Category Archives: rhetoric

EDITORIAL: Putin the Rat Bastard


Putin the Rat Bastard

Vladimir Putin appeared on American TV last week, specifically on CNN’s Larry King show, and openly threatened the people of the United States.  If they dare to try to protect the people of Europe with defensive missile technology, Putin said, then Russia “will be simply obliged to protect its own safety by different means.”

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You Just Can’t Trust a Russian

Journalist Con Coughlin, expert on international terrorism, writing in The Telegraph:

Just how far is the Obama administration prepared to go in its misguided attempt to befriend the Kremlin? First, it caved in to Russian pressure and cancelled the missile defence shield planned for Eastern Europe. Now it is prepared to turn a blind eye to Moscow’s somewhat cavalier attitude to the rule of law and respect for human rights.

All these blandishments are being offered in the forlorn hope that the Russians can be persuaded to play a more constructive role in resolving the threat posed by Iran’s illicit nuclear programme. President Barack Obama has ordered his officials to pursue a more pragmatic relationship with Moscow – which last March led Hillary Clinton, his secretary of state, to make a clumsy attempt to repair relations by presenting Sergei Lavrov, her opposite number, with a joke “reset” button.

But if Mr Obama thinks that grand gestures can persuade the Russians to ditch decades of anti-American hostility, he should think again.

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Kerry on Georgia

The President-elect [Barack Obama] made it clear that it will be important for the United States to engage with the ongoing dialogue with Russia, because we all have mutual interests. But we also make that crystal clear that that dialogue does not come at the expense of the security of Georgia, the sovereignty of Georgia, the independence of Georgia; the rights of its people or our interests here that are expressed in unison with the European community. I believe we can have a good relationship with Russia and restore a balance with respect to the interests of this region so that the sovereignty of Georgia is properly respected and so we all go forward respecting the appropriate rights of each state. So there are a clear set of principles on which we begin that kind of discussion and Russia understands that.

My judgment is that Georgia as a sovereign country needs to be upheld and respected. And the agreement that the Russians have signed up to needs to be upheld. I think we need to get the focus back from discussions of the August events and how they may unfolded to the realities of what is happening on the ground today and what we need to do to go forward in the interests of protecting the [human] rights and finding an appropriate accommodation that respects the law and the sovereignty.

The Congress of the United States and certainly the United States’ Senate will be deeply committed to continuing our assistance to Georgia, particularly in this time, when the economy is stressed and we recognize the very real importance of Georgia and of its ability to be able to sustain itself during this troubled economic times. This is about Georgia’s efforts to protect its sovereignty; to protect its people and to stand as an example of what freedom and democracy can provide.

–U.S. Senator  and former presidential candidate John Kerry, Tbilisi, December 13

The Enemy Within

Writing in Commentary magazine (one of our family of commenters tipped us to the piece) Arthur Herman, the author most recently of Gandhi and Churchill: The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age, blows away the neo-Chamberlainian cowards who recklessly seek to rationalize Russian aggression in Georgia.  There’s much more to the extended piece, click the link to read the rest. The critical point is that we here in the West have people are are willing to take Russia’s side in this dispute, and who can do so in the most lofty public venues.  But where are the Russians who are able to take Georgia’s side in the mainstream Russian media? You will not find them, because they are censored and because they would be killed if they were not and dared to speak. Thus, Russia like the USSR before it languishes in ignorance, unable to reform and doomed to failure.

On September 1, the leaders of the European Union, having already warned Moscow several times of its obligation to meet the terms of the cease-fire agreement with Georgia, held an emergency meeting in Brussels and decided to—issue another warning. If Russia continues its non-compliance, the leaders threatened, another warning may yet follow.

Such are the pitiful realities of international diplomacy, and of an all too familiar Western pattern of response to acts of blatant aggression by powerful dictators. It is embarrassing enough when governments, with responsibility for the security of millions, resort to such hand-wringing hesitancy. It is worse when analysts and critics who are free to speak their minds on everything under the sun start looking for reasons to avoid placing blame for aggression squarely where it belongs—on the aggressors—and instead strive conspicuously to spread it around among the bystanders and even the victims.

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On Russia’s Autocratic Soul

Vasko Kohlmayer writing on FrontPageMag:

Yesterday, Vladimir Putin blamed his country’s financial woes on the United States, condemning the “irresponsibility” of the American government, yet failing to acknowledge that Russian aggression has had a big impact in unsettling global confidence in Russia’s economy. Putin’s condemnation is just the latest in a long list of antagonism on the part of Russia. Recent events have made it amply clear that Russia is not only positioning itself as a resurgent superpower, but as a foil to the United States. Russia’s actions also make it obvious that the overriding principle of its foreign policy is to thwart America’s efforts around the world. Russia does this by arming and supporting America’s enemies, undermining and intimidating America’s allies, and subverting America’s policies whenever and wherever there is an opportunity for so doing.

Here are just some of the actions that Russia took in the last few months:

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The Polish President on Naked Russian Aggression

Newsweek interviews the President of Poland:

During the war between Georgia and Russia, no European leader denounced Russia as strongly as Poland’s president, Lech Kaczynski. He has also been a fervent backer of U.S. plans to deploy 10 interceptor missiles on Polish territory. U.S. and Polish officials signed the agreement for the missile shield soon after Russian troops crossed into Georgian territory. While visiting the United Nations last week, he talked with Andrew Nagorski, a former NEWSWEEK senior editor and now director of public policy at the EastWest Institute. Excerpts:

NAGORSKI: What lessons did we learn from the conflict between Russia and Georgia?

KACZYNSKI: First, Russia wanted to carry out an annexation of two provinces. Second, there was an attempt to topple the government. The West was capable of one thing: not allowing this toppling of the government. Third, this has huge strategic importance for Europe. I’ve been pushing for years for building alternative routes for oil and natural gas on a big scale from Azerbaijan—and, maybe in the future, from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan—that would bypass Russia. The attack on Georgia has made this more difficult.

NAGORSKI: You ‘ re convinced the Russians wanted to depose the Georgian government?

KACZYNSKI: Yes. My intervention and that of the presidents of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and some engagement of the United States, forcing the engagement of NATO and, the least willingly, the European Union caused the Russians to not go for that. They always act with different options in mind, and that was the optimal one for them. They left the territory of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to occupy part of Georgia. The Russians showed a certain helplessness on the part of the West. That’s terrible because the West is much stronger than they are.

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Condi on Pooty

What do you see when you look into HER eyes, Mr. Putin?

What do you see when you look into HER eyes, Mr. Putin?

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, writing on the Polish website Gazeta:

For much of the past month, the world’s focus has turned to Russia. We took up the urgent, initial challenge of supporting Georgia after the Russian attack – a challenge that Poland was instrumental in meeting. The main question going forward – which I addressed at length in a speech last Thursday – is, what do the events of the past month mean for Russia’s relationship with the world, especially the United States and Europe?

The circumstances surrounding last month’s conflict are well-known. Mistakes were made on both sides, but the response of Russia’s leaders – invading a sovereign state across an internationally-recognized border, and then seeking to dismember it by recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia – was disproportionate. And the responsibility for this behavior lies not with Russia’s neighbors, not with NATO enlargement, and not with the United States, but with Russia’s leaders.

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The Only thing we have to fear is Russia itself

Finrosforum editorializes on Europe’s strange fear of Russia:

The caution with which Europe, and Finland in particular, relates to what is happening in Russia has, I believe, deeper roots than mere political and economic convenience. The disease we suffer from is not hatred of Russia and the Russians, which is, after all, a rather marginal phenomenon, but outright fear of our big eastern neighbour. This fear prevents us from beholding Russia the same way that we look at other states and nations. Instead, Russia is regarded as a special case, and we concede that the rules that apply to Russia differ from those that apply to other countries.

This fear enables the criminal gang that is keeping a stranglehold on Russia to justify its violations of basic universal rights. The fear plays into the hands of those who argue that Russian values are fundamentally different from those of the West.

