Daily Archives: April 14, 2008

EDITORIAL: The New Great Satan

EDITORIAL

The New Great Satan

Last week Nikolay Patrushev, director of the FSB (successor to the KGB), revealed to the world the frightening news that he has discovered the new Great Satan. Russia Today (the state-controlled English-language propaganda service), Pravda (the state-controlled newspaper) and RIA Novosti (the state-controlled wire service) shouted the news, breathlessly and unquestioningly, from their rooftops.

Who is it?

Who is the new most-dangerous sponsor of “international terrorism” in Russia?

Why, it’s the NGOs, of course.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Chamber of Commerce.

Devious, isn’t it? Who but the always-vigilant KGB could have uncovered such a mendacious and secretive plot?

Actually, though, Patrushev didn’t name a single specific NGO that was supporting terror in Russia, nor did he give a single concrete example of any such activity. He simply said, in classic neo-Sovietspeak: “International terrorists and religious extremists enjoy the support of certain foreign non-governmental organizations when carrying out recruitment activities.” That word “certain” was a great favorite of the Soviet criminals who ran the Politburo and drove the USSR right into the ground. It’s ever so convenient, you see, seeming to say all while actually saying nothing.

Vladimir Putin has previously declared that Russia has the right to strike terrorists wherever it finds them around the world. Thus, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International and the Chamber of Commerce had better expect Litvinenko-like targeting of their CEOs at any moment. Luckily, the heroic Kremlin has already shut down the evil forces of the British Council, which quite likely was responsible for the Beslan and Dubrovka terrorist atrocities. If only the Kremlin had discovered this plot sooner! Then, surely, all those innocent Russians would have survived!

How can anyone now doubt that what we see before us today is a neo-Soviet state laid bare. It is run by the KGB, something that didn’t happen even in Soviet times. Sham elections, centralization of government, nationalization of the economy, wiping out domestic dissent and choking off the flow of information, and now the Kremlin turns its malignant eye toward foreigners, declaring them all to be dangerous foreign spies, just as was done in Soviet times.

If Russia is really such a pathetically weak nation that it needs to go to these ridiculous lengths to attack peaceful organizations, then there is no greater testament to Vladimir Putin’s utter failure as a ruler. If it isn’t, Putin is far too paranoid and malignant to be trusted as Russia’s dog catcher, much less its “president.”

Another thing that didn’t happen in Soviet times was the admission of the Russian fox into the G-8 hen house. It’s time for the Western world to to rise from its delusional slumber and realize the nature of the enemy it now faces in Russia, and to move speedily and resolutely to purge Russian influence from our democratic institutions.

If we don’t do so, then we are complicit in the horror that is to come behind the new iron curtain.

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Annals of the Sochi Scam

Other Russia reports:

A Moscow press-conference of ecologists, human rights activists and Sochi residents has suggested that the International Olympic Committee(IOC) has grounds to cancel the winter Olympic Games, set to take place in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in 2014. The press-conference, titled “The 2014 Sochi Olympics. Opportunism, incompetence, disregard for the law – the major threat to the collapse of the National Project,” met in Moscow on April 10th.

Garry Kasparov, the leader of the United Civil Front party, noted that what is currently happening in the region does not correspond to the original plan as it was presented in Guatemala. Several planned construction sites are currently unbuildable, after geodesic surveys discovered underground problems. Panelists named the Imeretinsky Bukhta, which has an exceptionally high water table, with groundwater just two meters beneath the surface of the soil, and where “15-20 meter-long pilings drown.”

“There are things that cannot be done, even if a billion dollars is buried into them,” Kasparov said.

Another concern raised by the panelists was the unprecedented level of spending required to pull the Olympic games together, which Kasparov said is “beating all the records.” Sochi lacks much of the infrastructure of previous Olympic locations, and the original expense prediction of 6 billion dollars is shockingly low. Ivan Starikov of the People for Democracy and Justice party, commented that the current estimate for transportation infrastructure alone was now set at 7 billion dollars. Other cities beaten out by Sochi for the bid to host the games could take the IOC to court, Starikov said, as total cost was a factor in making the original decision.

