Daily Archives: March 10, 2008

March 10, 2008 — Contents

MONDAY MARCH 10 CONTENTS

(1) EDITORIAL: Seeing Russia

(2) The Real Dimitri Medvedev: Part I, Another Original LR Translation

(3) The Real Dimitri Medvedev, Part II

(4) Gordievsky on the Age of Assassins

(5) Putin and LaRouche, Sitting in a Tree

(6) Vladimir Putin, Thief and Liar

NOTE: Kim Zigfeld’s latest installment on Pajamas Media is running now, a book review of two new volumes both called The New Cold War. Written by Russia journalists (and bloggers!) Edward Lucas and Mark MacKinnon, both of whom know the country well having seen it long-term up close and personal, these two books are required reading for those who wish to have true insight as to the neo-Soviet peril we in the West and the good people of Russia now face, a peril we have been documenting here on this blog for nearly two years now.

NOTE: Publius Pundit has news of more humiliating failure for Putin’s Russia in Serbia and exposes the nasty clique of weirdos and criminals who are Putin’s only friends in the West. Feel free to offer your comments on these important developments as background to the new cold war conflict we face.

EDITORIAL: Seeing Russia

EDITORIAL

Seeing Russia


According to the Russian government’s propaganda, the city of Moscow received 296,513 visits from Germans last year — the most visits the city received from any nation outside the former USSR.

That’s nice. But in 2006, according to New York City records, the Big Apple received 420,000 visits from Germans — and Germans were only in third place overall, far behind the United Kingdom with over a million visitors. The United States was in second place behind Germany in sending tourists to Moscow, according to Kremlin data — yet Russia wasn’t even in the top 15 countries sending tourists to New York City. China was in third place in sending tourists to Moscow, yet it sent virtually the same number of tourists to New York City and ranked only #16 there. Overall, Moscow claimed 4 million tourists while New York City had 7.25 million – nearly twice as many.

These are damning statistics. They irrefutably show not only that Americans are far more willing to reach out towards Russia than vice versa, they show that Russians are antagonizing the entire world to a breathtaking extent, utterly failing to act like a civilized nation that can build friendships with other countries.

And when you then think about the fact that America has many other famous international tourist cities (Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Orlando) while Russia has at most one (St. Petersburg), you then realize the true extent to which tourism to the United States overall dwarfs tourism that to Russia – it’s the same extent to which the mighty U.S. economy and military pulverize their Russian counterparts. Go further, and realize that no thinking person can credit statistics offered by the Kremlin as being remotely accurate, and you’ll see that Russia is in fact being utterly repudiated by the tourists of the civilized world. Kommersant for instance reports that last year 9.4 million Russians left the country as tourists, but only 2.2 million foreigners entered Russia as tourists and concludes “similar to the country’s economy, the tourism is the export-targeted here.” The paper states: “ The number of tourist trips to Russia sank 9 percent vs. 2006.”

What makes Russia so repugnant compared to a country like the United States which is supposedly hated by the entire world, and one with a far smaller amount of actual territory for tourists to actually visit?

Well, the main thing of course is that Russians simply hate foreigners and want to destroy them. Why else would a country with such a puny economy be baiting and provoking the entire Western World into a new cold war war and arms race? When Russians were asked whether foreign tourists were welcome in their country, their answer placed them #119 out of 124 countries surveyed (see page 443 of the report) by the World Economic Forum. Thus, it’s no big surprise to learn that while the U.S. ranked #5 in the world in overall tourism competitiveness, “mighty” Russia ranked a pathetic #68 out of 124 (see page xvi of the report).

Then there’s the cruelty and barbarism at home. Take for instance the recent report from Forbes magazine that Russia has more billionaires than any other country but the U.S. The 87 Russians who made the Forbes list of world’s wealthiest people control almost $500 billion between them — roughly half of one-year’s total GDP for the entire country. This clan of Putin cohorts is sucking the blood of the impoverished nation (Russia isn’t in the world’s top 50 nations for purchasing power per capita GDP) like leeches, no different than what the Tsar and his court were doing to Russia’s peasants a hundred years ago — leading to the Bolshevik revolution — and no different from what the Bolsheviks themselves then did, leading to their own downfall. The repugnance of seeing this kind of wealth displayed next to men who don’t live on average to see their sixtieth year and work for $4/hour on average is enough to turn anyone’s stomach.

