Is Russia Democratic?
Yes - but so what?
by Justin Raimondo
www.antiwar.com, December 3, 2007
Russians cast their votes in parliamentary
elections on Sunday, with an overwhelming victory widely expected
for Vladimir Putin's United Russia Party - and yet we already
knew what we were supposed to think of the whole process, with
Western governments and media outlets (or do I repeat myself?)
having already decided the whole thing was a farce well before
a single vote was cast.
How did they know this?
Well, because Putin is supposedly the
reincarnation of Joseph Stalin - in spite of the fact that he
hasn't jailed a single person on account of their political opinions,
and the Russian gulag has long since disappeared into history.
Yet the accusations against Putin have grown louder, even as Russia
grows more prosperous and ordinary Russians are more supportive
of their president - and therein lies a tale.
Not since the run-up to war with Iraq
has Western media coverage of a country been so completely and
unreasonably one-sided: take, for example, this CBS News report.
It features an interview with one Robert Amsterdam, described
as "an expert on Russian politics," who gives his view
that the election is just a pro forma exercise in which the outcome
is predetermined. What they somehow neglect to tell you is that
Amsterdam, far from being a disinterested "expert,"
is in reality a partisan of the jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky
- he's Khodorkovsky's lawyer. Amsterdam has spent much of the
past few years making the case for his client, who is up on charges
of embezzlement, fraud, and murder, and whose vast holdings were
essentially a gift from the notoriously corrupt regime of Boris
Yeltsin, the perpetually drunk Russian leader who died in 2006.
The crux of Khodorkovsky's case against his prosecutors is that
they represent an authoritarian state out to get him, and, in
the process, re-Sovietize Russian political life as well as the
economy. I won't waste any more words on the infamous oligarch,
whose fortune is the result of crony capitalism at its worst rather
than laissez-faire, and whose career is best characterized as
a cross between Tony Soprano and Wesley Mouch. You can read all
about it here.
Amsterdam is an "expert," all
right - at obfuscating the facts. He decries a change in the election
rules requiring parties represented in parliament to get 7 percent
of the vote, up from 5 percent. Yet the Russian system is far
more democratic than, say, the American system, where a party
that gets 7 percent - or even 10 or 20 percent - is by no means
guaranteed a single seat in Congress. That is, if they even manage
to get on the ballot. Parties other than the state-sanctioned
and state-subsidized Democrats and Republicans face almost impossible
hurdles to achieve ballot status - and, even if they do, these
"third" parties operate at a tremendous disadvantage
not only legally, but in terms of being taken seriously by the
"mainstream" media. Is this any better than in Russia?
One could make a convincing case that it is far worse.
The CBS report shows footage of an opposition
demonstration supposedly being "broken up" by the Russian
cops. What our intrepid reporters fail to mention, however, is
that the demonstrators were given a permit to hold a rally, but
instead insisted on marching through the streets - a course that,
in, say, security-conscious Washington, D.C., would earn them
a few nightstick blows on the head and at least one day in jail.
A breakaway march was led by members of the neo-fascist National
Bolshevik Party (NBP), whose crazed leader, Eduard Limonov, addressed
the crowd alongside more "respectable" opposition figures
such as chess champion Gary Kasparov. Both were arrested when
they followed the violence-prone NBP on a mad run through the
streets. Kasparov is lionized in the West, yet in Russia he is
considered a marginal figure, partially on account of his association
with the "Other Russia" grouping, which is essentially
controlled by the lunatic NBP.
The reality is that Putin is wildly popular,
which Amsterdam is forced to admit even as he spins this against
the contention of an alleged "crackdown" on the opposition
by claiming that the election is all about "legitimacy."
Putin, it seems, is determined to cement his unchallenged authority
by racking up a huge majority. According to Deutsche Welle, the
plan is for Putin - constitutionally constrained against running
for a third term as president - to reappear in some other office,
where he will run the show from behind the scenes.
The Western powers - who hate and revile
the revival of Russia's fortunes - are determined to delegitimize
not only Putin, but the Putin-era prosperity and stability that
is the source of the Russian president's enormous popularity.