One Russian Member of Parliament, Viktor Ilyukhin, told the press on April 3rd that the Sochi Olympics could cost more than the last three winter Olympic games combined.

Greenpeace, the international ecological watchdog, may also take the IOC to court. Dmitri Kaptsov, a representative of the “North Caucasus Ecological Watch,” said that Greenpeace is planning to protest the lack of environmental planning before construction, arguing that leading the Olympics in Sochi would cause a regional eco-catastrophe. To date, no expert reports on construction or ecological matters have been completed.

Sochi residents were also present at the conference to speak about the thousands of families facing eviction in the Black Sea resort. Residents complained that government officials were seizing land without providing adequate compensation or equally valued housing. Panelists also called unconstitutional a so-called “Olympic law,” which expedites the process of taking resident’s homes, and bars locals from seeking judicial protection for their property.

The press-conference reached a troubling conclusion, that Olympic planners in Sochi were using the Games as a means to attain personal wealth at the expense of local citizens and Russian taxpayers.

“It must be stated, that the present course will lead to the destruction of a unique Black Sea resort, the massive violation of Russian citizens’ civil rights, [and] the misuse of funds earmarked for the games,” a statement by participants reads. “It will damage Russia’s image, and ultimately, will put even the possibility of leading the Olympic games in Sochi into question.”

As Kaptsov explained, the IOC has the right to move the Olympics to a different city in the case that the country hosting the games does not meet its obligations. As an example, the presenters noted the 1976 Olympics, which were moved from Denver in the United States to Montreal in Canada.

The press-conference did suggests a way to ameliorate the state of affairs in Sochi. They proposed enacting a strict citizen’s control of the preparations, and suggested the possibility of moving some of the major Olympic facilities to other Russian regions that are more suited to hosting the winter Olympics. A Citizen’s Council with the obligation of overseeing the preparations in Sochi is currently in the works.

In an apparent last-minute effort to unite two world leaders for the last time, US President George W. Bush will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 6th. The meeting will take place in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi, scheduled to host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. In early May, Putin is expected to assume the post of Prime Minister, as his successor, Dmitri Medvedev, takes office.

Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, told press that the pair will discuss European security, including missile defense and the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty. The two countries have been locked at an impasse on US proposals to locate defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, with Russia threatening to point its nuclear warheads at Europe if the plans go through.

Bush and Putin have had a friendly personal relationship, even as rhetoric on either side of the Atlantic has escalated in tone. At their first meeting, Bush was jovial, saying: “I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul.”

Still, critics of the Kremlin have argued that Bush has failed to voice concerns at the erosion of democratic and human rights that has taken place in Russia since Putin took office. Their final meeting, framed by a resort mired in a controversial program of evicting area residents, may exemplify that point.

As the Sobkor@ru news agency reported on March 27th, some four thousand Sochi residents are under threat of forcible eviction from their homes. Authorities need to free up space for the construction of a new Olympic park. Residents claim the compensation offered for their property is minimal, and that many families will receive no compensation at all.

The first round of evictions has already begun, with the displacement of 15 refugee families from the neighboring break-away Republic of Abkhazia, The Sunday Times newspaper reported.

Some two hundred construction projects are planned for Sochi in the next seven years, including sporting facilities, railroads, highways, as well as a new airport. This makes for an expensive endeavor, with experts expecting costs to rise as high as 24 billion dollars, or double the current estimates. (By comparison, the 2006 winter Olympics in Turin, Italy cost approximately 3 billion dollars, and the 2010 games in Vancouver, Canada are estimated to cost around 4 billion dollars). As result, real estate prices in Sochi and the surrounding areas have grown by 500 percent, making them some of the highest in Russia.

