Tag Archives: Vladimir Putin

You can call her Vladimir Putin from the way she’s dropping Russians

Dzhennet Abdurakhmanova is way less effective at spectacular pseudo-terrorist attacks against Russian civilians than Vladimir Putin, but she looks way hotter while doing it.

Vladimir Putin began a sub-state war of terror against the people of the Russian Federation on September 4, 1999. Props to Dzhennet, and all the rest who fight back.

The reference is 1 minute, 30 seconds in:

Putin’s priorities are clear

But then, he’s too busy turning the Nazis into the only legitimate opposition in Russia to fight the Taliban:

The Weekly Standard
While Obama deals with the assorted tax problems of his nominees, the world continues to turn. The AP reports that “Kyrgyzstan will no longer allow US to use airbase that supports military operations in Afghanistan.” This as the Kyrgyz president arrives in Moscow for a state visit the agenda for which is to include Russia forgiving Kyrgyzstan’s debt and providing nearly $2 billion in loans and new investments.

This presents an opportunity. Historically, politics in Afghanistan was split between Iran, India, and Russia supporting the multiethnic north, and Pakistan supporting the Pashtun south. If Russia is actively preventing support of the Afghan government (which is a very “northern” institution), we may seeing de facto between Russia and Pakistan in supporting the Pashtun south.

Which means an Indian-Iranian-American alliance in support of Afghanistan’s national government is possible.

iran_and_the_central_seam

I hope Barack Obama is paying attention!

Putin and the Nazis

When you’ve maneuvered yourself into a position where the Nazis are leading the opposition, you know you’ve done a great job wrecking your countries political system. Congratulations, Prime Minister Putin.

national-bolshevik-party

The protests:

Vladimir Putin faces more protests over economy – Telegraph

Capitalising on growing popular discontent, the organisers are planning to keep the pressure on the Kremlin, presenting the strongest challenge yet to the once untouchable Putin government.

The moves come after a weekend of protests in Moscow and Vladivostok that saw thousands of Russians take to the streets to call for the dismissal of the Russian prime minister and President Dmitry Medvedev.

The groups believe that the country’s worsening economic situation, as well as the easing of freezing winter temperatures, will bring people to the streets in ever greater numbers in the weeks to come.

The Kremlin has taken note of the protests, organising a competing demonstration of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party on Saturday.

Coverage on state-run television gave overwhelming attention to those protests, making no note of a violent opposition rally held the same day.

Protestors from Other Russia, an umbrella group that joins Mr Kasparov’s United Civil Front with the banned National Bolshevik party, were left bloody and beaten after holding an unsanctioned rally in the capital on Saturday afternoon.

The protest themselves are intended to show that the Nazis

  • Are a coherent, organized movement
  • Play a leading role in the “Other Russia” anti-Putin movement
  • Are able to organize in spite of constant police harrasment
  • Are able to sustain the injury that comes to them as a result of the protests
  • Are in favor of closer economic integration with China

More specifically, the National Bolsehviks / Nazis are part of the Third Position constellation of movements inspired by Otto “Let’s put the Socialism back into National-Socialism‘ Strasser. Just as the broken systems of Egypt and Saudi Arabia generated Egyptian Islamic Jihad and al Qaeda, because no legitimate opposition was possible, the broken system of Russia generated the National Bolshevik Party.

Of course, the difference in the analogy is that the NBP hasn’t engaged in terrorism (yet) and, in opposing the cronyism of the Putin regime, is actually pushing for more international trade.

Eastern Promises

Watched Eastern Promises tonight. If it had been made for American audiences, the mafia in Eastern Promises would have been Italian (if it had been set a century ago) or Mexican (if it had been set in the present day). Instead, the movie is set in present-day Britain, and the mafia is Russian. Russia is no longer a Cold War power capable of cunning and audacious power plays around the world. Instead, it’s a corrupt petro state that on the small scale exports heroin and on the larger scale causes havoc throughout Europe.

eastern_promises

For instance, consider Vladimir Putin’s cut-off of natural gas from Russia’s Cold War-era ally, Bulgaria:

Bulgaria takes emergency measures to deal with gas crisis_English_Xinhua
SOFIA, Jan. 8 (Xinhua) — Bulgaria has taken emergency measures to deal with gas crisis after Russia cut off all natural gas supplies to Europe through Ukraine.

Suspension of natural gas supplies from Russia forced the Bulgarian government to order rationing for utilities, schools and hospitals.

Energy and Economy Minister Peter Dimitrov signed an ordinance Wednesday night during a meeting with representatives of large gas consumers, aimed at reducing Bulgaria’s daily natural gas consumption from 12 million to 18 million cubic meters per day to 5.7 million cubic meters per day.

