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In this special Frontpage Symposium, we have gathered an All-Star panel to discuss the power of the KGB and the meaning of the new freedom movement in the streets of Russia. This symposium originally ran last week, under the title “Symposium: Putin Forever?,” in our Feb. 17 issue. Due to the panel of titans that gathered and the vital dialogue that occurred, and in light of the events unfolding in Russia, the editors felt it appropriate to rerun this symposium.
Our distinguished guests in this symposium are:
Jim Woolsey, Director of Central Intelligence 1993-95.
Lt. General Ion Mihai Pacepa, the highest-ranking official to have defected from the former Soviet bloc. Romania’s Communist president Nicolae Ceausescu was executed at the end of a trial whose accusations came almost word for word out of Pacepa’s book Red Horizons, subsequently republished in 27 countries.
Evgeny Legedin, a street-art painter and political activist from Yekaterinburg. As a coordinator of the youth anti-Putin movement “Oborona” and participant in the democratic movement “Solidarity,” he has organized countless rallies and demonstrations of protest, including the all-Russian campaign for freedom of rallies “Strategy-31.” He is the author of the mock prize “Golden Evsyuk,” the “award” given every year to the worst policemen in Yekaterinburg. In fear for being imprisoned on fabricated criminal charges, he fled Russia on August 16 and reached the UK, where he is seeking political asylum.
Dr. Igor Melcuk, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the University of Montreal and Member of the Royal Society of Canada. He left the Soviet Union in 1977 after being expelled from the Institute of Linguistics of the Academy of Sciences because he defended Andrei Sakharov in a letter published in The New York Times.
Dr. Gregory Glazov, a Rhodes scholar who is now Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Immaculate Conception School of Theology, Seton Hall University, USA and Program Coordinator of the Institute for Christian Spirituality’s Great Spiritual Books program which frequently focuses on spiritual writings in Soviet and Nazi prison camps. He is currently completing several manuscripts that include commentaries on The Lord’s Prayer and on The Book of Job, as well as an introduction to Jewish-Catholic relationships, entitled, Brothers in Hope: Models of Judaism in Catholic Perspective (NDU Press), and a translation and commentary on Vladimir Solovyov’s writings on Judaism and Christianity, an interest that bespeaks his spiritual legacy as the son of Russian dissidents, Yuri and Marina Glazov.
Dr. Jay Bergman, a Professor of History at Central Connecticut State University, where he teaches Russian and modern European history. He received his bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University and his M.A., M. Phil., and Ph.D from Yale University. He is the author of Vera Zasulich: A Biography, published by Stanford University Press; and articles in Russian intellectual history. He is also on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Scholars, a nationwide organization of professors committed to reasoned scholarship, intellectual diversity, and nondiscrimination in faculty hiring and student admissions. His newest book is Meeting the Demands of Reason: The Life and Thought of Andrei Sakharov, published by Cornell University Press.
Yuri Yarim-Agaev, a former leading Russian dissident and a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group. Upon arriving in the United States after his forced exile from the Soviet Union, he headed the New York-based Center for Democracy in the USSR.
Dr. Theodore Dalrymple, a world-renowned and critically-acclaimed author, retired physician (prison doctor and psychiatrist), a contributing editor to City Journal and the author of the new book, Anything Goes.
Dr. David Satter, a Rhodes Scholar who is now a senior fellow of the Hudson Institute and a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). He was Moscow correspondent of the Financial Times of London from 1976 to 1982, during the height of the Soviet totalitarian period and he is the author of Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State and Age of Delirium: the Decline and Fall of the Soviet Union, which is being made into a documentary film. His new book is It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past.
FP: Jim Woolsey, Evgeny Legedin, Yuri Yarim-Agaev, Igor Melcuk, Gregory Glazov, Theodore Dalrymple, Mike Pacepa, Jay Bergman and David Satter, welcome to this special edition of Frontpage Symposium. We are honored to be graced by such a distinguished all-star panel, which includes two ex-spy chiefs from opposite sides of the Cold War.
