Reading Putin's "Mind"
Leonid Radzikhovsky of Ekho Moskvy Russian Radio, has an interesting column in yesterday's Moscow Times. Like many others in the media, he was musing over Dictator Putin's statement to his political party adherents that those who criticize his government are only those who "scrounge from foreign embassies like jackals."
Radzikhovsky, like all the others, wondered what could possibly possess Putin to be so "aggressive" given that his party is already guaranteed to dominate this weekend's elections to the Russian parliament. Indeed, some have speculated that between Putin's cult of personality and his brazen electoral fraud, no other party may win a single seat (owing to the necessity of getting at least 7% of the vote).
One explanation, of course, would be that Putin is simply a madman, just like Josef Stalin, and unable to do what is in his own best interests. That would explain, for example, why he would crack jokes about rape in front of an official diplomatic delegation, and continue a marked tradition of ruler insanity carried along, for example, by Nikita Khrushchev when he took of his shoe at the United Nations. Radzikhovsky states: "Putin has a deeply personal and sincere dislike for leaders of the Union of Right Forces, such as Boris Nemtsov." Shades of Stalin, to be sure.
But Radzikhovsky hints at another possibility. He notes that if any party is likely to transcend the 7% threshold, it's the Communists (a fact that utterly refutes Russia having made any real progress toward democracy or having ever actually lived under its basic principles). He writes:
In a formal sense the Communists are considered the opposition, but in reality they have a lot in common with Putin's politics: They curse the West and the chaos of the 1990s, and they are faithful patriots and Orthodox Christians. They also adore the KGB and Federal Security Service and fully subscribe to the superpower mentality and its corresponding illusion of grandeur. In this way, the Communists are considered to be a "friendly opposition" to the Kremlin. The Communists' most pointed criticism, however, is that the Kremlin doesn't fight strong enough against the "depraved and corrupt influence of the West" -- a phrase that became a standard, hackneyed component of Soviet propaganda.
So perhaps when Putin made his crazy-sounding statement, he was just trying to steal some votes from the Communists, perhaps help to drive them below the 7% threshold and assist his "party," United Russia, in taking every single one of the seats. After all, Radzikhovsky seems to have overlooked the one real difference that the Communists have with the regime, namely that they don't favor the extreme polarization of wealth that Putin's government has allowed to take place, and indeed benefited from. Prices are soaring, wiping out the meager gains in personal income achieved by the average Russian and generating considerable ill-will towards the wealthy, much the same situation as existed in Russia at the early part of the last century. Maybe Putin is actually scared of the Communists, and feels he needs to steal some of their thunder and siphon off some of their votes?
And a third reason is apparent, Radzikhovsky says: By demonizing the West, Putin gives himself cover for the allegations, which are sure to come, that he has rigged the weekend elections in favor of his own party.It's all so wonderfully convenient, isn't it? In fact, these three theories are not mutually exclusive. Maybe Putin is a madman, and it just so happens that the policies of a madman are perfect for advancing and consolidating his dictatorship -- just as they were in the time of Stalin.
So Radzikhovsky ends on the obvious, ominous note: "But all of these explanations don't answer the main question: How far will this battle against jackals be taken in a country that hates its liberals as much as it hates the West?"
It's already been taken far enough to jail Mikhail Khodorkovsky, apparently for life. Kasparov and Nemtsov have been jailed, then released, in an obvious probing to see how much the Kremlin can get away with. In a malignant calculus, the Kremlin will balance the sternness of the Western reaction to those arrests against the completeness of its victory over the weekend, and that will determine how soon Kasparov and Nemtsov (and others) go back go jail, and for how long.
Indeed, if the Kremlin views the West's response as sufficiently weak, and the elections results as being sufficiently strong, jail might be dispensed with . . . and the Politkovskaya or Litvinenko solutions adopted instead.
In the end, it makes no difference which of these explanations is correct. All that matters is that, for whatever twisted reason, Russia's so-called "president" is baiting the NATO countries into a second cold war, where he will find himself hopelessly out-gunned, out-manned and out-monied.
Those factors didn't stop the USSR from driving itself into the ground, though -- so why should they stop Mr. Putin?