Friday, April 13, 2007

History Restarts

Large anti-Putin demonstrations were planned in Moscow as a Russian billionaire calls for the overthrow of his government from London. The Telegraph reports:

Terrified of any form of open opposition, the Kremlin is preparing the toughest of responses. Both marches have been banned and 9,000 anti-riot police drafted into the capital. ...

Enjoying a popularity rating just shy of 80 per cent, Mr Putin is in such a dominant position that few dare oppose him openly. Hearing nothing but the official line on their television screens and generally enjoying a greater level of prosperity than in the 1990s, the Russian population will overwhelmingly vote for whomever Mr Putin hand-picks as his successor. Most would like the president to change the constitution and stay on - which, analysts say, cannot be ruled out despite Mr Putin's insistence to the contrary.

(Update: Oppposition leader Gary Kasparov has been arrested.)

In the meantime, Britain, which needs Russia to advance its foreign policy agenda in Iran, is trying to deal with an anti-Putin billionaire who just called for the president's overthrow.

n an interview with The Guardian, Mr Berezovsky repeated a threat to bring the president down in a palace coup by bankrolling an unidentified Kremlin action. As it has done in the past, Moscow reacted furiously, calling on Britain to lift the tycoon's political asylum status and extradite him to Russia.


A crisis which apparently springs from nowhere, like events which move with unexpected rapdity are often, on closer examination, things we should have expected, had we not been distracted elsewhere. A world obsessed with fighting Global Warming and advancing the Kyoto Protocol has been largely oblivious to the drama in post-Yelstin Russia, except when people are spectacularly poisoned with radioactive substances in central London. Oil, the unrest in Central Asia, Islamic fundamentalism, the resurgence of the Russian empire, the nuclear ambitions of Teheran all run together. As we shall soon see.

The years between the First and Second World Wars are sometimes called the Long Weekend by historians. Future historians may look back on the 1990s as the years when everyone was expecting history to end. But it didn't. The alarm clocks are ringing all over the world. It's time to get up.


Blogger Charles said...

I don't think that the comparison to WWII is quite accurate. That war was just a continuation of WWI.

Both the governments of the USA and the Russia have said they are not interested in a resumption of the cold war. I think they should be taken at their word.

There are no other players around that suggest they might clash with the Russians. Correct me if I'm wrong. But the big thing that has the russians peaked in eastern europe is not anti missles but rather advanced warning systems.

For the rest putin is popular at home because the russians consider their lot to be relatively prosperous, getting more prosperous and generally at peace with their neighbors.

what's not to like.

4/13/2007 07:41:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Charles, Pathetic Primate!

Not to like: vast corruption; international mischief-making and despot-backing; repression of free press; covert and overt crushing of opposition with illegal force, full rehabilitation of the Cheka. Etc., etc.

I'm sure you would have been an Il Duce-lover, too.

4/13/2007 07:58:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

The Russia Blog examines the background of Boris Berezovsky, which includes connections with Chechen fundraisers.

4/13/2007 08:00:00 PM  
Blogger Pyrthroes said...

No authoritarian oligarchy is ever trustworthy. Great issues of State evolve slowly, over generations, but with laws-unto-themselves like Putin's KGB satraps, self-interest always trumps the public's. Where a ruling clique governs heedless of degree or kind, policies may turn on a dime. Opposition, from honest reportage to independent business management (though Russia's corrupt plutocrats are uniformly fraudsters of the worst degree), becomes worth a P-210 cocktail or secret police hitmen delivered to your door.

Focus on Siberia's Far East, where untapped resources combine with rapidly depleting population, while Red China (how anomalous!) grumbles and fusses only miles away. When Peking's Commissars move in force against Taiwan, we'll see how Russia behaves to South Korea and Japan.

Hint: Putin or his successors are readying to heave the West's delusions overboard. Necessary perhaps, but heaving won't come hard. What'll ya bet, the American State Department will act most surprised. In Taiwan's interest, in the Philippines', Indonesia's and Australia's, President Thompson might interpose our Seventh Fleet. But a MzBill, Barack Banana, a doltish Edwards, would simply look away and speechify Global Warming as a higher priority.

4/13/2007 08:26:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

Not to like: vast corruption; international mischief-making and despot-backing; repression of free press; covert and overt crushing of opposition with illegal force, full rehabilitation of the Cheka. Etc., etc
all true.

but tell that to the russians. they don't seem to mind. putins high popularity numbers suggest that the russians are not thinking about all of the above.

4/13/2007 08:51:00 PM  
Blogger Allison said...

The article itself is hilarious. Apparently, they have no editors awake this early in Britain. They allowed the Russian correspondent to write in a very, well, Russian style.

This "news" story contains these sentences:

"The liberal opposition, which has no parliamentary presence, is as discredited in the eyes of most Russians as Mr Berezovsky... Mr Kasparov is detested because he is Jewish and was born in Azerbaijan."

Of course, that explains it!

uh huh. well, I guess we know what a living russian journalist has to write...the rest are, of course, dead.

4/13/2007 09:19:00 PM  
Blogger Transatlantic said...