Dr. Gregory Glazov, let me begin with you, since it was a letter written to me by you, about a previous symposium, Russia After Elena Bonner, that inspired this symposium.
We have gathered today to discuss the power of the new KGB and the meaning and potential of the new freedom movement we have seen emerging in the streets of Russia. But let us first build the foundation to that discussion by going back to the fireworks in a previous symposium that will help crystallize the key themes that our panel will be dealing with today:
In Russia After Elena Bonner, the panelists ganged up on Yuri Yarim-Agaev who stated (or seemed to be stating) that the KGB no longer had much power in Russia. You felt that Yuri Yarim-Agaev may have been trying to say something different and that each side may have misunderstood – and misrepresented – the other.
Let’s begin with your thoughts on the collision in Russia After Elena Bonner.
Dr. Gregory Glazov: Thank you Jamie for inviting me to this discussion. Let me begin by reflecting, as you ask me to do, on the “Russia After Elena Bonner” Symposium. The Symposium took a passionate turn after nearly all of its participants took care to disagree with Yuri Yarim Agaev’s stipulation, in his second reflection, that the FSB, while the direct descendant of the KGB, cannot and will never operate with its former strength. I agree with all the arguments advanced in detail against this stipulation. It seemed to me, however, that the Symposium ended prematurely and required another round of discussion to clarify whether the disagreement was fundamental or resolvable.
In the interest of exploring the potential for some rapprochement between the views expressed, I would like to begin by underscoring the overall lessons I drew from the Symposium. First I think I understood the opening thrust of Yuri Yarim-Agaev’s second reflection. He regretted that a Symposium devoted to the memory of Elena Bonner turned out to emphasize the fearsome strength of the modern FSB over the fact of her victory over its predecessor. Wishing to refocus the Symposium on her heroic courage, Yuri Agaev did so by stipulating two things:
a) the modern FSB is continuous with the KGB but less powerful and fearsome, partly because
b) everybody else is even weaker, even the post-Soviet human rights community which is not continuous with the former human rights community, since its members lack, relatively speaking, people who have the courage of Bonner.
It would seem to me that this argument weakens Yuri Yarim- Agaev’s leading premise, namely the importance of Bonner’s legacy today. If Bonner has lessons to teach today about courage, these lessons demand a clear and detailed exposition of what is to be feared. These are the lessons set out in detail by Konstantin Preobrazhensky, Lt. General Ion Mihai Pacepa and Igor Melcuk.
The 144 journalists who have been killed under Putin’s presidency testify both to the fact that the KGB has entrenched itself in modern Russia and to the presence of self-sacrificing courage on the part of the journalists who continue to die for standing up to it. On what grounds can such courage be judged to be discontinuous with that of Bonner? In light of this, would it not be appropriate to change the conclusion of Konstantin Preobrazhensky’s response to Yuri Agaev by not denying that a new Elena Bonner could and does appear in Russia. That she would be shot down like Anna Politkovskaya and the many other real dissidents only underscores that all these are the re-instantiations of her type. The great question that remains concerns the nature of their or her power. If “she” is recurrently shot on appearing, it is so because of the fear that she generates in the echelons of “power.” But fear betokens weakness and the consciousness that the “power” in question cannot be taken seriously but is a “farce.” A good measure of the argument in the symposium turned on the connotation attributed to this last word. It would be good to clarify whether it can be used accurately to describe the nature of Putin’s pretensions without belittling his murderousness.
FP: Thank you Dr. Greg Glazov.
Yuri Yarim-Agaev, your turn to clarify your position.
Yuri Yarim-Agaev: Let me make it very clear: I never said that Putin’s regime or the FSB are not vicious, fearsome, or criminal. On the contrary, I was among the first to expose and condemn their crimes, and continue to do so. I believe also that it is common knowledge that Putin’s regime is antidemocratic and has zero respect for human rights. However, the subject of this symposium is not how bad Putin’s regime is, but rather how strong and lasting it is, and there is a big difference between two.
