Daily Archives: October 13, 2007

October 13, 2007 — Contents


(1) Paranoid Putin

(2) Annals of “Pacified” Chechnya

(3) Putley Writes the Financial Times

NOTE: Just in case anyone is interested in a Russia respite, LR steps away from the topic to write about Michelle Malkin and Hillary Clinton on Publius Pundit.

Paranoid Putin

Writing in the Guardian and quoting Edward Lucas, Simon Tisdall analyzes paranoid Putin and his neo-Soviet freak show:

Russia’s latest outburst of passive-aggressive paranoia, aimed at Britain in particular, may reflect a realisation in the Kremlin that western resistance to its perceived bullying of neighbours, disdain for civil and human rights, and cut-throat energy policy is growing after years of blind eyes, held noses and wishful thinking.

President-prime minister Vladimir Putin likes to emphasise Russia’s resurgent power, buoyed by record oil and gas export receipts and renewed self-belief. But hackneyed claims that British agents are plotting to destroy the fatherland, recycled yesterday by Russia’s chief spymaster, Nikolai Patrushev, smack of weakness not strength.

“It’s clear that the sweet dream of a strategic partnership between Europe and Russia is over,” Jörg Himmelreich, a regional expert at the German Marshall Fund, told a conference of the independent Russia Foundation in London. In many ways, he said, Russia was reverting to type after its short-lived 1990s flirtation with western-style democracy and governance.

“The coming elections will be more a form of plebiscite. Russia, de facto, is almost a one-party system again. The advisers, the siloviki, around Mr Putin resemble the Communist party’s central committee,” Mr Himmelreich said. Rather than governing for and on behalf of the people, Mr Putin’s authoritarian government, like its totalitarian and imperial forerunners, believed “the people are a risk”.

Ed Lucas, author of a forthcoming book, The New Cold War: How the Kremlin Menaces Russia and the West, said western attitudes were hardening after a period, spanning Boris Yeltsin’s presidency and the early Putin years, of hoping for the best and eschewing forceful action on issues such as the repression of Chechen separatism.

One reason was the fall from power of France’s Jacques Chirac, Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi and Germany’s Gerhard Schröder, all replaced by politicians who were less impressed by Mr Putin or, in the case of Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel, privately detested him, Mr Lucas said.

“Broadly speaking western countries are no longer happy to put up with bullying of Russia’s neighbours. They’ve stopped blaming countries such as Poland and Estonia for causing a strain. They look at the blatant kleptocracy in the Kremlin and the phoney politics and pseudo-democracy. In the EU the result is greater solidarity and less self-flagellation and guilt about the Yeltsin era.”

Looked at another way, Russia’s obstructionism and pot-stirring on issues ranging from Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons programme to Serbian opposition to Kosovan independence was the product of rising national confidence and historical resentment, a senior research analyst from the UK Defence Academy said.

Despite evidence of a growing Russian challenge to western interests, the analyst said Nato, the premier anti-Soviet alliance, was unprepared to tackle emerging threats posed by Russia. That was partly the result of strategic tunnel vision induced by 9/11.

But if, for example, Moscow supported militarily Abkhazia’s mooted secession from Georgia, a pro-western former Soviet republic, it was unclear what if anything Nato, the EU or the US could do. The west’s first priority must be to regain Russia’s respect, the analyst said.

The Kremlin’s arrogant refusal to extradite the main suspect in last year’s murder in London of Alexander Litvinenko showed how much ground had to be made up. A start could be made by pursuing firmer EU positions on energy, free trade and human rights. It was crucial to forge a proportionate foreign policy that was neither evangelical nor strident, nor totally relativist and apologetic.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP, a former foreign secretary, said Russia’s legitimate aspirations should be respected although few now expected it to embrace western values wholesale. But neither should Mr Putin’s position be considered impregnable.

“What has to be remembered is that Putin is playing a weak hand,” he said. “Russia has no non-energy exports to speak of. The oil won’t last for ever. Russia’s population is dwindling in size.

“What is really striking is the crudity of a Russian foreign policy run by a secret policeman advised by secret policemen. These people are scoring own goal after own goal, like in Ukraine. It is Russia they are hurting most.”

