Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Putin on the Ritz

I have been a defender of President Vladimir Putin since he was handed the job suddenly in 2000. Putin has pursued stability in Russia, and has pursued the traditional foreign policy of all Russian leaders since Grand Prince Ivan [Kalita] began the "gathering of Russian lands" in the 15th century. Putin once said that anyone who was not nostalgic for the old USSR had no heart, but anyone who actually wanted it back had no head. Putin believes that Russia can be a great country once again. To that end, he has restored traditional Tsarist symbols, and the Soviet anthem (with new words). He has embraced Russian orthodoxy (Yeltsin maintained his atheism).
Life in Putin's Russia has improved. Tax collection is up. The state has managed through oil revenues to make some repairs to the horribly crippled state and military apparatus. The Duma finally legalized private ownership of property in rural areas in 2001. He has made war on the kleptocracy and mafiacracy that developed under Yeltsin. In particular, he has made war on the mafia barons who also (a la Berlusconi) control all the media. The "attack on free press" that is widely reported is really an assault on the mafia barons who control the big private TV networks. There is, in fact, very little real independent media in Russia. Russians, as they have since Soviet days, look to VOA and the BBC for the real news.
However, a poster here called "Master of Space and Time" has the situation backwards regarding Putin's influences: American policies have provided the impetus for Russia and Putin to move to the right. After the bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the US retaliated with cruise missile strikes on suspected terrorist sites in Sudan and Afghanistan. Soon thereafter, the Yeltsin administration began calling the Chechens terrorists. This situation dramatically worsened after the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, and the attacks on the WTC in 2001. The USA legitimized brute force as the response to terrorism, so now Putin sees terrorists where he once saw rebels. As the saying goes, to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Since 9/11, Bush has made it clear that pre-emptive invasion and indefinite detention of suspected terrorists is OK. Putin now demands our support when he does the same in Chechnya
In other words, the Bush administration truly abandoned the rule of law after 2001, and it has no moral authority to advocate the rule of law in Russia. Russia’s leaders, inclined by nature to authoritarianism, are unlikely to work for democracy, peace, and the rule of law, if the USA is no longer on the side of such things. Note that, for all the talk, there has not been a single election in Afghanistan or Iraq.
The attack on the children in Beslan was another watershed moment for Putin. He took this occasion to demand much more centralized authority for the government – in particular, appointing local governors and move to electing the Duma via party slates rather than individual candidates. These moves represent real ambivalence to the value of democracy when a country is at war with terrorism.
America must lead the way; instead, we too have shown real ambivalence to democracy at a time of supposed "war." Not only have we announced that our campaign is good versus evil, but we have abandoned political dialogue everywhere. Ariel Sharon has been told he may effectively put Arafat under house arrest and cease all negotiations. When Bush suggested Putin negotiate with Chechen leaders, Putin responded tersely, "Why don’t you invite Bin Laden to the White House?" Bush has left us with no answer to give.

11 comments:

Raised By Republicans said...

If I were try to think like a Dane, or some other denizen of one of the little countries of the world, I would suggest that seeking to be a "great" country instead of a "better" country is the crux of the problem. Many countries and world leaders have this problem so Putin is not alone.

Frankly, I have a hard time excusing Putin's behavior on the grounds that he's been tough on crime - I suppose the Russian trains run on time too. It is possible to build up a state structure strong enough to enforce the law without concentrating power in the hands of a single man. But Putin is taking the self-serving and easy way out.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I hate to say it, RbR, but you seem not to heave read the post. I was not excusing his policies on the grounds that he made the "trains run on time." I was explaining that he is really following Bush's example on the "war on terror."

The Bush policy is: (1) never negotiate with terrorists; (2) when attacked at home, clamp down on civil liberties as a knee-jerk reaction; (3) act unilaterally, (4) use military force as a primary tool of foreign policy, and pooh-pooh diplomacy and criminal justice, and (5) label ALL your enemies terrorists.

Putin is not off the reservation -- he's following the Crawford Way.

Raised By Republicans said...

Guilty, upon closer review of the posting I see that my response was influenced by past conversations you and I have had about Putin rather than what you said here and now.

Sorry.

Dr. Strangelove said...

LTG's discussion of the history of US/Russian relations in the past decade are illuminating, and it's interesting to consider that Putin is just following Bush's lead in the "war on terror." I hadn't recognized that pattern. That is disturbing in many ways, and the point is well taken.

Nevertheless, if Putin had been merely following Bush's authoritarian lead before, I think Putin has taken the lead now. Putin's demands for more centralized authority do more than merely display a "real ambivalence" toward democracy. These "reforms" have no direct relation to the massacre. And I have never heard anyone else try to argue that the reason why Putin has failed so miserably to handle the Chechen problem is that he hasn't had *enough* power!

No, I think Putin's recent demands show that--however good his intentions may have been when he had to take over in 2000--he has now become a dictator in his heart. This is precisely what I worry about Bush, too. This dovetails with RbR's comments about fascism and Republicans.

ps. As a side note, LTG began his posting by saying he has been a "defender" of Putin for years. So I believe RbR may be forgiven for assuming that LTG was defending Putin's actions by passing the blame to Bush, especially since LTG didn't clearly condemn Putin's post-Beslan demands. I made the same mistake.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Many Russians believe that Putin could deal with Chechnya if he would only do what Tsar Alexander III did, or what Stalin did. They did not do nice things, but they did (temporarily) pacify Chechnya. So yes, more power would do it.

Putin is using the Beslan massacre as an excuse to consolidate power (to be sure) but he is doing it in part because of the phenomenal local corruption that has allowed local mafia bosses to buy governorships outright. One really crucial thing to remember about Putin is that he has never nurtured a cult of personality. No statutes of Putin are going up. No posters everywhere. He has not even formed a single political party, except for ad hoc coalitions at both electios called "United Russia" or "Our Motherland."

