidate, who might step down in a year or two and clear a path for Putin to run again.

Putin’s popularity is so high that whomever he endorses is almost certain to win. Dmitry Trenin, an analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center, regards the matchup between Ivanov and Medvedev as a dress rehearsal by two leading men rather than a competition between rivals. Trenin says Putin is likely to endorse Ivanov, but he also predicts Putin will install Medvedev as prime minister and expand that position’s powers. One way to do that, Trenin said, would be to name a Cabinet loyal to Medvedev — and Putin — before Ivanov took power. “Without changing one iota of the constitution, we’ll have a new constitution in Russia,” Trenin told The Associated Press. “All power in the Russian Federation is now vested in the president of the Russian Federation. That will be modified.” Trenin and other analysts say Putin hopes to retain influence, perhaps even continue to run Russia, in retirement.” I think he will find the kind of formula in which he would step down, but stay on,” Sergei Stepashin the head of the Russian Audit Chamber, was quoted as saying by the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. “He is going to leave in order to stay,” said Nina Khrushcheva, an analyst at the World Policy Institute of New York City’s New School.” President Putin himself will be on the chessboard. We don’t know in what capacity, but it’s very clear that he will be in a powerful position,” Trenin said.

[LR: Like the mindless, gutless sheep they are, ] Russian voters are prepared to ratify Putin’s choice of the new leadership, Trenin said, adding that they have reconciled themselves to a certain level of corruption among top officials as long as they feel they are being competently led. “Russia is an autocracy or an authoritarian state today with the consent of the governed,” he said. On television news programs, both Ivanov and Medvedev have been shown touring factories and meeting with professional groups, scolding lower-ranking officials and announcing ambitious social, military or economic programs — the kind of coverage that has helped to build Putin’s prestige and popularity. But there is a division of labor between these aspiring Russian leaders. Ivanov, previously the defense minister and head of foreign intelligence, has focused on security issues and foreign affairs. Medvedev, chairman of the state natural gas monopoly Gazprom, has been handing out money for social programs and has focused on economic reforms. Transferring some presidential power to the prime minister could serve several practical aims, such as reducing the president’s workload. It could also help Putin maintain political influence once he leaves the Kremlin. If he endorses a single successor with commensurate powers, that person can’t be counted on to remain loyal, Trenin argues.

There is another potential reason for splitting power between Ivanov and Medvedev, in this view: Each may appeal to separate Kremlin factions — Medvedev to the technocrats, dedicated to executing orders efficiently; Ivanov, to the “siloviki” (“powerful ones”), which includes many current and former intelligence and military officials. The siloviki are by far the larger and more important faction. They generally favor a more assertive foreign policy and expanded government control of Russia’s energy wealth and other key industries. Ivanov is not considered a leader of the siloviki and may — like Putin — remain aloof from factional Kremlin politics. But his comments indicate he shares many of the siloviki’s views. He advocates, for example, state control of strategic industries, including energy producers and defense manufacturers. Part of his current duties include supervising the consolidation of state-owned aviation, shipbuilding, shipping, space and atomic energy companies into a series of huge corporations. When it comes to foreign policy, Ivanov may be more of a hawk than Putin. And he has said repeatedly he does not think Russia needs to follow the model of what he calls “Anglo-Saxon” democracy.

In a June speech to youth group leaders, Ivanov defined a democracy as a nation with the military strength to remain independent, so its people can “choose their own future themselves,” the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. “Truly democratic nations are few,” he said, and cited China and Russia — as well as the United States, the European Union nations and India — as among the world’s leading democracies. Russia has to remain strong culturally, economically and politically, he was quoted as saying by ITAR-Tass. “Otherwise, the `Brzezinski plan’ may prove a reality,” he said. The “Brzezinski plan” is a term used by Russian political figures since at least the mid-1980s to describe alleged Western plots to destabilize the Soviet Union and later Russia. Despite these comments, Ivanov described himself as “fairly liberal person” in a recent interview with The Financial Times newspaper. Trenin said Putin may not have much faith in Russian voters, but he is a patriot who cares about Russia and the nation’s continued political stability. “People may call him an autocrat, but I would consider him a responsible autocrat,” Trenin said. “He clearly wants out of the Kremlin, but he doesn’t want the system to crumble the minute he leaves.” [LR: Really? Do “responsible” autocrats change the constitution without changing it? What a profoundly Russian notion. Then again, Mr. Trenin may fear what would happen if he didn’t admit “President” Putin was “responsible” — remembering Anna Politkovskaya, for example]

On Putin’s Constitutional Gambit

The Associated Press reports on the fine points of “President” Putin’s neo-Soviet gambit to have his cake and eat it too:

Two top Kremlin officials have shown up on state-controlled television regularly for months, appearing decisive and statesmanlike, inspiring speculation that they are competing for the job of President Vladimir Putin. And so they may be. But at least one prominent analyst predicts the two men will split the current presidential powers when Putin leaves office next year, with one serving in a weakened presidency and the other becoming a stronger prime minister.

Many who follow Russian politics assume Putin, barred by the constitution from seeking a third consecutive term, plans to endorse either the stern Sergei Ivanov, 54, or the boyish Dmitry Medvedev, 41, in the March presidential contest. Both are first deputy prime ministers. Other experts suggest that late this year Putin will throw the weight of the Kremlin behind a surprise candidate, who might step down in a year or two and clear a path for Putin to run again.

