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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Russian Expat Condemns Putin

Writing for the Toledo Blade, Russian expat journalist Mike Sigov rips Putin's Russia:

Russia's extended winter holidays were finally over last week. For many, they were almost three weeks of binge partying.That included Christmas and New Year's celebrations - according to both the Gregorian and the Julian calendars.For Russia's notorious secret services, the holiday season was even longer.They had limited reason to celebrate after recent assassinations of several Russian bankers, a leading Moscow journalist, and a renegade Russian spy.After all, the secret services are the prime suspect.

Nevertheless, they were the beneficiaries of a lavish party that President Vladimir Putin - himself a former KGB spy in East Germany - threw for them in the Kremlin on Dec. 20. Mr. Putin praised their "patriotism, competency, a high degree of personal and professional decency, and an understanding of the importance of their work for the good of their Fatherland." The spy party brings to mind the Feast of the Lemures. Wikipedia defines it as "a feast during which the ancient Romans performed rites to exorcise the malevolent and fearful ghosts of the dead from their homes."

The secret services - which Mr. Putin returned to the highest echelons of power - were staving off the ghosts of the many millions put to death by the secret services under the Soviet leaderJosef Stalin as well as of those political prisoners who died in detention during the Cold War. That's what you and I might think. But let's not forget that Mr. Putin has earned his reputation as a pragmatist, even if a self-serving one.

It is not the dead whom he fears, but the living.

In that, he is not unlike his notorious predecessor Stalin, who used to say, "Death solves all problems - no man, no problem." Stalin followed that principle when he had most of the party members who had appointed him to power exterminated to make sure he had no rivals. Their elimination was just a prelude to the purges that killed millions of Russians before Stalin's own death in 1953. As Mr. Putin's presidential term nears its expiration next year, he faces increased power struggles within the secret services over control of the country.

He is now trying to appease all possible parties. He hopes to maintain power by also keeping control of Russia's dominant energy industry. The competing groups of Kremlin insiders may have other plans. The recent assassinations are only one sign those factions are getting out of control. Sabotage by secret service brass is another; reportedly, some of them even continued to show up at work after they were fired or demoted.

So far, Mr. Putin has managed to keep an appearance of control by reshuffling the heads of the Russian power apparatus. It is permeated by secret services officers, both active and those in reserve (they never retire). Mr. Putin, for example, swapped jobs between Russia's prosecutor general and the justice minister to balance out the rival Kremlin clans to which they are linked.With the stakes in the game increasing as Russia's energy-export revenues grow, the party that Mr. Putin threw for the secret services may not be enough for him to stay in the good graces of the opposing factions.

Those who hope that Mr. Putin's much publicized assault on democracy in Russia increases stability and predictability and makes dealings with Kremlin-controlled companies more reliable may be in for a nasty surprise. In other words, political risks in Russia have reached a point where any investment in the vaunted energy sector has become a bad idea.

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