A Tsar Is Born - 2007

My tribute to the great Russian Czar, Vladimir Putin. His noble legacy will endure for ages.



A Tsar Is Born

TIME's Interview with Vladimir Putin (Video): http://www.time.com/time/specials/20...691763,00.html

No one is born with a stare like Vladimir Putin's. The Russian President's pale blue eyes are so cool, so devoid of emotion that the stare must have begun as an affect, the gesture of someone who understood that power might be achieved by the suppression of ordinary needs, like blinking. The affect is now seamless, which makes talking to the Russian President not just exhausting but often chilling. It's a gaze that says, I'm in charge. This may explain why there is so little visible security at Putin's dacha, Novo-Ogarevo, the grand Russian presidential retreat set inside a birch- and fir-forested compound west of Moscow. To get there from the capital requires a 25-minute drive through the soul of modern Russia, past decrepit Soviet-era apartment blocks, the mashed-up French Tudor-villa McMansions of the new oligarchs and a shopping mall that boasts not just the routine spoils of affluence like Prada and Gucci but Lamborghinis and Ferraris too.

When you arrive at the dacha's faux-neoclassical gate, you have to leave your car and hop into one of the Kremlin's vehicles that slowly wind their way through a silent forest of snow-tipped firs. Aides warn you not to stray, lest you tempt the snipers positioned in the shadows around the compound. This is where Putin, 55, works. (He lives with his wife and two twentysomething daughters in another mansion deeper in the woods.) The rooms feel vast, newly redone and mostly empty. As we prepare to enter his spacious but spartan office, out walk some of Russia's most powerful men: Putin's chief of staff, his ideologist, the speaker of parliament—all of them wearing expensive bespoke suits and carrying sleek black briefcases. Putin, who rarely meets with the foreign press, then gives us 3 1⁄2 hours of his time, first in a formal interview in his office and then upstairs over an elaborate dinner of lobster-and-shiitake-mushroom salad, "crab fingers with hot sauce" and impressive vintages of Puligny-Montrachet and a Chilean Cabernet.

Vladimir Putin gives a first impression of contained power: he is compact and moves stiffly but efficiently. He is fit, thanks to years spent honing his black-belt judo skills and, these days, early-morning swims of an hour or more. And while he is diminutive—5 ft. 6 in. (about 1.7 m) seems a reasonable guess—he projects steely confidence and strength. Putin is unmistakably Russian, with chiseled facial features and those penetrating eyes. Charm is not part of his presentation of self—he makes no effort to be ingratiating. One senses that he pays constant obeisance to a determined inner discipline. The successor to the boozy and ultimately tragic Boris Yeltsin, Putin is temperate, sipping his wine only when the protocol of toasts and greetings requires it; mostly he just twirls the Montrachet in his glass. He eats little, though he twitchily picks the crusts off the bread rolls on his plate.

Putin grudgingly reveals a few personal details between intermittent bites of food: He relaxes, he says, by listening to classical composers like Brahms, Mozart, Tchaikovsky. His favorite Beatles song is Yesterday. He has never sent an e-mail in his life. And while he grew up in an officially atheist country, he is a believer and often reads from a Bible that he keeps on his state plane. He is impatient to the point of rudeness with small talk, and he is in complete control of his own message. He is clear about Russia's role in the world. He is passionate in his belief that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was a tragedy, particularly since overnight it stranded 25 million ethnic Russians in "foreign" lands. But he says he has no intention of trying to rebuild the U.S.S.R. or re-establish military or political blocs. And he praises his predecessors Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev for destroying a system that had lost the people's support. "I'm not sure I could have had the guts to do that myself," he tells us. Putin is, above all, a pragmatist, and has cobbled together a system—not unlike China's—that embraces the free market (albeit with a heavy dose of corruption) but relies on a strong state hand to keep order.

Like President George W. Bush, he sees terrorism as one of the most profound threats of the new century, but he is wary of labeling it Islamic. "Radicals," he says, "can be found in any environment." Putin reveals that Russian intelligence recently uncovered a "specific" terrorist threat against both Russia and the U.S. and that he spoke by phone with Bush about it. What gets Putin agitated—and he was frequently agitated during our talk—is his perception that Americans are out to interfere in Russia's affairs. He says he wants Russia and America to be partners but feels the U.S. treats Russia like the uninvited guest at a party. "We want to be a friend of America," he says. "Sometimes we get the impression that America does not need friends" but only "auxiliary subjects to command." Asked if he'd like to correct any American misconceptions about Russia, Putin leans forward and says, "I don't believe these are misconceptions. I think this is a purposeful attempt by some to create an image of Russia based on which one could influence our internal and foreign policies. This is the reason why everybody is made to believe...[Russians] are a little bit savage still or they just climbed down from the trees, you know, and probably need to have...the dirt washed out of their beards and hair." The veins on his forehead seem ready to pop.