Being vicious does not mean being strong. Our outrage at the atrocities of Putin’s regime is fully justified, yet if we become driven by emotion and fear we may grant Putin what he desires most: the overestimation of his power. I am really concerned about that, particularly in light of the most recent developments.
Many Russian and Western pundits and politicians readily accepted Putin’s re-nominating himself for the presidency, and granted him not only the next election but even the one after that–12 more years. This acceptance can only be explained by the belief that Putin has unlimited power and no one can challenge him for many years ahead. Such a generous recognition of Putin’s power is neither helpful for Putin’s opponents in Russia nor serving the interests of our country, and it should not be granted with such ease.
The fact that the KGB has returned to power in Russia, that it now occupies many top governmental positions, that it continues to suppress political opposition, and that it murders its critics is not proof of its omnipotence. We shall not ignore those facts and shall make them known to everyone. Yet there is a big difference between being vigilant about the ruthlessness and crimes of the regime, and being paralyzed by its atrocities.
Putin’s propaganda would have us believe that his regime is very strong. We should not give him a free ride, however, since it would seriously undermine our efforts to hold the regime accountable for its crimes. The adepts of realpolitik would say: “We know how bad Putin is but there is no alternative. He is here forever and we have to deal with him as he is.” That is why in analyzing Putin’s power it is important not to be overwhelmed by the omnipresence of the KGB and the crimes it commits, but also be cognizant of the many facts which indicate that Putin’s regime may be not so strong.
As bad as Putin’s Russia is, it radically differs from the Soviet Communist empire. Russia is no longer a totalitarian country, but rather an authoritarian one. The new rulers do not tolerate any political opposition, but on the other hand don’t interfere much into the private lives of ordinary citizens. In comparison with Soviet Communism, life for people in Russia has changed dramatically: they are now free to leave the country; they have broad access to information, and have substantial economic independence. No credit should be given for these changes to Putin or the FSB. If it were their choice, they would have probably cut back all those incremental steps of freedom. But they have not, and that fact in itself indicates limits on their power.
Despite the above evidence there is an argument, popular among the KGB professionals, that once it is free from the control of communist bosses, the FSB becomes much more effective and even stronger than the KGB. This sounds, however, like the typical belief on the part of many professionals that their political or business bosses merely restrict them, while they forget that those very bosses assure their ability to conduct their professional work. The KGB was created and empowered by the Communist system and it was on the edge of elimination when Soviet Communism collapsed.
The secret police cannot be a self-sustaining force and operate in a vacuum. They are a tool of political power which provides for its operation, but also imposes its control. The new political power in Russia is Putin and his comrades. It is true that they come from the KGB, and that their political philosophy and their loyalty have been determined by that organization. Yet when they moved to the top political positions, their role changed. Putin acquired many new responsibilities and has to balance his act. He cannot let the FSB run amok, but has to restrict it within the scope of his autocratic rule, much more limited than totalitarian communist rule. As a result, the FSB’s control over people’s lives, and hence its power, is much more restricted than the KGB’s.
The atrocious killing of political opponents does not prove either that the FSB became as strong as and even stronger than the KGB. First, the KGB has always carried out political murders and in Brezhnev’s time against dissidents as well; I testified before the US Congress in 1983 on that matter. But the Soviet authorities did not have to resort to this often since they had complete control over the courts, psychiatric institutions, and all the laws and regulations they needed. The projection of power is much stronger when it is implemented through the official system of government institutions than through secretive murders. So the fact that the new regime kills its political opponents instead of trying them is to me a sign of their weakness, rather their strength.
These murders, however heinous, neither deter the regime’s critics, nor terrorize the majority of the population. The authorities seem to be very selective in targeting only direct political opponents, and people know that. The current regime hardly rules by force and terror.