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Special Extra — Biden on Russia

Uh-oh, Russia.  Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has chosen U.S. Senator Joe Biden of Delaware as his running mate. Biden is chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and obviously has been selected to give Obama foreign policy chops he was lacking.  Here are Biden’s views on Russia’s attack on Georgia, from the Financial Times on August 12th (in another statment on August 18th, he bluntly accused Russia of lying about Georgian atrocities and its general intentions in the country)

Russia Must Stand Down

Despite Russia’s overwhelming advantage in size and firepower in its conflict with Georgia, the Kremlin may have the most to lose if the fighting there continues. It is too soon to know with certainty who was responsible for the initial outbreak of violence in South Ossetia, but the war that began there is no longer about Georgia’s breakaway regions or Russian peacekeepers.

By acting disproportionately with a full scale attack on Georgia and seeking the ouster of Georgia’s democratically elected President Mikheil Saakashvili, Moscow is jeopardising its standing in Europe and the broader international community – and risking very real practical and political consequences.

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Bolton Blasts Neo-Soviet Russia (and Barack Obama)

The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal lead the way on covering the truth about Russia on this side of the Atlantic, and the Telegraph surely does so across The Pond. Writing on it’s pages former U.N. Ambassador Joshua Bolton tells it like it is on neo-Soviet Russia:

Russia’s invasion across an internationally recognised border, its thrashing of the Georgian military, and its smug satisfaction in humbling one of its former fiefdoms represents only the visible damage.

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Pasko on Silent Solzhenitsyn

Writing on Robert Amsterdam’s blog hero journalist Grigori Pasko takes the late Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to task for his shameful silence on so many issues of his day:

I recall how back when I was in the military-political college, I surreptitiously read «One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich», Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s forbidden tale about prisoners of the GULAG, hiding it from the company and battalion officers. At the college, they taught us how to be conduits of the ideals of the communist party in the armed forces. Solzhenitsyn’s story talked about how all around this party there was nothing but lies. And around the Soviet state – lies. I learned how to see these lies thanks, among others, to the works of Alexander Isaevich.
Then I experienced on myself all the «charms» of the Russian GULAG. One of those who allowed and allows the continuation of the existence of the GULAG – was and remains Vladimir Putin. All the stranger then was to me the almost friendly, problem-free and conflict-free, with only rare and insignificant criticism, relationship between the great writer and the not-great chekist and president.

Once I came to visit Alexander Isaevich. I wanted to speak with him about his attitude towards the spy-mania which had blossomed into full bloom in our country under Putin. The author’s wife, Natalia Dmitrievna, met me and said that Alexander Isaevich would not be able to meet with me. I asked her about his attitude towards the spy trials. She did not reply. And nowhere and not once did I hear the voice of the author speak out against these trials. I don’t know why he kept silent.

I express my deep sympathy to Natalia Dmitrievna. And for some reason I think that she will tell us about how Alexander Isaevich reacted to these or the other events in the country, while not making this reaction public.

In one of the last interviews for the television channel «Rossiya», Alexander Solzhenitsyn said that he considers that Russia has in many ways re-established its influence on the international arena, however its domestic spiritual-moral atmosphere is far from the ideal.

“In international relations, the influence of Russia is returned, the place of Russia in the world is returned. But internally, in our moral state, we are far from what one would like to be, as we organically need”, said Solzhenitsyn.

Probably, Alexander Isaevich was found under the impression of the Munich speech of Vladimir Putin – a speech aggressive in intonation, but nearly empty in content. By this speech the president, in essence, once again unleashed the cold war between Russia and the West. I will dare assert that the real authority of my country in the world, thanks to such figures as Putin, is very low. Western leaders hush up the problems in my country and exaggerate the role of Russia only because their countries need Russian oil and gas.

Surely Solzhenitsyn must have seen and known all this. But if he did see and know, then why did he keep silent?

Answering a question of the television channel as to whether he continues as before to consider “preservation of the people” to be the sole national idea acceptable today, Solzhenitsyn underscored that this is “not so much as the sole, as an accessible” idea.

In his opinion, society has not yet arrived at a long-term national idea. “When they started getting all worked up by a national idea, it was nauseating. Where are you going, why are you going there. You haven’t matured enough for it”, said Solzhenitsyn.

It is possible that the hysteria with respect to the search for a «national idea» stopped in the country thanks to Alexander Isaevich. Because some had already reached agreement to the point where the FSB – this is the intellectual heritage of the Russian people and its neo-nobility.

These «neo-nobles» could easily have reached agreement to the point where the «national idea» of the country would have become Khrushchev’s phrase «We’ll show ’em all!» Personally, I don’t think there’s anything much to show ’em. Besides oil and gas, naturally.

It is known that the writer continued working on the preparation for publication of 30 volumes of his works. Even «The GULAG Archipelago», which has not been republished in the last 16 years, recently came out in a new edition. The book is necessary and important even now, when the former GULAG once again is making its presence felt.

It is noteworthy that the writer also did not once express himself about the state of today’s penitentiary system of Russia, which is little better than the former GULAG, the presence in it of political prisoners and KGB methods. Why? Perhaps we may still find out about this later…

Or we may now never find out…

The Kremlin’s Plan to Divide and Conquer Europe

Writing in the Washington Times Janusz Bugajski, director of the New European Democracies program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, warns of the Kremlin’s “divide and conquer” mentality towards Europe:

Despite speculations in European Union capitals about a bright new dawn in Europe-Russia relations following the installation of President Dmitri Medvedev, dark clouds have already gathered. Europe faces an intensified challenge to its integrity, effectiveness and alliances from a Moscow buoyed by its oil wealth and fortified by claims that U.S. leadership is on the decline.

During a recent visit to Berlin, Mr. Medvedev proposed creation of a pan-European security pact that would sideline NATO and undermine U.S. influence in Europe. Mr. Medvedev asserted that “Atlanticism as a sole historical principle has already had its day. NATO has failed to give new purpose to its existence.”

In reality, it is not Atlanticism that is effectively over but the post-Cold War era as the West and Russia are embroiled in a new strategic confrontation. Russia is reasserting its global reach by opposing further expansion of the Euro-Atlantic zone and reversing the United States’ global role. The Kremlin believes the U.S. has passed its zenith as a global power and Pax Americana is crumbling. This provides an invaluable opportunity for a resurgent Russia to extend its interests in nearby regions, particularly throughout the wider Europe.

Russia’s European ambitions were formulated during Vladimir Putin’s presidency and will be consolidated under Mr. Medvedev. They revolve around expanding the “Eurasian” zone in which Russia is the dominant political player. “Eurasianism” involves two interconnected strategies: transforming Europe into an appendage of the Russian sphere of influence and debilitating Atlanticism by undercutting Europe’s connections with the United States.

Moscow deploys a range of tools to weaken and disarm the West, including divisive diplomacy, political subversion, informational warfare and institutional manipulation. A primary weapon is energy entrapment, whereby Russia pursues a monopolistic position as Europe’s energy supplier and converts energy dependence into increasing intergovernmental influence.

The EU occupies a pivotal position in Russia’s strategy as it can either strengthen or weaken the Kremlin’s approach. A unified EU foreign policy synchronized with Washington that undercuts Russia’s aspirations is viewed as a source of threat that needs to be neutralized.

For instance, the EU’s democratization agenda is seen as a pernicious ploy to undercut Russia’s policy of maintaining pliable governments in neighboring post-Soviet states. Additionally, EU standards for government accountability, business transparency, market competition and environmental protection endanger Russia’s economic penetration, which is primarily based on opaque business practices and personal connections.

However, EU institutions or specific member states can also buttress Russia’s long-range strategy. This is evident where EU capitals such as Berlin, Paris and Rome have convinced themselves that “common interests” will lead to interdependence but fail to question the policy objectives disguised behind Russia’s offer of “strategic partnerships.” The absence of a common and realistic EU strategy toward Russia will have several negative consequences.

c First, it will allow Moscow to fracture the EU by bilateralizing or nationalizing relations with member states by providing diplomatic and economic incentives to some capitals and exerting pressure on others. Moscow offers lucrative contracts to German and French business while imposing embargoes and energy blackmail on Poland, the Baltic States and other states that criticize its policies.

c Second, it will increase disputes within the EU concerning the approach of individual states toward Russia. This will undermine the development of common positions on a broader range of foreign and security policies such as NATO deployments and the role of the United States. The Lisbon treaty, badly damaged by the recent Irish vote, will be buried alongside the EU constitution.

c Third, it will restrict further EU and NATO enlargement eastward as a result of an accommodationist approach toward Moscow. This can unsettle the reformist prospects of aspirant states in Eastern Europe and the Black Sea region, including Ukraine and Georgia.

c And fourth, the EU’s internal divisions and acquiescence toward Moscow will harm relations with the United States. They could disable the pursuit of a common Western strategy when a new American president will be reaching out to reinvigorate the Alliance.