Under the Yeltsin regime, the oligarchs were free to loot and
otherwise abuse the Russian economy, with former Communists who
used their political connections to amass obscene wealth draining
the nation's lifeblood like a flock of vampires on the hunt. The
jailbird Khodorkovsky is one, and another is the infamous Boris
Berezovsky, who has declared his intention to overthrow the Russian
government - by force if necessary - and who is financing much
of the opposition, both in country and in exile.
Berezovsky - wanted in Russia on charges
of theft, extortion, and murder - was the patron of Alexander
Litvinenko, the former KGB agent turned anti-Putin activist supposedly
poisoned by the Russian secret service using an exotic and scary
radioactive substance. This case caused a sensation in Britain,
where Litvinenko succumbed, yet questions remain about the real
cause of his death. I've covered it in this space, in depth, here,
here, here, and here. Suffice to say that the semi-official story
- Litvinenko was killed by the neo-Stalinists in the Kremlin,
much like Trotsky was found with an icepick in his head - is in
considerable doubt, as evidence emerges that he may have been
part of a smuggling ring that secreted radioactive polonium into
Now more evidence that the mainstream
media narrative of Litvinenko-the-martyr is very far from the
truth is coming out, with Britain's Daily Mail revealing for the
first time what everyone in Russia has been saying since the case
"The former Russian spy poisoned
in a London hotel was an MI6 agent, the Daily Mail can reveal.
Alexander Litvinenko was receiving a retainer of around £2,000
a month from the British security services at the time he was
Citing "diplomatic and intelligence
sources," the paper goes on to aver that this was the real
reason for Litvinenko's alleged assassination. By leaking what
we all knew to be true in any event, the spooks behind the departed
spy have managed to divert attention away from the more likely
death-by-self-contamination scenario - in which the polonium poisoning
is due to a botched smuggling operation - and back in the direction
of a plot directed or implicitly sanctioned by Putin. Very slick
- as the entire anti-Putin propaganda campaign has been from the
The real purpose behind the anti-Putin
campaign - which, at its most frenetic, is designed to convince
us that the Russians are coming once again, posing the dire prospect
of a reborn Soviet threat - is to topple a leader who challenges
American hegemony in the world. The Russian president won't go
along with the American plan to "transform" the Middle
East into a "democratic" pile of rubble, nor will he
countenance "regime change" on his periphery, helped
along by generous dollops of U.S. tax dollars and the enmity of
George Soros. If Kosovo is to be independent, he avers, well then,
why not Abkhazia, or Ossetia, or any of the other Russia-friendly
breakaway republics with close ties to the Motherland?
Putin is no saint, but neither is he the
devil depicted in the Western media, which regularly presents
such representatives of the exiled Russian oligarchs as Mr. Amsterdam
and Boris Berezovsky as credible critics and misses no opportunity
to portray Putin as a "dictator."
The Russian media is neither state-owned
nor is it more concentrated in terms of ownership than our own:
it is about as friendly to the opposition as America's mainstream
media is to, say, Ron Paul. Opposition parties, including the
Communist Party of Russia, exist and are free to organize, stand
for election, publish materials, and conduct campaigns, including
the distribution of propaganda. What they are not allowed to do
any longer is accept subsidies from foreign governments and other
overseas entities, such as the National Endowment for Democracy,
USAID (a U.S.-government-funded propaganda agency), and any one
of a number of Berezovsky-supported-and-funded front groups, including
Western-based "support groups" for Chechen terrorists.
This "restriction" on foreign
funding - which is also the law in the U.S. - has the U.S.-government-supported
opposition in a tizzy, because it has hit them where they really
live - in their pocketbooks. No longer on the take, these "dissidents"
on the make are furiously denouncing Putin's government as a "dictatorship."
Yet Russia hasn't been this free since
the overthrow of the Kerensky government and the Communist coup
of 1917, and it hasn't been this prosperous ever. Luxuriating
in oil and national gas reserves that may be among the biggest
in the world, the Russians are coming out of their long post-Soviet
funk - and reasserting their place on the world stage. That is
Putin's real "crime." He is making Washington very nervous,
as the would-be hegemonists of the West eye the emerging Russo-Iranian
alliance and chafe as Putin arms the Syrians with missile defenses
against the increasing likelihood of an Israeli (or American)
attack. And it isn't just his actions but his words that sting.
