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From: Victor Kalashnikov <machinegun@online.ru>
Subject: US-Russia friendship
Date: Mon, 19 Nov 2001

I think the US is doing not a good service to Russia by proclaiming Putin an ally to the West, thus helping him to escape political responsibility at home.

This scheme has already been in use in the past. When Gorbachev and then Yeltsin saw themselves sliding into final political disaster, they made radical turns to the West to gain more support and international standing. In such a way they hoped to prolong their rule, or at least stay international prominences after being fired.

It worked in both cases. Instead of facing charges, including cases for military prosecutors, both men have proceeded with their careers, be that selling pizza or lecturing on democracy and humanitarian values.

Nearly the same is true for Putin and his team. After two years of the slaughter in Chechnya, dismantling parts of constitutional system, suppressing the media and destroying very foundations of sane economic development, they got into a perilous political stalemate.

But then September 11 came. Now, the war in Chechnya is interpreted as part of the US-led anti-terrorist operation and can last years longer. Logically, all questions should be addressed to Washington, as the responsibility had already been delegated to it. Henry Kissinger was indeed right when he praised Putin's skills by comparing him with famous Russian diplomat Gorchakov.

As to ABM, Nato-enlargement and that sort of things, the US may take them together with all the headaches, if they like, provided Putin and the 'families' around him feel more secure till the next presidential elections in Russia.

Some Western observers suggest erroneously, that Putin may face menacing opposition because of his 'opening to the West'. In fact, Putin showed to the ruling cliques a way out from a severe crisis caused by Chechnya.

Post-Soviet generals are not fanatics. They like villas and USD- denominated incomes and are keen in business (oil, arms, kidnapping). They would not like to be questioned by neither military nor the Hague tribunals. Thanks to Putin's 'bold pro- Western move' those rude options seem to have yet again been moved far away from them.

Some observers, even those reporting to the US Congress, point at Zhirinovskiy's LDPR as possible source of trouble. But the LDPR is nothing more than a Kremlin-made tool. Zhirinovskiy himself, in defiance of everything he said a couple of weeks ago, declared last Friday that he unconditionally supported Russia's rapprochement with the US.

Russian public will get a surrogate solution of the Chechen problem in form of a trial over Salman Raduev. The massively advertised trial has just started in Daghestan chaired by Prosecutor General Ustinov in person. The audience is supposed to get the impression of the federal authorities keeping with their promises and finally triumphing over the rebels. All this is in line with the Kremlin's increasing eagerness to substitute any real activity by PR- performances.

At the same time, a pro-death penalty campaign has been launched. Russians apparently have to be tuned to a 'stronger hand' Putin is said to show in the near future.

To have a more comprehensive idea of Russian economy, one also should reach beyond Yastrzhembskiy/Pavlovskiy propaganda. For example, head of Russian tax agency Mikhail Fradkov said on a meeting in Vladivostok last week that capital flight is still going on at an annual USD 20 billion path and that some 40% of Russian economy remain 'in the shadow'. Everyone is welcome to value official growth rates and the tax reform against the backdrop of those numbers.

Gunmen hired by Custom service have recently raided and robbed several big furniture stores in Moscow as the owners had refused to pay the usual tribute to the custom generals. That episode may mean more than all the US-designed projects of Russia's joining the WTO.

A word on Putin himself. I happened to interview Germans, who had looked into Putin's files, related to his GDR time. Their assessment was twofold. Putin was 'sehr gut' in all kinds of practical management on the local level. But he appeared to be inherently unable to lead, the more so, to reform effectively any big organisation or system. He possessed an established mentality of a mediocre KGB-bureaucrat and, moreover, was plagued by a number of inferiority complexes. So, at any higher management position he may instinctively try to create an environment comfortable to his character.

According to the German experts, he might tend to create plain hierarchic structures with formally clear relations among all participants. But he hardly would dare more creative solutions as they demand vision, spirit, and personal responsibility.

Interestingly enough, Germans were not so sure about Putin's affiliation at that time. It looked like he worked for the anti-dissident department of the KGB and was busy in Leipzig with seeking for ways to blackmail East-Germans willing to emigrate. This version is indirectly supported by the fact, that after returning to the USSR, Putin, reportedly, first became a KGB 'supervisor' at the Leningrad University. Anyway his intelligence-related story should be checked not to get Western politicians reflecting every time with admiration on his clandestine past.

I'd say the American contribution to developing of the Russian society didn't always correspond with the values proclaimed. Many Russians have a sense that American media and politicians are often far from the truth. This is just the reason for growing anti- American sentiment in this country, not a kind of unreasonable anti- Western xenophobia. Now, pushing for the idea of friendship with Putin, they take a risk of committing another mistake.

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