The News.rin.Ru news agency spoke with Andrei Loginov, one of the residents facing eviction:

“When we found out that Sochi won the bid, we were beside ourselves with joy,” he explained. “We thought that this would bring investment to the city, and would create new jobs. Now we understand that only a small chosen group will become rich, and the ordinary people like us will be left standing by the broken washtub.”

An Open Letter to Russia Today

La Russophobe‘s publisher Kim Zigfeld wrote the following e-mail to the press secretary of the Russia Today TV network on Thursday April 8th:

Dear Press Office,

I am a well-known Russia blogger; my work appears on Pajamas Media, Instablogs, Publius Pundit and La Russophobe, and has been noted in by the Associated Press, the Washington Post and The Moscow Times, among many others.

I would like to interview a Russia Today editor of your choosing and publish the transcript of the interview, which I would conduct by e-mail, on one or more of my blogs. I would appreciate it if you could put me in e-mail contact with an editor who can tell me about Russia Today’s news coverage, editorial positions, mission and market performance.

Thank you for your assistance.

Kim Zigfeld

To date, Kim has received no response of any kind. Hey, Russia Today — why won’t you be interviewed? Are you scared? Do you have something to hide?

We’d like to know.

Annals of Opposition

Blood on the Rizla reports first-hand observations of the Russian opposition:

Last week, Russia’s fractious and divided political opposition gathered in Moscow and St Petersburg to try to set aside their differences and concentrate on building a united front to restore democracy and raise awareness of the deteriorating human rights situation in the country, but it may be too little too late.

The Russian opposition has been in a state of crisis due to its inability to effectively stand up to President Vladimir Putin’s rollback of press and political freedom, let alone even challenge the transition to his hand-picked presidential successor, Dmitry Medvedev.

Today’s opposition is the fractured remnants of what were either political forces in the 1990s, a strange collection of punk-fascist movements associated with youth culture and recent media-focused and vacuous civil rights organizations. It would seem that Russia has regressed from being a country where political disputes were part of everyday life in the 1990s, to a state were being interested in politics is like being interested in monarchy.

The democratic parties there were doubly hit during the build-up to the parliamentary and presidential elections by the regime’s manipulation of the law in order to cut them out of the contest, massive fraud, unfair access to the national media and a country-wide mood that saw their popularity collapse.

Neither the Union of Rights Forces, a right-of-center liberal party, nor the left-leaning Yabloko managed to pass the threshold necessary to gain seats in the Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament.

The mainstream non-Kremlin-backed democratic candidates were all blocked from participating in the presidential elections. The result is that the parties are in financial meltdown, with serious leadership disputes between the generations building up in Yabloko.

Fractious arguments about whether the party should try and act as a lobbying influence on the government or a government in embryo have led to acrimony between the two major leaders, Grigory Yavlinsky and Ilya Yashin.

In forthcoming elections, short of a financial miracle, it seems unlikely that more than one democratic party will be able compete. Mergers are actively being discussed, but more probable is that one or more will simply fold.

A democratic front?

Garry Kasparov, the renowned chess player, cut a sorry figure standing in the lobby of the Hotel Anglia in St Petersburg. Crowds gathered on the historic St Isaac’s Square outside, but not for him or anyone from the dissident conference. The electronics company Samsung was distributing free balloons to delighted masses of people, while the only group paying any attention to the opposition was a squadron of visibly bored and chain-smoking riot police.

Speaking to ISN Security Watch, Kasparov was defiant, both about the chances of rebuilding Russian democracy and about his own relevance. He insists it is not too late.

“I wouldn’t be so pessimistic. The window of opportunity is open and though time is slowly running out, more and more people are coming round to our point of view.

“Advocating your ideas is not a one way street: It depends on the needs of society. The steady decline of living standards […] is turning a lot of people against the state propaganda machine, when people begin to experience a rise in living standards they will see the necessity of our ideas,” he said.