If we want to understand the real strength and longevity of the current Russian regime we should concentrate not on the physical force of the FSB, its numbers, and readiness and ability to kill, but rather on the strength of Putin’s political mandate.
So what secures Putin’s political power, and how strong is it actually? Briefly, the social contract which Putin has with Russia stands on two pillars: material well-being and stability. More specifically, the following factors have helped the KGB and Putin come to power and hold it.
- Disillusionment with democracy and the free market as Russians saw it in the 1990s.
- Fear of lawlessness and striving for law and order.
- The old habits of living in a deterministic society, particularly on the part of the older generation.
- The high price of oil and natural resources, which allows for a comparatively decent standard of living without unleashing the forces of creativity and free enterprise.
- The social systems and infrastructures, though shabby and deteriorating, inherited from Communism: cheap medicine, education, apartments, etc., which allowed the government to save on those expenses for some period of time.
- Post Communism credit–a substantial increase in production and the standard of living in comparison with the utmost inefficient central planning economy.
One can see that most of these factors are of a temporary nature: people’s memories are fading, the older generation is dying off, and the price of natural resources can fall at any moment, Any of these developments will weaken or undermine Putin’s authority or force him to drastic reforms, which would dramatically decrease his and the FSB’s power–or even oust them.
There are many signs that the Putin regime has never been very strong. It failed to create in Russia a modern competitive economy; it has mixed results at best in its attempt to impose control over the former Soviet republics; and it is losing continuously the most creative and entrepreneurial segments of the population to the West.
There are also signs that indicate that Russia’s ruling elite is not so confident in the strength and longevity of its position. Russia’s rulers try to extort as much money as they can and put it in foreign banks, keep their families abroad, establish foreign residence and even citizenship, and try to maintain good personal relations with influential Western friends. All that looks like the right escape route.
The Putin regime is far from omnipotent, but its weaknesses can cost it power only when challenged by political opposition. When demand of society for such an opposition becomes strong, Putin and the FSB will not be able to suppress it. It may take time, though, for such an opposition to become real political force, and we cannot do much to facilitate that process. One thing we can do, however, is stop helping to prolong Putin’s presidency, stop legitimizing it. For that purpose we should:
- Expose political crimes, hold Putin and the FSB accountable for each unsolved political murder, deprive them of the presumption of innocence.
- Support democratic opposition in Russia.
- Decrease our dependence on oil.
- Realize that Putin’s Russia is not our ally and stop including Russia in multilateral negotiations, be it the Middle East, North Korea or others.
- Minimize the role of the UN and its Security Council.
- Stop granting residency and citizenship to the ruling Russian elite and their families.
- Stop “reset” policy whose only purpose is legitimizing Putin’s government.
- Spotlight the issue of Soviet Communism and its crimes, which will help undermine the legitimacy of the KGB and Russia’s current rulers.
- And expose any weaknesses of the Putin regime.
Dr. Theodore Dalrymple: Surely the problem we are dealing with is the old one of continuity in change. No one would say either that nothing has changed in Russia or that everything has changed. And no one would have expected the country, with its history, to turn into a Scandinavian democracy.
The FSB is powerful and active, the descendant of the KGB; the KGB privatized Russia largely to its own benefit. But the one thing that it lost was a patina of ideological justification. Even lip service to the idea of freedom and democracy imposes certain limitations, unwelcome as they may be. That is why the killing of journalists appears more like common gangsterism: the old authoritarianism is there but it dares not speak its name, it has no justification beyond the preservation of power whose only justification for itself is that it brings order and supposed strength, as well as the kind of respect abroad that a mugger demands in the Bronx.
