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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Berezovsky in the Times of London

Writing in the Times of London, exiled Russian "oligarch" Boris Berezovsky says that the West should "call Putin's bluff." Those who don't care for Berezovsky, and don't care to see him have such a lofty platform, have Vladimir Putin's ham-handed neo-Soviet attacks on Britain to thank. And they should ask themselves who is a higher-profile critic of the neo-Soviet Union; if they don't care for BB, they should ask themselves why Russia isn't civilized enough to have presented other options.

Putin and Putin's Russia are being widely discussed in the West. Opinions have split: some say it's better to be friends, others insist that a hardline approach is more fitting.

Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia still plays a key role in world politics. Discord between Vladimir Putin's Russia and the West is seen everywhere: energy resources and their transport, military security, Kosovo, eastern Europe, Ukraine, the Caucasus, central Asia, the Middle East . . . there is hardly an area left where the interests of Putin's Russia coincide with those of the West.

The last myth, of co-operation in the fight against international terrorism, was put to rest on November 1, 2006, when London became the target of a radioactive attack using polonium-210, with the Kremlin front and centre behind that assault.

Putin's regime will inevitably collapse. The USSR collapsed because the centralised political system and the planned economy were uncompetitive. By taking Russia back to the top-down power structure, Putin dooms it to suffer the same consequences as the Soviet Union. However, while the Soviet break-up meant liberation for the people of Ukraine, the Baltic states, the Caucasus, central Asia and others, breaking up Russia would mean a collapse of a unique civilisation that is integral to global civilisation. Will Putin's regime collapse as a result of Russia failing, or will there be internal powers capable of defeating the regime and stopping the break-up? There is no third option.

Putin's regime is authoritarian. Under the current system, free elections are impossible. Only pressure on the Kremlin will make it possible to re-establish a constitutional form of government. John Locke, the English philosopher, said: "If a government violates the law, overthrowing it is not just a right, but an obligation of responsible members of society." I am calling for deliberate pressure aimed at reinstating a form of government that would correspond to the letter and the spirit of the Russian federation constitution which states that "Man, his rights and freedoms are the supreme value. The recognition, observance and protection of the rights and freedoms of man and citizen shall be the obligation of the state." By abrogating citizens' rights and freedoms, Putin's regime has made itself unlawful. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights — to which Russia is a signatory — states that "it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law". Everyone fears the bloodiness of revolutions. However, the bloodless revolutions of the late 20th and early 21st century in eastern Europe and in the former Soviet Union teach us a different lesson.

First, the West should acknowledge that Putin's government is unconstitutional. Events in Russia and the murder of Alexander Litvinenko justify this. Next, deliberate pressure on the institutions of power. This has many forms, including rebellion as the final means. There is one fundamental limitation: such pressure must minimise the provoking of violent action by the state that will cause victims. Ukrainian and Georgian examples show that it can be achieved. Only the people can be the legitimate force to depose an illegitimate government, because democracy is the basis of Russia's constitutional policy.

Over the past 20 years or so, our people have demonstrated great "flexibility" in their political leanings. Our people trust not the individual, but the position. Instead of giving weight to Putin's high popularity ratings, a simple question must be asked: who will voluntarily risk their lives to come out on the streets to defend Putin? My answer is — a lot fewer people than those who will voluntarily risk their lives to come out on the streets against him.

Putin's problem is that until now the corrupt pro-Kremlin elite has been his real source of support. He had a deal with them: they give him power, the "love" of the people and personal wellbeing and, in exchange, he legalises their business and capital in Russia and in the West. But this elite keeps its capital in western, not Russian, banks, so if anything happens it won't be so easy for Putin to take it from them.

When the West realised that the Kremlin was behind the Litvinenko murder, Putin lost the ability to guarantee protection of this elite's interests in the West. What's more, closeness to Putin has become dangerous for them.

Now the question of a third presidential term. Since insecurity is the essence of Putin's mentality, deceit comes naturally to him. The Kremlin cooked up a story about his third term. The idea behind the deceit is simple: a puppet successor, a constitutional assembly, an amendment to the constitution (presidential authority is set at two seven-year terms), then the successor asks to resign and Putin returns. This plan may have been viable before the Livinenko murder. It won't work now. The elite do not want Putin to top a chain of command suspected of crimes in its own country and of international terrorism; and any successor covering up Putin's government's crimes will himself become an accomplice. And as an accomplice he won't be able to stay long enough for Putin to return — so Putin can't hand power to anyone, not even a puppet.