And on top of that, to say nothing of the raw danger of visiting Russia (it has the world’s fifth highest murder rate, for instance, and widespread pollution and disease leading to the loss of up to 1 million Russians from the population each year) and the godawful levels of police corruption and medical care, there’s Russian hypocrisy. Russia insists that Chechnya is nobody’s business but Russia’s, and demands that the world leave Kosovo to Serbia, yet it has no problem actively supporting separatist regions in other countries, like Georgia for example, and uses tactics of energy blackmail to bludgeon places like Ukraine. Russia wails to high heaven about “unilateralism” from the United States, then turns around and delivers exactly that attitude towards the former Soviet slave states. Russia complains about America provoking a new cold war, yet it is Russia and not America that is buzzing the other side with nuclear bombers. How can anyone possibly take a country like this even remotely seriously as a civilized partner?

As has always been the case with Russia, the country believes it can use propaganda and sleight of hand to simply fool the world into believing it is attractive. The idea of a “Potemkin Village” rather than actual reform is a constant right the way through Russian history, and the Kremlin’s recent attempts at PR blitzes are just another step along that road. The pathetic attempt of Russia Today, the Kremlin’s state-owned TV propaganda campaign, to use Josef Stalin as a pitchman, is really all you need to know. Russians, just like their Soviet predecessors, really believe they are that much smarter than the rest of the world that they can get away with things like this. They live in a world of total isolation from real self analysis and criticism, the world of the Emperor’s New Clothes, the world that destroyed itself many times in the past and goes merrily on doing the same without repentance, headed for oblivion.

The most recent indication of Russia’s neo-Sovietization was the purchase by Gazprom of the Russian version of YouTube. The Kremlin owns Gazprom, Gazprom owns YouTube, and the people of Russia strut around naked, preening as if covered in mink.

The Real Dimitri Medvedev, Part I: Another Original LR Translation by our Original Translator

The above Russian-language parody of the way Dimitri Medvedev was selected to be the next “President” of Russia uses a re-dubbed scene from the classic 1966 film, “Prisoner of the Caucaus, or the New Adventures of Shurik” (Кавказская пленница, или Новые приключения Шурика) – a movie that every Russian in the world knows practically by heart. The parody appears to have become wildly popular on the RuNet, with nearly 800,000 views to date.

Wikipedia gives the following good summary of the original movie:

A kind, yet naïve, student named Shurik (Demyanenko) goes to a place in the Caucasus to learn the ancient customs of the locals. He falls in love with a girl called Nina (Varley), but her uncle (Mkrtchyan) sells her as a bride without her knowledge and arranges to have her kidnapped by an eccentric trio: Coward, Fool and Experienced. After a failed attempt, the uncle decides to trick Shurik into helping with the kidnapping – telling him that it is a traditional custom and that it was Nina’s own wish. Shurik goes through with the kidnapping, and does not figure out what has really happened at first, but with the help of a friend he manages to rescue Nina from her captors.

“Dmitriy Medvedev: How it all Began” uses the scene from this movie in which the uncle tricks Shurik into helping with the kidnapping – telling him that Putin himself has selected him to participate in the “traditional custom” of a Russian election – as one of the candidates for President! The Coward, the Fool and the Experienced (characters similar to the Three Stooges) are introduced as Zhirinovskiy, Zyuganov and Bogdanov – the three phony “presidential candidates” that Shurik/Medvedev will face in the “election”.

A lightly-edited translation:

Uncle (introducing himself and sitting down at table): “Mr. Medvedev? You’re a very lucky man! You wanted to observe ancient Russian customs? This one will be in March. And you won’t just get to see it, you’ll be able to participate as well!”

Medvedev: “Thank you so much! And what is this ancient custom called?”

Uncle: “Presidential Elections. Not real elections, basically like in Belarus, but custom requires that the President be elected.”

Medvedev: “A beautiful custom! But what will my role be?”

Uncle: “You’ll gather signatures, register your candidacy… and then the people will elect – guess who?”

Medvedev: “As usual – Putin.”

Uncle: “No, no – they’ll elect YOU. From a group of other candidates.”

Medvedev: “Ahh – so there are other candidates, too.”

Uncle: “Yes, as required by tradition. Incidentally, there they’re over there. Let me introduce them to you.” (The three “candidates” approach.) “From left to right: Zhirinovksiy, Zyuganov and… oh, I always forget his name… ah yes – Bogdanov!”

Medvedev (offering his hand to Zhirinovskiy): “Dmitriy.”