The most effective and concerted long-range strategy toward Russia necessitates a combination of “practical engagement” with “strategic assertiveness.” “Practical engagement” concentrates on the pursuit of cooperative relations where Western and Russian interests can coincide, as in countering international terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

“Strategic assertiveness,” as an essential complementary approach, must focus on vital long-range Western security interests where Russia’s negative policies need to be effectively countered by the EU and NATO working in tandem to strengthen trans-Atlanticism.

As a primary principle, the Allies must not compromise core interests by forging agreements with Russia that sacrifice one Western security priority to gain Moscow’s support in another security area. For instance, NATO enlargement eastward must not be traded for Russia’s promised assistance in dealing with Iran and North Korea. This not only undermines Europe’s commitment to expand the zone of security and democracy but also allows Russia to implement its Eurasian agenda.

The Dance of the Mad Swans

Alexander Golts, writing in the Moscow Times:

If you were to believe what is written in the Russian-language media, you would think that this country is on the verge of war — not with tiny Georgia, but with the big United States.

Izvestia published an article titled, “Have White Swans Settled on the Island of Freedom?” It quotes an unidentified, highly placed source as saying Russia’s Tu-160 strategic bombers (known as “White Swans”) have started flights to Cuban military bases. The same day, an Interfax interview quoted another unidentified but supposedly well-informed source from “military and diplomatic circles” as saying, “Should the appropriate political decision be made, the Tu-160 nuclear bomber and the Tu-95 strategic bomber could refuel at one of Cuba’s airfields.” The Interfax report added that Russian specialists had already carried out the necessary reconnaissance for such a move.

For three days, comments by retired generals caused a sensation when they told journalists how great it would be if our strategic aircraft would land and take off at Cuban military bases right under the noses of the arrogant Yankees, and how that would be a great “asymmetrical” military response to the U.S. decision to deploy its missile-defense system in Eastern Europe. As a result, a Defense Ministry representative was forced to refute all of this nonsense about strategic bomber flights and to state that “Russia is not building any military bases in foreign countries.”

On the very same day, however, the Russian media nonchalantly wrote and spoke about a new idea for a “military response” to the U.S. expansion. A former chief of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces in the General Staff, General Viktor Yesin, recalled how the Soviet Union developed its breakthrough “orbital missile” in the 1970s. The missile was designed to carry a nuclear warhead into space and fire its payload from any point along its flight path. This would enable the missile to strike any location on the planet, and it would make it impossible for the enemy to determine the intended target in advance.

The orbital missile was decommissioned as part of the SALT II Treaty in 1979. But Yesin suggested that if Russia were to produce this missile again and if Moscow fired it at the United States over the South Pole, the U.S. missile-defense system would not be able to intercept it. Moreover, Russia needs to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and deploy Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad region.

Unfortunately, every military response that was mentioned is either pointless or impossible to develop. For example, there is absolutely no military necessity to refuel strategic bombers on Cuban military bases. For 30 years, Russia has placed a prime value on the ability of its long-range aircraft to reach any point on the globe without having to land to refuel, and it built a fleet of aerial-refueling planes to make this possible.

Even from the standpoint of mutual deterrence, our military leaders long ago found a much shorter patrol route that would theoretically allow them to strike U.S. territory by launching cruise missiles from the border of the Faroe Islands. As for the orbital missiles, they were manufactured in Ukraine during the 1970s, not in Russia. Thus, it would require the construction of a gigantic new manufacturing facility in Russia to produce them again, and that would require many years, if not decades.

So why all of these information leaks? It would seem to be an illustration of the domino theory, in which one ridiculous remark inspires a second, and so on, ad infinitum. The first foolish move was to threaten a military response to the planned deployment of a U.S. missile-defense system in Europe — if for no other reason than this system does not threaten Russia’s nuclear potential in any way. The first serious attempt to carry out a military response would inevitably lead to reciprocal measures from the United States and NATO. For example, deploying Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad region would practically put us back to the beginning of the 1980s, when U.S. medium-range missiles stationed in Western Europe were targeted at Moscow.

The only way Russia’s nuclear weapons can carry any weight in international disputes is if its adversaries detect Moscow’s brinkmanship — specifically, its willingness to start a nuclear war if its point of view is not accepted. Washington had a good share of that brinkmanship — or, more accurately put, insanity — when it dealt with certain Soviet leaders, and that is why the nuclear standoff during the Cold War was so serious and frightening.

The United States suspects Iran’s current leaders of the same sort of madness, and that is why Tehran’s hypothetical plan for building a nuclear bomb is also taken very seriously. But for some reason, the United States is finding it hard to believe that the leaders in the Kremlin today suffer from the same illness as their Soviet predecessors.

The only possible explanation for this whole concoction in the media about flights of Russian White Swans to Cuba is that Moscow is trying to convince Washington that its lunacy is serious and chronic.

McCain Puts One Across Putin’s Bows

AFP reports:

Russia has become an autocracy under Vladimir Putin and the Russian president-turned-prime minister has taken the country down a “very harmful” path, Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Sunday.

“We need to improve their behavior,” McCain told ABC television when asked about his threat to exclude Russia from the Group of Eight if he wins the White House in November.

“His government — former president Putin, and now Prime Minister Putin — has taken his country down a path that I think is very harmful,” McCain said. “They’ve become an autocracy.”

“In the last week or so, look at Russia’s actions,” he added. “They cut back on their oil supplies to the Czechs, because the Czechs made an agreement with us. They have now thrown out — or forced out — BP out of Russia.

“They continue to put enormous pressures on Georgia in many ways. They’re putting pressure on Ukraine. They are blocking action in the United Nations Security Council on Iran,” McCain said.

“We want better Russian behavior internationally, and we have every right to expect it,” he said. “And I will do what I can to see that they reverse many of the behavior patterns which have really been very unhelpful to peace in the world.”

ABC News adds:

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., defended his call to exclude Russia from the Group of Eight despite opposition from members, in an exclusive interview with George Stephanopoulos on “This Week.”

“You have to take positions whether other nations agree or not, because you have to do what’s best for America,” McCain explained. “I will do what I can to see that they reverse many of the behavior patterns, which have really been very unhelpful to peace in the world.”

The presumptive Republican nominee openly criticized Russia for straying from the G-8’s founding principles. “We need to improve their behavior,” he said. “They’ve become an autocracy.”

McCain also said he believes former president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is still in charge and is responsible for Russia’s destabilizing role in the international community.

“In the last week or so, look at Russia’s actions. They cut back on their oil supplies to the Czechs, because the Czechs made an agreement with us. They have now thrown out the — or forced out — BP out of Russia … They are blocking action in the United Nations Security Council on Iran.”

Standing up to the Russian Bully

Writing in Newsweek magazine, Andrew Wilson and Mark Leonard of the the European Council on Foreign Relations argue that “Europe needs to figure out a way to come together to fight back against Russian aggression.” Hopefully, this is a sign of a new tsunami of coverage from the MSM, one which should have arisen years ago. But better late than never! Wonderful, heartening stuff.

In the past eight years, Russia has had serious rows with almost half of the EU’S 27 member states. Contrary to popular opinion that such disagreements are fueled by historic grievances in Eastern Europe, these disputes have affected both longtime members of the EU and new ones; both Russia’s neighbors and states farther afield; both those who thought they had good relations with Moscow and those who were happy to admit they were bad. For instance, Russia banned Polish meat in 2005, claiming it was unhygienic; it attempted to charge the German airline Lufthansa special fees for flying over Siberia in 2007; and it allegedly engaged in cyberterrorism against Estonia in May 2007 and against Lithuania in June 2008.