It follows from this that I think Yuri Yarim-Agaev’s distinction between totalitarian and authoritarian regimes in Russia is an important and sound one, and of fundamental importance. Since the new authoritarianism is lacking in any kind of ideological justification that transcends the present conjuncture, I think it is inherently unstable – but is therefore unpredictable and, given the situation and traditions of the country, dangerous. A change in the price of oil – downwards, of course – would almost certainly effect a big change, though the other former republics would have much to fear in this event.
Dr. David Satter: The purpose of the KGB was to create reality. The KGB forced every Soviet citizen to participate in an ideological play and it was its effort not just to destroy any and all opposition but to force each citizen to demonstrate his “happiness” that was the secret to its enormous power.
The FSB is quite different. Like the KGB, it is concerned to destroy opposition but as Yuri points out, it leaves Russians free to think what they like. It has no higher purpose beyond assuring the regime’s power. It is the backbone of the regime and it benefits from it. But it does not try to remold people but only to teach them that serious opposition could pose a danger to their lives.
Putin bases his power on the FSB but not only. He draws on a ruling clan that is itself divided into clans many of which are at war with each other. This small group which controls vast property and monopolizes power is uneasy precisely because its members are united by nothing but greed but aspire to be a permanent leadership. They seek to do this, moreover, without the instruments of repression that were available to the KGB. Had the Soviet Union not imploded from within, it could have withstood any level of external pressure. This is far from the case for Putin’s Russia. The FSB is therefore the uneasy watchdog of a situation that could rapidly slip out of control.
Against this background, the most urgent necessity is the development of a democratic consciousness in Russia, which appeared briefly during the perestroika years, and then was drowned in the criminality of the Yeltsin era and the Putin succession. The dissidents under the Soviets were important because their opposition was a fundamental moral opposition. This is a lesson that the present Russian opposition, with its emphasis on fighting corruption – a mere symptom – does not seem to have learned.
Well, is the Putin/FSB regime strong or weak? The question cannot be answered in only one way. It is strong in that it has vast potential for violence and, at the moment, faces very little opposition. But it is weak because it aspires to a degree of exploitation and perpetual control that is not possible under non-totalitarian conditions. In the event of a serious, systemic crisis, the FSB’s violence could well be unleashed. (A good example of the moral level of the Putin regime was the decision to open fire with flame throwers and grenade launchers on a school gymnasium packed with hostages during the 2004 Beslan school crisis.) This could lead to horrific bloodshed signaling the birth of a new, fully terroristic dictatorship. The best hope of preventing such a development is the strengthening of a democratic consciousness in Russia capable of motivating Russians to use the freedoms that do exist to assure a peaceful transition.
Dr. Igor Melcuk: Sorry, I don’t know whether Putin’s regime is strong or weak; but that it is disgusting is not questionable. I’ll try to focus my ideas about today’s Russia and organize them in a logical way.
I emphasize that I don’t have sufficient information: a few fleeing observations during a short visit to Moscow, exchanges with friends and leafing through the press.
1) The Present State of the Russian State.
Yes, Mr. Yarim-Agaev is right in that modern Russia is an authoritarian rather than totalitarian state; as Dr. Satter correctly notes, there are no visible ideological underpinnings. Russians are allowed to travel, to think and say aloud what they think or even criticize the government, including Putin and Medvedev personally. Unfortunately, I see the reason for this “liberalism”: the authorities understood that there is no danger for them in all that. They allow Russians to let off some steam, which is very smart of them.
They know that the Russian people are massively and resolutely behind them: that was my impression in Moscow, reinforced by conversations with acquaintances and colleagues. And we should not forget that the authorities ruthlessly stop any attempt to do them any real harm: remember the deaths of Magnitsky and Litvinenko. Russia remains a rogue country, supporting Chávez and North Korea, protecting Iran, sending its spies in UK and USA, etc.
2) A Probable Future of the Russian State.