Zhirinovskiy (says nothing, just slaps Medvedev’s hand and salutes him)

Zyuganov (just grunts and squeezes Medvedev’s hand too hard)

Bogdanov (cowering): “Oh no! I’m no one! I’m nothing!” – and Zyuganov slaps his hand.

The candidates take their seats at the table, followed by a long, awkward silence…

Uncle (lowering his voice in an aside to Medvedev): “They don’t stand a chance, of course…” Then, smiling at all of them: “But they’re okay with that.”

Zhirinovskiy (exclaiming suddenly): “Democrats are goats!”

Medvedev: “What did he say?”

Uncle: “He says that all the time. Don’t pay any attention to him.”

Zyuganov: “We’re going to bomb them – in America!”

Medvedev: “What did he say?”

Uncle: “He says if you refuse to do it, he’ll be President. – It’s a joke.”

Medvedev (laughing): “A joke, fine. Well, I agree. So who’s going to be the Prime Minister?”

Uncle: “Vladimir Vladimirovych Putin.”

Medvedev (stops eating, looks scared): “So, Putin’s not going to leave?”

Uncle: “They worship him.”

Medvedev (now looking very scared, pauses, then laughs artificially): “I completely forgot, in March I have to, um…. well, basically, I can’t do it. No way.”

Uncle (very serious): “Mr. Medvedev… Putin specifically asked for you to do this.”

Medvedev: “Putin himself asked for me?”

Uncle: “Very much so.”

Medvedev (holds his head in his hands, depressed, then looks up): “Well, what can one do? Tell Putin I agree. Goodbye.” (Gets up from the table to leave.)

Uncle (following Medvedev out, through the now-dancing restaurant): “Listen. Custom demands that everything appear completely natural. Your competitors will fight you tooth and nail, complain endlessly… But you can’t pay any attention. This is all part of a beautiful, ancient tradition.”

Medvedev: “I understand. Don’t worry. Everything will look completely natural. See you at the elections.”

Uncle: “See you at the elections.”

The Real Dimitri Medvedev, Part II

Professor Robert Service is director of the Russian Centre at St Antony’s College, Oxford, writing in the Times of London:

Will the real Dmitry Medvedev please stand up? The optimists among Russia-watchers believe that once he takes power we shall see a great reformer on the Kremlin throne.

Their thinking runs as follows. Vladimir Putin, taking over from Boris Yeltsin in 2000, has brought order to the Muscovite chaos. Politics in Russia is a rough trade. Yeltsin, old and infirm, indulged corruption. Putin got rid of the interfering business “oligarchs” and brought predictability to governance. He eliminated Russia’s debts and arranged for energy revenues to trickle down to society at large. He has anointed Medvedev as the man to continue reform.

Together they have devised “national programmes” for healthcare, education, housing and agriculture. Medvedev was put in charge of them last year. By picking him as his successor, Putin is supposedly breaking with those in the security services and the oil-and-gas lobby who oppose any further reform.

Optimism carries some observers still further. Medvedev, they speculate, is biding his time. Thus he intends to abandon Putin’s caution and achieve a rapid transition to democracy and the rule of law. There are precedents. Khrushchev denounced Stalin. Gorbachev ridiculed Brezhnev. Putin showed contempt for Yeltsin.

The chances are surely slim that Medvedev is a closet liberal. The evidence suggests that the pessimists are nearer the mark. It is true that Medvedev has spoken warmly about democracy. At the world economic forum at Davos last year he noted that the most successful economies are underpinned by fair elections and impartial justice. He talks a good talk. His face is bland and smiling – he looks like a former member of a 1980s boyband. At only 42 he seems to bring a fresh approach to public policy.

In reality the future Russian president belongs to a ruthless ruling group. Like Putin he comes from St Petersburg, and their association has been long and close. Medvedev trained as a lawyer and put his expertise at the Kremlin’s disposal at a time when Putin was hammering his enemies into the ground.

In Moscow he chaired Gazprom and headed the presidential administration. He has been the perfect apparatchik, elaborating and enforcing the measures required by Putin. Medvedev is not a new broom but an old dust rag that carries the residue of Putin’s presidency – and Putin has in any case indicated a wish to continue to wield some power, even as prime minister.

A positive verdict on the Putin years is inappropriate. Without the energy export bonanza, the government would be as unpopular as Yeltsin’s was. Putin was elected president in spring 2000. But the improvement in Russia’s economy started in 1998 when emergency measures were introduced to cope with the country’s default on its debts. Far from being a miracle-worker, Putin has been the beneficiary of changes already in place. And Putin’s good fortune was doubled when oil and gas revenues began to swell his treasury.