For each of these countries, these were more than just foreign-policy problems. They have become an internal problem for the EU as well, creating divisions among member states. For instance, Poland, and then Lithuania, delayed the start of negotiations on an agreement that would help regulate EU-Russia relations, causing frustration among other member states that wanted to proceed. In another instance, the Russian-sponsored North Stream and South Stream gas pipelines have sparked disagreements about preferential energy access, the undermining of current transit states like Ukraine and Europe’s own Nabucco project, which is supposed to bring in gas from the Caucasus and Central Asia via the Balkans.

Indeed, it seems that too often Russia has been able to punch above its weight by using underhanded divide-and-conquer tactics—while Europe has failed to recognize that collectively it is much stronger than its members are when they act alone. EU states have seemed confused about when to show solidarity in the face of Russia’s games—when, for instance, Moscow offered certain member states, like Germany, preferential energy deals while picking fights with others, like Estonia.

Europe needs to figure out a way to come together to fight back. When it has done so, the results have been impressive. Two years ago, the nationalist Nashi youth group began shadowing the British ambassador, in flagrant breach of various conventions on diplomatic immunity. Especially worrying was the fact that these toughs seemed to be armed with insider information on his daily whereabouts. The United States would have responded harshly toward them. But London failed to comprehend that this was a classic Russian modus operandi: probe for soft spots and push hard. Britain’s initial protests were muted, creating a perception of weakness that only invited further Russian aggression. But finally, when the European Union began to protest, it helped solve the problem. Nashi stood down.

The EU has shown a similar capacity to shape Russian behavior when it has agreed on common positions. For instance, in 2004 it persuaded Russia to sign the Kyoto Protocol in exchange for a clearer path to World Trade Organization membership. In 2006 it faced down Russian demands for free passage for its citizens through Lithuania to their stranded enclave of Kaliningrad. But now Russia and Britain are at odds again, in what is possibly the biggest and most significant bilateral confrontation yet. At the G8 conference in Japan two weeks ago, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown raised, in what has been described in diplo-speak as “extremely frank talks” with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, the 2006 London murder of British citizen Alexander Litvinenko. For months now, Britain has been seeking the extradition from Russia of the chief suspect in that case, Andrei Lugovoi. But Russia has refused. At the G8 conference, Medvedev, in his first face-to-face with Brown, stood firm, yielding no ground on that matter or on an unrelated commercial dispute between the British oil company BP and investors in its joint venture in Russia.

To be sure, the Litvinenko mystery was never going to be an easy issue to resolve. It had echoes of a John le Carré novel, with a full plot list of spies, mysterious émigrés and bizarre poisoning methods. In many ways, the media circus surrounding the affair has made it difficult for Brown to manage it. But rather than cooperating, Russia has pushed back aggressively. In response to the request to extradite Lugovoi, the Russian Foreign Ministry asked for extradition of the exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky and Chechen rebel leader Akhmed Zakayev, both currently in London. When Britain explained it had no power to force its courts to comply, Moscow responded (albeit without formally linking the issues) by accusing the British Council, a cultural institution, of not paying taxes and acting as a cover for espionage, using crude intimidation of the staff to close down offices in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg. While the British government could have kept a small staff in the parts of the offices that were on consular premises, it pulled the council out, effectively proving to Russia it could get away with its behavior. Now it has lost cultural influence in Russia while getting no closer to extraditing Lugovoi, who enjoys full domestic immunity after being elected as a Russian M.P. in December 2007.

This one lingering issue is but a glaring illustration of the kinds of problems Russia poses to the rest of Europe. It is therefore time for the EU to agree, at least on principle, to a common response to these shows of Russian aggression. The EU’s population is more than three times the size of Russia’s; its economy is 15 times larger. But its biggest strength lies in interdependence, solidarity and consensus. When the next crisis comes, all European states will need to be prepared.

Telegraph Wants Russia out of G-8

An editorial in the Telegraph calls for Russia’s expulsion from the G-8:

The Prime Minister is sometimes accused of running the country on the principles of Soviet diktat, and Gordon Brown is certainly not a politician used to taking “niet” for an answer. But that is precisely the response he received during his first meeting with Russia’s new president, Dmitri Medvedev, at the G8 summit in Japan, where he raised a number of important issues that have led to the recent dramatic decline in relations between Moscow and London.

The leaders met against a backdrop of alarming reports that Russia now constitutes the third largest threat to Britain’s national security after Iran and al-Qa’eda, and that Moscow’s FSB intelligence service was directly responsible for the murder of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned with polonium-210 in a London hotel in 2006.

Not surprisingly, Mr Brown is keen for Moscow to hand over the prime suspect in the Litvinenko murder case, the former FSB agent Andrei Lugovoi, to stand trial. The Prime Minister also sought an assurance from Mr Medvedev that he would reopen the British Council offices in St Petersburg and Ekaterinburg, which were closed when Britain decided to press charges against Mr Lugovoi.

Mr Medvedev responded negatively to both requests, as he did on another urgent issue: the future of BP’s joint venture with a consortium of Russian investors to develop Russia’s vast energy resources. Lord Robertson, the former defence secretary, who is the venture’s deputy chairman, has accused his Russian partners of waging a campaign of intimidation to force BP to end its participation.

Mr Brown sought assurances that the Russians would stop causing difficulties for BP employees working in Russia, but received none.

It is all a far cry from those heady days five years ago, when Vladimir Putin made his historic state visit to Britain. That was when Tony Blair and other world leaders believed Russia could become a valued ally and partner in tackling global issues, from climate change to terrorism. It also explained Moscow’s invitation in 1998 to participate in the annual G7 summit for world leaders, which duly became G8.

That was before Russia’s oil riches began to swell the Kremlin’s coffers, since when Moscow’s ruling elite has been inclined to indulge in the politics of gangsterism and corruption, rather than democracy and the rule of law. Britain is far too small a country to tackle Russia’s bully-boy tactics alone: that is a job that requires the Western powers to act in unison.

They could make a start by threatening to expel the Russians from the elite G8 club, unless they agree to mend their uncouth ways.

Britain Declares Cold War against Russia

The Times of London reports:

Britain’s security services have identified Russia as the third most serious threat facing the country, it has emerged before Gordon Brown’s first meeting with President Medvedev. Security officials say that only al-Qaeda terrorism and Iranian nuclear proliferation are greater menaces to the country’s safety than Russia. The services are understood to fear that Russia’s three main intelligence agencies have flooded the country with agents, The Times understands. There is reported to be deep irritation within the services that vital resources are having to be diverted to deal with industrial and military espionage by the Russians.

The disclosures come as Mr Brown prepares to hold his first meeting with Mr Medvedev on Monday amid rising anger about Russia’s treatment of foreign investors such as BP. Russian agents were accused of the murder of the émigré Alexander Litvinenko in London, as well as other attempted killings, and relations between the two countries have deteriorated fast, culminating in a row between Tony Blair and Vladimir Putin, the former President, at the G8 summit last year. As Mr Brown and Mr Medvedev prepare to meet in Hokkaido, Japan, on Monday before the opening of this year’s G8, Russia has displayed signs of wanting to end the rift with Britain. In an interview with foreign correspondents Mr Medvedev said that international relations always required people to come together.

Reflecting the sensitivity of the encounter, senior British officials declined to give details of the issues that Mr Brown intends to raise, clearly not wanting to raise the temperature in advance. One said: “We will talk about that meeting after it has happened.” He added that the Government agreed with Mr Medvedev’s comments about international relations and that Mr Brown looked forward to a “constructive discussion”. Mr Brown seems certain, however, to raise the continuing fallout from the Litvinenko killing, the heightened tension between the security services, and the treatment of BP and its staff in Russia. The FSB, the successor agency to the KGB, raided the Moscow offices of BP and a joint venture, TNK-BP, this year.

The Prime Minister will use his first G8 summit to call on his colleagues to do more to meet their pledges to double aid to Africa. British officials said that the G8 was not on track to meet commitments made at the Gleneagles summit in 2005 to double aid to £50 billion a year worldwide and aid to Africa to £25 billion. They expect the summit to reaffirm that commitment – although the words are not yet in the summit communiqué – but officials said that several G8 countries were not meeting their targets, and only Britain, the United States and Germany were doing so. Mr Brown will say that the richer countries should be doing more at a time of economic downturn as part of the overall solution to the problems facing the world, including food and oil prices. “Too many donors are not keeping the promises they made,” a senior official said.