Kasparov recently entered the minefield of Russian politics. According to his press secretary Ludmilla Mamina, “He entered due to a sense of pressing moral urgency, hoping to apply his grasp of strategy to helping his country. The Other Russia coalition was founded in order to bring in all different kinds of groups under an effective banner.

“Though we have received criticism for bringing in groups such as the National Bolshevik Party [a punk-fascist party] we have strongly moderated their position. We do this because we need another Russia.”

However, Other Russia has received much criticism for being sensationally hostile to the ever-popular Putin, and suffered a serious blow when it was abandoned by Mikhail Kasyanov, leader of the small People’s Democratic Union. Kasparov’s aloof and combative style, along with his ties to the West, have not endeared him to the Russian public. He is widely suspected of trying to further his own personal ambitions above all else.

The gatherings of democratic forces in Moscow and St Petersburg at a conference entitled “A New Agenda For Russian Liberal Forces” must be a turning point if the opposition is going to pose a serious challenge to the regime during the presidency of Dmitry Medvedev.

Riven by personal disputes, theoretical wrangling about policy and financial meltdown, the urgency of establishing a unity coalition to defend human rights and restore free and fair elections is essential if the parties are going to survive the next few years in a meaningful shape.

Kasparov insists that “the mood is optimistic, we are making progress and I’m happy with what we’ve agreed on.”

Denis Bilunov, director of the United Civil Front – the social movement lead by Kasparov – believes that the steps being taken represent a real turning point for Russia.

“The hope is that after these conferences we will be able to establish an alternative parliament for all the forces locked out of the political process. Our estimates are that roughly 15 million people support the opposition, with optimists going as high as 30 million,” he told ISN Security Watch.

“An alternative parliament could convert in time into a real national institution and not a political party. I am actively looking forward to the disputes we will be having and all that they will do to build civil society in this country. More importantly, it represents a historic chance for the Russian left and right to make a bold declaration of faith in democratic principles.”

Ekaterina Vinokurova , a 20-something journalist and press secretary of the Russian Democratic Party, has pessimistic views that reflect much of the attitude of young Russians who have positioned themselves against the regime.

“My position and that of my party is that we either have to liquidate or unite, we urgently need new leaders, new organic party structure and internal democracy within our movements. The simple question is who are these fratricidal leaders, where do they come from and who chose them? These are not the structures that create real democratic parties,” she told ISN Security Watch.

“We have an opportunity that as the generational transition plays itself out, the last cohort of leaders trained in the USSR will be retiring when the new generation reaches the right age to be able to act politically. We are breeding a generation of apathetic, individualistic young people in Russia that feel turned off by the undemocratic structures of current opposition parties and dislike the old fashioned leadership,” she continued.

“If we are to bring people into the fold we need to get involved with all kinds of aspects of the arts, social movements, internet culture as quickly as possible. This is how we can begin playing a long game.”

The long game

Ordinary Russians feel even more disenchanted with the opposition, with frequent accusations that they are out of touch, self-interested intellectuals.

Dmitry Koryakin is a traveling salesman whose opinions capture a vast swathe of the Russian population.

“I want respect, I want it from the foreigners, I want it from the immigrants, I want it from the police. But more importantly I want clean water, cheap food and better services. The ‘democratic parties’ don’t seem to be offering either of those things. Who are these intellectuals anyway who are having their own private argument with the government and claiming the people are behind them? If they want to help they should start coming up with plans for better hospitals then,” he told ISN Security Watch.

Being unable to advertise their views on mainstream nationwide television channels or spread information that is potentially damaging to the government to a citizenry that was almost wholly born and bred in the USSR and in Russia’s disastrous 1990s has left the opposition with only one option, according to Maxim Reznik, head of the St Petersburg branch of the left-leaning democratic party Yabloko.

“We are a political and social movement that concentrates on what we think are the most pressing problems facing us, those being the erosion of human rights and raising awareness of that fact. However, you have to realize that in Russia we have to start by convincing the elite before we can spread our ideas to the population. This is the beginning of a long process for us.”