In a widely quoted speech at a recent Munich Security Conference,
the Russian president took on the Americans quite openly:
"It [the U.S.-dominated unipolar
world] is a world in which there is one master, one sovereign.
And at the end of the day this is pernicious not only for all
those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because
it destroys itself from within.
"And this certainly has nothing in
common with democracy. Because, as you know, democracy is the
power of the majority in light of the interests and opinions of
"Incidentally, Russia - we - are
constantly being taught about democracy. But for some reason those
who teach us do not want to learn themselves."
I especially appreciate that bit about
how the hubris of our rulers "destroys itself from within"
- this is precisely what the domestic critics of the rising American
Empire have been saying for years, and it's gratifying to see
that America's true friends abroad see this, too. To anyone who
admires the U.S. and is not the captive of a crude "anti-Americanism"
- a woefully overworked catch phrase that has been shamelessly
utilized by our government and its overseas amen corner to smear
anyone who opposes American imperialism - it is no doubt sad,
indeed, to witness the sight of the freest country on earth succumbing
to its own worst instincts. Putin isn't insulting us: he's reminding
us of who we are - or, rather, who we used to be.
Unfortunately, the interventionists in
the media, and the War Party that has hijacked American foreign
policy, are not inclined to listen, either to Putin or those here
at home who agree that America is getting too big for its britches.
What are we doing getting in Putin's face, insulting him and his
people by insisting that the OSCE send "observers" to
make sure Russia's election is sufficiently "democratic"?
What would we have thought if Putin had sent observers to, say,
Florida, where the drama of the "hanging chads" and
the intricacies of the Electoral College denied the White House
to the candidate who got the most votes?
It's outrageous - especially when we're
giving full military, political, and diplomatic support to real
dictators like Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, who is now in the process
of setting up a hereditary "presidency" and has taken
to locking up bloggers for violating political and cultural "norms."
And what about Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who is beating the crap
out of his opponents in the streets of Islamabad, arresting the
Supreme Court, and installing himself as "president"
of Pakistan in a procedure that is a cruel mockery of democracy?
The difference is that these dictators
meet the "pro-American" test, which consists of kowtowing
to Washington when it comes to the conduct of foreign affairs,
and particularly when it comes to providing full access to American
economic and military interests. In the case of Russia, the Americans
and especially the British are still smarting over the expulsion
of Western companies from the lucrative Russian oil and natural
gas fields, which is going to benefit the people of Russia rather
than overseas investors and the usual gang of ruthless Russian
oligarchs, who are little more than gangsters in business suits.
Russia for the Russians - the slogan has
energized the pro-Putin parties and given the Russian president
more power and prestige than any Moscow-based ruler since Peter
the Great. It's also a sentiment Western elites can't and won't
abide, since they consider Russia to have been properly defeated
in the Cold War and therefore fair game for economic colonization.
Their reaction to Putin's pushback has been an aggressive campaign
to encircle Russia, starting with the ill-fated "Rose Revolution"
in Georgia, followed by the various Western-engineered attempts
at "regime change" represented by the so-called "color
revolutions," from Ukraine to Kyrgyzstan, nearly all of which
have since been rolled back.
The neoconservatives were early agitators
for a more aggressive stance toward Russia: it was Richard Perle,
you'll recall, who led a neocon hue and cry over Putin's alleged
misdeeds, calling for Russia to be thrown out of the G-8. This
was soon followed up by a full-scale denunciation of Putin by
none other than Dick Cheney, who railed that the Russian president
was ushering in a new Cold War by engaging in economic "blackmail"
and "intimidation" against its neighbors. This attack
was occasioned by the freeing up of Russian energy prices, which
had long been kept artificially low by government decree: apparently,
this move toward a free market in energy was considered a hostile
act by Cheney and his fellow "big government conservatives."
As for Kasparov, the wannabe dissident
who should've stuck to chess has links to the neoconservative
Center for Security Policy, whose chieftain and founder, Frank
Gaffney, is among the more frothy-mouthed warmongers in Washington.