Charles, how authentic is Putin's popularity? are Russian pollsters truly "independent"? can you really express criticism against him without ending up shot, poisoned, in jail or in the best case (when you have BP's backing and a whole mafia working for you) in exile. it's all staged and part of a huge media and pr strategy that always portrays Putin as being "clean" and fighting the oligarchs, reestablishing Russia as a world power yadda yadda. Surely, for his inner circle of KGB-garchs, power and money is adding up second by second. But how is this different from the rule of the oligarchs under Yeltsin? Especially for average Ivan. Russia is still run by a ruling elite. Plus, now you get formerly privatized businesses renationalized or taken over by Putin's henchmen..
Transatlantic Politics

4/13/2007 10:56:00 PM  
Blogger Evan said...

I have always thought that Putin's genius lies in playing a very weak hand very effectively. Russia's demographics are a disaster - declining male life expectancy, low ethnic Russian birth rates, rapidly increasing Muslim population, etc. This is where Russia's future is being sown.

He was lucky to draw the card of much higher oil prices, which allows him to have lots of revenue to dispense and to intimidate Western Europe. He has restored Russian power, brutally subdued Chechnya without much diplomatic cost, kept his country (preposterously, on the fundamentals) in the G-8, and made himself a player in European politics. He is a very gifted statesman, which is not surprising for a KGB veteran going up against the hopelessly naive class of 1968 that now rules the West. But ultimately that will not be enough.

4/14/2007 09:15:00 AM  
Blogger Allison said...

Not be enough, for what, precisely?

Not enough power to keep stripping Russia of any wealth it has and amass it for himself and his comrades? Not enough power for him to cause significant problems for the US, thereby keeping us from interfering with his plundering of Russia?

It won't be enough to save Russia. But Putin doesn't care about Russia. He cares about himself. We can only hope it ends for him as it did for the Ceausescus.

4/14/2007 09:15:00 PM  
Blogger CharlieG said...

Thanks for the link, I updated our post as well.


4/15/2007 01:25:00 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

This past weekend we had the rare treat of seeing a brilliant company of famous actors (including Ethan Hawke, Billy Crudup, Jennifer Ehle and Amy Irving) perform Tom Stoppard's trilogy, "The Coast of Utopia." If you can arrange to see the production, by all means do so. Unfortunately, its limited run is currently scheduled to end on May 13, 2007 and most of the seats are sold already.

The play reviews the birth of the revolutionary opposition in Russia through the life of Alexander Herzen (1812-1870), the first great Russian intellectual who spent much of his adult life in exile.

[More info here]

Stoppard, a brilliant and famous author ("Shakespeare in Love"), has not conformed to the leftist dogma that has shackled the British intelligentsia since the end of the Victorian Era. His choice of Herzen as the center of his work, and his rendering of the anarchist revolutionary Bakunin as a buffoon, show his sound judgment about the fate of Russian revolutionary movements.

From the above web-page:

"Herzen may be the most eloquent Russian who ever lived when it comes to excoriating the dangers of replacing one form of oppression (church, tsar) for another (utopias based on nature or history, race or class)."

One reflection I had on the play is that, as Herzen says therein, the population from which the revolutionaries were drawn was tiny, about one percent of the total population of Russia, (then about 60 million). The vast mass of the population were peasant serfs, who were for all practical purposes, slaves. Their emancipation by the Tsar in 1861, ended their formal ties to their masters, but it made them neither educated nor self-sufficient. The contrast between autocratic Russia and the democratic United States described by Tocqueville in the 1830s could not be more complete. The "habits of the heart", the diffusion of education, self-sufficiency and civil institutions that made the United States a republic that was able to withstand one of the most traumatic civil wars in all of history, were nowhere present in Russia.

Given that background, it cannot surprise us that Russia fell into a more complete and perfect autocracy less than 60 years after the emancipation. The failure of Russia to grasp the opportunity provided by the collapse of the Soviet government is not surprising either. The intervening generations of communism did little to prepare the Russians for self government. They are certainly more educated and cultured now than they were 150 years ago, but most of the hidden infra-structure of republicanism is still missing. The Russians are lucky in that the current generation of rulers are more kleptocrats than autocrats, and that they have little in the way of ideological fervor. However, they are unlucky in that a generation will pass and they will not yet be ruled by those with the wisdom to build a civil society.

This reflection can also serve to illuminate what is going on in Iraq. The Ba'athist regime caused incalculable damage to Iraq's civil society. The building of a new civil society will require years.

The difficulty of the task is reflected to us by one of the foundation stories of our civilization -- the exodus of the Jews from Egypt and their journey to the promised land. They were led by the greatest and most humble of prophets, Moses, and by the Eternal God, Creator of the Universe, in the form of a pillar of fire. Even with the direction of leadership that we all can agree was better than George Bush and Don Rumsfield, it still took 40 years to turn an oppressed people into a free people, and there was plenty of rebellion and backsliding along the way. At the end of the story, God cashiers Moses because of his mistakes.

We must remember that patience is a virtue. Nail Ferguson has said that the US is the first great power that suffers from ADD. It takes years, to stabilize a situation like Iraq. Just as a surgeon may not leave the OR until the patient is ready for the recovery room, the US should not leave Iraq at this point. Iraq is still on its first elected government. How many years of elections and coups d’etat did we go through in Korea before it was stable enough to have one elected government follow another? (Hint, at least 35.) My point is that even with the best leadership possible, turning slaves into citizens is difficult and time consuming.

4/18/2007 10:32:00 PM  

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