At present, Bulgaria has cut gas supplies completely to 72 big industrial consumers, while the supply for another 153 factories was rationed to enable them to maintain minimal operation. In addition, 84 of 2,761 state schools were closed due to the lack of heating, the government said.

In addition, trams and buses in the capital of Sofia switched off heat to save energy. Utilities said they will switch to alternative fuels before they can heat homes again.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev said, “Our top priority is to guarantee heating for households, schools, child-care centers and hospitals… Most of the heating utilities have already been converted to diesel fuel.”

What did Bulgaria do to deserve such a fate?

Nothing. Bulgaria is cut off because of Russia’s natural gas embargo of Europe.

Why is Russia refusing to sale natural gas to Europe, especially considering that todays natural gas prices are only going to go down?

Because Vladimir Putin has so mismanaged Ukrainian relations that the only thing to Yeltsin-era allies of Russia (former bureaucrat Viktor Yuschenko and former oligarch Yulia Timoshenko) agree on is that Russia is their greatest threat.

Like Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein (other men quite good at monopolizing power inside a country and very bad at doing anything with it), Vladimir Putin never seems to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Boris Yeltsin was the Deng Xiaoping of Russia

Russia has lost her “Deng Xiaoping.” She lost her chance at a “Jiang Zemin.” Instead, she got Putin.

No Jiang Zemin for Russia
No Jiang Zemin for Russia

Boris Yeltsin was China’s Deng Xiaoping. Like Deng, he introduced dramatic free-market reforms that opened up investment with the west. Yeltsin, like Deng, initailly worked but eventually eclipsed the party-line communists of a previous era (Liu Shaoqi and Mikheil Gorbechev). Yeltsin, like Deng, cleverly managed political reforms, at some times leaning towards democracy (to put pressure on unpopular political opponents) and at other times leaning towards authoritarianism (to prevent radicals from changing course).

Unfortunately for Russia, Yeltsin proved as physically frail as Deng was physically dynamic. Yeltsin’s alcoholism (an inherited condition) and a back injury (an environmental one) compounded each other, and led to a shift in political power a generation early. In China, Deng realized that change was a generational affair, and so an entire generation of successors was bypassed (such as Hu Yaobang) until a new one that had politically matured under the reform period was ready to assume power (such as Jiang Zemin). In Russia, by contrast, Yeltsin was too physically weak to hold on, and Russia got Putin instead.

It has been clear for years that Putin is dismantling Yeltsin’s diplomatic legacy. The Moscow Times has a good piece on how Putin is dismantling Yeltsin’s economic legacy, too:

Russia’s nationalistic energy policy after 2003 has stalled the development of major new energy investments (apart from the Sakhalin projects, which date back to the Boris Yeltsin era). Gazprom and Rosneft have financed themselves with foreign debt rather than with equity capital, accounting for almost one-fifth of Russia’s corporate foreign debt of $490 billion. Gazprom’s aggressive pricing and delivery disruptions have scared away customers, reducing the demand for its gas.

Huge public funds are being diverted to state corporations, which either hoard the money or siphon it off. In their new book “Putin and Gazprom,” Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Milov have offered a staggering and credible account of how Putin and his friends pilfered assets of $80 billion from Gazprom during his second term as president. Investors have taken notice, slashing Gazprom’s market capitalization from $350 billion last spring to $70 billion at its nadir. Although Russia is the 46th-richest country in the world in per capita terms, it is ranked 147 out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s corruption perception index for 2008. Only Equatorial Guinea is both richer and more corrupt than Russia.

Under Putin, transparency has systematically been reduced, and we no longer dare to trust the government’s public statements on its currency reserves. Officially, they have declined by $163 billion, or 28 percent, from $598 billion in early August to $435 billion in early December. But when Vneshekonombank was given $50 billion of state reserves to help Russian oligarchs with refinancing, nothing was deducted from the official reserves as it should have been. In an article on Gazeta.ru on Oct. 24, Alexei Mikhailov plausibly claimed that another $100 billion or $110 billion of “other reserves” had been transferred to the banking system and were nothing but rubles. To my knowledge, no official denial has been issued. If that were correct, the reserves have fallen by more than half to less than $300 billion, but the government sheds no light on this.

Russia’s largest corporations have turned out to be much more leveraged than anybody had thought. The government has made clear that it will refinance their foreign loans to secure “strategic” ownership. So far, $13 billion has been paid, out of which United Company RusAl has received $4.5 billion and Altima $2 billion, but such private pledges are huge. Vneshekonombank has $37 billion left to spend, but it has already asked for $30 billion more from the government, and more is likely. Thus, Russia can swiftly lose more than $100 billion of reserves.

