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Monday, December 27, 2004


against russia

yushchenko's victory deals what seems a proxy defeat to putin's russia in the west's new cold war. whether or not that is a war we should be waging is, of course, a difficult question.

an explanation of putin's appeal in liberalizing russia comes in raimondo's most recent column:

Putin has won the overwhelming support of the Russian people, and his party – "Unity" – dominates the Russian parliament, because he ran on a platform of smashing the "oligarchs" and completing the transition to Western-style democracy (albeit with Russian characteristics). The "privatization" of Russian state assets that took place as the old Soviet system collapsed is seen by many Russians as the Great Rip-Off: politically-connected bureaucrats suddenly transformed themselves into "entrepreneurs" and bought up the economic infrastructure for a mere pittance. Vast fortunes were acquired this way, and then secreted out of the country. Former Communists became the new red billionaires, whose "market" Leninism formed the foundations of the new state capitalism. It was, however, a system founded on corruption, and its consequences are widely resented. Putin rode this wave of resentment, and it propelled him into power, but, unlike other reformers, he actually began to keep at least some of his promises: the oligarchs were summarily targeted, in some cases jailed for theft and fraud, and in other cases forced into exile or marginalized.

Unlike the Nazis, the mass murderers of the Communist variety were never brought to account for their crimes against humanity: they were never put on trial, or put up against a wall and shot, or even forced to apologize for or acknowledge the gigantic evil they represent. Gorbachev engineered a "revolution from above" and brought about the self-dissolution of the Soviet system, while yet retaining the privileges and social status of the nomenklatura.

Putin's drive to smash the power of the oligarchs represents Russia's final reckoning with the old Soviet ruling class. It is a push to reclaim stolen wealth and finally break the power of parasites who have been feasting on the Russian body politic since 1917.
of course, both yanukovich and yushchenko represent the oligarchs in some way -- but the west's poor understanding of what is happening in the former soviet union is due to the popular conflation of oligarchic interests (such as khodorkovsky's, formerly of yukos oil) with capitalistic and democratic interests. when khodorkovsky is viewed as the beneficiary of communist political clout under gorbachev -- an effort to keep economic power in the hands of the communist elite -- his allure is put in its right perspective vis-a-vis mr putin's.

this is not to say mr putin is good. as mr maly notes: ... he reverts to his core Russian constituencies, ones that are firmly based on the lose/lose view of the world, that are xenophobic, self-aggrandizing, anti-semitic, anti-capitalist, anti-American, and, most of all, statist, convinced that the Secret Police knows best while the people know and deserve nothing. he is effectively nationalizing yukos' major assets, and it can only be hoped that he would recapitalize these assets.

but the western perception that yushchenko represents the good and putin the bad is insufficient to understand what goes on now in russia and the ukraine -- not to mention america.

both parties stand as noble, each in their own narrative light. but, as heroes are wont to, they seek strife in order to define themselves by the judgment of a future they see it as their task to bring about, as the afflicted henry kissinger admiringly said -- and find it in one another.

the ukraine is but the first of many post-soviet battlefields, i fear, as a newly energetic nationalist russia confronts the revitalized fascism of america unbound as one's empire encroaches on and surrounds the other's -- while both ascribe to a noble heroism that, as bertrand russell wrote, affords unconscious outlets for the impulse to power, and abundant excuses for cruelty.

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