More on Putin and Russia

National Review Online has an interesting article by Ion Mihai Pacepa, the highest-ranking intelligence officer to ever defect from the Soviet Bloc (he was in Poland). He has a dim view of Putin and his recent power-plays. Pacepa compares Putin to former head of the Soviet Union, Yuri Andropov, which isn’t very flattering.

In the West, if Andropov is remembered at all, it is for his brutal suppression of political dissidence at home and for his role in planning the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. By contrast, the leaders of the former Warsaw Pact intelligence community, when I was one of them, looked up to Andropov as the man who substituted the KGB for the Communist party in governing the Soviet Union, and who was the godfather of Russia’s new era of deception operations aimed at improving the badly damaged image of Soviet rulers in the West.

In early 2000, President Putin divided Russia into seven “super” districts, each headed by a “presidential representative,” and he gave five of these seven new posts to former KGB officers. Soon, his KGB colleagues occupied nearly 50 percent of the top government positions in Moscow.

Pacepa draws other comparisons as well. He sufficiently makes the point that Putin has been slowly converting Russia back to the traditional form of Russian government: the police state. Hardly a comforting thought.

Greg forwarded me the text of a The New Republic article written by Masha Gessen, who is an editor of a Moscow weekly. Unfortunately, the web version is subscription only. I’ll say this, it has been easily the most worrisome article I’ve read about Putin and the current Russian situation.

To be blunt, Russia is about to turn itself into a dictatorship. Using as a pretext the fear that has gripped his country, President Vladimir Putin has announced sweeping political reforms that will eliminate all direct elections except those for president, who, through a convoluted process, will effectively appoint members of parliament. With the state in control of all broadcast media and increasingly dominating print media, the presidential election will also be orchestrated by the Kremlin. Still, as the new political system takes shape, the person at the helm–the actual dictator–might not be Putin. The new leader could actually be a fascist head of an aggressive, nationalistic, war-mongering Russia.

After detailing the extent and reactions of terrorist attacks since 1999, and the government’s botched attempts at dealing with the situations, Gessen concludes:

. . . the fury and the fear in Russia are now so extreme that, when the next terrorist attack occurs, the country might well explode. Putin has made this more likely by eviscerating the political system, privatizing the courts, and castrating the media, a process that began with the Kremlin takeover of the private TV channel NTV in 2001, continued with a series of show trials this past year, and has now been completed with Putin’s electoral reform. This has left Russians with no place to voice protest–other than the street. There may be a revolution, and it won’t be pretty. It could be a fascist revolution.

She gives two reasons for why she thinks the next government will be a fascist one: fascist parties are the only effective opposition to Putin and the Russian people want a fascist government.

[Russians] tell pollsters they are willing to sacrifice their freedoms. They say they want all Chechens to be evicted from Moscow and other large cities. They crave an extreme crackdown. “A totalitarian state cannot be blackmailed by the threat of death of civilians,” said Mikhail Leontyev, one of Russia’s most prominent pundits, in his nightly commentary on federal Channel One, the most-watched network. “Terrorism happens only in democracies.” Leontyev’s words express both the Kremlin’s and the public’s agenda: Polls show that a majority of Russians will readily cede their civil liberties to security services. The security services, in turn, are behaving accordingly. Last week, Moscow police beat up a Chechen man, famed cosmonaut Magomed Tolboyev. Human rights advocates say beatings of ordinary Chechens and other Muslims are now commonplace occurrences in Russia

Obviously, the return of Russia to a fascist state is not in our interest nor really in anybody’s interest, save for the handful of Russian’s who will have the reins of power. This will be an difficult situation to handle considering the disposition of the average Russian citizen, Putin’s paranoia of the West, and the fact that they have thousands of nuclear weapons. If Bush wins the election, I hope Condi sticks around since her forte is in Cold War policies.

Not wanting to conclude on the depressing side, Pacepa’s hope for the future of Russia:

Russia can also break with its Communist past and join our fight against despots and terrorists. We can help them do it, but first we should have a clear understanding of what is now going on behind the veil of secrecy that still surrounds the Kremlin.

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