Instead, Vladimir Putin
Instead, Vladimir Putin

Putin has persistently denied that anything is wrong with the country’s economic policy, while everything but its fiscal policy has been wrong. Domestic and foreign businesspeople realize that he does not talk about reality, which undermines confidence in the Russian market. Without free public debate, rational policy decisions are unlikely.

Incredibly, the government is repeating its mistake from 1998 to maintain a pegged exchange rate in the face of falling commodity prices. Until this summer, this policy provoked speculative capital inflows that boosted the money supply excessively and propelled inflation to 15 percent. Now, the pegged exchange rate, which is probably overvalued by up to 25 percent, promotes speculative capital outflows, quickly reducing the currency reserves. Devaluations in very small steps only convince the market that a major depreciation is inevitable. The coming combination of loose fiscal policy, negative real interest rates, current and capital account deficits and an overvalued ruble is unsustainable. The incentives for capital flight are overwhelming.

The global economic crisis is testing Putin’s system. He has undermined the ground under the house Yeltsin built, transforming the country into a house of cards ready to tumble. He has wasted the oil wealth rather than investing it in infrastructure, health care, education and law enforcement reform. Russia needs fundamental change; above all, it needs to uproot — or at the very least contain — the country’s pervasive corruption, which has gotten markedly worse under Putin. Nothing would serve the country better than the retirement of the failed prime minister, but that is evidently not in the cards.

When Boris Yeltsin gave way to Vladimir Putin, Russia lost her chance to continue opening up to the world. Instead, she faded into the gap of the global economy, and is once again a country that produces nothing war, death, and vodka.

Putin’s Cult of Personality, Russia’s Gap Status

Did you know that you can buy a photobook of Putins’ best photos? It’s true! Like Chavez, Castro, Turkmenbashi, and the other Gap leaders, Putin is building a cult of personality?

Putin's Cult of Personality
Putin's Cult of Personality

This is now an old trend, consistent with Putin’s systematic destruction of ties with the outside world.

It also fits Russia’s status as a state in the Gap. While Georgia joined the WTO back in 2000, and Ukraine joined this summer, no formal meeting on Russia’s status has happened in years.

Not that Russia was close, anyway.

The Best and the Brighest

The KGB was not the best and brightest of the Soviet Union. This must be understood.

The leaders of the Soviet Union were the best and the brightest.

Men like Boris Yeltin, Leonid Kuchma, Alexander Lukashenko, Eduard Shevardnadze, and Islam Karimov were the best and brightest. These men had reached ;positions of influence by surviving a complicated, multiethnic, and obscure political system. Surviving the Soviet required somehow fulfilling the desires of higher-ups while not making any serious enemies in a multiracial empire that had to accommodate populations from the great civilizations of the classic world (Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim, and so on). Thus it is no surprise that when the Soviet Union broke up, these same men found themselves in leadership positions in the post-Soviet states. The same scales that helped survival domestic USSR politics enabled success in international CIS politics. Soft power was the rule of the day, as elites attempted to consolidate power, either becoming the newly rich themselves or co-opting those who did so.

In the American system, the analogues to the men like Yeltsin are the CEOs and business entrepreneurs. Risk-takers and survivals, their skilled were perfectly matched to the late Imperial position they found themselves in. (Indeed, perhaps European “softness” on Communism was largely a function of recognizing the Russians as possessing the same sort of multiethnic empire than they had so recently possessed, or at least aspired to.)

Those who could not survive this systme, but still wanted respect and power, naturally gravitted into the Soviet Union’s “B-team.” Our “B-team” is composed of the political class — senators, presidents, and the like — who typically begin with a law degree and try to make their way in the aristocracy of poll. Russia’s “B-team” was the KGB, who likewise could not hack it in the big leagues but nonetheless could contribute in a relatively narrow if high-profile and important domain. Government is safer than business in the United States because your government will not dissolve, but your company might. In the Soviet Union, if you were on the path to the central committee mistakes you make today might haunt you in twenty years time: the KGB afforded the anonymity necessary for tolerating more mistakes.

Russia’s current President, Vladimir Putin, is a KGB. It shows.

Consider this post by Tom from Febuary 2006:

Moscow will say their recent behavior on pricing energy exports is just normal “market principles,” and there’s some truth to that, but there’s also plenty of truth to the charge that Putin seems to think that selling energy equates to pol-mil power, when it doesn’t.

There is a natural limit to this, and that limit is Russia’s continuing and large need for outside capital to upgrade its infrastructure throughout the economy–not just in the energy sphere. Right now, Gazprom’s death grip on the gas market is restricting the ability of independent Russian producers to attract foreign money for this most capital-intensive industry. It’s an old issue: control the pie too much and it won’t grow.