It's clear that Russia would still be trudging along in the Communist-KGB USSR that Putin loves so much were it not for the West and its decisive leaders, above all Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. There is nothing shameful in using the levers that the West has in order to put Russia back on the path of democratic reform.

A necessary condition for success is for the West to unify its position. Putin's Russia depends on the West to an incomparably greater extent than did the Soviet Union. All Russian elites are attached to the West by their umbilical cords. The West should direct its efforts at countering those at the source of support for Putin's regime — the corrupt elite.

The first step should be a comprehensive audit of this elite's bank accounts, starting with those closest to the Kremlin. Western leaders have all the tools necessary for conducting this audit, which include the agreement on fighting high-level corruption signed in 2006 by the G8 leaders during the summit in St Petersburg. I am certain most of them won't pass such an audit.

By itself, Russia's monopoly over Eurasia's energy resources is not enough as an instrument of political pressure, because it also needs a transport network to deliver them to the consumer.

Old Europe's lack of understanding of the intense reaction of Poland, the Czech Republic, Estonia and other countries toward Putin's aggressive actions stems from the deep intellectual degradation of the West's political elites — beginning with their leader, the United States. This was behind western procrastination in integrating Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia into Europe and pushing away Belarus. The West must offer support to those countries on the front lines of resisting the creeping aggression of Putin's Russia.

Its non-participation in the process of democratic reforms initiated by Boris Yeltsin — and its open encouragement of Putin's criminal regime — took the world back to the past.

Nuclear blackmail by Iran, the disastrous war in Iraq, the crisis in Palestine and the Middle East in general are a direct consequence of the West miscalculating Russia's role in the modern world. Bringing Russia back to the democratic community is certainly realistic — what's more, it is the main duty of all responsible western politicians.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I absolutely find Mr. Berezovsky to be an insightful analyst of Russia's relationship with the West today, and I agree with much of what he has to say. However, I do have to question his assertion that "the disastrous war in Iraq, the crisis in Palestine and the Middle East in general are a direct consequence of the West miscalculating Russia's role in the modern world."

I'm no aware of how Russia either caused the war in Iraq, or caused it to be disastrous, surely one of which was the meaning of Mr. Berezovsky's contention. Nor am I aware of how the crisis in Palestine, or the Middle East generally, is caused by Russia, although I don't understand Russia to be a particularly helpful influence in that area of the world, and don't doubt that Russia exacerbates tensions there.

My request to Mr. Berezovsky would be to please elucidate upon those points, which he just threw in there at the end of his article without substatiation. I am rather a well-informed citizen, and I don't know what exactly he's talking about. I will extrapolate from that fact that the majority of people will have absolutely no clue about those assertions, or how they could be true.

So I would ask Mr. Berezovsky, and La Russophobe, to please examine my questions, and provide further insight. Any information that would further advance those conclusions of Mr. Berezovsky's is very important, and needs to be known and publicized!

Penny said...

"However, the bloodless revolutions of the late 20th and early 21st century in eastern Europe and in the former Soviet Union teach us a different lesson."

Well, while the tools to organize a revolution last. Putin is going after the internet. This is what bothers me about Russians, they've got the tools at present, the internet and cellphones which played major roles in organizing the effective colors revolutions elsewhere. They could make it happen if they were motivated. What magical moment are they waiting for? The noose is getting tighter.

I think the "elite" in Russia have been awarded far more importance than they deserve. As a group, their shallowness and frivolousness has been part of the rot. They certainly have folded like cheap suits under Putin's regime. Correct me if I wrong.

"Bringing Russia back to the democratic community is certainly realistic — what's more, it is the main duty of all responsible western politicians"

G8 status didn't make Russia more democratic. How about isolating them politcally and economically as a rogue state like NK and Venezuela? "No oil from Putin" would end his regime faster.

Timothy Post said...

@ Penny - "This is what bothers me about Russians, they've got the tools at present, the internet and cellphones which played major roles in organizing the effective colors revolutions elsewhere. They could make it happen if they were motivated. What magical moment are they waiting for? The noose is getting tighter."

Penny, what you may not understand is that your assumption that Russians actually want Putin to be gone erroneous. Sure, Putin is not perfect BUT he has done wonders, yes wonders, for the living standards of average Russians. Thus, the average Russian is not waiting for anything.

Penny, there is an important distinction you, and other anti-Kremlin folks, are missing. Just because the Kremlin may be concerned (speculation) about a potential "color revolution" does not automatically imply that there is a popular base of support for such a revolution. Look at Kasparov's lackluster protests for proof.

Regarding, Berezovsky, perhaps he ought to be careful what he wishes for. I am not sure HE would pass a financial bank audit. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.