Putin made his reputation as the bringer of order. Yet the number of terrorist outbreaks has not diminished but increased. Chechnya is quiet only because a Kremlin-sponsored local thug has been allowed to run amok there. Healthcare spending as a share of GDP is lower than in the 1990s.

But not everything has gone to the bad. Whereas a third of the population lived below the UN recognised poverty level in the late 1990s, today the figure is a sixth. Russians in general have a private life free from political interference. They can join independent social clubs and, if they have the money, travel abroad. They can sit on the bus and moan freely about Putin or Medvedev. The internet is free from state censorship. Putin, moreover, is credited with regaining respect for Russia in the rest of the world. When he wagged his finger at Blair and Bush, he was cheered at home.

Russian society will have to deal in its own way with the mixed legacy of the Yeltsin-Putin years. Perhaps people will begin to assert themselves again. The profits from energy exports have accrued to associates of the Putin group, and Russians may one day register their resentment. The regime has never been as confident as it pretends. That is why it stopped any serious rival standing against Medvedev. It then started worrying that not enough people would bother to vote today. Many public-sector employees have been told their jobs depend on their votes. This is a sign of an insecure leadership.

Other countries can at least stand firm in protecting their own interests. When Putin became president, he was lionised in the West. This was a mistake that should not be repeated with Medvedev. Our bargaining hand is not weak. Although Europe needs Russian oil and gas, Russia is equally dependent on the promptness and reliability of European payments – and Russian business is flourishing because of its access to London finance. But if Medvedev and Gazprom decide Ukraine should pay the same for its energy as the Isle of Man does, we should not react by saying that a “new cold war” has started. Nor should Russia suffer expulsion from the G8. The Chinese prison regime, after all, is bigger and worse than the Russian one, and yet few have called for China’s removal.

The advice given in the tundra should be our guideline. We should not hug and kiss the bear. But we should not run away as soon as it growls.

Gordievsky on Putin and the Age of Assassins

KGB defector Oleg Gordievsky reviews The Age of Assassins: the Rise and Rise of Vladimir Putin by Yuri Felshtinsky and Vladimir Pribylovsky in the Times of London:

THE LATEST RUSSIAN voting operation (to call it an election would be misleading) has just ended, and Vladimir Putin’s grey, appointed successor will be inaugurated in two months’ time. The Russian rough equivalent of GCHQ duly produced the fraudulent numbers and percentages as instructed by the Kremlin, because, even after refusing to register some far more charismatic, intelligent and capable candidates, the authorities still couldn’t leave anything to chance.

The future of Russia now looks even gloomier, and The Age of Assassins provides an admirable background to what we should expect in the years ahead. Despite its lurid title, it is, in effect, a history of Russia over the past 17 years. Indeed, the final chapter in particular contains fascinating information about some of the assassins who have been working so hard inside and outside Russia since the implosion of the Soviet Union.

The authors are respected Russian scholars: Yuri Felshtinsky has written about the secret service in Blowing Up Russia (co-authored with Alexander Litvinenko), and Vladimir Pribylovsky runs several Russian human-rights organisations. They write convincingly about Putin’s life and activities since 1975 and about the people who have been close to him. They follow him from being a minor and insignificant figure in Dresden through well-deserved obscurity in the KGB/FSB in Leningrad (now St Petersburg) and on to Moscow as deputy head of the presidential property management department – a job that opened the way to a number of useful contacts. He then became head of a commission preparing agreements on dividing up power between the central government and the regions.

Nothing much came of this at the time, but it did no harm to Putin’s career, and he was soon appointed director of Russia’s secret service, a promotion that was a cause for derision in the elitist corridors of that institution – his professional expertise and competence were minimal.

At that time Boris Berezovsky (the oligarch and politician) was a figure of influence, a member of President Yeltsin’s extended “family”. An election campaign was in progress, and Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov hated Berezovsky and was trying to undermine him. During a birthday party for Berezovsky’s wife, Putin unexpectedly turned up with a bunch of flowers. “You’re crazy,” said the astonished Berezovsky. “Primakov will find out …” “He can go to hell,” Putin supposedly replied. “I’m not afraid of him.” Berezovsky was very impressed (but he did not know then that Putin had also visited Primakov with another bunch of flowers), and their short-lived friendship began.

Yeltsin, fearful of retribution for the armed attack on the Russian Parliament as well as unleashing the war against Chechnya in 1994, felt his best option was to be succeeded by Putin, the “modest”, “neutral” KGB nonentity, provided Putin undertook to guarantee the safety and security of Yeltsin and his family. This is why and how the KGB has assumed greater autonomy today than it had as a tool of the Communist Party.

