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Moscow Times
October 6, 2004
Return to Sender [re: Letter on Russian Democracy]
By Eric Kraus
Eric Kraus, chief strategist for Sovlink Securities, contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.

On Sept. 28, in an extraordinary "Open Letter to the Heads of State and Government of the European Union and NATO," a large, heterogenous and wholly self-appointed group of Euro-Atlantic celebrities set themselves up as defenders of Russian democracy, fustigating President Vladimir Putin for imperilling the magnificent democratic edifice built under Boris Yeltsin.

Not surprisingly, lurking among this eminent group of European "useful idiots" -- many of whom have never set foot on Russian soil -- we find some of the most notorious exponents of the American far right; in particular, representatives of those institutions most generously funded by Yukos. There is Bruce Jackson of the Project on Transitional Democracies, an outspoken Mikhail Khodorkovsky advocate who so greatly helped the George W. Bush administration sell the Iraq invasion to the Eastern European presidents. We also find a good 25 members of neocon organizations such as the openly imperialistic Project for the New American Century, the American Enterprise Institute and Freedom House.

Not surprisingly, both the Yukos-funded Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Fund for Open Society (a Yukos-sponsored outfit that stole the name of George Soros' hugely valuable Open Society Foundation) number prominently among these independent thinkers.

Displaying a breathtaking ignorance of Russian political reality, the signatories level a laundry list of charges against Putin. The president has "arbitrarily imprisoned both real and imagined political rivals," they write -- perhaps in a reference to Menatep thugs? He has "harassed and arrested NGO leaders" -- never mind how the United States would treat Russian-funded and staffed NGOs working in Washington to discredit and slander the Bush administration.

The deeply corrupt, reactionary regional governors are transformed into the "checks and balances in the Russian federal system." Indeed, perhaps unwittingly, the authors clearly express their priorities by warning that "the instruments of state power appear to be being rebuilt." Apparently, mere anarchy is their preferred political system for Russia.

That the supporters of a U.S. president widely believed to owe his seat to electoral fraud should call a president supported by some 80 percent of the Russian people "undemocratic" is perhaps to be expected. Boris Yeltsin, elected in a totally manipulated election, and who rarely climbed into the double digits in the opinion polls, suffered no such criticism from the American right.

It is only toward the end of the letter that the real reasons for their concern become clear. They claim a "deteriorating conduct of Russia in its foreign relations," a "threatening attitude toward Russia's neighbors and Europe's energy security, the return of rhetoric of militarism and empire," and "a refusal to comply with Russia's international treaty obligations."

As regards Russia, which in the past 10 years has passively accepted the extension to its very borders of a potentially hostile military alliance -- NATO, which willingly countenanced the U.S. garrisoning of the "stans," and has tolerated U.S. interference in the domestic politics of several neighbors, the accusations seem quite extraordinary. Contrasting Putin's rhetoric with that of Bush -- who is it that employs the "rhetoric of militarism and empire"?

That people so closely tied to the Bush administration speak of Russia's "refusal to comply with Russia's international treaty obligations" shows a refined sense of irony. And it gets better. The U.S. invasion of Iraq, described as "totally illegal" by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, is magically transformed into a war of liberation: "At this critical time in history when the West is pushing for democratic change around the world, including in the broader Middle East," they write. Yes, the gratitude with which these liberators are greeted is clearly visible on the evening news.

Regarding energy security, one is reminded of that famous American bumper sticker: "How did our oil end up under their sand?" While the United States is apparently justified in using not just economic, but also military force to extend its dominion to the furthest reaches of the planet, Russia's exploitation of its mineral resources poses a threat. Were Russia to turn over management of its mineral reserves to Exxon, this would obviously please Washington to no end, though it would be unlikely to play well in Siberia.

Refreshingly, the letter ends with a simple statement of fact: "The leaders of the West must recognize that our current strategy towards Russia is failing." In fact, it has already failed. By unambiguously supporting Yeltsin as he surrendered wholesale not just Russia's geopolitical ambitions but the country's vital interests, and uncritically backing the well-intentioned but truly catastrophic "young reformer" faction as Russia descended into near anarchy and economic collapse, the West has largely discredited itself in the eyes of the Russian people.

Unlike Yeltsin, that adorable, drunken bear who performed circus tricks for the West in return for a pat on the muzzle and a few kind words, Putin is increasingly prone to put Russia's interests first. It is hardly surprising that the new American imperialists are outraged. Yet despite all the rhetoric, a felicitous outcome remains likely. Putin is delighted to "engage" -- be it with the United States, Europe or Asia -- but on Russia's terms, and in pursuit of Russia's interests. After a decade of turmoil, Russia has found a welcome self-confidence. Western advice is now deeply discounted. The sooner the pundits realize this, the sooner a real dialogue can begin.