Yeltsin believed in free and fair elections and free media. Putin, by contrast, is a secret policeman. In his book First Person, made up of in terviews, he marvels at his own skillful repression of dissidents.
Putin talks about dem ocracy while systematically destroying it, as Berkeley political scientist Steven Fish has detailed in Democracy Derailed in Russia. Putin has mostly destroyed press freedom, deprived both par liamentary chambers of power, undermined free elections, eliminated the election of regional governors, and seized control over the courts. Where Boris Yeltsin boldly and peacefully dissolved the Soviet empire, giving its peoples freedom, his successor has publicly complained that this was the "greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century."
Yeltsin believed in private enterprise. He has been criticized for privatizing the Russian economy in the only way that was possible, rather than leaving a larger share in the hands of the state. Putin is currently undertaking the greatest re-nationalization the world has seen.
Yeltsin regarded both himself and Russia as part of the free and democratic Western world, while Putin does not. He criticizes both the United States and the E.U. in ever more paranoid and conspiratorial language, while praising China more and more. Unlike Westerners, the Chinese do not ask nosy questions about authoritarianism, corruption, and money-laundering, questions for which Putin has no good answers.
The West is busy committing slow-motion suicide like some sort of samurai carving out his guts with his ornate sword. But when countries like the Ukraine want NATO membership to guard against Russian expansionism, is the U.S. going to fold? What to do?
On a few points, the United States has got its policy toward Russia right. First, the United States and the E.U. stood up for democracy during Ukraine's Orange Revolution, and Putin accepted defeat. Second, the West protested loudly against the restrictive Russian draft legislation on nongovernmental organizations, which was softened. Third, the Western outcry over Russia's cutoff of gas supplies to Ukraine last January led to an immediate resumption of deliveries. Putin was upset, but he changed his policy. And the recent U.S. embargo against the Russian state arms export agency Rosoboronexport and the military aircraft producer Sukhoi because of their deliveries of sophisticated arms to Iran is another step in the right direction.
The lesson is that Putin only responds if protests are loud, public, and backed up by threats. Rather than talking about the Cold War being over (which is true), we should remember that the most successful policies toward the Soviet Union were those of Ronald Reagan.
And not one writer or commentator notes that Russia's impending invasion of Georgia is ALL ABOUT OIL, as the new pipeline from Baku to Turkey goes through Georgia. Does anyone in the craven cowardly international press, busy beating and bashing Bush, remember that Putin is using energy as the edge of the wedge in re-establishing Russian hegemony over its former satellites? Including East Germany? And control of the Georgian pipeline would further choke off EU energy supplies? Aslund ends his piece on a sour note:
Right now, Russia is apparently preparing for a war against the independent former Soviet republic of Georgia. With no justification whatsoever, Putin personally has accused Georgia of state terrorism. He likened the arrest of four senior Russian military spies in Georgia to the acts of Stalin's henchman Lavrenty Beria. Russia has evacuated its diplomats and citizens from Georgia and imposed a nearly complete embargo. Major Russian military maneuvers are under way.
Most analysts draw parallels to Yeltsin and argue that Russia's actions are meant only to frighten. I doubt that. Putin is a warrior. He won his presidency on a very dubious war, the second war in Chechnya--the region whose agony Anna Politkovskaya covered at the cost of her life. Putin won his reelection and authoritarian rule with his war against the oligarchs, especially his confiscation of the Yukos oil company. It is a logical next step to illegally prolong that rule by starting a war against Georgia.
It couldn't be plainer that the United States needs a serious policy toward Russia and needs it fast.
For the Democrats on the cusp of power, whose past penchant for detente and whose DNA is jam-packed with cowardice genes, the hand-wringing and eagerness to make concessions [or do backroom deals, as KGB docs reveal Carter, Teddy the drowner, and other Dems tried in '84] will doubtless lead to the cynical Putin pulling a Kim Jung-Il and taking US money while steadfastly pursuing his own goals.
Let's see if he abrogates the Russian Constitution and runs for a third term in 2007. That should be a clue as to whether Russia once again has a czar and not a president.