Putin and His Enemies

Putin and His Enemies

In this respect the pressure some in Western circles try to puton Russia is missing the point. When the authors of the now famous"Open Letter" to the heads of NATO and the EU call for the West toundertake a new crusade for "Russian democracy", they strengthenanti-Western, and especially anti-American, feelings in Russia. Themain reason for this is simple: Russians are weary of Yeltsin-style"democracy", which they hold responsible for the large-scalelooting of the country. After all, consider what Paul Klebnikov,the American author and publisher of Russian descent, who wastragically murdered in Moscow earlier this year, wrote in hisfamous book, Boris Berezovsky: The Godfather of the Kremlin:

"Corrupted capitalism of Yeltsin's Russia did not appear bychance. The government gave huge wealth to Berezovsky and a narrowcircle of those close to Yeltsin in exchange for their politicalsupport. The Yeltsin clan and friendly businessmen conserved power,but they ruled over a bankrupt state and an impoverishedpopulation. It was supposed that the young democrats would bringorder to Russia, introduce a new legal system and give a greenlight to the market economy. Instead they headed a regime thatturned out to be one of the most corrupt in the history ofmankind."

So, when Mark Brzezinski and Richard Holbrooke call for supportfor those they term "reformers", they seemingly fail to understandthat this is a call for support for those people who are consideredby most Russians to be directly responsible for its recentdegradation. It is something of an irony that manyWesterners--calling for democracy in Russia--argue that the forcesmost worth supporting are the ones massively rejected by Russianvoters in the last elections. The voters failed to support theUnion of Right-Wing Forces (with Nemtsov and Chubais at the helm)not because it could not get its message to the voters, but becauseRussian voters knew its message all too well--and rejected it. Butthe authors of the "Open Letter" cannot face facts: The liberalparties did poorly in the last election, not primarily because ofthe electoral technologies used by the Kremlin, or because they hadless access to the media than other parties, but because theirplatform is not popular with the voters.

So those in the United States who call for the nextadministration to administer a dose of "tough love" to Russiashould ponder the consequences of such a policy line. Does theUnited States want to deal with a country that can be a partner inthe fight against world terrorism and in the solution of complexregional issues threatening world security--or does it prefer toantagonize Russia by engaging in an anti-Putin crusade with BorisBerezovsky, Chechen separatists, some disaffected oligarchs andmarginal political circles?

It is true that there are dangers for the fragile roots ofdemocracy in Russia. However, they are coming not only fromattempts at a bureaucratic restoration, but also from attempts atpolitical revenge by corrupt and greedy oligarchs. To choose sidesin this fight would hardly be wise for America.

Russia is still struggling with the dramatic legacy of itsrecent and not so recent past. Democracy in Russia is far fromestablished. The Russian pendulum needs some more time to reach abalanced and stable position. In order to reach such a balance thecountry needs political stability and firm leadership. Taking intoaccount the turmoil of the 1990s, authoritarian modernization seemsin those conditions not so much Putin's choice, but the only way toproceed. A number of countries that faced this challenge movedalong similar lines. They are now respected and establisheddemocracies. If Russia follows the same path with the sameresult--it will be not only in its own interest, but in theinterest of the world as well.

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