The assumptions guiding the unity conferences last week were that the regime’s popularity has peaked along with oil prices and that inflation – especially rising food prices and the continued decline in infrastructure – would soon begin to rapidly undermine the Kremlin’s grip on things.

Speaking to opposition activists the mood seemed to be one of confidence that an economic crisis was imminent and even joyfully so.

A source close to Kasparov expressed personal distaste at his insistence that “the worse it gets for the country, the better it gets for us.”

There appears to be little idea of what to do when the awaited economic crisis arrives and none of what should be done if it does not. For now the opposition strategy is focused on building a new front where decisions can be taken in the long term, but at the present moment no common long-term strategy exists.

Seeds of change

Oleg Zykov, a senior lobbyist, president of the Moscow Medical Academy and member of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation, which monitors parliament and scrutinizes legislation, believes that working toward improving the lives of his fellow countrymen should be done by trying to achieve better governance and social standards aiming to build a civil society and not another political rupture.

In an interview with ISN Security Watch he said the problems lie deeper than the opposition would have us believe.

“Post-totalitarian society is deeply based on its members’ paternalism, when people strongly believe that it is the authorities who should, and even must, solve their problems, which vastly extends functions and powers of government bureaucracy,” he said.

“This is costly and ineffective. A simple change of personalities at the helm, whether they be loyal, pro-Kremlin figures or opposition leaders, will not alter society’s mental pattern. The way to improve this situation is to promote social initiative, being a fundamental basis of civil society, which is now only being developed. Contemporary Russia is facing evolution in understanding the role of social initiative.”

The average Russian tends to lean toward his position. The Other Russia’s plan for an opposition alternative parliament has generated as much laughter as interest while many of the other groups are dismissed as games for rich kids and fantasists.

With support for the regime running so high and the average citizen so fearful of a return to the chaos and social collapse of the 1990s, it seems unlikely that this politically exhausted nation will throw itself into another adventure without serious reasons.

One of the most crucial threats to Russia’s transition to a stable model is the estimated 70,000 neo-Nazi skinheads in the country (and their numbers continually rising) and the fact that all major Kremlin-backed political parties espouse varieties of soft nationalism, with political extremism fuelled by anti-immigration and declining living standards for the poor.

If the country’s democratic potential is to be tapped, time, patience and the ability to compromise and build up real grass-roots support and responsive political party structures is essential. Given these circumstances, the Russian opposition needs to play a long game, at long odds – by making improved awareness, governance and civil society construction its priorities.

McCain, Kagan, and America’s New Plan for Russia

The Telegraph reports:

A John McCain presidency would take to a more forceful approach to Russia and China, according to senior foreign policy advisers to the Republican candidate. The Arizona senator has already signalled that he intends to confront Russian president Vladimir Putin more directly than George W Bush if he wins the White House in November.

In a recent foreign policy speech, Mr McCain advocated removing Russia from the G8 group of major industrialised powers, while this week he announced he would not attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics if he were in office because of China’s suppression of Tibetan protest. His experience of foreign affairs is one reason why the 71-year-old Vietnam war veteran has drawn level with both his potential Democratic rivals, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, in opinion polls, suggesting the public may accept his more muscular approach to the world.

Robert Kagan, who wrote much of the speech delivered in Los Angeles, told the Daily Telegraph: “Russia will loom large for both Europe and the US, and John McCain has been ahead of the curve and has seen this coming down the road. “We have made the mistake of being too passive as Putin has consolidated his autocracy. There have been key moments when he took away power of opposition parties, suppressed the media and arrested key figures, which were greeted with relative silence in the West. “Because Putin feels he has to maintain the trappings of democracy there are opportunities to be stronger but the West hasn’t done that.”