So do I expect Putin or his successors to give up control over the energy sector out of their love for democracy? No. I expect them to loosen their grip out of greed.

This is logically correct. Merely exporting energy just gives you the blip that the Arab states enjoyed in the 1970s. Turning that into sustainable power requires connectivity to the west. But it requires the long-term thinking of the men like Yeltsin, not the operatives like Putin.

Putin’s solution. Squeeze Belarus. Attack the Southern Energy Corridor in Georgia. Cause havoc, temporarily raising the marginal utility of energy sent through your own pipes.

Putin is the high school student who, desiring more money, quits school to work more hours at McDonalds.

Operationally brilliant.
Strategically idiotic.

A Warmongering Version of Portugal

Yglessias’ hit piece on Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili is the same faddish blame-America’s-friend-first gargabe manages to be less balanced than Kos, but his post on Russia’s capacity is top-notch:

Via Robert Farley, Charlie Whitaker makes the important and too-often-neglected point that notwithstanding Russia’s evident ability to kick around a tiny country that borders it, present-day Russia is really a poor man’s peer-competitor:

Now that we can measure it,* we find that Russia’s GDP is approximately equal to that of Portugal (which is not to knock Portugal). Much of Russia’s wealth comes from resource extraction: in other words, Russia is not making stuff. Is it thinking stuff instead? Well, is there a nascent biotech or semiconductor industry in Russia today? (Or is there maybe some other, more esoteric kind of activity that hasn’t yet permeated popular consciousness?) How are Russian universities doing?

Russia is fairly populous, although no one would call it densely populated. However, its population is shrinking; in part, because it is not a healthy country.

Long story short, the whole “Russia’s Back!” narrative needs to be kept in perspective. There’s a lot of demand out there for “new cold war” scenarios featuring Russia or China or maybe both, but fundamentally that kind of talk is out of step with reality.

Matthew Yglesias » Russia’s Weak Fundamentals.

Indeed. Putin isn’t a new Stalin, or even a new Brezhnev. His country is much to weak for that analogy to hold. Putin’s a Saddam with nuclear weapons, a dangerous criminal whose power must be taken from him.

8/8/08, like 8/2/90 and 9/11/01

was a day when history turned. On August 2, 1990, Iraq used the opportunity of American success in the Cold War to launch an invasion of a sovereign, recognized, and important country: Kuwait. On September 11, 2001, al Qaeda used the opportunity of the American-led extinction of interstate war to launch a direct territorial attack on the United States. And on August 8, 2008, Russia used the opportunity of apparent American success in Iraq to launch an invasion of a sovereign, recognized, and important country: Georgia.

In Vladimir Putin, we have Saddam Hussein with nuclear weapons.

The Long War against al Qaeda will continue after 8/8/08, just as America still led mop-up operations against communism after 8/2/90. Still, the world has changed. Russia’s invasion of Georgia opens the door to a world much more violent than aynthing we have seen in a generation. Interstate war, that nightmare of history that has been with us since the formation of strong stages, may be back as a tool of diplomacy between neighbors in important places.

There are many implications of this new time. After 8/2/80, men of goodwill naturally cheered the death of Iraqi soldiers in battle (as it weakened our enemy. After 9/11/01, we naturally were hopeful after every airstrike killed an al Qaeda operative. After 8/8, we must similarly smile everytime a Russian soldier dies, whether from a Georgian surface-to-air missile, a Chechen explosion, or a submarine accident. Obviously, we regret that this time of death has come. But the choice is Vladimir Putin’s. And the alternative is much worse.

Everything does not change overnight. For both better and worse, 8/8/08 does not have the emotional chock of 9/11/01. This allows us to finish up business in Afghanistan-Pakistan, without the smarminess that characterized our post-8/2/90 mop-up operations after 9/11/01. Occasionally we will have opportunities to do both at once, as the Iraq War both destroyed the Saddam regime that launched the 8/2/90 invasion and send feedback after 9/11.

An example of this might be separating the militant Islamists of central Asia from al Qaeda’s anti-Americanism. In southern Afghanistan and north-west Pakistan, this may come from co-opting the Taliban in the way that we co-opted Anbar’s tribes in the “Surge.” In Chechnya, this may be from working with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan’s ISI in arming mujaheddin. In China, this may mean stepping-up cooperating with China against the Turkestan Islamic Party, making Russia a more attractive target for Jihad than a Core country like the People’s Republic.

It’s wrong to say that “everything changed” on 8/8. But certainly priorities changed. Realities changed.

And the proper understanding of Vladimir Putin changed. By attempting to overthrow the peaceful global order, he is not merely a mafia captain, but rather a revolutionary chieftain. A Saddam Hussein with nukes.

I wonder how long it will be before Maria and Yekaterina meet Uday and Qusay?