Mr Brown wants a G8 commitment to helping countries to increase the number of health workers to 2.3 per 1,000 people and providing $60 billion (£30 billion) for health over a set period. He and other leaders want the summit to give much-needed momentum to the world trade talks, which are close to failure. Appearing before a Commons committee yesterday, Mr Brown spoke of the “great responsibility” on the leaders of the G8 to pave the way for a deal by trade ministers at a crucial meeting on July 21. Mr Brown said: “We are a few minutes before midnight. If we can’t get a trade deal within the next few weeks it may elude us for many, many months, if not longer. “I think we have got to show, in a world that is becoming increasingly protectionist, that we are capable of standing up to that and show that the world is capable of reaching an agreement on trade.”

Mr Brown made plain that his old adversary Peter Mandelson, the EU Trade Commissioner, had his full confidence in his battle with President Sarkozy of France over his handling of the trade talks. Pascal Lamy, the director-general of the World Trade Organisation, said yesterday that an agreement on the main points of the world trade liberalisation talks was “feasible” this month, despite the pessimism surrounding the round and significant reservations on the part of France, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency. “I called for a ministerial meeting because I think it is feasible [to come to a framework agreement] but it is not a done deal,” he said.

Claims and disputes

November 2006 Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian security officer and fierce critic of the Kremlin, dies in a London hospital after being poisoned

May 2007 Russia refuses a British request to hand over the prime suspect in the killing, Andrei Lugovoi, a former KGB officer who is now a Russian MP

July 2007 Britain expels four Russian diplomats in response to refusal to extradite Mr Lugovoi

July 2007 Boris Berezovsky, the exiled Russian billionaire, claims that British intelligence thwarted a plot to kill him

August 2007 President Putin reinstates Cold War-style long-range air patrols by strategic bombers

April 2008 The MoD reveals that RAF fighter jets have been scrambled at least 21 times in 12 months to respond to Russian military aircraft encroaching on Nato airspace

No More Yaltas!

A letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal:

I write to express my deep concern about Sen. Chuck Schumer’s op-ed “Russia Can Be Part of the Answer on Iran” (June 3). As a supporter of democracy for the nations of Central and Eastern Europe, which suffered greatly under “Russian hegemony over Eastern Europe,” his suggestion that these nations be used as bargaining chips in order to appease Russia is troubling, inexplicable and unacceptable.

For decades Central and East Europeans had been oppressed by Russia, whose “greatness” he suggests Vladimir Putin should restore. The 1932-1933 genocide in Ukraine, the incorporation of the Baltic countries into the Soviet Union, the brutal crushing of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968, the imposition of martial law in Poland in 1981, the blatant and continuing denials of fundamental freedoms in Belarus are all examples of the tragedies that ruined millions of lives in the countries of a region that had been ill-advisedly relegated to the Russian sphere of influence in the 20th century.

After untold suffering, these nations have regained their freedom and sovereignty. And now the senator suggests that Russia once again be allowed to dominate the countries of Central and East Europe in order to pursue policies whose effectiveness is a matter of conjecture at best.

These recommendations are especially distressing, considering the disturbing trends in Russia, including the intimidation used to silence the press and critics of the government, rising anti-Semitism and intolerance toward minorities and attempts to use energy as a means to divide Europe and unduly influence Central and East European governments. The senator’s proposal in effect would validate these disturbing trends in the eyes of Moscow and pander to Russian nostalgia for imperialism. Clearly these trends are contrary to U.S. geostrategic interests in the region. We want no more Yaltas!

Béla Liták
Stamford, Conn.

EDITORIAL: McCain and G-8 Eviction


McCain and G-8 Eviction

Our relationship with Russia has been sorely tested by Moscow’s rhetoric, by its tendency to treat its neighbors as lost “spheres of influence,” and by its energy policies that have a distinct political tinge. And Russia’s internal course has been a source of considerable disappointment, especially because in 2000 we hoped that it was moving closer to us in terms of values.

— U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, writing in Foreign Affairs

Writing on its reporter Mark Benjamin claims that when Republican presidential candidate John McCain calls for Russia ’s ouster from the G-8, he’s not saying something he really believes but merely acting as the corrupt dupe of the East European lobby.

It takes a lot of chutzpah to suggest that a man who served his country not only as a solider but as a tortured prisoner of war, and who has a long and distinguished record as a U.S. Senator, is nothing but a corrupt sap. Rather than journalism, it sounds like a partisan political commercial for Barack Obama.

The idea that the U.S. can’t oust Russia from the G-8, because as a practical matter the other members wouldn’t go along, is making the rounds of the left wing blogs like wildfire. Not only does the left claim we can’t eject Russia , but it also says that if we try Russia will refuse to discuss nuclear disarmament, something McCain – in an act that gives the lie to any notion that he’s a one-dimensional old school cold warrior – recently expressed support for doing.

This is classic liberal nonsense on both counts. Russia’s feeble economy needs relief from the arms race far more than ours does, and the Russian government couldn’t care less how much fear of Armageddon its citizens have to live with (the men already have trouble reaching age 60). The left seems to have quickly forgotten that the last arms race we fought with Russia bankrupted and laid low the USSR . It’s simply amazing that the left would even consider criticizing a Republican for supporting arms control, as if they care more about nominal control of the White House than the implementation of policies they supposedly favor (a review of Bill Clinton’s presidency, which included the abolition of welfare, free trade support, a balanced budget, a Republican House and many other Republican victories would tend to bolster that idea).

And if President McCain tells the members of the G-8 they have to choose between Russia and the United States as a member, they’ll choose us in a heartbeat (though naturally they may do so kicking and screaming, just as they obstructed Ronald Reagan all through the Cold War). The G-8 without the U.S. in it doesn’t exist, it’s as simple as that. George Bush recently had a NATO conference and received unanimous support for installing a defensive missile system in Eastern Europe, with the G-8 members flouting Russian objections and promising to admit Georgia and Ukraine as members, adding insult to injury in Russia’s view. Europe is terrified of Russia ’s ever-increasing militarism and particularly its weaponization of its energy resources. All that’s needed is American leadership, something that until recently has been sorely lacking from George “I looked Putin’s eyes and glimpsed his soul” Bush.

Moreover, the left seems to have forgotten that sometimes Americans want to do the right thing because it’s the right thing, regardless of the consequences. Russia isn’t qualified, by any metric economic or political that you care to name, for membership in the G-8. It’s imposed a massive crackdown on civil society which has included a long string of political murders. Would it be wrong for the U.S. to demand Hitler’s ouster from such a group, assuming all the other members opposed it? McCain has urged replacing Russia with India, a far larger and more dynamic economy and a much more vibrant democracy. Russia is merely a bridge to Asia ; India is Asia .

Ignoring all this, Benjamin jumps right on the moonbat bandwagon. Citing Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria, he states: “If McCain were to pursue his Russia agenda as president, Zakaria wrote, it would be interpreted by much of the world as an attempt by Washington to begin a new Cold War.” Zakaria apparently isn’t troubled by Russia numerous practice sorties against U.S., British, Japanese and Norwegian targets with nuclear bombers, resulting in the forced scrambling of defensive fighter squadrons to ward of the threats (even though neither the U.S. nor Britain is undertaking this sort of harassment against Russia). It doesn’t seem to bother him that Vladimir Putin is a proud KGB spy who has wiped out opposition parties, independent media and local government and has remained the national ruler in the guise of prime minister even though his term has ended. Like Neville Chamberlain of old, Zakaria seems to think the only reason Russia is hostile is because we haven’t issued sufficient sweet words of encouragement and respect. If we’ll just do that, apparently, Russia will become a responsible ally.

That’s Jimmy Carter talking. Carter was elected in 1976 and his party was given dominant control of both houses of Congress after a Republican had alienated virtually the entire country (maybe a situation we will see eerily repeated this year). But within four years of trying out this pollyanish foreign policy, Carter was repudiated and the Senate was back in Republican hands (Democrats greedily contemplating victory this fall would do well to remember that example). He was an abject failure.

