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From: Ronald Hamilton <ronald.hamilton@us.army.mil>
Date: Sat, 05 Nov 2005
Subject: Rebuttal to Mr. Sharansky's recent Bowing to Russia article/JRL 9280

Rebuttal to Natan Sharansky's Washington Post "Bowing To Russia"
By Major Ron Hamilton (Ret)
US Army Intelligence
The writer retired as a Major and Russian linguist from the U.S Army's Military Intelligence Corps on October 31st 2005 to pursue business and academic goals. He has served worldwide in numerous command and staff positions at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. His interests are the applied effects of foreign policy theory and its implementation on the ground - specifically the transitioning Caucasus nations and the roles that the USA and Russia play in their democratic development.

Without taking anything away from the fact that Mr. Sharansky is an honorable man who spent nine years in prison for his beliefs, it is important to dig a little deeper into his basic thesis that the Khodorkovsky case is an example of unacceptable democratic regression (backsliding) by Russia and the Putin government.

What strikes me is what Mr. Sharansky doesn't say in his article. First and foremost is that he completely ignores the fact of Mr. Khodorkovsky's guilt or innocence. The likelihood that he is guilty, and that a jury of his Russian citizen peers has convicted him in a court of law makes the probability of his guilt very high. In fact, he (along with many other oligarchs to whom Mr. Sharansky alludes) is guilty as sin of numerous crimes against the state and the people of Russia. Second is that just because you haven't caught and tried all of them at once doesn't make trying one at a time any less important. So, selective prosecution isn't negative as Mr. Sharansky indicates and is simply a red herring he throws out to attempt to show that others did it and weren't tried so trying only one for crimes is somehow unfair and sinister. Don't fall for this trick. You can't point to the unpunished bad behavior of others as a reason to justify the bad behavior of one. Selective prosecution occurs in every advanced democratic nation on the planet and is based on numerous conditional parameters. Mr. Sharansky knows this. Why is it so much more dangerous to democracy in Russia than in his own country or in mine for that matter? It happens all of the time everywhere.

The next point Mr. Sharansky avoids is the Russian oligarchs-in-exile population. The reason they are in self-imposed exile is to avoid being tried for their crimes in Russia. If they were to return home they too would be arrested, tried, and found innocent or guilty in a court of law by a jury of their peers and Mr. Sharansky's Poor Khodorkovsky probably wouldn't be alone at the labor camp. The reason they are on the run and will not face the charges is because they are very likely guilty as sin too. Mr. Sharansky along with most other Eurasia regional experts knows full well that the oligarchs and organized crime leaders were out of control and breaking just about every rule and law on the books in their unfettered quests to become Russia's version of America's Robber Barons in a lightning fast ten year period. These men went from rags to Billionaires in months and they were killing, maiming and stomping on anyone that got in their way and Mr. Sharansky knows this too.

The ill-gotten gain and influence these extra-legal, above-the-law oligarchs wielded prior to President Putin was far more dangerous and inimical to the rule of law and democratic advancement than any of the so-called democratic back sliding events Mr. Sharansky attempts to place on the current government. Mr. Sharansky knows that the current period in Russian democratic advancement is far more stable, constitutional, rule-of-law oriented, and more fair than the period of the Oligarchy which preceded Putin. Nobody could get anything done during the so-called period of democracy that Mr. Sharansky seems to think existed prior to President Putin without paying obeisance (and large sums of cash) to the oligarchs, crime bosses, and corrupt government officials who were on the mafia's dole.

Objective facts such as assassination of legitimate businessmen, the lack of prosecuting officials accused of bribery and corruption, the amount and frequency of bribes required to do business in Russia, etcetera are all improved dramatically since Vladimir Putin was elected. The reason Western interests and Western investors have dramatically increased capital investments in Russia has nothing to do with their lack of morals as Mr. Sharansky and others seem to be implying, but on the contrary they see advancement in openness (democracy), decreases in corruption, and transparency in government operations on the rise. Most objective people in the world call this progress.not regression.