Putin’s popularity is so high that whomever he endorses is almost certain to win. Dmitry Trenin, an analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center, regards the matchup between Ivanov and Medvedev as a dress rehearsal by two leading men rather than a competition between rivals. Trenin says Putin is likely to endorse Ivanov, but he also predicts Putin will install Medvedev as prime minister and expand that position’s powers. One way to do that, Trenin said, would be to name a Cabinet loyal to Medvedev — and Putin — before Ivanov took power. “Without changing one iota of the constitution, we’ll have a new constitution in Russia,” Trenin told The Associated Press. “All power in the Russian Federation is now vested in the president of the Russian Federation. That will be modified.” Trenin and other analysts say Putin hopes to retain influence, perhaps even continue to run Russia, in retirement.” I think he will find the kind of formula in which he would step down, but stay on,” Sergei Stepashin the head of the Russian Audit Chamber, was quoted as saying by the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. “He is going to leave in order to stay,” said Nina Khrushcheva, an analyst at the World Policy Institute of New York City’s New School.” President Putin himself will be on the chessboard. We don’t know in what capacity, but it’s very clear that he will be in a powerful position,” Trenin said.

[LR: Like the mindless, gutless sheep they are, ] Russian voters are prepared to ratify Putin’s choice of the new leadership, Trenin said, adding that they have reconciled themselves to a certain level of corruption among top officials as long as they feel they are being competently led. “Russia is an autocracy or an authoritarian state today with the consent of the governed,” he said. On television news programs, both Ivanov and Medvedev have been shown touring factories and meeting with professional groups, scolding lower-ranking officials and announcing ambitious social, military or economic programs — the kind of coverage that has helped to build Putin’s prestige and popularity. But there is a division of labor between these aspiring Russian leaders. Ivanov, previously the defense minister and head of foreign intelligence, has focused on security issues and foreign affairs. Medvedev, chairman of the state natural gas monopoly Gazprom, has been handing out money for social programs and has focused on economic reforms. Transferring some presidential power to the prime minister could serve several practical aims, such as reducing the president’s workload. It could also help Putin maintain political influence once he leaves the Kremlin. If he endorses a single successor with commensurate powers, that person can’t be counted on to remain loyal, Trenin argues.

There is another potential reason for splitting power between Ivanov and Medvedev, in this view: Each may appeal to separate Kremlin factions — Medvedev to the technocrats, dedicated to executing orders efficiently; Ivanov, to the “siloviki” (“powerful ones”), which includes many current and former intelligence and military officials. The siloviki are by far the larger and more important faction. They generally favor a more assertive foreign policy and expanded government control of Russia’s energy wealth and other key industries. Ivanov is not considered a leader of the siloviki and may — like Putin — remain aloof from factional Kremlin politics. But his comments indicate he shares many of the siloviki’s views. He advocates, for example, state control of strategic industries, including energy producers and defense manufacturers. Part of his current duties include supervising the consolidation of state-owned aviation, shipbuilding, shipping, space and atomic energy companies into a series of huge corporations. When it comes to foreign policy, Ivanov may be more of a hawk than Putin. And he has said repeatedly he does not think Russia needs to follow the model of what he calls “Anglo-Saxon” democracy.

In a June speech to youth group leaders, Ivanov defined a democracy as a nation with the military strength to remain independent, so its people can “choose their own future themselves,” the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. “Truly democratic nations are few,” he said, and cited China and Russia — as well as the United States, the European Union nations and India — as among the world’s leading democracies. Russia has to remain strong culturally, economically and politically, he was quoted as saying by ITAR-Tass. “Otherwise, the `Brzezinski plan’ may prove a reality,” he said. The “Brzezinski plan” is a term used by Russian political figures since at least the mid-1980s to describe alleged Western plots to destabilize the Soviet Union and later Russia. Despite these comments, Ivanov described himself as “fairly liberal person” in a recent interview with The Financial Times newspaper. Trenin said Putin may not have much faith in Russian voters, but he is a patriot who cares about Russia and the nation’s continued political stability. “People may call him an autocrat, but I would consider him a responsible autocrat,” Trenin said. “He clearly wants out of the Kremlin, but he doesn’t want the system to crumble the minute he leaves.” [LR: Really? Do “responsible” autocrats change the constitution without changing it? What a profoundly Russian notion. Then again, Mr. Trenin may fear what would happen if he didn’t admit “President” Putin was “responsible” — remembering Anna Politkovskaya, for example]

On Putin’s Constitutional Gambit

The Associated Press reports on the fine points of “President” Putin’s neo-Soviet gambit to have his cake and eat it too:

Two top Kremlin officials have shown up on state-controlled television regularly for months, appearing decisive and statesmanlike, inspiring speculation that they are competing for the job of President Vladimir Putin. And so they may be. But at least one prominent analyst predicts the two men will split the current presidential powers when Putin leaves office next year, with one serving in a weakened presidency and the other becoming a stronger prime minister.