Elected Emperor

Putin has said that next spring, at the end of his second term as President, he will assume the nominally lesser role of Prime Minister. In fact, having nominated his loyal former chief of staff (and current Deputy Prime Minister) Dmitri Medvedev to succeed him as President, Putin will surely remain the supreme leader, master of Russia's destiny, which will allow him to complete the job he started. In his eight years as President, he has guided his nation through a remarkable transformation. He has restored stability and a sense of pride among citizens who, after years of Soviet stagnation, rode the heartbreaking roller coaster of raised and dashed expectations when Gorbachev and then Yeltsin were in charge. A basket case in the 1990s, Russia's economy has grown an average of 7% a year for the past five years. The country has paid off a foreign debt that once neared $200 billion. Russia's rich have gotten richer, often obscenely so. But the poor are doing better too: workers' salaries have more than doubled since 2003. True, this is partly a result of oil at $90 a barrel, and oil is a commodity Russia has in large supply. But Putin has deftly managed the windfall and spread the wealth enough so that people feel hopeful.

Russia's revival is changing the course of the modern world. After decades of slumbering underachievement, the Bear is back. Its billionaires now play on the global stage, buying up property, sports franchises, places at élite schools. Moscow exerts international influence not just with arms but also with a new arsenal of weapons: oil, gas, timber. On global issues, it offers alternatives to America's waning influence, helping broker deals in North Korea, the Middle East, Iran. Russia just made its first shipment of nuclear fuel to Iran—a sign that Russia is taking the lead on that vexsome issue, particularly after the latest U.S. intelligence report suggested that the Bush Administration has been wrong about Iran's nuclear-weapons development. And Putin is far from done. The premiership is a perch that will allow him to become the longest-serving statesman among the great powers, long after such leaders as Bush and Tony Blair have faded from the scene.

But all this has a dark side. To achieve stability, Putin and his administration have dramatically curtailed freedoms. His government has shut down TV stations and newspapers, jailed businessmen whose wealth and influence challenged the Kremlin's hold on power, defanged opposition political parties and arrested those who confront his rule. Yet this grand bargain—of freedom for security—appeals to his Russian subjects, who had grown cynical over earlier regimes' promises of the magical fruits of Western-style democracy. Putin's popularity ratings are routinely around 70%. "He is emerging as an elected emperor, whom many people compare to Peter the Great," says Dimitri Simes, president of the Nixon Center and a well-connected expert on contemporary Russia.

Putin's global ambitions seem straightforward. He certainly wants a seat at the table on the big international issues. But more important, he wants free rein inside Russia, without foreign interference, to run the political system as he sees fit, to use whatever force he needs to quiet seething outlying republics, to exert influence over Russia's former Soviet neighbors. What he's given up is Yeltsin's calculation that Russia's future requires broad acceptance on the West's terms. That means that on big global issues, says Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution and former point man on Russia policy for the Clinton Administration, "sometimes Russia will be helpful to Western interests, and sometimes it will be the spoiler."

Up from the Ruins

How do Russians see Putin? For generations they have defined their leaders through political jokes. It's partly a coping mechanism, partly a glimpse into the Russian soul. In the oft told anecdotes, Leonid Brezhnev was always the dolt, Gorbachev the bumbling reformer, Yeltsin the drunk. Putin, in current punch lines, is the despot. Here's an example: Stalin's ghost appears to Putin in a dream, and Putin asks for him help running the country. Stalin says, "Round up and shoot all the democrats, and then paint the inside of the Kremlin blue." "Why blue?" Putin asks. "Ha!" says Stalin. "I knew you wouldn't ask me about the first part." Putin himself is sardonic but humorless. In our hours together, he didn't attempt a joke, and he misread several of our attempts at playfulness. As Henry Kissinger, who has met and interacted with Russian leaders since Brezhnev, puts it, "He does not rely on personal charm. It is a combination of aloofness, considerable intelligence, strategic grasp and Russian nationalism" (see Kissinger interview).

To fully understand Putin's accomplishments and his appeal, one has to step back into the tumult of the 1990s. At the end of 1991, just a few months after Yeltsin dramatically stood on a tank outside the parliament in Moscow to denounce—and deflate—a coup attempt by hard-liners, the Soviet Union simply ceased to exist. Yeltsin took the reins in Russia and, amid great hope and pledges of help from around the world, promised to launch an era of democracy and economic freedom. I arrived in Moscow a week later, beginning a three-year stint as a Russia correspondent. I retain three indelible images from that time. The first: the legions of Ivy League—and other Western-educated "experts" who roamed the halls of the Kremlin and the government, offering advice, all ultimately ineffective, on everything from conducting free elections to using "shock therapy" to juice the economy to privatizing state-owned assets. The second: the long lines of impoverished old women standing in the Moscow cold, selling whatever they could scrounge from their homes—a silver candleholder, perhaps, or just a pair of socks. The third, more familiar image: a discouraged and embattled Yeltsin in 1993 calling in Russian-army tanks to shell his own parliament to break a deadlock with the defiant legislature when everything he was trying to do was going wrong.