Also keep in mind that, even if Putin ends up appointing the regional governors, he is still LESS powerful than the the Prime Minister of England (before devolution of power in the 1990s) or the President of France (before creating regional legislatures in the 1990s). In fact, Russia remains a federal state, composed of "autonomous Republics" and "autonomous oblasts" and a bicameral legislature (the federal council - like the Senate) and the Duma (proportionately elected parliament).

My point here is that the press really exaggerates Putin's moves because the story ("They're At It Again") is so convincing. We should acknowledge that W's conduct has really given Putin the wrong example, and left us with real difficulty in persuading him to be less authoritarian. But it's really not that bad. Put another way, this is (with the exception of the previous decade) still the most freedom and democracy they have EVER had in Russia.

US West said...

I'd just like to quickly add that NPR ran a story today on Putin. Putin is throwing US actions back at us when we try to council him on running a democracy. This supports much of what has been said here and it gives light to a much bigger issue: creditbility. We have very little left.It isn't just Putin that is using that point. The Arab world is also pointing out the double standards and the contradictions between our words and deeds. How unfortunate.

Raised By Republicans said...

OK,

I've been chastised by friends for "punking" out on the Putin thing. LTG does defend Putin and Putin is indefensible. Suggesting that Putin looks like Musollini in comparison to Joseph Stalin is hardly grounds for celebration.

After all Musollini cracked down on the Mafia (US-Mafia relations during WWII are very intriguing by the way). His biggest goal was to make Italy a "Great Nation." Standards of living in Italy improved as Musollini's regime presided over the recovery from the Great Depression. So what if he used a heavy hand from time to time...he wasn't as bad as Hitler, right?

The Law Talking Guy said...

Putin looks like Mussolini? Please. He's not even Huey Long. Or Hugo Chavez or Alberto Fujimori. Compared to "allies" like Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, whom RbR is lauding in another post, Putin is a liberal democrat. Indeed, in the former USSR, Russia is the most democratic country except for the three Baltic states. Putin's desire to make Russia a "Great Nation" is no different than Bush saying that America is #1, and no more menacing than Gaullists in France. It's a statement that a former superpower doesn't want to be a doormat. Russia IS a great nation - and has been since Alexander the First marched into Paris in 1814.

Jeez - calm down about Putin. This hysteria in the US press, reflected here on the blog, about creeping authoritarianism in Russia, is just that: hysteria. It satisfies those who want to (a) blame Clinton for "coddling" Yeltsin, or (b) like to talk about clashes of civilizations.

Raised By Republicans said...

I don't think it's unwarranted to express dismay at developments in Russia. Russia is large and powerful country on the very doorstep of two of the most important regions to the United States: Europe and Japan/Korea. If Russia slips into a kind of cycle of coup-coup-election-coup-coup-election, there will be Hell to pay and it won't be just the Russians who suffer for it.

Does Russia have a free press? No.
Does Putin abide by the Russian Constitution in the use of his power? No.
Does Putin insist that the solution to Russia's problems is to give him even more power? Yes.

This is not about Russo-phobia on my part or the presumption of a "Clash of Civilizations" (Boy did Huntington go a book too far or what?). I don't think Putin is a dictator because he's Russian. I think he's a dictator because he's reversed a number of fragile and recent democratic reforms.

At least Yeltsin was a lovable drunk. Now THERE was the Huey Long of Russia! Putin is more like what would have happened if Aaron Burr or J. Edgar Hoover were ever elected President.

As for Russia becoming a "Great Nation." No nation has a "right" to be "Great." Why does Russia need to be "Great?" The goal is properity not Greatness. This obsession with Russian Greatness is exactly the problem...it distracts the masses from the ruin the Russian elites have been making of their daily lives for the past 500 years - all in the name of making Russia Great.

Is Putin Joseph Stalin? No. Is he Mussolini, he's heading that way. Is he Juan Peron, yes? Is that good for Russia or for Russian democracy? No! Is Putin Bush's fault? No. But should we be best buddies with Putin? No.

As for Musharaf, I don't think the man's a saint. But he's a dictator doing the right thing for the moment and that's cause for joy.

Dr. Strangelove said...

In his last response, LTG blamed the U.S. media for spreading "hysteria" about Putin's recent actions in Russia and indicated it was because the press liked to blame Clinton (or something equally irrelevant.) LTG also said that people on this blog (ahem!) are buying into this hysteria.

But alas, a BBC Article ("Former Czech President Vaclav Havel and 100 international figures have signed a letter criticising reforms proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin") from today shows that we critics are in good company. Here's an excerpt:

"The signatories to the letter say Russian foreign policy under Mr Putin has been marked by a "threatening attitude" to neighbouring countries and "the return of the rhetoric of militarism and empire".

"All too often in the past, the West has remained silent and restrained its criticism in the belief that President Putin's steps in the wrong direction were temporary and the hope that Russia soon would return to a democratic pro-Western path," they say in the letter.

"The leaders of the West must recognise that our current strategy toward Russia is failing.

"We must speak the truth about what is happening in Russia. We owe it to the victims of Beslan and the tens of thousands of Russian democrats who are still fighting to preserve democracy and human freedom in their country."
Although Putin has certainly been a much better leader than Russia has had in the past, and while he has done a lot to help Russia, his regime has begun to go sour in a big way. The West's policy of forgiving Putin's slouch toward authoritarianism can no longer be justified as a good-faith strategy rooted in hope for the future and a understanding of Russia's unique circumstances, but has now become wishful ignorance.

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