Many who follow Russian politics assume Putin, barred by the constitution from seeking a third consecutive term, plans to endorse either the stern Sergei Ivanov, 54, or the boyish Dmitry Medvedev, 41, in the March presidential contest. Both are first deputy prime ministers. Other experts suggest that late this year Putin will throw the weight of the Kremlin behind a surprise candidate, who might step down in a year or two and clear a path for Putin to run again.

Putin’s popularity is so high that whomever he endorses is almost certain to win. Dmitry Trenin, an analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center, regards the matchup between Ivanov and Medvedev as a dress rehearsal by two leading men rather than a competition between rivals. Trenin says Putin is likely to endorse Ivanov, but he also predicts Putin will install Medvedev as prime minister and expand that position’s powers. One way to do that, Trenin said, would be to name a Cabinet loyal to Medvedev — and Putin — before Ivanov took power. “Without changing one iota of the constitution, we’ll have a new constitution in Russia,” Trenin told The Associated Press. “All power in the Russian Federation is now vested in the president of the Russian Federation. That will be modified.” Trenin and other analysts say Putin hopes to retain influence, perhaps even continue to run Russia, in retirement.” I think he will find the kind of formula in which he would step down, but stay on,” Sergei Stepashin the head of the Russian Audit Chamber, was quoted as saying by the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. “He is going to leave in order to stay,” said Nina Khrushcheva, an analyst at the World Policy Institute of New York City’s New School.” President Putin himself will be on the chessboard. We don’t know in what capacity, but it’s very clear that he will be in a powerful position,” Trenin said.

[LR: Like the mindless, gutless sheep they are, ] Russian voters are prepared to ratify Putin’s choice of the new leadership, Trenin said, adding that they have reconciled themselves to a certain level of corruption among top officials as long as they feel they are being competently led. “Russia is an autocracy or an authoritarian state today with the consent of the governed,” he said. On television news programs, both Ivanov and Medvedev have been shown touring factories and meeting with professional groups, scolding lower-ranking officials and announcing ambitious social, military or economic programs — the kind of coverage that has helped to build Putin’s prestige and popularity. But there is a division of labor between these aspiring Russian leaders. Ivanov, previously the defense minister and head of foreign intelligence, has focused on security issues and foreign affairs. Medvedev, chairman of the state natural gas monopoly Gazprom, has been handing out money for social programs and has focused on economic reforms. Transferring some presidential power to the prime minister could serve several practical aims, such as reducing the president’s workload. It could also help Putin maintain political influence once he leaves the Kremlin. If he endorses a single successor with commensurate powers, that person can’t be counted on to remain loyal, Trenin argues.

There is another potential reason for splitting power between Ivanov and Medvedev, in this view: Each may appeal to separate Kremlin factions — Medvedev to the technocrats, dedicated to executing orders efficiently; Ivanov, to the “siloviki” (“powerful ones”), which includes many current and former intelligence and military officials. The siloviki are by far the larger and more important faction. They generally favor a more assertive foreign policy and expanded government control of Russia’s energy wealth and other key industries. Ivanov is not considered a leader of the siloviki and may — like Putin — remain aloof from factional Kremlin politics. But his comments indicate he shares many of the siloviki’s views. He advocates, for example, state control of strategic industries, including energy producers and defense manufacturers. Part of his current duties include supervising the consolidation of state-owned aviation, shipbuilding, shipping, space and atomic energy companies into a series of huge corporations. When it comes to foreign policy, Ivanov may be more of a hawk than Putin. And he has said repeatedly he does not think Russia needs to follow the model of what he calls “Anglo-Saxon” democracy.

In a June speech to youth group leaders, Ivanov defined a democracy as a nation with the military strength to remain independent, so its people can “choose their own future themselves,” the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. “Truly democratic nations are few,” he said, and cited China and Russia — as well as the United States, the European Union nations and India — as among the world’s leading democracies. Russia has to remain strong culturally, economically and politically, he was quoted as saying by ITAR-Tass. “Otherwise, the `Brzezinski plan’ may prove a reality,” he said. The “Brzezinski plan” is a term used by Russian political figures since at least the mid-1980s to describe alleged Western plots to destabilize the Soviet Union and later Russia. Despite these comments, Ivanov described himself as “fairly liberal person” in a recent interview with The Financial Times newspaper. Trenin said Putin may not have much faith in Russian voters, but he is a patriot who cares about Russia and the nation’s continued political stability. “People may call him an autocrat, but I would consider him a responsible autocrat,” Trenin said. “He clearly wants out of the Kremlin, but he doesn’t want the system to crumble the minute he leaves.” [LR: Really? Do “responsible” autocrats change the constitution without changing it? What a profoundly Russian notion. Then again, Mr. Trenin may fear what would happen if he didn’t admit “President” Putin was “responsible” — remembering Anna Politkovskaya, for example]

On Putin’s Constitutional Gambit

The Associated Press reports on the fine points of “President” Putin’s neo-Soviet gambit to have his cake and eat it too:

Two top Kremlin officials have shown up on state-controlled television regularly for months, appearing decisive and statesmanlike, inspiring speculation that they are competing for the job of President Vladimir Putin. And so they may be. But at least one prominent analyst predicts the two men will split the current presidential powers when Putin leaves office next year, with one serving in a weakened presidency and the other becoming a stronger prime minister.