Benjamin calls Zakaria a “seasoned expert” on Russia . That’s simply false. Zakaria has never spent one day living in Russia , doesn’t speak the language, has no degree in the subject and has never been a policymaker in that area. He’s an Indian (his father was politician), a university professor (PhD from Harvard), and in essence nothing more than a gadfly journalist where Russia is concerned, writing for lightweight left-wing publications and making cameos on TV. Why not ask Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation, or Andrei Illarionov of CATO, or Leon Aron of the American Enterprise Institute what they think about McCain’s confrontational approach? How about asking opposition leader Garry Kasparov what he thinks? Perhaps that would be a little bit too much like journalism for the taste of

Benjamin then gets to his real point, that McCain got his ideas corruptly from an insidious “neoconservative” (Benjamin’s term) named Randy Scheunemann, his senior foreign policy advisor, who “was a paid lobbyist for former Soviet Bloc countries that are wary of Russia, and seems to advocate those policies the countries and their former lobbyist want. At various times from 2001 through early this year, Georgia , Latvia , Romania and Macedonia paid Scheunemann and his partner, Mike Mitchell, more than $2 million.” Apparently Benjamin cannot conceive of the possibility that Scheunemann’s belief in the cause of Eastern Europe came before his work lobbying on their behalf.

The again, maybe he can. He writes:

McCain might take his hard line on Russia because it plays well with some of the GOP base. Experts on Russia say some of those Republicans harbor nostalgia for being tough on the Soviet Union . Or perhaps he simply believes Russia will respond best to threats. But there is little doubt that McCain’s rhetoric and policies would please the countries Scheunemann has worked for. There is no way to tell if Scheunemann has influenced his boss on behalf of his clients, or if McCain and Scheunemann simply share a common get-tough-on-Russia philosophy. But when there are lobbyists on a candidate’s campaign staff, it’s hard to distinguish chicken from egg when it comes to policy.

As a U.S. national correspondent based in D.C., one must question whether Benjamin has the Russia chops to pontificate on a subject like this as freely as he does. In my view, it’s obvious he lacks them. And it’s rather ironic that Benjamin claims McCain is just a paid mouthpiece for Eastern Europe, when his own statement mimic so precisely the propaganda line being put out by Russia’s Kremlin (“give us what we want, or we’ll ‘bury’ you”). His own words betray the fact that he has absolutely no evidence that McCain’s views are not genuine. His analysis is truly schizophrenic, unable to decide whether it wants to say McCain doesn’t really believe his own rhetoric or that he does and it will lead to catastrophic failure. And the reason is simple: he doesn’t have a convincing (or even credible) argument either way, and that’s not the point. The point is a smear job, attempting to attack McCain at his base of strength, integrity and courage.

We can expect to see much more of this as the campaign continues, and we can expect to see any similar attack on Barack Obama labeled closet racism. If we want to get our foreign policy on Russia straight, we’d better be prepared for long, tough battle.

Meanwhile, it’s not possible to write up a critique of Obama’s proposals for dealing with Russia, because he doesn’t have any. He’s said all the right critical words about the atrocity known as the Putin administration, but he hasn’t had the courage to lay out a specific policy platform as McCain has done — not surprising, since he has absolutely no foreign policy experience to back up such a platform.

Mafia Foreign Policy

An letter to the Wall Street Journal from Garry Kasparov:

Without addressing Sen. Charles Schumer’s central premise that sanctions would be effective against oil-rich Iran (“Russia Can Be Part of the Answer on Iran,” op-ed, June 3), I would like to address what appears to be a dangerously myopic view of Russia and Russian foreign policy.

First, the senator’s provocative decision to address the matter to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin instead of President Dmitry Medvedev requires extensive explanation where none was provided. The constitution of Russia makes very clear that the president is responsible for foreign policy. The prime minister serves at his discretion. It is well understood that Mr. Putin remains in the seat of power in Russia and that Mr. Medvedev was simply appointed to win a fraudulent election in March. But for an American senator to publicly take this state of affairs for granted is remarkable. Mr. Medvedev was not mentioned once in Sen. Schumer’s editorial and I cannot believe this was accidental or the result of ignorance. Therefore, is Sen. Schumer implicitly acknowledging that Mr. Medvedev’s election was a sham and that Russia is a dictatorship? Does this indicate a disagreement with the current U.S. policy of pretending Russia is a democracy? Would this be the senator’s policy recommendation to his Senate colleague Barack Obama? Is it too much to ask that such an important, and commendable, stance be taken in less subtle fashion?

Second, Mr. Putin and his gang could not care less about nationalism (old or new), Russian hegemony in Eastern Europe, or NATO’s antimissile system. They are interested only in money and how to maintain the flow into their bank accounts. Every decision they have made has this truth at its core. Mr. Putin’s saber-rattling is theater designed to build up equity with the West that can later be traded away for guarantees that allow the looting of Russia to continue unabated — for example, not responding to the crackdown on Russia’s pro-democracy opposition and allowing Russia to stay in the G-8 and thereby avoid the fiscal scrutiny that would accompany less-favored status.

The Kremlin elite will join in sanctions against Iran when it is literally profitable for them to do so and not before. Sen. Schumer is speaking their language when he suggests bribing Russia into joining the boycott of Iran — to the tune of $3 billion a year. This is the sort of mafia-style proposition they understand. I am sure they will be gratified to see a U.S. senator coming around to their way of doing business: Speak only to the big boss and offer cold, hard cash.

In Russia, Tsarist Fascism

British TV host Jonathan Dimbelby, writing in the Daily Mail:

As ex-President Putin settles in to his new role as Prime Minister, he has every reason to congratulate himself.

After all, he has not only written the script for his constitutional coup d’etat, but staged the play and given himself the starring role as well.

Of course, he has given a walk-on role to Dmitry Medvedev, his personally anointed successor.

But the transfer of power from Putin to his Little Sir Echo, Medvedev, and the show of military strength with those soldiers and clapped-out missiles in Red Square on Victory Day which followed it last week, made it clear who is really in charge.

No decision of any significance for the Russian people or the rest of us will be made in the foreseeable future without the say – so of Medvedev’s unsmiling master.

Just before he stood down as President, Putin declared: “I have worked like a galley slave throughout these eight years, morning til night, and I have given all I could to this work. I am happy with the results.”

As he surveys the nation today he reminds me of that chilling poem by Ted Hughes, Hawk Roosting, in which the dreaded bird sits at the top of a tall tree musing: “Now I hold all Creation in my foot – I kill as I please because it is all mine – I am going to keep things like this.”

In a way he is right to be so self-satisfied. He has told the Russian people that life is much better than it was before he took over – and, after a journey of some 10,000 miles across the largest country in the world for a new book and BBC TV series, I am in no doubt that the majority of his subjects believe him.

I travelled from cities to towns to villages by road, rail and boat and met a great diversity of people – from St Petersburg glitterati to impoverished potato-pickers, from a witch who charms the sprites of the forest to the mountain herdsmen who worship fire and water, from oilmen to woodcutters.

It was an exhilarating and revelatory experience in a land of extremes. But it was also deeply disturbing.

Despite the fact that Putin’s Russia is increasingly autocratic and irredeemably corrupt, the man himself – their born-again Tsar – is overwhelmingly regarded as the answer to the nation’s prayers.

Russia has a bloody and tormented history. Its centuries of suffering – its brutalities, its wars and revolutions, culminating in the collapse of communism and the anarchic buffoonery of the Yeltsin years – have taken a terrible psychological toll.

Cynicism and fatalism which eat away at the human psyche have wormed their way into the very DNA of the Russian soul.

In a nation that has not tasted and – with very few exceptions – does not expect or demand justice or freedom, all that matters is stability and security.

And, to a degree, Putin has delivered these twin blessings. But the price has been exorbitant and the Russians have been criminally short-changed.

Putin boasts that since he came into office investment in the Russian economy has increased sevenfold (reaching $82.3 billion in 2007) and that the country’s GDP has risen by more than 70 per cent.

Over the same period, average real incomes have more than doubled. But they started from a very low base and they could have done far better.

Nor is this growth thanks either to the Kremlin’s leadership or a surge of entrepreneurial energy.