The KGB has by now obtained absolute control over Russia and its resources, including enormous amounts of state funds. Gradually Putin has turned into a dictator, and dictatorships always kill. The killings increased in number and spread abroad. Putin made the Duma (Parliament) impotent and completely controllable.

He appointed people with secret service affiliations to virtually every post of major significance. Now Putin is bragging that he has restored “order” and at least relative prosperity – a shameless lie. The KGB can, of course, control, subjugate, destroy and murder – but can it do anything creative?

The new President, in effect appointed by Putin, is Putin’s clone. When Putin was head of the KGB (officially called the FSB) he deployed some 2,000 of its officers and cronies to plum jobs.

We read that Putin wanted to get rid of the Procurator General, Yury Skuratov, and dispatched agents who drugged him, videoed him in a compromising situation then showed the film on TV. The authors also discuss how the bombings in 1999 of blocks of flats supposedly by Chechens were organised to make it easier for Putin to gain support and resume the war against Chechnya.

Almost immediately after becoming President, Putin began to clamp down on the media, in effect misappropriating successful TV companies. This was not an attack on the wealthy owners as such, because those who played along became wealthier. The most decent and intelligent of the oligarchs, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who favours a genuinely open society, was deprived of his billions and sentenced to eight years in Siberian camps and jails. By now most of the media is controlled by the KGB and spews forth a torrent of libellous propaganda against the West.

In 2004 a leading politician, Ivan Rybkin, was poisoned and then compromised during a visit to Ukraine and had to leave politics. A very progressive and liberal journalist and politician, Yury Shchekochikhin, was fatally poisoned in 2003, and his family has still not been allowed access to the crucial medical data on the case.

Two other outstanding journalists, Anna Politkovskaya and Paul Klebnikov, were shot dead rather than poisoned. Then, in 2006, there was the fatal poisoning of a British citizen, Alexander Litvinenko, a genuinely “former” KGB officer who was sharply critical of Putin, his regime and the KGB.

The authors state that it should have become obvious by now that Russia’s Government “would henceforth be run and be controlled by people who hated America and Western Europe, who had no experience in building anything, who acted in secrecy while belonging to an organisation of which – as with the Gestapo in Nazi Germany – not a single good word can be said in its defence”. It is difficult to disagree with this judgment.

The Age of Assassins: the Rise and Rise of Vladimir Putin by Yuri Felshtinsky and Vladimir Pribylovsky
Gibson Square, £16.99; 384pp

Extract

On October 7, 2006, Anna Politkovskaya was assassinated in her apartment building in Moscow. Those who killed Politkovskaya, whoever they are, had a choice. They could have murdered her on any day in October, or in any month for that matter. Instead they chose a day with a special significance for Vladimir Putin, the President of the Russian Federation. She was silenced forever on his birthday.

Politkovskaya was a well-known Russian journalist who had published books in many languages. She was an uncompromising critic of the Russian government, of Russian policies in Chechnya, of the Russian army in Chechnya, and of President Putin as the head of a government that allowed crimes to be committed in Chechnya. It was natural to suspect that Politkovskaya’s murder had been carried out on instructions from some pro-Kremlin Chechen leader, such as the president of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, who was only then negotiating with Putin about the possibility of becoming president in circumvention of the constitution of the Chechen Republic (Ramzan Kadyrov, born in 1976, was too young for this post). On March 2, 2007, Ramzan Kadyrov got what he wanted and became the president of the Chechen Republic, despite his age, and with the blessing of the Russian President.

It is the tale of this book. How, in eight short years, did the Kremlin move from Yeltsin’s chaos to a situation where it no longer needs to issue orders for a problem to be cleaned up.

The 20th century has entered history as an age of tyrants. Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Mao Zedong … Great and small, extreme and moderate, communist and nationalist, they brought unspeakable evil to their victims and created rich materials for historians. Our inclination is to draw parallels between new phenomena and familiar, old ones. We want to know: is Putin a despot or not? Will the world see a new cold – or perhaps even nuclear – war?

