Thursday, March 27, 2014

Expected Moves by Russia into Ukraine Predicted in 2006

Edward Lucas was the Economist's Moscow Bureau Chief for nearly a decade in the nineties and early 00's. His book The New Cold War is a clear-eyed view of Putin and the new Russia almost 25 years after the shackles of Communism were removed. In 2006 it was a WSJ Book of the Year. The 2009 revised version is even more damning than the original and goes into almost microscopic detail on the methods Putin's FSB [read KGB with a new moniker] applies state power to suppress almost all political opposition.

Murdering Journalists who report on Putin's misdeeds makes it difficult to penetrate the opaque screen around the thuggish, sloppy and heavy-handed methods employed. But Putin's accession to power in 1999 as President pro tempore until the elections in early 2000 demonstrate this brutal dwarf [5'2"] at his worst. In order to get the Russian people panicked, his FSB hit squads blew up three apartment buildings in Moscow which killed 300 people. This was blamed on Chechen separatists and Putin was able to begin his genocidal attack on Chechnya, with massive casualties on both sides. Lucas points out Putin's responsibility for this series of explosions with almost irrefutable circumstantial evidence of a massive FSB cover-up, with three conflicting versions put out by these Keystone Kops to prove their sloppy unprofessional murderous behavior.

The list of Putin's actions to cancel Yeltsin's good intentions to federalize the FSU by concentrating all state power in his hands is enumerated by endless well-written anecdotal and documented evidence, with copious footnotes to help the serious reader through the rough patches.

And it must be said that Putin has found a formula to ensure his popularity with the majority of the Russian people. A burgeoning economy contrasts strongly with Yeltsin's hapless bouts with runaway inflation and crashes beyond his control. The internal stability Putin's one-party autocracy provides has produced a rapidly growing middle class, something unknown in Russia's long history of Czardom and Communism. Putin's "gas station with nukes" makes for economic growth through a Petrostate and assured fearful respect internationally as a nuclear power second only to the USA. As long as Russia has oil and gas to export, the economy is safe.

But Russia's endemic corruption dwarfs the peccadillos of other advanced industrial countries, save perhaps the PRC. The billions of dollars oligarchs have amassed and the smug superiority of the Nomenklatura state officials in favor with the Kremlin attest to a society far from a fair shake and chances to elevate oneself.

And Putin's insecurity remains strong, even while he invades his neighbors Georgia and Ukraine. Russianized Ukraine may be next, followed by Estonia, which Lucas says is somehow an especially irritating thorn in Moscow's flesh, perhaps because of its spectacular economic success. Transnistria resembles South Ossetia in its breakaway from its parent neighbor, in this case Moldava.

Recall that Putin has said that the dissolution of the Soviet Union is the "great tragedy" of the 20th century. His attention will remain westward because countries like the "Stans" are economic basket cases except for oil-rich Azerbaijan. And Putin is said to remark to guests in his personal office that the bookshelves lining the walls are from Stalin's personal library. He often takes a book off the shelf and opens it to show sentences the brutal despot has underlined or made marginal comments. Putin has the same diminutive stature, astounding cunning, ruthless methods and autodidactic habits of his genocidal mentor. They both incarcerat[ed] dissidents in mental hospitals and view[ed] minorities in their territory as potential enemies, e.g. the Chechens andTatars. They differ only in degree---Putin has no Gulags nor does he believe in Communism. But the inbred insecurity is the same and the heavy-handed methods are similar.

Lucas does make one overriding assertion that any student of Russian can agree with. In the long centuries of Russian history, except for a few months of Kerensky in 1917 and Yeltsin's sad tenure of luckless mediocrity, there has never been a period of political liberty for the individual Russian citizens. The Romanov czars were succeeded by the Communist czars. Ivan The Terrible's Oprichniki were followed by the Romanovs' Okhrana and the Communists' Chekist, OGPU, NKVD, KGB and now Putin's FSB, of which he is a graduate member. As long as they have some measure of prosperity, the average Russian is content and views any opposition to his ruler as extremism. Western thought went through a Renaissance and Enlightenment and prizes individualism. The average Russian fears too much individual responsibility and this might account for Putin's extraordinary popularity. Over 60% on average and in times of panic [bombs in Moscow] and foreign expansion, the rate goes higher.

One wonders if Obama has really remembers his thesis on nuclear disarmament written in the mid-80's while at Columbia U. Conveniently "lost," it might throw some light on the clueless bumpkin he was on foreign relations with the Soviet Union. Romney nailed him in the debate with his "leading geopolitical foe" and now Obama is trying to wriggle out of his starry-eyed naiveté. He must have taken the tiny band of democracy activists in Moscow seriously, without understanding the massive weight of history Russia still carries and will carry into the conceivable future. As far as political freedom is concerned, the average Russian is still a serf, and ominously, doesn't mind being a serf at all, as long as he is well off.

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