Yeltsin bombed his way out of the threat of civil war and managed to hang on to power, but Russia was left hobbled. Virtually every significant asset—oil, banks, the media—ended up in the hands of a few "oligarchs" close to the President. Corruption and crime were rampant; the cities became violent. Paychecks weren't issued; pensions were ignored. Russia in 1998 defaulted on its foreign debt. The ruble and the financial markets collapsed, and Yeltsin was a spent force. "The '90s sucked," says Stephen Sestanovich, a Columbia University professor who was the State Department's special adviser for the new Independent States of the former Soviet Union under President Bill Clinton. "Putin managed to play on the resentment that Russians everywere were feeling." Indeed, by the time Putin took over in late 1999, there was nowhere to fall but up.

Path to Power

That Russia needed fixing was acknowledged by all. But how was it that Putin got the call? What was it that lifted him to power, and to the dacha in Novo-Ogarevo? Putin's rise continues to perplex even devoted Kremlin observers. He was born into humble circumstances in St. Petersburg in 1952. His father had fought in World War II and later labored in a train-car factory. Putin's mother, a devout Orthodox Christian, had little education and took on a series of menial jobs. The family lived in a drab fifth-floor walk-up in St. Petersburg; Putin had to step over swarms of rats occupying the entranceway on his way to school. Putin's only ancestor of note was his paternal grandfather, who had served as a cook for both Lenin and Stalin, though there's no sign that this gave his family any special status or connections. Putin describes his younger self as a poor student and a "hooligan." Small for his age, he got roughed by his contemporaries. So he took up sambo—a Soviet-era blend of judo and wrestling—and later just judo. From all accounts, he devoted himself to the martial art, attracted by both its physical demands and its contemplative philosophical core. "It's respect for your elders and opponents," he says in First Person, his question-and-answer memoir published in 2000. "It's not for weaklings."

Source: http://www.time.com/time/specials/20...690766,00.html

A Modernizing Czar

Vladimir Putin can take great satisfaction with the legacy he will leave his successor this spring. In 2007, he achieved the goal he set out for himself eight years ago in a document, "Russia at the Turn of the Millennium," just before he took the presidency from ailing Boris Yeltsin: To rebuild Russia at home so that it could regain its status as a great power abroad. Last year saw this Russia on full view, playing a more vocal, visible and at times troublesome role on issues of great importance to Europe and the United States, such as Iran, the Middle East, missile defense, and energy.

Many may find President Putin's methods unsavory and Russia's new face disturbing. But we should give him his due, for the odds against success were formidable. Consider the Russia he inherited. Under President Yeltsin, Russia suffered a socio-economic and political collapse unprecedented for a major power not defeated in a major war. Between 1990-1998, the economy plunged by 40%. The state was dysfunctional, with significant parts privatized by corrupt oligarchs and with regional barons asserting their independence. Russia was humiliated as its finances were run out of Washington by the International Monetary Fund, and outside powers shamelessly interfered in Russia's domestic affairs in support of Yeltsin. Many Russians thought their country was on the path to becoming a failed state; many Westerners were contemplating a world without Russia.

Eight years later, the difference is stark. Mr. Putin has restored Russian pride and enhanced Russia's power. The economy has not only recovered all the ground it lost in the 1990s, but has also developed a robust service sector that was practically non-existent in the Soviet period. Russia has accumulated the third largest monetary reserves in the world after China and Japan. Mr. Putin has rebuilt an authoritative state along traditional Russian lines, highly centralized and personalized, by taming the oligarchs and regional barons and undermining alternative centers of power such as the Duma and the media. Russia is stable; living standards are soaring. It is once again feared and respected abroad. No wonder Mr. Putin is wildly popular among Russians, who now look to the future with greater optimism and confidence than ever over the past two decades.

To be sure, President Putin has been lucky -- lucky that he succeeded a decrepit Yeltsin, lucky that oil prices rose sharply on his watch, lucky that political disarray in Europe and the United States made him shine all the brighter on the world stage. But other leaders have failed to capitalize on such luck. One need look no further than to Leonid Brezhnev, who squandered a similar opportunity in the 1970's and instead prepared the ground for the Soviet Union's collapse in the 1980's. And there were many opportunities for Mr. Putin to falter. Without remarkable macroeconomic discipline, for example, the flood of petrodollars into Russia could have unleashed a devastating inflationary spiral and not the solid growth we have seen.