Regression (Backsliding) implies that one was more advanced and has dropped back. This is simply patently false. Russia was not more democratic and rule-of-law oriented prior to President Putin. In fact, a very small group of extremely wealthy and totally selfish men were allied with numerous criminal elements and were working hard to subvert the legitimate will of the people in order to maintain their own powerful perks, privileges, and positions as the unelected ruling elite of the Russian people. They didn't try to use the rule of law to legitimately change things like President Putin has done. They didn't have to because they were using money and the threat of violence to subvert the rule of law and influence things to their own advantage and not to the Russian people's advantage.

Nearly every person I know who follows Eurasian and Russian development in particular knew prior to Putin and knows now that the two main obstacles to Russian democratic advancement were the Oligarchs and the powerful mafia controlled regional governments who had fashioned a loose-confederated government within the Russian Federation. The Oligarchs and the most powerful regional clans controlled Russia and ran it into the ground for personal gain. The Kremlin (Federal Government) was marginalized, infiltrated, and influenced by numerous unelected mega-wealthy persons. President Putin, like America's Teddy Roosevelt, had to exert government control and reign in the Robber Barons and the regional clan controlled governments. Just because he chose to do it in an organized and controlled manner over a period of time rather than coming in with both guns blazing doesn't make it wrong. In fact, the cool, calm, and collected manner that he has set about dismantling the power of the oligarchy and mafia is completely in character for President Putin and any psychologist or observant person would tell you that this is how he thinks, works, and executes his plans. Most of these Russia focused people will also tell you that they thought the problem was so bad back then that they would have bet against President Putin being able to overcome the situation and come out on top.

Mr. Sharansky also fails to give credit where credit is due. To put it into perspective President Putin is attempting to lead a country that covers eleven time zones, has a nuclear arsenal as large as America's, a population of 170 million, a Wahabbi supported radical Islamic guerilla war in Chechnya that is spreading into Dagestan and Ingushetia (every bit as intense as America's struggle in Afghanistan and Iraq) except his is inside of his sovereign borders, a depression that makes the US Great Depression look like a time of plenty, an average life-span for a Russian citizen that looks like something from the Dark Ages, and to top it off he is managing all of this on a budget a little larger than New York City's. Talk about a bridge to far.

There are only two types of people on the planet who would take his job - an unintelligent megalomaniac (Sadam Hussein comes to mind) or a true blue patriot in love with his country. And, Putin is the latter and that is why President Bush said I looked him in the eyes and got a sense of his soul. This is someone I can work with. Both Bush and Putin are plainspoken (often tongue-tied) centrist oriented patriots trying to lead their countries to a better place. A man (a non-politician) like Putin is preferable to a suave, smooth, sophisticated, silver-tongued devil any day.

It is part of the human condition to notice the 5% left undone and ignore the 95% already accomplished. If he had only just held everything together, it would still be an incredible accomplishment, but he has gone into the super human category and actually started pulling out of the nosedive that looked like a sure bet to crash. If President Putin were to simply sit back now and coast, his legacy would still be viewed with great admiration by historians of the next century. One doesn't have to know history very well to be able to find leaders who were faced with many of the same circumstances. Putin like Lincoln has a civil war, like T. Roosevelt he is attempting to exert government control over extremely powerful Robber Barons, and like FDR he is dealing with a very severe depression.

He has three gargantuan problems to deal with all at once and three of the greatest leaders in American history only had to deal with one at a time. Our collective hats should be off to President Putin.

Mr. Sharansky as always has written brilliantly, but he is cherry picking select little morsels of information to make his case that Russia is backsliding on the democracy front and leaving out the underlying reasons for recent events, which in my humble opinion is intellectually dishonest.

Another very influential thinker from the Holy Land once said, "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considereth not the beam that is in thine own eye?" Mr. Sharansky's considerable worldwide influence should be used first in his own adopted land to bring democracy to the Palestinians then maybe he could move back to Russia and run for office and help them advance democratically according to his own particular theoretical formula. I suspect that he would find out very quickly that his theoretical evangelical democracy philosophizing and his casting of stones from afar would run smack head on into the reality of the sheer difficulty of advancing democracy realistically on the ground with real humans and real conditions.