Another anti-Putin group with suspiciously heavy concentrations
of neocons on the letterhead is the American Committee for Peace
in Chechnya, which supports the terrorist gang that pulled off
the Beslan horror and bombed Russian cities. (If you're a confirmed
Putin-hater, however, you'll already know that it wasn't the Chechens
who kidnapped those school kids at Beslan and planted those bombs,
it was Putin who did it. Litvinenko wrote an entire book that
blames the Federal Security Bureau, successor to the KGB, much
like the 9/11 Troothers blame "Bushitler" for the 9/11
terrorist attacks - the Russian Troothers, such as Litvinenko
and Berezovsky, claim terrorist acts carried out by Chechen rebels
were an "inside job.")
The really dangerous aspect of the looming
renewal of tensions with Russia is that Democrats, too, are eager
to get in on the Russophobic act. It isn't just Cheney, Perle,
Gaffney, and the Weekly Standard railing against "Putinism,"
it's the ostensible liberals, including Hillary Clinton, who are
taking a hard line toward Russia. With the Clinton Restoration,
we can expect to see more U.S. troops in Kosovo facing down the
Russian-supported Serbs, who - thanks to the Clintons - have almost
been ethnically cleansed out of existence in the former Yugoslav
province. The neocon palaver about "democracy" is especially
attractive to liberals of the Clintonian school, who bewail Putin's
alleged "authoritarian" tendencies and yet have no trouble
with Hillary's own stated hostility to the free flow of ideas
and news on the Internet. When it comes to foreign policy, these
same "liberal" types have no qualms about voting for
a neocon-inspired war in the Middle East and would just as soon
nuke the Iranians in "defense" of Israel. With Putin
standing behind the Iranian drive to develop the peaceful uses
of nuclear energy, the return of the Clintons will mean the return
of the Cold War with Russia - and perhaps a distinct reheating
of the conflict in the Balkans, where the last great Clintonian
intervention murdered some 5,000 Serbs and rained bombs on some
of the oldest cities in Europe.
Russia is not our enemy, and there is
no reason to make an adversary of Putin. He is clearly an admirer
of the American system and, in his drive to modernize, is clearly
emulating the Western example, albeit in his own distinctly Slavic
manner. Putin, in short, is no anti-American, like Hugo Chavez,
although some well-meaning but shortsighted libertarians would
liken the two.
Yet the alleged "Sovietization"
of Russia is nothing of the sort. Putin's "personality cult"
is no more cultish than that of the Clintons or Obama. Our culture
of celebrity virtually ensures that a cult of personality arises
around any successful politician, because, after all, American
electoral politics is all about personalities, not policies. Chavez
is a commie who cavorts with Fidel Castro and proclaims the "Bolivarian"
road to socialism , with his opposition centered in the middle
class and anti-authoritarian students. Putin's chief opposition,
on the other hand, is the Russian Communist Party, which rails
against his halting moves toward the market and joins with Kasparov
and the NBP-led "Other Russia" coalition in characterizing
Putin as a dictator.
Our national interest lies not in making
enemies of the Russian people and the present Russian government.
Putin isn't a Jeffersonian democrat, but neither is he a Stalinist.
He's simply a nationalist who is steering his country though a
difficult time. In his absence Russia would revert to the domination
of gangsters and ex-commie "entrepreneurs" whose ill-gotten
gains are currently feeding the Russian opposition abroad. All
too often, our Western media allows itself to be used by these
dubious characters, in unfairly portraying as "authoritarian"
and "neo-Soviet" a Russia that is slowly but surely
climbing out of the graveyard of socialism. The reality is much
Is Russia democratic? Yes, but the nature
of the regime is irrelevant to the question of what our policy
toward Moscow ought to be. Even if Russia should really begin
to backslide into authoritarianism, as Western commentators like
to put it, we will not benefit from trying to engineer regime
change or otherwise interfering in Russia's internal affairs -
and neither, in the long run, will the Russian people.
Even given all Putin's faults, however,
the Russia of today represents a tremendous advance over the dark
days of the Bolshevik horror: seen in perspective - that is, since
1917 - Putin's Russia is a vast improvement, both for the people
of Russia and our own national interest. Our intervention can
only hurt the future of the Russian people and encourage a nationalist
backlash we will live to regret.