Getting Russia Right
Russia’s best weapon against the West continues to be the West itself. Our inability to get Russia right, inexcusable when we have so much more information about the country now than in Soviet days, is Vladimir Putin’s only hope to recreate a new USSR in Russia.
But there are signs that, at long last, this is starting to change. Two Russian academics from the New Economic School blasted the Kremlin over the demise of Sergei Magnitsky in the pages of the Moscow Times earlier this week, and no thinking person can misapprehend their ominous words — words that, we might add, we have been publishing here on this blog for more than three years now.
Sergei Guriev is the Morgan Stanley Professor of Economics and rector of the New Economic School and Aleh Tsyvinsky is a professor at Yale University and the New Economic School. Originally writing in Vedemosti, they state in regard to the denial of basic medical treatment to Magnitsky:
In this sense, law enforcement officials in Russia employ essentially the same methods as the notorious NKVD did in 1937. Up until last week, we knew that torture was frequently used in the country’s detention centers, but we convinced ourselves that it did not concern us personally. Now, if we are honest with ourselves and our children, we must acknowledge that this problem concerns everyone.
We already knew that it is dangerous to be an opposition politician, an independent journalist or a human rights activist in Russia. We thought that it was safe to stay out of politics and simply work in your chosen profession. At least, that is probably what Magnitsky thought. He did not die at the hands of some unknown hired assassin, but at the hands of the state. This is the same state to which we — including Magnitsky — pay our tax money.
This is not extremism, it is not “russophobia,” it is simply a statement of fact. Today’s Russia is run by a proud KGB spy and it conducts its business in a way that is in no way different from the way it did so in Soviet times. The only limitation on Russia’s misconduct is its poverty and lack of organization. We sounded the warning call about this many years ago. Only now is the world finally waking up to the harsh, burning light of neo-Soviet reality.
Last week, Russian “president” Dima Medvedev gave a speech in which he criticized his own United Russia party for wholesale vote fraud. The speech was misunderstood almost everywhere it was reported in the West.
Western commentators, once again, started jabbering about whether Medvedev was in fact criticizing Putin, trying to separate himself from the Russian dictator, and seeking to implement democratic reforms. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Medvedev’s remarks had two simple meanings.
First and foremost, he was criticizing United Russia not for committing acts of vote fraud, but for being so clumsy and brazen about it, for getting its hand caught in the cookie jar. Say what you like about them, even the benighted Western media were not fooled by Russia’s most recent elections, which were reported everywhere as being the most corrupt and fraudulent in the nation’s history, a new low in the annals of democratic politics. The Kremlin was humiliated by this coverage, and it is angry at the local officials who proved incapable of acting with the proper amount of discretion.
But Medvedev had another goal in mind too: To set the party leaders down a peg. A party that can organize vote fraud as massive and sensational as that which took place in Russia recently can threaten even the gorillas who prowel the Kremlin, and they are afraid. Very afraid. Just as they were in Soviet times.
Here’s what Guriev and Tsyvinsky have to say about Medvedev:
Magnitsky was a citizen of Russia. We don’t know whether he voted for Medvedev in 2008, but only a few days before Magnitsky died, the president said during his state-of-the-nation address: “In the 21st century, our country once again needs to undergo comprehensive modernization. This will be our first ever experience of modernization based on democratic values and institutions.” The president probably wanted to highlight the difference between current plans for modernization and Josef Stalin’s ruthless industrialization program. But after learning about Magnitsky’s death, it is difficult to avoid the fact that today’s Russia evokes disturbing memories of 1937.
In other words, quite simply, Medvedev is the new Stalin. He is leading Russia down the bleakest possible path, one that leads to the same fate met by the USSR.
The world must now take note and act accordingly.