On the contrary, it is almost solely down to Russia’s vast reserves of oil and gas.

When Putin came to power, the world price of crude oil was $16 dollars a barrel; it has now soared to more than $120 dollars – and no one knows where or when this bonanza will end.

But this massive flow of funds into the nation’s coffers has not been used “to share the proceeds of growth” with the people; to reduce the obscene gulf in income between the rich and poor.

It has not helped to resurrect a health service which is on its knees (and is ranked by the World Health Organisation as 130th out of the 190 countries of the UN), or to rebuild an education system which is so under-funded that the poor have to pay to get their children into a half-decent school or college.

It has not brought gas and running water to the villages where the peasants have been devastated by the collapse of the collectives, or even developed the infrastructure that a 21st century economy needs to compete with the rest of the world.

Russia may be a member of the G8 whose GDP (because of oil) should soon overtake the United Kingdom, but, in many ways, it is more like a Third World country.

Stricken with an epidemic of AIDS and alcoholism which both contribute to a male life expectancy of 58 years, the population is projected to shrink from 145 million to 120 million within a few decades.

So where has all the oil wealth gone? According to an Independent Experts Report, written by two former high-level Kremlin insiders who have had the courage to speak out, “a criminal system of government [has] taken shape under Putin” in which the Kremlin has been selling state assets cheaply to Putin’s cronies and buying others assets back from them at an exorbitant price.

Among such dubious transactions the authors cite the purchase by the state-owned Gasprom (run until a few months ago by Dmitry Medvedev) of a 75 per cent share in an oil company called Sifnet (owned by Roman Abramovich, the oligarch who owns Chelsea Football Club).

In 1995 Abramovich, one of Putin’s closest allies, paid a mere $100 million for Sifnet; ten years later, the government shelled out $13.7 billion for it – an astronomical sum and far above the going market rate.

Even more explosively, the authors claim the Kremlin has created a “friends-of-Putin” oil export monopoly, not to mention a secret “slush fund” to reward the faithful.

According to an analyst at Moscow’s Carnegie Centre, which promotes greater collaboration between the U.S. and Russia, the report is “a bomb which, anywhere but in Russia, would cause the country to collapse”.

In Britain such revelations would certainly have provoked mass outrage, urgent official inquiries and a major police investigation – if not the downfall of the government.

But because of Putin’s totalitarian grasp on power (he has not only appointed his own Cabinet, which used to be the prerogative of the President, but will remain in charge of the nation’s economy), there will be no inquiry.

You can forget any talk from the new President about “stamping out” corruption. This social and economic disease is insidious and rampant.

According to Transparency International – a global society which campaigns against corruption – Russia has become a world leader in the corruption stakes. Foreign analysts estimate that no less than $30 billion a year is spent to grease official palms to oil the wheels of trade and commerce.

But when you raise the subject, Russians shrug their shoulders: “What’s the problem?” they retort.

“That’s how the system works. It will never change.”

And that is because everyone is at it. From corporations (including foreign investors who claim to have clean hands but cover their tracks by establishing local “shell” companies to pay the bribes) to the humblest individuals who buy their way out of a driving ban.

In a country where the “separation of powers” has become a bad joke, the law courts are no less corrupt.

Except perhaps for minor misdemeanours at local level, the judiciary is in thrall to the Kremlin and its satraps.

The threat of prosecution for tax fraud is the Kremlin’s weapon of choice against anyone who dares to challenge its hegemony.

When Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once the richest man in Russia, used his oil wealth to promote human rights and democracy, Putin detected a threat to his throne.

The oligarch was duly arrested and convicted of fraud. He now languishes in a Siberian jail where he is in the third year of an eight-year prison sentence.

None of this is a matter of public debate in Russia where the media has been muzzled by the Kremlin, their freedom of expression stifled by the government.

Almost every national radio and television station is now controlled directly or indirectly by the state, and the same applies to every newspaper of any influence.

In the heady days immediately before and after the collapse of the Soviet empire, editors and reporters competed to challenge the mighty and to uncover scandal and corruption.

Now they cower from the wrath of the state and its agents in the police and the security services.

That diminishing number who have the courage to investigate or speak out against the abuses perpetrated by the rich and powerful very soon find themselves out of a job – or, in an alarming number of cases, on the receiving end of a deadly bullet.

Some 20 Russian journalists have been killed in suspicious circumstances since Putin came to office. No one has yet been convicted for any of these crimes.

Putin calls the system over which he presides “sovereign democracy”. I think a better term is “cryptofascism” – though even the Kremlin’s few critics in Russia recoil when I suggest this.

After all, their parents and grandparents helped save the world from Hitler – at a cost of 25 million Soviet lives. Nonetheless, the evidence is compelling.

The structure of the state – the alliance between the Kremlin, the oligarchs, and the security services – is awesomely powerful.

No less worryingly is popular distaste – often contempt – for democracy and indifference to human rights.

In the absence of any experience of accountability or transparency – the basic ingredients of an open society – even the most thoughtful Russians are prone to say: “Russia needs a strong man at the centre. Putin has made Russia great again. Now the world has to listen.”

The new Prime Minister has brilliantly exploited the patriotism and latent xenophobia of the Russia people to unify them in the belief that they face a major threat from NATO and the United States.

This combination of national pride and insecurity has been fuelled by the America with its proposed deployment of missiles only a few hundred kilometres from the Russian border, allegedly to counter a nuclear threat from Iran.

No serious defence analyst believes this makes any strategic sense, while even impeccably pro-Western Russians recoil from this crass assertion of super-power hegemony by President Bush.

Similarly most Russians feel threatened – and humiliated – by the prospect that Ukraine and Georgia, once the most intimate allies of the Soviet Union, may soon be enfolded in the arms of NATO.

Georgia, which is struggling to contain a separatist movement that is openly supported by the Kremlin, has the potential to become a dangerous flashpoint in which the Western allies could only too easily become ensnared.

Does this mean – as some have argued – that we are about to face a new Cold War? I don’t think so for a moment.

With communism consigned to “the dustbin of history”, there is no ideological conflict of any significance. And there is now only one military superpower.

In comparison with America, Russia’s armed forces are a joke. Only catastrophic stupidity on either side could lead to a nuclear confrontation.

But this does not mean that we can all breathe a sigh of relief and forget about the Bear.

An autocratic and resurgent Russia that feels bruised and threatened is an unstable beast.

The Kremlin’s growing rapprochement with Beijing (the adversaries of a generation ago are now not only major trading partners, but conduct joint military exercises) shifts the balance of power in the world.

And as life on earth becomes less and less secure, with evermore people competing for a dwindling supply of vital resources, Russia, as an energy giant, is once again a big player on the world stage.

Make no mistake, we are in for a very bumpy ride

The Horror of Neo-Soviet Military Intentions

Edward Lucas, writing in the Daily Mail:

It was a chilling sight from a different age. Nuclear missile launchers and scores of tanks rolled across Red Square yesterday for the first time since the end of the Cold War. The military hardware – including Topol-M ballistic missiles and T-90 tanks – may be a reminder of the days when the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal cast a shadow over the world, but in truth there is little reason for us to fear the corrupt, decrepit husk of the Russian armed forces. Yet we should be deeply alarmed about the politicians who command them, greeted with the traditional chants of “Ura! Ura!” (Hurrah! Hurrah!) by the 8,000 troops who goose-stepped through the ceremony, which marks Stalin’s victory in the Second World War.

There they stood on their podium, the great leader, Vladimir Putin, and the new president, Dmitri Medvedev. Mr Putin, now prime minister, is credited with rescuing Russia from chaos and poverty, while Medvedev will supposedly add the ingredients of freedom and the rule of law. So those hurrahs from the Russian troops – known as the Red Army until 1946 – in Red Square yesterday are echoed by the Kremlin’s supporters abroad too, who maintain the country is on the verge of a golden age.

But keep the cork in the shampanskoye (Russia’s sickly tank-fermented version of champagne).

