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Friday, April 27, 2007

Annals of Neo-Soviet Paranoia

ITV News reports on the display of neo-Soviet paranoia in Putin's eight state of the nation address:

Foreign money is being used to interfere with Russia's internal affairs, the country's President Vladimir Putin said. Mr Putin said it is being used to boost feelings of hatred and called for tougher laws to stamp out "extremism". In his annual state-of-the-nation address he said: "There is a growing influx of foreign cash used to directly meddle in our domestic affairs. "Some people are not averse to using the dirtiest methods, trying to foment inter-ethnic and religious hatred in our multinational country. "In this respect, I am addressing you with a request to speed up the adoption of amendments to the legislation toughening punishment for extremist actions." Putin is due to step down next year when his second and last four-year term ends. He is widely popular while the economy is fast-growing, propelled by revenues from booming oil exports.

While Putin blames foreign spies for Russia's problems, just like his predecessors in the Politburo, MSNBC reports that those problems continue apace (small rich class just as in the times of the Tsar, sucking the blood out of a giant class of impoverished victims):

It's a big day for Natalia and Alexei Liventsev — they're buying their first car, a Ford Focus, $20,000 up front. But these young Muscovites can afford it. They're part of a booming middle class that makes 15 to 20 times more than their parents did. "Life has definitely improved," says Natalia Liventsev. "There's more stability, more money." Under Russian President Vladimir Putin, much more money. Today's Moscow is the capital of glitz. The number of billionaires here is second only to the U.S. Foreign-made luxury cars now cram the streets. Even in the shadow of what was once the KGB's headquarters, there's a Bentley dealership. "A powerful economy means — first and foremost — allowing people to get rich."

It's a far cry from those days of long lines, empty pockets, and stale bread. Case in point? Moscow's Filippov Bakery — a Soviet landmark — now a trendy coffeeshop. The old pensioners have been replaced by young students, by Russian professionals — people who feel very comfortable coming here and spending $4 or $5 for a cafe latte, or $6 or $7 for a croissant.

But critics warn that Putin's new Russia still suffers from many of the old problems. Endemic alcohol and drug abuse — and poor health care — have reduced life expectancy here to just 59 years for men — lower than Bangladesh. Putin has promised $3 billion on an 'anti-disease' program to buy drugs to fight an HIV/AIDS epidemic, TB and cancer. But reformers like Vladimir Ryzhkov, a liberal member of parliament, say Russia needs life support. "The Russian population is slowing down very fast," Ryzhkov says. "We are losing about 700,000 every year.

Yet, on Red Square and elsewhere, Russians don't seem all that concerned about such issues. [LR: You could have found just the same attitudes twenty years ago concerning the USSR] "Everyone is buying new cars, new clothes and likes the way things ae right now," says Alexei Kagalov, a commercial artist. One of a wave of new, prosperous Russians, just hoping the good times roll on. [LR: His definition of "everyone" is the same as that used by the Tsar; the average wage in Russia is $2.50 per hour and the minimum wage is $0.25]

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