October 31, 2003

Khodorkovsky, Putin, Yukos I haven't

Khodorkovsky, Putin, Yukos

I haven't blogged all the going-ons re: this matter. But a trusty B.D. Moscow correspondent thinks it's a bigger deal that I initially (and still) do.

So, while his report may be a tad hyperbolic, it's well worth a read:


Historian Richard Pipes relayed to me a conversation with former "kamizakee" Russian Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar in the early nineties whom he asked: "don't you see the massive degree of theft going on in your country, why don't you do something?" According to Dr. Pipes, Gaidar bluntly responded "because that would prompt a counter-revolution and blow away what freedom we have managed to gain and are working to further build." The arrest of Russia's richest man on Saturday and subsequent resignation of Kremlin chief-of-staff Alexander Voloshin, officially accepted yesterday, evidence the fact this very counter-revolution is under way. It is not, as pro-Kremlin spinners will, and most likely have, attempted to communicate to policy-makers in the West, a Russian version of "Operation Clean Hands." Rather, it is a calculated power-grab by the very people the Cold War was fought to remove from political leadership in Russia. The country is moving--if not uncontrollably--quickly backwards.

The Washington establishment spent a good deal of time speculating about "who is Mr. Putin" following is accession to Russia’s presidency in late 1999. The United States is not uniquely to blame--it was on German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's good word that President Bush set forth on a positive relationship with his Russian counterpart. British Prime Minister Tony Blair was also an earlier advocate of Putin's bona fides. Putin is reportedly fond of relaying a conversation he had with Henry Kissinger in New York when, according to his telling, the two agreed that there is nothing wrong with intelligence men leading countries--look, after all at Bush the Elder. In Russia's case, though, it's not just a former intelligence man at the helm: following recent events, it is now painfully clear that the intelligence services are running the country, from the top down. Voloshin's departure from the Kremlin signals a victory of sorts for the "silovoki." The last voices of reason in this country are the liberal politicians we support, however, a clearly corrupt (witness Chechnya last month) electoral machine is working to further marginalize them in early December. The figurative crumbs we're being thrown in response (yesterday's decision by the Constitutional Court that journalists might actually be able to report on politics under certain circumstances), cannot obscure the unpleasant truth about what is happening in Russia. Democratic processes here are profoundly compromised and the situation is getting worse.

Time to Do Something

Last July, when this particular series of events began rolling into motion, I wrote--on the urging of another deputy--an appropriately shrill but perhaps underscored piece in a weekly report about the ramifications of what is going on in the Russian political establishment. Prompting what may have been an insufficient gesture on my part, a wide-eyed deputy asked me, incredulously, how Washington could sit by and allow this to happen. The Russians now understands that this is precisely what we have done and no longer look for much help from the West. During a live interview on NTV earlier this week, Javier Solana said current events amount to "an internal Russian matter," following this, though, by stating his personal concern (which was not translated.) In a full-page add in yesterday's Kommersant, self-exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky wrote, among other things, that Russia's opposition needs to stop looking to the West for help and start relying on themselves.

Perhaps Berezovsky was correct in some aspects of what he said. A unification of forces who stand for market-reforms, freedom and open communication with the outside world is very much in order. If, like Berezovsky himself or, as the General Prosecutor and FSB are doing their damndest to demonstrate, now Khodorkovsky, the advocates of these principals are not the most attractive people in the world, that is at best a side note. We are not unfamiliar with scoundrels playing virtuous tunes or appealing to higher values in the hopes of winning our sympathy--Americans are uniquely succeptible to such overtures because we actually believe in the principles. In the current case, however, Russia's oligarchs, for all their dirty laundry, are telling us something important:

Cognizant of what little we can do in this situation, at the very least I would urge you to neither accept nor implicitly legitimize the Kremlin spin on this matter. This is not an isolated business matter, as some Russia-boosters successfully persuaded the markets at the beginning of this week, pre-empting a financial freefall. It is not just about re-distribution of the world's fifth-largest oil company (a controlling stake in which was frozen late yesterday). It is certainly not about Putin fighting corruption. Rather, it is history moving in the wrong direction.

UPDATE: More very serious concern.

Posted by Gregory at October 31, 2003 11:22 AM

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