Many who follow Russian politics assume Putin, barred by the constitution from seeking a third consecutive term, plans to endorse either the stern Sergei Ivanov, 54, or the boyish Dmitry Medvedev, 41, in the March presidential contest. Both are first deputy prime ministers. Other experts suggest that late this year Putin will throw the weight of the Kremlin behind a surprise candidate, who might step down in a year or two and clear a path for Putin to run again.

Putin’s popularity is so high that whomever he endorses is almost certain to win. Dmitry Trenin, an analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center, regards the matchup between Ivanov and Medvedev as a dress rehearsal by two leading men rather than a competition between rivals. Trenin says Putin is likely to endorse Ivanov, but he also predicts Putin will install Medvedev as prime minister and expand that position’s powers. One way to do that, Trenin said, would be to name a Cabinet loyal to Medvedev — and Putin — before Ivanov took power. “Without changing one iota of the constitution, we’ll have a new constitution in Russia,” Trenin told The Associated Press. “All power in the Russian Federation is now vested in the president of the Russian Federation. That will be modified.” Trenin and other analysts say Putin hopes to retain influence, perhaps even continue to run Russia, in retirement.” I think he will find the kind of formula in which he would step down, but stay on,” Sergei Stepashin the head of the Russian Audit Chamber, was quoted as saying by the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. “He is going to leave in order to stay,” said Nina Khrushcheva, an analyst at the World Policy Institute of New York City’s New School.” President Putin himself will be on the chessboard. We don’t know in what capacity, but it’s very clear that he will be in a powerful position,” Trenin said.

[LR: Like the mindless, gutless sheep they are, ] Russian voters are prepared to ratify Putin’s choice of the new leadership, Trenin said, adding that they have reconciled themselves to a certain level of corruption among top officials as long as they feel they are being competently led. “Russia is an autocracy or an authoritarian state today with the consent of the governed,” he said. On television news programs, both Ivanov and Medvedev have been shown touring factories and meeting with professional groups, scolding lower-ranking officials and announcing ambitious social, military or economic programs — the kind of coverage that has helped to build Putin’s prestige and popularity. But there is a division of labor between these aspiring Russian leaders. Ivanov, previously the defense minister and head of foreign intelligence, has focused on security issues and foreign affairs. Medvedev, chairman of the state natural gas monopoly Gazprom, has been handing out money for social programs and has focused on economic reforms. Transferring some presidential power to the prime minister could serve several practical aims, such as reducing the president’s workload. It could also help Putin maintain political influence once he leaves the Kremlin. If he endorses a single successor with commensurate powers, that person can’t be counted on to remain loyal, Trenin argues.

There is another potential reason for splitting power between Ivanov and Medvedev, in this view: Each may appeal to separate Kremlin factions — Medvedev to the technocrats, dedicated to executing orders efficiently; Ivanov, to the “siloviki” (“powerful ones”), which includes many current and former intelligence and military officials. The siloviki are by far the larger and more important faction. They generally favor a more assertive foreign policy and expanded government control of Russia’s energy wealth and other key industries. Ivanov is not considered a leader of the siloviki and may — like Putin — remain aloof from factional Kremlin politics. But his comments indicate he shares many of the siloviki’s views. He advocates, for example, state control of strategic industries, including energy producers and defense manufacturers. Part of his current duties include supervising the consolidation of state-owned aviation, shipbuilding, shipping, space and atomic energy companies into a series of huge corporations. When it comes to foreign policy, Ivanov may be more of a hawk than Putin. And he has said repeatedly he does not think Russia needs to follow the model of what he calls “Anglo-Saxon” democracy.

In a June speech to youth group leaders, Ivanov defined a democracy as a nation with the military strength to remain independent, so its people can “choose their own future themselves,” the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. “Truly democratic nations are few,” he said, and cited China and Russia — as well as the United States, the European Union nations and India — as among the world’s leading democracies. Russia has to remain strong culturally, economically and politically, he was quoted as saying by ITAR-Tass. “Otherwise, the `Brzezinski plan’ may prove a reality,” he said. The “Brzezinski plan” is a term used by Russian political figures since at least the mid-1980s to describe alleged Western plots to destabilize the Soviet Union and later Russia. Despite these comments, Ivanov described himself as “fairly liberal person” in a recent interview with The Financial Times newspaper. Trenin said Putin may not have much faith in Russian voters, but he is a patriot who cares about Russia and the nation’s continued political stability. “People may call him an autocrat, but I would consider him a responsible autocrat,” Trenin said. “He clearly wants out of the Kremlin, but he doesn’t want the system to crumble the minute he leaves.” [LR: Really? Do “responsible” autocrats change the constitution without changing it? What a profoundly Russian notion. Then again, Mr. Trenin may fear what would happen if he didn’t admit “President” Putin was “responsible” — remembering Anna Politkovskaya, for example]

On Putin’s Constitutional Gambit

The Associated Press reports on the fine points of “President” Putin’s neo-Soviet gambit to have his cake and eat it too:

Two top Kremlin officials have shown up on state-controlled television regularly for months, appearing decisive and statesmanlike, inspiring speculation that they are competing for the job of President Vladimir Putin. And so they may be. But at least one prominent analyst predicts the two men will split the current presidential powers when Putin leaves office next year, with one serving in a weakened presidency and the other becoming a stronger prime minister.