Putin and LaRouche, Sitting in a Tree

James Kirchik, writing in the New Republic:

Robert Dreyfuss, a contributing editor to The Nation, has written a piece this week entitled “Hothead McCain.” I wonder if Dreyfuss would use a similar descriptor for his longtime former employer, the convicted felon and political cult-leader Lyndon LaRouche. Though Dreyfuss officially left the employ of LaRouche (in the sense that he does not currently write for LaRouche’s publications, at least not under his own byline), his politics clearly haven’t changed much from the tinfoil hat variety characteristic of the 8-time fringe presidential candidate and conspiracy theorist. Dreyfuss still spends his days feverishly slumped over his keyboard warning of neocon conspiracies and shilling for authoritarian regimes–hallmarks of any good LaRouchite. Now, he just gets published in ostensibly respectable magazines like The Nation.

Dreyfuss’s attacks on McCain for “drawing up plans for a new set of global institutions” are right out of the LaRouche playbook, which views international institutions as part of a grand, “satanic” conspiracy involving international banks, the Trilateral Commission, and the drug-running Queen Elizabeth II. Sound familiar? LaRouche, and his disciplies like Robert Dreyfuss, make Ron Paul seem sane. As such, Dreyfuss’s fearmongering about McCain’s plans for an “expanded NATO that will bump up against Russian interests in Central Asia and the Caucasus” is in line with LaRouche’s own pro-Putin sympathies. That Russia is a wounded power, righteously lashing out at an expansionist and imperialist West has long been a rallying cry for the American far-right, which finds many things to admire in the ethno-nationalistic chauvinism of Vladimir Putin and, before him, Slobodan Milosevic. So why is this bunk appearing in The Nation? Which of Russia’s “interests in Central Asia and the Caucasus” does Dreyfuss seek to defend? Its punishing violence in Chechnya? Its bullying of Georgia? Strange that a left-wing publication would shill for the quasi-fascist authoritarians now running Russia. Perhaps The Nation is reliving its enthusiasm for the Hitler-Stalin pact.

Dreyfuss mimics Pravda when he writes that McCain’s proposal to expel Russia from the Group of Eight for its rigging elections, murdering journalists, poisoning dissenters and other myriad human rights abuses is a “flagrant and dangerous insult.” He then rakes McCain over the coals for supporting Kosovo’s declaration of independence and for backing American intervention to avert genocide in the Balkans. Again, that this man is given space in The Nation and The American Prospect (where he is a “Senior Correspondent”) to spew apologetics for Vladimir Putin is perplexing. But perhaps it is expecting too much that a publicaion featuring a regular column by Eric “Let’s make fun of Andrew Sullivan for being HIV-positive” Alterman would care about things like propriety or editorial integrity.

Vladimir Putin: Thief and Liar

One of the most cautious, guarded and scholarly of all Russia bloggers is Vilhelm Konnander. So if he’s accusing Vladimir Putin of being a thief and a liar, you know there’s something to the allegations. And he is:

An increasing number of surveys rate Russian president Vladimir Putin the richest man in Europe. Putin is allegedly to have amassed enormous wealth during his presidential reign and all the way back to the Petersburg days. At his annual press conference on 14 February, Putin for the first time commented on these rumours:

It is true. I am the richest man not only in Europe, but in the world: I amass emotions and am rich in the sense that the Russian people twice put the trust in me to rule such a great country as Russia. I count this as my biggest wealth.

What concerns various rumours concerning my financial situation, I have seen some documents on this issue. This is simply gossip, which there is no reason to discuss – mere nonsense.

In Russia, there is a tradition of denial whenever such accusations arise. Instead, Putin chose to make fun of the issue – or rather make himself out as honoured by the trust and responsibility the Russian people has put in him. Judging from his body language, the Russian president appeared somewhat ill at ease with the question. Not that it was unexpected, and the answer was certainly rehearsed. Still, one did not need more than a glance at Putin’s reaction to gather that he would not have passed a polygraph test.

The question of rising wealth and power in Russia is destined to determine the future development and stability of the country. As long as the elites may share the dividends of growing wealth and power, they will remain loyal to the system. The day this situation will change – e.g. by falling international oil prices – there is nothing to hold the system together except mere repression. The question is but for how long the elites will accept such a system, if they no longer have anything to gain from it. The risk is that a lack of growth will eventually lead Russia into crisis and turmoil with little to keep the system together.

That’s the same press conference, and the same question, that provoked Putin to comment on how this information about his thievery came to circulate in the press: “They just picked it out of their nose and smeared it on their little sheets,” he said. When the Kremlin’s translators published the official English version of the answer, they ignored the nose smear comment and claimed Putin had merely stated: “They just made it up and included it in their papers.”

You be the judge, dear reader. Does he talk like a common thief, or like a president?