The time of restoration has now passed, however, and 2008 brings a new, more formidable challenge -- modernization -- that will require new approaches, particularly with the West. Russia needs to make massive investments -- perhaps a trillion dollars over the next decade -- to modernize infrastructure largely inherited from the Soviet Union and starved of funds over the past 15 years. It needs to diversify its economy away from an overlarge dependence on natural resources, particularly into high-tech, if it wants to remain a major power. It needs to rebuild its public health and education systems to produce a competitive workforce. This is all the more imperative because its population will decline sharply over the next decade because of poor health conditions in the past.

Mr. Putin and his entourage have spoken openly about these challenges. The question is whether they are prepared to take the steps needed to address them effectively. Success is threatened by the traditional Russian blight of corruption. Critical to dealing with that threat is to open up the political system to encourage greater transparency and accountability by government officials. Relaxing the current supercentralization will help foster the flow of reliable information, flexibility and innovation that Russia needs to face the challenges and exploit the opportunities of the 21st century.

Success will also require Russia to repair its relations with the West -- to begin with by ratcheting down the vitriolic anti-Western rhetoric coming out of Moscow today. For Russia cannot modernize itself on its own, even if it must play the leading role. The money, know-how and technology it needs can only be found in the West. And Russia cannot guarantee its security at a time of great global upheaval without friends and allies. Only one country has the capability to work with Russia on the full range of its real security challenges, which do not lie in the West but to the South in the guise of a militant radical Islam, to the East in the guise of a rapidly changing geopolitical environment, and globally in the guise of nuclear proliferation and megaterrorism. That country is the United States.

So one big question for 2008 is whether Mr. Putin and his chosen successor, Dimitry Medvedev, can summon up the wisdom to meet the challenges of economic and political modernization and the courage and confidence to build a cooperative relationship with the West, for the sake of Russia's own future.

Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1200...googlenews_wsj

Hunting the Russian Bear Why they're after Putin

At times it seems as though we've gone back in a time machine to the darkest, sub-zero days of the Cold War era, when Americans were frantically digging bomb shelters in their back yards, Godless Communism was on the march, and the jackboots of the KGB were just inches away from our waiting necks. Tony Blair, lecturing the Russian leader at the G-8 meeting, opined that the Western world, on behalf of which he presumed to speak, is "becoming worried, fearful about what was happening in Russia today, the external policy." These remarks echoed xxxx Cheney's sally last year against Russia's alleged attempt to use oil and gas as "tools of intimidation or blackmail, either by supply manipulation or attempts to monopolize transportation." That was said in response to Russia's threat to raise the price of energy previously sold at subsidized Soviet-era rates to Ukraine – a capitalistic act that was a bit too radical for the supposedly pro-free-market Cheney.

The Brits' beef with Putin also has to do with oil and gas. The Russian seizure of British oil assets in Siberia is being cited by free-market types as evidence that Putin is moving toward "corporatism," but is this any more "corporatist" than legislation currently on the books in the U.S. that forbids foreign ownership of key industries such as airlines and telecommunications? The hypocrisy is breathtaking.

Who can forget the Dubai port-management brouhaha, when Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike demagogued the issue to score political points by conjuring the alleged threat posed by a Middle Eastern-based company having anything to do with maintaining our – rapidly decaying – "vital" infrastructure? The Dubai episode inaugurated a crackdown by U.S. regulators and inspired a host of economically disastrous yet politically popular measures in Congress that confirm "corporatism" is on the march in Washington at least as much as it is in Moscow.

Remember when Chinese investors sought to buy out the oil company Unocal? The uproar was deafening, and the deal was scotched. So it turns out that British Petroleum is no more badly treated in Russia than Chinese-owned CNOOC Ltd. is in the U.S. – which, come to think of it, is perhaps why the Brits are so irked.

According to the mainstream news media's pampered pet pundits, Russian President Vladimir Putin is the reincarnation of Josef Stalin, and Russia under his rule is rapidly "backsliding" into "authoritarianism." According to Andrei Illarionov, a former economic adviser to Putin and now a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, the resurgent Russian military is about to take out its neighbors and seal a reestablished Warsaw Pact in the blood of Georgian, Ukrainian, and possibly even Polish innocents. The British, in particular, have been hyping this "new Cold War" narrative for all it's worth – which, when it comes right down to it, isn't very much.

Is Russia embarked on a return to authoritarianism? The answer has to be an unequivocal no. After all, Putin has not closed down a single Russian "dissident" media outlet – instead, like their counterparts in the U.S., Russian media barons, at the head of vast corporate conglomerates, have bought up the major television networks and newspapers and imposed a Fox News-like unanimity on correspondents and pundits alike. While this may make for boring television and patently predictable punditry, it doesn't make Russia a fascist state, as all too many people who ought to know better are trying to imply.

I had to laugh when I heard the thrilling news that "hundreds of people" marched through the streets of St. Petersburg recently to protest Putin's supposedly repressive regime. This was one of a series of "dissidents' marches" being held by the "opposition" – a seriocomic coalition of chess champion Gary Kasparov and neo-fascist crackpot Eduard Limonov. Hundreds, eh? Hundreds of thousands of antiwar marchers over the years protesting America's policy in Iraq have failed to garner as much publicity as this little band did in record time – now isn't that odd?