Many who follow Russian politics assume Putin, barred by the constitution from seeking a third consecutive term, plans to endorse either the stern Sergei Ivanov, 54, or the boyish Dmitry Medvedev, 41, in the March presidential contest. Both are first deputy prime ministers. Other experts suggest that late this year Putin will throw the weight of the Kremlin behind a surprise candidate, who might step down in a year or two and clear a path for Putin to run again.

Putin’s popularity is so high that whomever he endorses is almost certain to win. Dmitry Trenin, an analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center, regards the matchup between Ivanov and Medvedev as a dress rehearsal by two leading men rather than a competition between rivals. Trenin says Putin is likely to endorse Ivanov, but he also predicts Putin will install Medvedev as prime minister and expand that position’s powers. One way to do that, Trenin said, would be to name a Cabinet loyal to Medvedev — and Putin — before Ivanov took power. “Without changing one iota of the constitution, we’ll have a new constitution in Russia,” Trenin told The Associated Press. “All power in the Russian Federation is now vested in the president of the Russian Federation. That will be modified.” Trenin and other analysts say Putin hopes to retain influence, perhaps even continue to run Russia, in retirement.” I think he will find the kind of formula in which he would step down, but stay on,” Sergei Stepashin the head of the Russian Audit Chamber, was quoted as saying by the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. “He is going to leave in order to stay,” said Nina Khrushcheva, an analyst at the World Policy Institute of New York City’s New School.” President Putin himself will be on the chessboard. We don’t know in what capacity, but it’s very clear that he will be in a powerful position,” Trenin said.

[LR: Like the mindless, gutless sheep they are, ] Russian voters are prepared to ratify Putin’s choice of the new leadership, Trenin said, adding that they have reconciled themselves to a certain level of corruption among top officials as long as they feel they are being competently led. “Russia is an autocracy or an authoritarian state today with the consent of the governed,” he said. On television news programs, both Ivanov and Medvedev have been shown touring factories and meeting with professional groups, scolding lower-ranking officials and announcing ambitious social, military or economic programs — the kind of coverage that has helped to build Putin’s prestige and popularity. But there is a division of labor between these aspiring Russian leaders. Ivanov, previously the defense minister and head of foreign intelligence, has focused on security issues and foreign affairs. Medvedev, chairman of the state natural gas monopoly Gazprom, has been handing out money for social programs and has focused on economic reforms. Transferring some presidential power to the prime minister could serve several practical aims, such as reducing the president’s workload. It could also help Putin maintain political influence once he leaves the Kremlin. If he endorses a single successor with commensurate powers, that person can’t be counted on to remain loyal, Trenin argues.

There is another potential reason for splitting power between Ivanov and Medvedev, in this view: Each may appeal to separate Kremlin factions — Medvedev to the technocrats, dedicated to executing orders efficiently; Ivanov, to the “siloviki” (“powerful ones”), which includes many current and former intelligence and military officials. The siloviki are by far the larger and more important faction. They generally favor a more assertive foreign policy and expanded government control of Russia’s energy wealth and other key industries. Ivanov is not considered a leader of the siloviki and may — like Putin — remain aloof from factional Kremlin politics. But his comments indicate he shares many of the siloviki’s views. He advocates, for example, state control of strategic industries, including energy producers and defense manufacturers. Part of his current duties include supervising the consolidation of state-owned aviation, shipbuilding, shipping, space and atomic energy companies into a series of huge corporations. When it comes to foreign policy, Ivanov may be more of a hawk than Putin. And he has said repeatedly he does not think Russia needs to follow the model of what he calls “Anglo-Saxon” democracy.

In a June speech to youth group leaders, Ivanov defined a democracy as a nation with the military strength to remain independent, so its people can “choose their own future themselves,” the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. “Truly democratic nations are few,” he said, and cited China and Russia — as well as the United States, the European Union nations and India — as among the world’s leading democracies. Russia has to remain strong culturally, economically and politically, he was quoted as saying by ITAR-Tass. “Otherwise, the `Brzezinski plan’ may prove a reality,” he said. The “Brzezinski plan” is a term used by Russian political figures since at least the mid-1980s to describe alleged Western plots to destabilize the Soviet Union and later Russia. Despite these comments, Ivanov described himself as “fairly liberal person” in a recent interview with The Financial Times newspaper. Trenin said Putin may not have much faith in Russian voters, but he is a patriot who cares about Russia and the nation’s continued political stability. “People may call him an autocrat, but I would consider him a responsible autocrat,” Trenin said. “He clearly wants out of the Kremlin, but he doesn’t want the system to crumble the minute he leaves.” [LR: Really? Do “responsible” autocrats change the constitution without changing it? What a profoundly Russian notion. Then again, Mr. Trenin may fear what would happen if he didn’t admit “President” Putin was “responsible” — remembering Anna Politkovskaya, for example]

Kasparov Speaks Again

MacLean’s publishes a lengthy sit-down with opposition leader Garry Kasparov (pictured, showing his solidarity with jailed business leader Mikhail Khodorkovsky):