Annals of "Pacified" Chechnya: Blaming the Baltics

Some times the Kremlin does things that are so bizarre, one can hardly believe they occurred when one hears about them. But then, you just recall the history of the USSR, and they don’t seem so strange at all. David McDuff of A Day at a Time reports:

When Russia’s FSB wants to score a more-than-routine propaganda point or two, it generally tries to arrange a “Baltic” connection to some negative event on Russian territory. The latest example of this can be seen in yesterday’s carefully orchestrated attack in downtown Nazran, Ingushetia, which none the less killed two police officers, and probably scared the large crowds of shoppers at the city’s market. A car with what appeared to be Lithuanian numberplates was conveniently parked at the site of the shooting, beside an armoured police vehicle. Then the car sped off, removing the shooters to safety.

For years, Russia’s security forces have attempted to create a link not only in the Russian public’s mind, but also in that of the international community, between the the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia (detested by the “law enforcers”) and the events that take place in the North Caucasus – the most memorable being the tales about the “White Pantyhose Brigade”, “supplemented by jokes and the recollections of eye-witnesses, even more funny than jokes. In these recollections, legends and myths, the slender blondes from Lithuanian villages had come to Chechnya to avenge themselves for the misdeeds of Molotov and Ribbentrop hitting our soldiers and imagination from sniper rifles,” as Ilya Milstein wrote in the New Times a few years ago.

At first, the obviously manufactured, artificial nature of the violent events in Ingushetia this year made some observers wonder just who the forces behind these actions were. On the basis of the foregoing, it’s becoming increasingly evident who they are.

Putley Writes the FT

One of the most useful services the blogosphere can provide is publishing letters written to major newspapers that then never see the light of day. This process offers fascinating insights into all the information the mainstream press conceals from our eyes. Case in point, from David McDuff’s A Day at a Time:

On October 2, the Financial Times published an editorial entitled Putin’s power play with democracy, on the subject of Vladimir Putin’s recent announcement that he may become Russia’s prime minister. Among other things, it contained these paragraphs:

President Putin commands the support of a good 70 per cent of Russians and he could probably lift the numbers of United Russia to the two-thirds majority in the Duma needed to change the constitution and redistribute power. Under that scenario, United Russia, hitherto an ideas-free Putin vehicle, would transmute into a ruling party with long-term tenure – not so much a Communist-style one-party set-up as like an Institutional Revolutionary party, which ruled Mexico for most of the last century.

If Mr Putin intends to run things – and clearly, he does – then it is arguably better that he rules through institutions than from behind the scenes as, say, head of an arm of the state such as Gazprom. Yet even for someone so clearly in control, it is not easy to rejig the sources of real power. This transition is not over yet.

Jeremy Putley has sent me the text of a letter, so far unpublished by the FT, which has recently acquired a new editor:

3 October 2007

The Editor
Financial Times


Putin’s power play with democracy, editorial, today

Parliamentary democracy is generally found to be preferable to the alternative democratic model of government based on an elected, all-powerful president. There are very few instances of good presidential working models, and the Russian system is not one of them. It might, therefore, appear to be a step in the right direction if power were to transfer, in the person of Mr Putin, from the office of president to that of prime minister.

But this is to ignore the merits of the individual concerned, and it was a significant omission from your editorial today that you have made no comment on the prospective candidate’s suitability for office. Mr Putin’s record disqualifies him.

In the years since 2000 Mr Putin has presided over a state whose salient aspects have included the conduct of a war in Chechnya characterised by massive civilian deaths, savage destruction, and wide-scale crimes against humanity; the imposition, in Chechnya, of a fake political settlement while repressions continued unabated; the abuse of the judicial system to lock up persons who are perceived as opponents, following dubious judicial proceedings which are frequently in camera; widespread torture of suspects, documented with impeccable credibility by the late Anna Politkovskaya; the creation of a domestic terrorist threat as a consequence of repressive policies; ineffectual leadership at times of crisis; and, not least, the suppression of democratic freedoms.

The secrecy in which the Chechnya war was conducted was deliberate Kremlin policy, intended to hide the lawless anarchy created in Chechnya, the war crimes committed by the Russian military, and the mass murder of the civilian population. It would be a pity, I suggest, if that policy were to be rewarded. Crimes should not go unnoticed and unremarked; all the more so if “a good 70 per cent of Russians” support the incumbent president.

Jeremy Putley