The grim military parade reflects the Kremlin’s increasingly ruthless approach to politics – and the direct threat it poses to to Georgia, a plucky western ally on Russia’s southern flank. Even if Mr Medvedev wants to change the style of Kremlin rule, and dares to try, how will the brooding steely figure of the prime minister, his political mentor and the darling of public opinion, react? Mr Putin has said that no big changes in Russia’s policies at home and abroad should be expected. He has come close to humiliating Mr Medvedev over the tiniest perceived differences of opinion. It is his hands that will stay on the levers of power.

Never has the gap between deeds and words seemed bigger. Mr Putin claims to have stepped down out of respect for the Russian constitution, which allows only two successive terms. Yet he remains the most powerful person in the country. Mr Medvedev, a diminutive lawyer with – unusually for the Kremlin – no background in the military or espionage, talks about freedom and the rule of law, which Mr Putin and his ex-KGB pals have trampled into the ground. Make no mistake: Mr Medvedev’s job is to put a presentable face on the sinister regime that runs Russia.

He may criticise, rightly, Russia’s colossal corruption, shambolic public services, crumbling infrastructure, soaring inflation, grotesque abuses of power, sprawling bureaucracy, and overweening state intervention in the economy. But that does not mean he can or will do much about them. A system that has proved so hugely lucrative to the hard men in the Kremlin is not going to disappear over night, if at all. Mr Medvedev’s “hurrah chorus” say that the ruthless tycoon-bureaucrats of the Putin regime will be pensioned off. They will either accept their “severance packages” of a few billion dollars or they can join Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the oil baron who was once Russia’s richest man, in his prison cell near the Chinese border.

But for this to happen, Mr Medvedev will have to turn on his own. Nothing in his eight years in senior positions at Gazprom, Russia’s biggest company, suggests he will do so. For a start, the firm epitomises the overlap between business and politics that he claims to despise. It would be better named ‘Kremlin Inc (Gas Division)’ for its unwavering support of Russian diplomacy. Nor is there any sign that Mr Medvedev will change Russia’s prickly relations with the west, and its bullying of former captive nations.

Earlier this year he described the U.S. as a “financial terrorist” for seeking to impose its accounting standards on the rest of the world. Mr Medvedev has called the British Council, sponsor of folk dancers and well-meaning culture vultures, a nest of spies. His supporters stress he likes rock music and yoga. He has a glamorous and devoutly religious wife. Such clues are spun into an illusory blanket of good intentions. But those who have met Mr Medvedev speak of a pedantic, chippy figure, a nervous nitpicker ill at ease with the limelight.

He may change. Mr Putin did. I remember how he emerged into public view in 1999, looking more like Dobby the house elf from Harry Potter than a world leader. Many thought the third-rate spy with a taste for gutter slang would last months, not years. How wrong they were. It is now Mr Putin who dominates Russian politics. The clan of his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, is history. So are the “oligarchs”, the overmighty tycoons who once ruled the political roost. Some are in exile. Others have kow-towed to the Kremlin, gaining even greater riches in return for obedience.

Under Mr Putin, elections have become a sham, dissent criminalised, the legal system part of the Kremlin, and assassination a tool of foreign policy. Many blame the Kremlin for the poisoning in London of Alexander Litvinenko, who fled to Britain after uncovering what he termed murderous corruption in the FSB, the KGB’s successor. Since then Russia’s relations with Britain have been in a deep freeze, thawed only by the recent “football diplomacy” in which both countries have relaxed visa regulations for each other’s fans.

Changing Russia’s increasingly hard-edged foreign policy stance would be a formidable undertaking for Mr Medvedev. And why bother? The current policy is working well. The Russian people delight in the stability and high living standards that the Putin era has brought – in contrast to the poverty and uncertainty of the 1990s. Many Russians are pleased too that their country is respected (or at least feared) by its neighbours. A muzzled, sycophantic media means that the country’s real problems, and the corrupt, threadbare record of the Putin years, receives little scrutiny. Nor is there much to worry about abroad. The bullying of Georgia has brought only ineffectual bleats of protest from the EU and NATO. Germany’s cosy ties with Russia have created a Trojan Horse in the heart of the west’s two main alliances. Silvio Berlusconi’s Italy and Nicolas Sarkozy’s France adopt the same stance: accepting the riches of trade with Russia, while ignoring the political cost. The U.S. and Britain are too distracted by Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yet Lithuania, one of the smallest and poorest countries in Europe, is bravely challenging the consensus, insisting that the EU toughens its stance before starting talks with the Kremlin. Its neighbour Latvia is scraping together some symbolic diplomatic support for Georgia. Every new man in the Kremlin enjoys a honeymoon with the west. And in each case that is followed by bitter disillusion: Mikhail Gorbachev caved in to hardliners and proved ineffective; Yeltsin succumbed to alcohol and the corruption of his cronies; Mr Putin turned into a menacing autocrat.

How long before we learn our lesson?

Annals of Russian Anti-Americanism

Russians seem happy whenever they hear about economic problems in the U.S. They tend to ignore the fact that (a) such problems imply massive headaches for Russia, which relies on the U.S. oil market for its survival and (b) the information they get is coming to them from state-controlled media which are really nothing more than propaganda outlets. Writing in the Moscow Times, Alexei Bayer points out that news of America’s demise is greatly exaggerated:

It has become a cliche to point out that the government is busy reviving various ideological and symbolic trappings of the Soviet Union. One of the most amusing ideological constructs in the writings of “patriotic” pro-Kremlin commentators, as well as in the minds of ordinary Russians, is the growing belief that the U.S. economy is somehow a spent force.

Those who grew up under communism remember Marxist-Leninism’s “scientific” conclusion that the capitalist system was rotting away. This Soviet mantra, endlessly repeated in the face of evident Western prosperity, gave rise to jokes like this one:

Rabinovich applies to emigrate to the United States.

“Why do you want to go to America?” his KGB minder inquires. “Capitalism is rotting.”

“I know it is. But by God, comrade major, doesn’t it smell lovely?”

Naturally, capitalism failed to collapse, but communism did. Ironically, the Soviet economy did rot away, and, in line with Marxist predictions, the Soviet Union crumbled under the weight of its own contradictions. Undeterred by the failure of the old prophesies, we now have a new crop of Russian Cassandras. If Nikita Khrushchev and Mao couldn’t bury the United States in their time, perhaps Chinese President Hu Jintao will.

I’ve just come back from a trip to Southern California. I stayed an extra day to visit a school friend of mine, a microbiologist, now living in San Diego and working at one of its world-famous research institutes.

The last time I visited San Diego was 30 years ago. After my freshman year at a New York college, I came out to the West Coast and spent a summer frying chicken at an amusement park. San Diego was then a sleepy, pleasant burg inhabited by U.S. Navy retirees and their Mexican gardeners. Now, it is a global hub of the biotech industry. My friend is part of a sizeable group of Russian biologists doing academic research or working for various startups. Many of his former classmates at Moscow State University and colleagues from research institutes are also scattered around the United States. Some have even started their own biotech companies.

“I don’t know where they have learned,” shrugs my friend. “They used to be your regular Moscow scientists, with thick glasses. Now, they put companies through venture capital financing and IPOs.”

Actually, he has worked for a startup himself and does consulting for private business. Although he remains very much tied to Russian culture (a Pushkin volume lies casually on his kitchen counter and his kids speak fluent Russian), he is extremely comfortable in San Diego. Who wouldn’t be? He has absolutely no interest in returning to Moscow. Some Russian scientists working in the United States might return, but very few, if any, will do so for professional reasons. Conditions for research and its practical application are simply too good in the United States.

Nor have they been matched elsewhere. At my friend’s institute, most foreign researchers prefer to work in the United States, even though their countries now offer them incentives to come home. For all the money China and India spend on science and technology, they have yet to find a way of chipping away at the United State’s primacy in innovation.

President Vladimir Putin’s pet project, nanotechnology, is a good illustration why. In most countries of the world, support for science and innovation is a top-down exercise, where bureaucrats decide what needs to be developed and how. Typically, they get it wrong. The U.S. system, meanwhile, thrives by being bottom-up, allowing scientists to succeed — or fail — on their own terms.

It is true that the U.S. economy has problems. It is heavily dependent on imports, there is too much debt and the middle classes have been hollowed out. But as long as the United States controls innovation, there is little chance of it surrendering its global economic leadership.

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.