Garry Kasparov was the greatest chess player the world has ever known. The Azerbaijan-born grandmaster, known as “The Beast of Baku” for his aggressive style of play, dominated the game for 20 years, earning headlines for his memorable battles against both human and computer opponents. Kasparov retired from the game in 2005 to concentrate on writing and politics. A fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, he formed the United Civil Front, an organization devoted to promoting democracy and electoral freedom in Russia. He is also a principal organizer of The Other Russia, a coalition that unites opponents of the Putin regime – a regime of which he says, “The system is not corrupt – corruption is the system.” His transition from Soviet grandmaster to Russian dissident has seen him arrested for protesting in the streets of Moscow, detained for trying to get his message out in the press and criticized as a naive attention seeker. While his profile remains high outside Russia, inside his home country – where over a dozen journalists have allegedly been killed in the last two years for criticizing the government – he contends with threats to his personal safety, political apathy and a state-controlled media that he claims stifles any dissent against the Kremlin. Kasparov made his first political appearance in Canada on Tuesday, giving a speech to the Empire Club of Canada at Toronto’s Royal York Hotel. He criticized Putin, implored Western leaders to stop providing the Russian president with “democratic credentials” and explained why he feels Russia is ready for change. After delivering his remarks, Kasparov sat down with Macleans.ca for an interview. Macleans.ca: You’ve spoken extensively about the concessions you’ve had to make as a political dissident in your country. What’s the most difficult adjustment you’ve had to make?

Garry Kasparov: I have no life. It’s terrible, it affects my family. Daria [Kasparov’s wife] is from St. Petersburg and if she goes there for a few days, I have to send bodyguards. In Russia we’re always under this stress. We know that bodyguards won’t save you from state assault, but there’s so many provocations, we have to be vigilant all the time. That’s why we decided that [having Daria] give birth in Moscow might not be a good idea. I can’t put a bodyguard in the hospital.

When I stopped playing chess I said, “Maybe I will be flying less.” I was dead wrong. I’m flying three times more now. And you know in chess it was, I flew somewhere and I stayed there for two weeks. It was a long tournament. Now it’s boom-boom-boom. In some ways, I wish for the quiet years to return.

I hope that this summer, we’ll actually spend time together. We’ll go back to Croatia – that’s where I had all my training sessions when I played chess, for many, many years – and we’ll have some sort of family reunion. But it’s really difficult.

M: You’ve written a book called How Life Imitates Chess. Are there parallels between the style of chess game you played and the style of politics you practice?

GK: Any chess style reflects character. Some people are mistaken thinking that in chess we have rules, so that experience relates only to 64 squares. In fact, you have to recognize your strengths and weaknesses, read your position and not rush into the attack if you are on the weak side.

And you always try to create an environment where your strengths are playing a dominant role, while your opponent’s strengths are being pushed away. If you are on the battlefield and you have cavalry, you obviously want to fight in the valley. If you fight against cavalry, try to look for the hills. It very much has a universal application; I was quite good in chess at identifying those parameters of the battlefield lying ahead of me.

M: And you’re bringing that experience to your political role as organizer of The Other Russia?

GK: I recognized from day one that we were in a very weak position. The opposition was in disarray and we needed just to survive. Survival is the best strategy.

If you analyze our performance over the last two years, I think we are doing quite well because we survived. A.) That’s important – it’s difficult to survive under this pressure. B.) We are noticeable. Not that we are now on the winning side – we’re still much weaker than the Kremlin – but we are there, they can’t ignore us anymore. That’s tremendous progress.

The trend is quite positive because although they still have a big advantage, the advantage is less significant than two years ago, even a year ago. Now people are talking about possible outcomes of March 2008, of it not being elementary, or an orderly power transition.

M: You feel that the country is on the verge of a tipping point democratically, that The Other Russia is on the verge of some success?

GK: The Other Russia cannot win itself, because The Other Russia is a very broad and very fragile coalition which, facing a strong opponent, might collapse.

But The Other Russia created the notion of the opposition, a real opposition. What we had before in Russia, whether it was liberal or left-wing or nationalist, tried to play by the Kremlin rules. Even in Yeltsin’s years there was some sort of consensus. “We in the Kremlin let you run your campaigns, you get part of the parliament.” There was plenty of political freedom, freedom of the press, but there was one big exception: You cannot participate in deciding the issue of supreme power, the presidency. The presidency was something that would be decided behind closed doors.

Now, The Other Russia unites all different groups based on our recognition of the shortcomings of such a position. We know that we cannot be the same group in a normal democratic environment, because we have liberals and left-wingers and nationalists, but we know that there are certain political musts that unite us. And when it’s accomplished, then obviously we will go on our own business.

M: The coalition that The Other Russia encompasses is so broad and its members have so many competing interests that it must be difficult to manage…

GK: Yes, absolutely. But as in Chile at the end of the ’80s, there’s a dominant goal: to build a normal democratic process. So what Putin actually accomplished – accomplished against his will – he convinced different political groups, different schools of thought in Russia, that liberal democracy is the only successful foundation for a modern state.

Through the ’90s, we still had debates with die-hard Communists or nationalists that, “Oh, democracy, maybe it’s wrong for Russia.” Now, nobody argues about it. The political division in Russia today is not between right and left or democrats and Communists. It’s about those who believe that this regime is threatening the integrity and in fact survival of our country and those who are trying to belittle the regime. You can find liberals and Communists and nationalists on both sides of the spectrum.