Odder still is the nature of the "opposition" itself: Limonov is a punk-rock skinhead "idol" and sometime novelist whose crazed views are best summed up by his National Bolshevik Party's graphic incorporation of Soviet and Nazi symbols to create the single most repulsive party emblem in all of recorded history. Kasparov, aside from his well-known exploits in the game of chess, is a pawn of American neoconservatives: his real constituency isn't in Russia, where he remains an obscure political figure, but in Washington, D.C., where he stands amid such neocon luminaries as Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and James Woolsey as a member of the Center for Security Policy. The Center is a major neocon propaganda outfit headed by longtime neocon activist Frank Gaffney, whose name is virtually synonymous with the military-industrial complex. Kasparov served on the Center's National Security Advisory Council along with Woolsey.

The neocons, by the way, are deeply committed to the Chechen cause and have been in the vanguard of the movement to demonize Putin as a latter-day Stalin: the list of endorsers of the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya replicates the seating arrangements at the front table at an American Enterprise Institute awards dinner. It was Richard Perle, you'll recall, who averred that Russia ought to be expelled from the G-8 on account of Mikhail Khodorkovsky's arrest for crimes ranging from embezzlement to conspiracy to commit murder.

The neocons have allied themselves with the Russian oligarchs, who amassed fantastic wealth in post-communist Russia by means that might meet the approval of Tony Soprano, not the Better Business Bureau. These oligarchs seethe at their expulsion as they plot from abroad to return the country to their clutches. For years now, an unsavory popular front of Chechen terrorists, neoconservative hawks, and shady Russian oligarchs wearing Moss Lipow dark sunglasses and gobs of gold chains has massed at the gates of Moscow, demanding the ouster of the czar – and the clamor has now been taken up by Western governments.

"It would be funny if it wasn't so sad" was Putin's response to the U.S. insistence that Poland and Czechoslovakia put anti-missile technology in place in order to guard against the supposed "threat" from an attack… launched by Iran. The joke is that the Iranians don't have missiles that can reach either Warsaw or Prague. To pretend that these anti-missile systems are aimed at an "enemy" other than Russia is the measure of the West's disdain for Putin: like a schoolyard bully who "accidentally" shoves his victims on the playground, they don't even bother to convincingly conceal their belligerence.

Putin's counterproposal to help set up a missile-interception system in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan is a deft deflection of Western claims that Putin poses a renewed Russian threat to the security of Europe. If the U.S. and Britain are genuinely concerned about a possible Iranian strike at the former Eastern bloc, then they'll sign on to Putin's generous offer. Their hesitation, one has to conclude, speaks volumes about their real motives for putting up the missile shield in the first place. Just as the demonstrators in the streets of Russian cities are seemingly intent on provoking the Russian police into a violent response, so the Western powers – alarmed at the rise of Putin on the world stage as the Americans' chief antagonist and most eloquent critic – are engaged in a series of large-scale provocations, including but not limited to the Eastern European missile shield.

Another irritant to Russia's increasingly fractious relations with the West is the issue of Kosovo's independence. Again, the Western love of double standards comes into play here, with Kosovo's alleged "right" to nationhood being upheld by an American president while the corresponding "right" of Russian-speaking (or pro-Russian) areas of the former Soviet Union, such as Abkhazia and the Transdniester Republic, to independence goes unrecognized by the West.

The real evidence, however, of just how badly relations between Russia and the West have deteriorated is the strange case of Alexander Litvinenko and the mystery surrounding his death. Having covered this subject at length in previous columns, I won't elaborate on the arcane technical and other details of this downright weird episode, which seems like a story straight out of a Hollywood thriller, except to say that the "official" version of how Litvinenko came to be poisoned by a rare radioactive substance, polonium-210, stinks to high heaven.

This narrative, which holds that Litvinenko was targeted by the KGB because of his alleged status as a Russian "dissident" living in exile in London, doesn't hold up under even the most forgiving scrutiny. After all, why kill him with a rare and easily traced substance – and with such an overdose that the cost alone would seem to rule out this method – when a simple shot in the back of the head would suffice? The sheer amount of disinformation and propagandistic nonsense dished out by the British tabloids alone on the subject probably consumed enough paper to deforest half of South America. Nor is the British indictment of Andrei Lugovoi enough to paper over the huge holes in the "official" story. Lugovoi, at any rate, is fighting back, with revelations that the Brits and Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky tried to recruit him to root out the dirt on Putin.

In any case, the Litvinenko affair emanates the aura of a gigantic, somewhat sinister scam, perhaps involving the smuggling of polonium and the involvement of Islamic terrorist cells associated with the Chechens. What ought to worry us is that someone was possibly trying to assemble a "dirty bomb" of the type Jose Padilla was accused of masterminding – in the heart of London.

