The Way We See It
In her most recent column on the Pajamas Media mother blog, where she’s a Russia correspondent, La Russophobe‘s publisher Kim Zigfeld speculated that the coming interregnum of power in Russia — where the dictator Vladimir Putin will pretend to be prime minister while, apparently, the current prime minister (Viktor Zubkov) will pretend to be president — may offer Putin the perfect opportunity to launch a major escalation in the Kremlin’s neo-Soviet crackdown, purging the last vestiges of civil society from the Russian landscape in a manner not meaningfully different from the approach taken by Josef Stalin (who, not coincidentally, the Kremlin is now busily rehabilitating). Putin could have it appear that others were doing the dirty work, and return to the formalities power superficially unscathed, thence to rule Russia indefinitely without even the vaguest whiff of opposition.
As if to confirm this scenario, the Other Russia blog ominously reported days later that the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe has not yet been invited to monitor the upcoming parliamentary elections in Russia (the Guardian has more detail). These elections are the crucial first step in achieving Putin’s master plan, stamping out the last brushfires of opposition political party activity (Other Russia itself has been officially barred from taking part, as have other critical opposition contenders) while simultaneously affecting his sham transition to the post of party leader and prime minister. Other Russia quoted Urdur Gunnarsdottir, spokeswoman for the elections division of the OSCE, declaring: “We haven’t gotten any invite yet. We’ve received assurances from Russian representatives that an invitation will be forthcoming, but we haven’t had one. The elections were called in early September. So this is indeed getting quite late. And the later we get the invitation, the more difficult it is for us to do it in a proper way.” So it’s not clear whether the Kremlin will simply subvert, or actually interrupt, the OSCE’s activities in Russia, but either way the prospects are ominous indeed.
We also report today on an effort to literally dig up Stalin, raising a monument to the maniac that was distasteful even to Communist freak Nikita Krushchev and display it once again in a public square. And the ultimate conspiracy theory is even more gloomy. Such a theory would hold that Putin himself is essentially no different than Zubkov, that both are utter non sequitors plucked out of obscurity by the hidden “powers that be” in Russia and manipulated like marionettes to do the bidding of secret forces that are largely unknown outside the Kremlin’s darkened halls of power. Whether those forces consist of oligarchs, KGB masterminds or a combination of both hardly matters. What matter is, they are evil. What matters is, Russia is an Evil Empire.
Writing in Foreign Policy, senior U.S. Senator John McCain recently called explicitly for the Western democracies to eject Russia from the G-8 organization, where it already sticks out like a sore thumb. Senator McCain has long been the leading figure in recognizing the threats posed by the neo-Soviet state, and the world is only now beginning to realize how right he has been all along — but one shouldn’t overlook the fact that the ultimate wellspring for this knowledge was the valiant Russian hero Anna Politkovskaya. Perhaps even she couldn’t have fully comprehended, though, how very real the possibility is that a window is forcefully closing for Russia over the course of the next few months, and that in 2008 we may see horror unfold before our eyes in Russia that is unprecedented in all of human history because it has been wrought willingly by the people of Russia by means of elections that, until now, have been at least partially free.
When Senator McCain was a younger man, during the height of the first cold war, there was for Western policy makers at least a small comfort to be found in the speculation that the people of Russia were as much the victims of neo-Soviet oppression as we ourselves were. There was the hope that, given the chance, they’d build a different kind of country — and that such in inclination would undermine the viability of the Soviet dictatorship over time. Indeed, there was hope when the USSR teetered and fell that they’d gotten the chance and in fact done so.
No such luck. Instead, given the chance, the people of Russia have chosen to be ruled by a proud KGB spy, and they’ve turned a blind eye to his obliteration of hope for democracy and freedom in Russia. Had we been more aware of this possibility, we wouldn’t have been so likely to think that the removal of Mikhail Gorbachev from power was actually the end of our problems with Russia. In fact, given the reality that Gorbachev was ultimately willing to step aside and be replaced by a radically different kind of leader, Boris Yeltsin, one could make the case that he was more liberal and pro-freedom than Vladimir Putin. Gorbachev, at least, didn’t spend his whole career as a KGB field operative.
As Lenin asked: What should we do now?
The answer is simple. We should, and must, do what Lenin did — what Ronald Reagan did. We must fight the Evil Empire by every means at our disposal. As we report today, the neo-Soviet dictatorship isn’t a domestic Russian affair, but rather an aggressively imperialistic machine no different than the original version (though surely less powerful, at least at present, and therefore more ripe for confrontation), with Russia’s actions in regard to Kosovo being a perfect example. In doing so, we not only protect our own security, we offer the people of Russia their last, best chance for some kind of security of their own.
And meanwhile, we must warn the people of Russia to either join the fight or get out while the getting is good. An iron curtain is descending across the continent once again, and soon your freedom to leave will be gone, just as it was in Soviet times. Don’t forget: Just as in Soviet times, all exit transit from Russia passes through two tiny portals, Moscow and St. Petersburg, portals which can easily be shut down at a moment’s notice. The puny opposition forces the Russian people have generated indicate clearly they would not rise up to stop such a move, and in any case the Kremlin maintains the same total monopoly of force it always has. Russia’s population loss makes the conclusion inescapable for the Kremlin. A massive crackdown with echoes of the worst the USSR had to offer is coming.
You’ve been warned.
And this warning doesn’t apply only to Russians, of course. Any foreigner in Russia is a target, as a news story in today’s Moscow Times indicating new xenophobic crackdown in the visa regime indicates. Most of all, foreign assets in Russia are not safe, and any foreigner who would defend them, rather than hand them over to the state, risks facing the same fate met by Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Last Friday, the U.S. stock market lost 2.5% of its value; today, the Russian stock market was down 3.5% of its value. You can be sure, this kind of thing causes a major neo-Soviet freakout in the Kremlin every time it happens.
The Moscow Times, itself, is the canary in the mine in this regard. How long before the Kremlin finds some excuse to close it down? Already, all the major foreign NGOs are under vicious attack, and many have been shut down or emasculated. Shamefully, you’ve done nothing to organize and protect them, but rather have sought appeasement with the Kremlin. When the MT goes, at the latest, you foreigners should be right behind it — if you’ve got the sense God gave a lemon.