The Other Russia states that what we need is to make sure that we have free and fair elections, no censorship and we have to reform the political system that created this all-powerful presidency. That’s the core of our program. And we know that if it’s done, then we could fight each other in free and fair elections.

We believe that the Kremlin will inevitably split, because the issue of a successor will create not only frictions but open fights within the Kremlin’s rank and file.

M: You don’t think Putin is strong enough to have his handpicked successor succeed him without that kind of fight?

GK: Putin has two options: one he stays, one he goes. Staying is still an option. I’m sure he can force change in the constitution and there are a lot of groups in Russia that would like him to stay – but in general, he potentially puts in jeopardy the multibillion dollar fortunes of the Russian bureaucracy [located] outside of Russia, because Putin turning into another [Belarussian dictator Alexander] Lukashenko, that might not be an attractive partner for [Western] leaders.

Now, if we look at Putin’s replacement, we are dealing with a paradox. For Putin to receive personal guarantees, he needs a weak successor. For his system to survive, he needs a strong successor. But a strong successor might also be quite dangerous.

When Putin succeeded Yeltsin there was unity among the rank and file of Russian bureaucracy. They knew that things were getting better. Oil prices were going up. Russian people were tired of Yeltsin’s years, they expected something from Putin, there was a big war in Chechnya… Everything worked in favour of the new president.

In 2008, things will be very different. Infrastructure is falling apart. The Russian people are disillusioned. They didn’t see any benefits from these high oil prices. Oil is not going to jump up, it may only go down. There’s no new influx of money. The general system that was created under Yeltsin and Putin is worn out.

If there is a handpicked successor, a strong successor, he’s facing immediate crisis. Now tell me, what will be his first step, based on Russian tradition? Who will be his scapegoat? Yeltsin is dead. Just having a successor is no guarantee of full immunity.

Putin spent all his eight years building a system of checks and balances. It’s working now. But if you take away the core of the system, the balances are no longer there. So [when Putin leaves] you have to adjust the system. The only way to adjust the system is for the winner to eliminate the competition within the inner circle. So for any group the appointment of a potential successor might be a deadly threat.

We are eight and a half months before the elections. There is no single [Kremlin] candidate who has announced his candidacy. I think Putin doesn’t have an answer.

M: You’re expecting fractures within the Kremlin, but weren’t you also optimistic that in March 2008 there would be only one presidential candidate opposing the Kremlin candidate? And that’s not happening…

GK: Well, I think it will happen.

M: But many candidates have declared – Grigory Yablinsky of the Yabloko Party declared his candidacy the other day. You think don’t think that all of these people are going to actually be on the ballot?

GK: The funny thing also is – and again, it proves that politics in Russia is no longer divided by left and right – all these three ideological groups, the right wing Union of Right Forces, the social democrats, Yabloko, and the Communists, they all are having the same problem: the largest organization in each party is openly sympathizing or siding with The Other Russia. The Communists have problems with their Moscow branch, Union of Right Forces with their Moscow branch, Yabloko with their St. Petersburg branch. They’re trying to curb these protests, so that’s why they’re trying to present themselves as candidates, to buy more favours from the Kremlin and maybe to get a chance to have enough clout at the parliamentary elections.

I think that we have a good chance. It’s complicated, because we have an ex-prime minister, we have an ex-head of the Central Bank, and we may have a few more [potential candidates]. My strong preference today would be [former Central Bank chief] Viktor Geraschenko who has, in my view, very good credentials among different groups. We need somebody who can be accepted by the left, nationalists and liberals, and from the perspective of my organization he would be the best choice.

M: And you won’t be a candidate?

GK: Look, I cannot win today, by my estimation. I would do well, I think I would create a lot of problems for Kremlin, but I believe we have to try to win. And if I enter the battle, it means I will have to start breaking up some relations. And I’m the only one who communicates to all of them, you know, as the old Soviet champion – so I talk to nationalists, to Communists, to liberals, to social democrats. The moment I’m the candidate, the uniqueness of my position is jeopardized, and I think that would be deadly for the coalition. M: What kind of a man is Vladimir Putin? He’s your opponent…

GK: He’s not my opponent. I’m opposing the system. But Putin…he and his people, if you look at their biography, they’re failures. They’re the failures of the Soviet Union.

Look at his career. I mean, Putin at age 35, 36 was moved back to St. Petersburg from a very low position in East Germany and in St. Petersburg. He was what? Recruiting students as a KGB spy. That’s the end of the career.

When [former St. Petersburg mayor and Putin mentor Anatoly] Sobchak lost the elections in 1996 in St. Petersburg, Putin was unemployed. Four years before he was appointed president he was unemployed.

And the people that are surrounding him, they all were failures. Only thanks to the collapse of the Soviet Union where new opportunities emerged, they actually made their careers. Look at Zyuganov, look at [Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir] Zhirinovsky. They all owed their success to the collapse of the Soviet Union. They were nobodies.

