No democracy in sight for Russia
Don't miss a chilling and sobering editorial in the Weekly Standard, based on testimony by Bruce Jackson delivered before the U. S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, which details the demise of any hope for democracy in Russia in the near and perhaps long term, and the dangers Russia's aspirations to become a global power pose to its "near abroad" and to the interests of the United States.
Excerpts from the article:
. . . If the conditions which supported democratic change and reform in Georgia and Ukraine are any guide, President Putin has orchestrated a sustained and methodical campaign to eliminate not only democratic forces in civil and political life, but also the possibility of such forces arising again in the future. I do not think that it is accurate to say that democracy is in retreat in Russia. Democracy has been assassinated in Russia.
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Andrei Sakharov wrote, "A country that does not respect the rights of its own people will not respect the rights of its neighbors," and this is an admonition to hold in mind when assessing the overall direction of Putin's policies. Rather than simply label Russia as an autocracy or as a borderline dictatorship, it is probably more accurate and useful for this Committee to regard Russia as an "anti-democratic state" locked in what its leadership imagines is a competition with the West for control of the "post-Soviet space."
. . .To put it bluntly, the growing view in Putin's inner circle is that in order to regain the status of a world power in the 21st century, Russia must be undemocratic at home (in order to consolidate the power of the state) and it must be anti-democratic in its "near abroad" (in order to block the entry of perceived political competitors, such as the European Union or NATO, invited into post-Soviet space by new democracies.) The war on terror is not central to this calculation and is little more than something to discuss with credulous Americans from time to time.
Again, the statements of Gleb Pavlovsky confirm understandable suspicions about Russian intentions. Shortly after the election of Victor Yushchenko as President of Ukraine, Pavlovsky urged the Kremlin to adopt a policy of "pre-emptive counter-revolution" towards any neighbor of Russia which manifested politically dangerous democratic proclivities. Another of the so-called "polit-technologists" Sergei Markov, who also advises President Putin, has called for the formation of a Russian organization to counter the National Endowment for Democracy, whose purpose would be to prevent European and American NGO's from reaching democratic movements anywhere in the Commonwealth of Independent States, in other words in post-Soviet space. (There is, of course, not the slightest reference to countering militant fundamentalism or Islamic terrorist cells in any of this.)
. . .In Ukraine, the massive scale of Russian interference and President Putin's personal involvement in the recent fraudulent presidential elections is well-known. Most analysts believe that the Kremlin spent in excess of $300m and countless hours of state television time in the attempt to rig the election for Victor Yanukovich. What may be less well known to this Committee is that explosives used in the botched assassination attempt on Victor Yushchenko and the dioxin poison that almost succeeded in killing him both almost certainly came from Russia. Western diplomats and numerous Ukrainian officials in Kiev say privately that the investigation into these repeated assassination attempts is expected to lead to Russian organized crime and, ultimately, will be traced to Russian intelligence services. There is mounting evidence that the murder of political opposition figures in neighboring countries is seen by some factions of the Russian security services, such as the GRU, as being a legitimate tool of statecraft, as it was in the dark years of the Soviet Union.
. . .The policies of Russia and the conduct of President Putin are growing increasingly eccentric and seem to be motivated more by an angry romanticism, than by a rational calculation of national interest. Putin's insistence in an interview with Russia journalists at the time that there were no casualties in the slaughter in the Nord-Ost Theater is revealing. Putin was only conscious of casualties among the Russian security services; the lives of civilians did not figure in his calculus. As everyone knows, the unpredictable and uncalculated use of power in international politics is highly dangerous. In a word, we are not dealing with a benevolent autocracy; we are now dealing with a violent and vulgar "thuggery."
(6) And, finally, President Putin's plan cannot possibly work. Both strategically and economically, Russia cannot support itself as a world power and cannot feed its people with an economy run by the Kremlin. Thus, if these trends are not reversed, Putin will bring about the second collapse of Moscow which may well be far more dangerous and violent than the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989. It was precisely this outcome, the return to empire and the resultant collapse, that US policy has been trying to avert since the fall of the Berlin Wall. As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (news - web sites) advised presciently some years ago, a critical challenge for US policy will be "to manage the decline of Soviet power." So far, we are not meeting this challenge.
. . .A stern and public rebuke to Putin may cause Russia to rethink the self-destructive path on which it has embarked and serve to protect the long-term democratic prospects and future prosperity of Russia and its neighbors. It would also send a message of hope to embattled democrats inside Russia and the beleaguered democracies on its borders. Let us hope that President Bush (news - web sites) delivers this message to Putin next week in Bratislava.