There seems little doubt the color-coded "revolutions," with Western material and moral support, targeted the former Soviet "near abroad" and aimed at reducing Russian influence and putting Putin on the defensive. The construction of a missile-defense system in Eastern Europe was the last straw. What had been primarily a propaganda campaign aimed at the Kremlin has now taken a decidedly military turn, one that bodes ill for the future and the cause of peace. There are those who never reconciled themselves to the end of the Cold War – that crucible in which the pestilential sect known as the neoconservatives was born and raised – and it seems a supreme effort is being made to revive it.

Today we hear endless stories about how the Russian leader and his country pose a threat to Western interests: Russia is "authoritarian," newly aggressive, "anti-Semitic," and, yes, even "homophobic." As the memory of 9/11 fades and the meaning of that historic disaster is increasingly disputed, the War Party needs fresh enemies whose alleged evil will thrill the popular imagination and satiate their hunger for villainy. Putin, flush with oil money and eager to regain Russia's place in the sun, fits the bill nicely.

The truth is more prosaic. Putin is no dictator, and Russia, far from backsliding into neo-communism, is in a better position than ever to create a middle-class-based liberal democracy with the rule of law roughly comparable to the system that prevails in the West. The general rise in the Russian standard of living, after a catastrophic post-communist decline, puts a brake on any backward-looking authoritarian movement (neo-communist or otherwise) making appreciable progress.

That this occurred under Putin is the reason for the Russian president's enormous popularity and accounts for the marginalization of his opponents. As much as Western liberals and neocons loathe Putin and the prospect of a resurgent Russia, it doesn't look like regime change is on the agenda in the former Soviet Union, in spite of millions being poured into the region by Western governments to aid the opposition. The endless provocations aimed at the Kremlin will only have the effect of irritating the Russian bear – and creating yet more anti-American and anti-Western sentiment. As if we don't have enough of that already…

Russia has come a long way from being the land of the gulags, and it is never going to go back to that – not unless the West succeeds in looting that country, once again, and creating a Russian version of the Weimar Republic. This is precisely why lunatics of Eduard Limonov's ilk have joined the opposition as its noisiest and most visible wing – because the rise of Putin, who created order out of mafia-inspired chaos, short-circuited the Weimar Russia scenario and diverted the Russians down a different path.

Source: http://www.antiwar.com/justin/?articleid=11115

Tough-Talking Putin Crafted Image His Way

Few people had heard of Vladimir Putin when Russia's then-President Boris Yeltsin appointed him prime minister in 1999. But the stern-faced former KGB officer triggered a love affair with the Russian population — by starting a popular second war in Chechnya later that year. Soon after hostilities began, the man who later became president surprised the country with the first of what became known as "Putinisms." He issued a threat to Chechen rebels using slang terms usually heard only in Russia's notoriously tough prisons. "If they're in the airport," Putin said, "we'll kill them there … and excuse me, but if we find them in the toilet, we'll exterminate them in their outhouses." When Putin steps down as Russia's president next week, he will leave with approval ratings most leaders can only dream about. More than 80 percent of Russians say he has done a good job in office. His famous tough talk and outbursts might appear crude to foreigners — and even to many Russians — but they're essential to his carefully controlled public image, projected by a highly talented performer.

A Way With Words

Since he was first elected president, in 2000, Putin has systematically rolled back media freedom in Russia. Yet he's also forged a love-hate relationship with journalists. When Putin appears in front of more than 1,000 reporters during his annual news conferences, he owns the room, keeping reporters fascinated for hours by alternating between threats, jokes and flirtation. One journalist said in 2006 that she was speaking for all blond women when she asked why Putin looked so fit and attractive. His answer was that he doesn't drink and plays plenty of sports. He then asked her to convey his greetings to all blond women. Putin has often lost his temper in public. During a 2002 news conference in Brussels, Belgium, the president responded to a question that angered him by inviting a reporter to come to Moscow to be circumcised. "We have specialists in this question, as well," Putin said. "I'll recommend that he carry out the operation in such a way that nothing will grow back."

Crafting His Image

Even some of Putin's biggest critics say he knows how to work an audience. Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister of Russia, says Putin learned how to craft his image in a special educational program at a school for KGB officers. "He studied at KGB school … how to attract people, how to be comfortable. … And I believe that he studied well," Nemtsov says. Natalia Muravieva, rector of Moscow's Academy of Communications and Information, says Putin is a highly dynamic politician whose speeches are intricately crafted. "Putin uses a lot of repetition that builds to a crescendo," Muravieva says. "And his widely reported aphorisms are like gems. They're few and far between, and everyone remembers them." Russians won't necessarily be deprived of such gems just because Putin's term as president is expiring. He's used his tremendous popularity to retain much of his power. His self-appointed successor, Dimitri Medvedev, who was recently elected president and takes office May 7, has said Putin will be prime minister and head of the country's biggest political party. Both platforms will give Putin plenty of opportunity to create new Putinisms.