If energy prices drop dramatically, the internal situation will become desperate. Yet I doubt that the popular fury will then be leveled at the government and the political class. Russians are not Europeans: they will hate Europeans and Americans, as they always did. I am afraid the ruling gang will unleash another wave of Great Terror against intellectuals, Jews and Westerners (which is one and the same for an average Russian). I hope only for this bloodbath to remain within Russia’s borders and to not spill over—although this is by no means precluded. In the worst scenario, Russians (and Russia) will collaborate with radical Islam: this is exactly the ideology that an average Russian needs (even if he does not know it).
3) The Ideology of the FSB.
True, the FSB, in sharp contrast to the KGB, does not enforce any ideology, but only the brutal power of a few mafia clans. So what? It is much easier. The idea that the rulers need an ideological reason for their survival is totally incorrect, when applied to Russia. What ideology had Latino-American dictators and their families? Their rule was limited only by assassination. And Russians are much easier to rule than Mexicans or Venezuelans. Seventy years of well-directed terror and several indescribable wars have changed the genetic pool of Russian people. And the FSB will have no trouble herding the miserable remains.
4) Opposition: There is None.
Not enough decent people among Russians. There seems to be not enough decent people among the French or the British, or even the Americans; what can we expect from a population that has been subjected to such an un-natural selection for such a long time? Under the Soviets the dissidents fought because they had hope: they believed that it would be sufficient to push the Communist tyranny out—and Russia will become at least a quasi-normal country. (By the way, I also hoped for such a change.) But then it turned out that the Russian people did not want democracy. Putin does not have to rig up elections: he will get an absolute majority anyways. For two centuries, the Russian social elite were lionizing the Russian people, worked for it and died for it; and then the people showed their real colors—supporting the Bolshevik bloody regime. And just 20 years ago, we saw this for a second time. Russians have today what they are worth.
5) What Can Be Done:
Inside Russia: To tell the truth, I don’t know. If I had to live there now, I would try to do my job as well as I can and to spread the normal human mentality. History has time.
Outside Russia: To oppose the regime on every step. For instance, to limit the mobility of Russian strongmen and especially of their capitals. Exactly, because they are simple Mafiosi, they need our banks and our markets. This makes it so much easier to pressurize them. Modern Russia is our deadly enemy, and it should be treated as such. Without an outside pressure nothing normal will happen in this half-Asiatic country.
Dr. Jay Bergman: I agree with other participants in this symposium that the FSB exercises considerable power in Russia. In light of Russia’s history, this is hardly surprising. As early as the seventeenth century, when serfdom was formalized into law, Russia was a country based on mutual fear: the people feared the government and the government feared the people. The only conceivable alternative to autocracy was not democracy but anarchy, and the anarchic violence pervasive in the Time of Troubles in the early seventeenth century, and later in the peasant revolts of Razin, Bulavin, and Pugachev, caused Russia’s rulers, then and thereafter, to take whatever steps were necessary to defend the political status quo. By the twentieth century Russia had become a monarchical police state, in which the political police (the Okhrana) captured political criminals, and in the absence of any judicial proceeding or determination of guilt, imposed punishment. The same phenomenon, on a much larger scale and with infinitely greater brutality, occurred in the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin.
But the influence of national culture and history isn’t the only reason Putin, largely through the FSB, suppresses dissent. Another is that he considers the political system he has fashioned since assuming the Russian presidency almost eleven years ago – for public relations purposes he calls it “managed democracy” – to be weaker than it actually is. In Putin there seems to be a nagging sense of political and personal insecurity that causes him not only to engage in juvenile exercises in machismo, such as riding a horse bare-chested in Siberia, but also to deal more harshly with critics than the substance of their criticism would seem to require. The journalists killed by the FSB, for example, by and large did not call for the overthrow of the regime, or even for its radical transformation. And yet Putin, like the Soviet leadership in the Brezhnev era in responding to dissidents such as Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn, seems to consider criticism of any kind, no matter how constructively intended, destructive of his own legitimacy and that of his regime. Entrusting to the FSB the task of silencing — if necessary by actual murder – those who criticize his policies is therefore a perfectly logical reaction given Putin’s subjective evaluation of his own security and power.