They never fought for power as Gorbachev did, as Yeltsin did. They just came to power. For them it was not even a gift, you know, it’s a grimace of fortune. They discovered themselves in the middle of enormous wealth and everything was working like King Midas. They touched things – gold. And they’re getting scared that one day, it’s over. They’re getting paranoid. The whole system is paranoid because there’s so much wealth and they don’t know if it will go on forever and they’ve been thrown into the middle of this all-powerful, unchecked system and given total impunity. They’re freaking, because March 2008 is there.

M: That paranoia is so characteristic of Putin’s regime, and some have questioned whether the siege mentality that he cultivates is a political strategy. “The West is against Russia, they want to put Russia in their place, everybody’s against Russia…” Do you think he actually believes that?

GK: I think that it’s a little more complicated, but the answer is yes. They believe in this conspiracy against them because they believe in the absolute power of money. Money buys everything. Now if money doesn’t buy something, it means conspiracy is involved. I think that’s the core of their mentality.

When Putin made this big offer to Angela Merkel last October, about having this separate deal, you know, this Stalin-Hitler pact but on gas – “We are producers, you are distributors, let’s forget about the rest” – Merkel turned it down. And for Putin, that was a really big shock. By the way, after this failure, the Kremlin propaganda stopped the promotion of Putin’s favourite terms: gas and oil empire, energy empire. Because he suddenly recognized that he’s selling, but the buyers, they have something to say as well and they are united against him. So this failure actually contributed to his paranoia.

His speech in Munich [in February, wherein he accused the United States of attempting to create a “uni-polar world”], was after this failure. Now he was looking for conspiracy, he was threatening, he was raising stakes. He talks about the Cold War, but it’s nonsense. The Cold War was based on ideas. You can accept or reject Soviet ideas, but they were ideas and these ideas swayed hundreds of millions of people around the world. Putin’s only idea is, “Let’s steal together.”

M: So how would you like Western leaders to deal with Vladimir Putin? What would you like to see them do?

GK: Nothing. No, we don’t need any action. We know it’s unrealistic to expect any action, because the best the West could do if they wanted to – if they’re serious about preventing Russia from selling nuclear technology to Iran or missiles to Hezbollah and Hamas via Syria – is to hit them where they’re weak, where they’ll feel it most: money.

The entire game played by Putin, it’s about money. It’s about profits. So the number one item on their agenda is supporting the high oil prices. That’s why tension in the Middle East is good. So selling weapons to Syria and nuclear technology to Iran is good because it makes money and it raises the tensions.

So unless the West is ready to confront them, nothing is going to happen. But that’s more the Western problem.

Our immediate problem is: Stop treating Putin as a democrat, because that’s what hurts us inside the country. That’s what Kremlin propaganda shows every day on television. “Why are they talking about Putin? Why are they criticizing his democratic record? He is part of this group! Look, Schroeder calls him a crystal-clear democrat, Bush is hugging him. They are all receiving him as equal. You don’t like what’s happening in Russia? But that’s democracy!”

So they are compromising the notion of democracy. So please, send a message to Mr. Putin: You cannot act as Lukashenko and Mugabe or Chavez and be treated as a democratic leader.

M: Is it more in the West’s interests to engage with the Putin regime as opposed to isolating it? Might not an isolated Russia be more of a threat to Western interests?

GK: Let’s not mix Russia and Putin. Nobody talks about isolating Russia. You’re talking about not treating Putin as a democrat, giving him this face value. Doing business with China doesn’t include appraising Chinese leaders as great democrats. Doing business with Russia should not include extra dividends for Putin’s democratic credentials. The West has been promoting the policy of engagement for seven years. And while they’ve been doing it, Putin has been steadily destroying democratic institutions in Russia.
There’s a mistaken assumption that by criticizing Putin, the West might help Putin’s domestic popularity because he will be seen as someone who’s opposing the West. Not true. The bureaucrats know their money and their future is in Europe, in North America. That’s why any change in tune might create a little coup there. You know, in 1981, Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an Evil Empire. Don’t tell me that in 1981 the Soviet Union was less of a menace than Russia is today.

M: You mentioned in your speech here today that you’d learned some members of the local business community were absent today because their attendance would be controversial and might jeopardize their business interests…

GK: I know that my activities and my speeches to foreign audiences are making many businessmen, not only in Canada, very upset. They’re doing business with Russia and they’re not happy to hear open criticism of Vladimir Putin because it puts them in a complicated situation. They can’t ignore that they’re doing business with a police state and sometimes they’re very shadowy deals that might be questioned if attention is brought.

I even had some problems getting a Canadian visa. First time in my life. Four weeks, they couldn’t issue a visa in Moscow. I don’t know why. It’s definitely a question mark. I received my visa at the last second in Mexico City. If not for Canadian embassy in Mexico, I wouldn’t be here. It’s not only a Canadian problem, though it’s my first appearance of this magnitude in Canada, so that probably caused some concerns.

M: What’s your message to the people who skipped this event today?

GK: Look – investing in KGB Inc., it’s a dangerous business. You make a lot of money now, but March 2008, there will be a new government in Russia. Whether it’s a democratic government or a new mafia boss, many deals will be reopened. And you know, you are placing your bets on very shaky ground. You expect huge benefits, but it comes with huge risk.

So take your chance, but don’t pretend that you are on the right side of the picture.