A sampling of some of Russian President Vladimir Putin's eyebrow-raising comments and actions over the years:

— In 2000, CNN's Larry King asked Putin what had happened to cause the Kursk nuclear submarine accident, which killed 118 crew members in the Barents Sea. Putin made light of the question, answering, "It sank." During the failed rescue operation, Russia had turned down offers of help from other countries, and Putin was criticized for refusing to cut short a vacation.

— Meeting reporters in 2003, Putin said jailed Yukos oil company chairman Mikhail Khodorkovsky's offer to pay back taxes from the 1990s had come too late. "One must always obey the law," Putin said, "and not only when you're grabbed in a certain place."

— In 2005, Putin met with American businessmen in Moscow, among them Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots football team, which had recently won the Super Bowl. When Kraft showed Putin his diamond-encrusted championship ring, Putin surprised his guests by trying on the ring, slipping it into his pocket and leaving. Kraft later said he had given the ring to Putin as a gift and token of respect.

— During a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2006, a Russian journalist overheard Putin talking about Israeli President Moshe Katsav, who had been accused of multiple rapes. "What a mighty man he turns out to be!" Putin said. "He raped 10 women; I'd never have expected that from him. He surprised us all — we all envy him!" The Kremlin later confirmed Putin had made the comments. During a call-in television program, Putin criticized reporters for "eavesdropping" on his conversation with Olmert, saying it was "unseemly."

— When asked by a journalist in 2006 about Russia's possible support for sanctions against Iran, Putin denied accusations that Tehran was developing nuclear weapons, saying, "If a grandmother had certain reproductive organs, she would be a grandfather."

— During a summit of the Group of Eight leading industrialized countries in Germany in 2007, Putin attacked the United States and Europe and described himself as the world's only "pure democrat." "After the death of Mahatma Gandhi," he said, "there's no one to talk to." Putin rejected criticism that he has ended democracy and reinstituted authoritarianism in Russia, accusing European countries of "killing demonstrators in the streets."

— During a news conference in 2008, Putin criticized Western elections observers by quoting a well-known line from a popular television crime drama. "They're trying to teach us something!" he said. "Well, let them teach their wives how to make cabbage soup!"

Source: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/s...oryId=90083829

Why Are We Baiting Putin?

"No legitimate interest is served when oil and gas become tools of intimidation or blackmail, either by supply management or attempt to monopolize transportation," thundered Vice President Cheney to the international pro-democracy conference in Vilnius, Lithuania. "[N]o one can justify actions that undermine the territorial integrity of a neighbor, or interfere with democratic movements." Cheney's remarks were directed straight at the Kremlin and President Vladimir Putin, who is to host the G-8 Conference in July. Cheering Cheney on is John McCain, front-runner for the GOP nomination, who has urged President Bush to snub Putin by boycotting the G-8 summit. What the GOP is thus offering the nation right now is seven more years of in-your-face bellicosity in foreign policy.

What does McCain think we would accomplish – other than a new parading of our moral superiority – by so public an insult to Putin and Russia as a Bush boycott of the St. Petersburg summit? Do we not have enough trouble in this world, do we not have enough people hating us and Bush that we have to get into Putin's face and antagonize the largest nation on earth and a co-equal nuclear power? What is the purpose of this confrontation diplomacy? What does it accomplish? Eisenhower and Nixon did not behave like this. Nor did Ford or Bush's father. Reagan called the Soviet Union an "evil empire" once. But the Soviet Union we confronted in those years was hostile. Until lately, today's Russia was not. Yet the Bush boys are in their pulpits, admonishing the world's sinners every day. What is their beef with Putin's policy?

In January, Putin decided to stop piping subsidized gas to Kiev and start charging the market price. Reason: Ukraine's president, elected with the assistance of U.S. foundations and quasi-government agencies, said he was reorienting Kiev's foreign policy away from Russia and toward NATO and the United States. If you are headed for NATO, Putin was saying to President Viktor Yushchenko, you can forget the subsidized gas. Now this is political hardball, but it is a game with which America is not altogether unfamiliar. When Castro reoriented his policy toward Moscow, Cuba's sugar allotment was terminated. U.S. diplomats went all over the world persuading nations not to buy from or sell to Cuba. Economic sanctions on Havana endure to today. We supported, over Reagan's veto, sanctions on South Africa. We have used sanctions as a stick and access to the U.S. market as a carrot since we became a nation. What, after all, was "Dollar Diplomacy" all about? Cheney accuses Moscow of employing pipeline diplomacy – i.e., using its oil and gas pipelines to benefit some nations and cut out others. But the United States does the same thing, as it seeks to have the oil and gas of Central Asia transmitted to the West in pipelines that do not transit Iran or Russia. "[N]o one can justify actions that undermine the territorial integrity of a neighbor," declared Cheney in Vilnius. How the vice president could deliver that line with a straight face escapes me.