At the recent Nato summit, Mr Putin succeeded in bullying Western European nations to reject applications by Georgia and Ukraine to join the alliance. The failure of their bids, championed by President Bush, was a major coup for Mr Putin. The Russian leader hands over to his hand-picked successor Dmitry Medvedev next month but will immediately become prime minister and is expected to continue to run the government.

Mr Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a leading member of Washington’s Right-wing foreign policy community, was an early advocate of removing Saddam Hussein, though he was critical of the Pentagon’s handling of the war in Iraq. He is strongly critical of Mr Putin’s “increasing autocracy”, arguing that a concerted Western approach to Russia, led by the United States, can produce results, as it did over the declaration of independence by Kosovo, which Moscow was forced to accept. Mr Kagan’s approach has however reportedly put him at odds with other McCain advisers such as former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, who the New York Times reported this week was disturbed by the candidate’s hardline attitude to Russia in his March 26 speech.

In that address, Mr McCain, who has two decades of foreign policy experience in the US senate, described himself as a “realistic idealist”. He said he would abandon the unilateralism that led Mr Bush to invade Iraq with limited approval from other states but adopt a tough stance when called for. Mr Kagan rejects the tag of “neo-conservative” that is often attached to him. But along with other advisers, such as Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, he would likely argue that American values such as democracy should steer foreign policy if they were advising a McCain administration. Both men argue that China, like Russia, should be more robustly criticized for its human rights abuses.

While continuing a “multi-faceted approach” to Beijing, Mr Boot said the US needs “to be forthright on their human rights abuses and not shrink from condemning what they are doing in Tibet for example, or from trying to help Chinese dissidents to stay out of jail. There isn’t an easy answer to China or Russia because have to cooperate on some issues but will clash on others. But our attempts to cut deals with Putin haven’t really accomplished very much and has emboldened him to become more truculent,” he said.

McCain, Kagan, and America’s New Plan for Russia

The Telegraph reports:

A John McCain presidency would take to a more forceful approach to Russia and China, according to senior foreign policy advisers to the Republican candidate. The Arizona senator has already signalled that he intends to confront Russian president Vladimir Putin more directly than George W Bush if he wins the White House in November.

In a recent foreign policy speech, Mr McCain advocated removing Russia from the G8 group of major industrialised powers, while this week he announced he would not attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics if he were in office because of China’s suppression of Tibetan protest. His experience of foreign affairs is one reason why the 71-year-old Vietnam war veteran has drawn level with both his potential Democratic rivals, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, in opinion polls, suggesting the public may accept his more muscular approach to the world.

Robert Kagan, who wrote much of the speech delivered in Los Angeles, told the Daily Telegraph: “Russia will loom large for both Europe and the US, and John McCain has been ahead of the curve and has seen this coming down the road. “We have made the mistake of being too passive as Putin has consolidated his autocracy. There have been key moments when he took away power of opposition parties, suppressed the media and arrested key figures, which were greeted with relative silence in the West. “Because Putin feels he has to maintain the trappings of democracy there are opportunities to be stronger but the West hasn’t done that.”

At the recent Nato summit, Mr Putin succeeded in bullying Western European nations to reject applications by Georgia and Ukraine to join the alliance. The failure of their bids, championed by President Bush, was a major coup for Mr Putin. The Russian leader hands over to his hand-picked successor Dmitry Medvedev next month but will immediately become prime minister and is expected to continue to run the government.

Mr Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a leading member of Washington’s Right-wing foreign policy community, was an early advocate of removing Saddam Hussein, though he was critical of the Pentagon’s handling of the war in Iraq. He is strongly critical of Mr Putin’s “increasing autocracy”, arguing that a concerted Western approach to Russia, led by the United States, can produce results, as it did over the declaration of independence by Kosovo, which Moscow was forced to accept. Mr Kagan’s approach has however reportedly put him at odds with other McCain advisers such as former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, who the New York Times reported this week was disturbed by the candidate’s hardline attitude to Russia in his March 26 speech.