Does Cheney not recall our "Captive Nations Resolutions," calling for the liberation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which, though free between the two world wars, had long belonged to the Russian empire? Does he not recall conservative support for the breakup of the Soviet Union? Does he not recall conservative support for the secession of Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia, and more recently Kosovo, from a Serb-dominated Yugoslavia? What concerns Cheney is Moscow's support for the secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia. Georgia's president was also elected with the aid of pro-democracy NGOs, mostly funded by Uncle Sam. All these color-coded revolutions in East Europe and Central Asia bear the label, Made in the U.S.A. When Cheney says, "No one can justify actions that … interfere with democratic movements," he is hauling water for Freedom House, headed by ex-CIA Director James Woolsey, and similar agencies, which Putin wants shut down or kicked out of Russia for interfering in her internal affairs.

We Americans consider the Monroe Doctrine – no foreign power is to come into our hemisphere – to be holy writ. Why, then, can we not understand why Russia might react angrily to our interference in her politics or the politics of former Russian republics? The effect of U.S. expansion of NATO deep into Eastern Europe, U.S. interference in the politics of the former Soviet republics, and U.S. siting of military bases in the Balkans, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia has been to unite Russia and China, and undo the diplomacy of several successive U.S. presidents. How has this made us more secure? If we don't want these people in our backyard, what are we doing in theirs? If we don't stop behaving like the British Empire, we will end up like the British Empire.

Source: http://www.antiwar.com/pat/?articleid=8964

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Dear reader,

Arevordi will be taking a sabbatical to tend to personal matters. New blog commentaries will henceforth be posted on an irregular basis. The comments board however will continue to be moderated on a regular basis.

The last 20 years or so has also helped me see Russia as the last front against scourges of Westernization, Globalism, American expansionism, Zionism, Islamic extremism and pan-Turkism. I have also come to see Russia as the last hope humanity has for the preservation of classical western civilization, Apostolic Christianity and the traditional nation-state. This realization compelled me to create this blog in 2010. Immediately, this blog became one of the very few voices in the vastness of cyberia that dared to preach about the dangers of Globalism and the Anglo-American-Jewish alliance, and the only voice preaching the strategic importance of Armenia remaining within Russia's orbit. From about 2010 to 2015 I did monthly, at times weekly, commentaries about Russian-Armenian relations and Eurasian geopolitics in general. It was very difficult as I had no assistance in this endeavor. The time I put into this blog therefore came at the expense of work and family. But a powerful feeling inside me urged me to keep going; and I did.

When Armenia finally joined the EEU and integrated its armed forces into Russia's military structures a couple of years ago, I finally felt a deep sense of satisfaction and relaxation, as if a very heavy burden was lifted off my shoulders. I finally felt that my personal mission was accomplished. I therefore felt I could take a step back, as I really needed the rest. Simply put: I have lived to see the institutionalization of Russian-Armenian alliance. Also, I feel more confident now that Armenians are collectively recognizing the strategic importance of Armenia's ties with Russia. Moreover, I feel satisfied knowing that, at least on a subatomic level, I had a hand in the outcome. As a result, I feel a strong sense of mission accomplished. I therefore no longer have the urge to continue as in the past. In other words, the motivational force that had propelled me in previous years has been gradually dissipating because I feel that this blog has lived to see the realization of its stated goal. Going forward, I do not want to write merely for the sake of writing. Also, I do not want to say something if I have nothing important to say. I feel like I have said everything I needed to say. Henceforth, I will post seasonal commentaries about topics I find important. I will however continue moderating the blog's comments section on a regular basis; ultimately because I'm interested in what my readers have to say and also because it's through readers here that I am at times made aware of interesting developments.

To limit clutter in the comments section, I kindly ask all participants of this blog to please keep comments coherent and strictly relevant to the featured topic of discussion. Moreover, please realize that when there are several anonymous visitors posting comments simultaneously, it becomes very confusing (not to mention extremely annoying) trying to figure out who is who and who said what.Therefore, if you are here to engage in conversation, make an observation, express an idea or simply attack me, I ask you to at least use a moniker to identify yourself. Moreover, please appreciate the fact that I have put an enormous amount of information into this blog. In my opinion, most of my blog commentaries and articles, some going back ten-plus years, are in varying degrees relevant to this day and will remain so for a long time to come. Articles in this blog can therefore be revisited by longtime readers and new comers alike. I therefore ask the reader to treat this blog as a depository of important information relating to Eurasian geopolitics, Russian-Armenian relations and humanity's historic fight against the evils of Globalism and Westernization.

Thank you as always for reading.