In that address, Mr McCain, who has two decades of foreign policy experience in the US senate, described himself as a “realistic idealist”. He said he would abandon the unilateralism that led Mr Bush to invade Iraq with limited approval from other states but adopt a tough stance when called for. Mr Kagan rejects the tag of “neo-conservative” that is often attached to him. But along with other advisers, such as Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, he would likely argue that American values such as democracy should steer foreign policy if they were advising a McCain administration. Both men argue that China, like Russia, should be more robustly criticized for its human rights abuses.

While continuing a “multi-faceted approach” to Beijing, Mr Boot said the US needs “to be forthright on their human rights abuses and not shrink from condemning what they are doing in Tibet for example, or from trying to help Chinese dissidents to stay out of jail. There isn’t an easy answer to China or Russia because have to cooperate on some issues but will clash on others. But our attempts to cut deals with Putin haven’t really accomplished very much and has emboldened him to become more truculent,” he said.

McCain, Kagan, and America’s New Plan for Russia

The Telegraph reports:

A John McCain presidency would take to a more forceful approach to Russia and China, according to senior foreign policy advisers to the Republican candidate. The Arizona senator has already signalled that he intends to confront Russian president Vladimir Putin more directly than George W Bush if he wins the White House in November.

In a recent foreign policy speech, Mr McCain advocated removing Russia from the G8 group of major industrialised powers, while this week he announced he would not attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics if he were in office because of China’s suppression of Tibetan protest. His experience of foreign affairs is one reason why the 71-year-old Vietnam war veteran has drawn level with both his potential Democratic rivals, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, in opinion polls, suggesting the public may accept his more muscular approach to the world.

Robert Kagan, who wrote much of the speech delivered in Los Angeles, told the Daily Telegraph: “Russia will loom large for both Europe and the US, and John McCain has been ahead of the curve and has seen this coming down the road. “We have made the mistake of being too passive as Putin has consolidated his autocracy. There have been key moments when he took away power of opposition parties, suppressed the media and arrested key figures, which were greeted with relative silence in the West. “Because Putin feels he has to maintain the trappings of democracy there are opportunities to be stronger but the West hasn’t done that.”

At the recent Nato summit, Mr Putin succeeded in bullying Western European nations to reject applications by Georgia and Ukraine to join the alliance. The failure of their bids, championed by President Bush, was a major coup for Mr Putin. The Russian leader hands over to his hand-picked successor Dmitry Medvedev next month but will immediately become prime minister and is expected to continue to run the government.

Mr Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a leading member of Washington’s Right-wing foreign policy community, was an early advocate of removing Saddam Hussein, though he was critical of the Pentagon’s handling of the war in Iraq. He is strongly critical of Mr Putin’s “increasing autocracy”, arguing that a concerted Western approach to Russia, led by the United States, can produce results, as it did over the declaration of independence by Kosovo, which Moscow was forced to accept. Mr Kagan’s approach has however reportedly put him at odds with other McCain advisers such as former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, who the New York Times reported this week was disturbed by the candidate’s hardline attitude to Russia in his March 26 speech.

In that address, Mr McCain, who has two decades of foreign policy experience in the US senate, described himself as a “realistic idealist”. He said he would abandon the unilateralism that led Mr Bush to invade Iraq with limited approval from other states but adopt a tough stance when called for. Mr Kagan rejects the tag of “neo-conservative” that is often attached to him. But along with other advisers, such as Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, he would likely argue that American values such as democracy should steer foreign policy if they were advising a McCain administration. Both men argue that China, like Russia, should be more robustly criticized for its human rights abuses.

While continuing a “multi-faceted approach” to Beijing, Mr Boot said the US needs “to be forthright on their human rights abuses and not shrink from condemning what they are doing in Tibet for example, or from trying to help Chinese dissidents to stay out of jail. There isn’t an easy answer to China or Russia because have to cooperate on some issues but will clash on others. But our attempts to cut deals with Putin haven’t really accomplished very much and has emboldened him to become more truculent,” he said.