To be sure, Putin’s regime, unlike the Soviet Union in the Stalin era, is not engaged in massive projects of social engineering like the collectivization of agriculture, or in creating a new managerial elite by physically destroying the old one, as Stalin did through the terror he unleashed in the mid 1930’s. As a result, the FSB has not nearly the responsibilities, nor the enormous power, of the old Soviet OGPU and NKVD. Putin’s actions, first as president and then as prime minister, make clear that his principal objective is not to transform Russia internally but rather to increase and expand its influence externally. Incorporating into Russia the countries contiguous to it that declared their independence when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 – what Russians call collectively “The Near Abroad” – is the foremost objective of Russian foreign policy. In fact, reconstituting the old Soviet Union, albeit without its legitimizing ideology of Marxism-Leninism, is for Putin the means of achieving the legitimacy he believes he needs.
And so, while it seems unlikely that Russia will soon degenerate into a kind of neo-Stalinism, in which mass terror is always a threat and occasionally a reality, the absence of democracy and the violations of human rights other participants in the symposium have focused on are sure to continue for the foreseeable future. Among the factors making this prediction plausible, above and beyond the present-day requirements of the Putin regime, is Russia’s distinctive political culture, one of the most durable features of which is the belief of Russian rulers, tsarist as well as Soviet, that the Russian people are children and therefore too immature and irrational to share in governance. Unfortunately in this instance, although national cultures are capable of changing, they usually do so only very slowly and incrementally.
I wish I could be more optimistic about Russia’s immediate future. No, Putin will not rule forever. But his successors will not be radically different. And no amount of soothing rhetoric from American presidents about “resetting” Russian-American relations will change that.
Evgeny Legedin: I agree with Yuri Yarim-Agaev characterizing Putin’s Russia as an authoritarian state with unique features. Besides the FSB’s total infiltration of all important political and civil institutions, I see one crucial property: Putin’s gang simulates democratic institutions: elections, the mass-media and the judicial system. Putin’s propaganda tries very hard to produce the illusion of “democracy.” And who are the consumers of this illusion?
I think Putin creates pseudo-democracy for Russians first of all. That’s his message for common people: We, like the West, have democracy and elections but there’s no need of riots and revolutions to change the government. In other words, the Kremlin tries to transform all protest activity into one action, when passive people go to polls one time in four years and “vote” for puppet parties.
I dare to draw a parallel with the movie “Matrix,” in which machines employing humans as electric cells, create for each person a virtual reality in order to prevent revolution. How long will Putin’s Matrix last? It depends on his popularity. If Russians collectively disobey Putin, he will lose power. Civil resistance can be very symbolic and effective. For example, all dissidents can boycott the Duma and Presidential “elections” by drawing caricatures or writing protest slogans on polling bulletins, taking the pictures of these bulletins and downloading them on Youtube. Thousands of people will see such a video. For instance, even some TV channels and magazines published pictures of my protest bulletin.
In 2008 after the Presidential “elections,” I downloaded a video unto the internet; it was of how I had drawn a caricature of Medvedev on the polling bulletin. Watching this video of active boycotting, people are forced to ask themselves if they agree with my key-message or not. And when people begin to ask such questions, that’s the ground for a revolution of minds, after which is the turn for street revolutions. If we want that revolution to be a peaceful one and without blood, like “classic” revolutions (French of 1789 or Russian of 1917), then the Russian opposition has to teach common people the ABC of Ghandi-style civil resistance. The Kremlin clearly sees the danger of Ghandi-tactics and oppresses mainly civil activists who promote the Ghandi-like Strategy-31 campaign.
Lt. General Ion Mihai Pacepa: I greatly appreciate Dr. Gregory Glazov’s initiative for resuming the conversation of our Symposium on Russia After Elena Bonner. It was indeed stopped in midstream.
I agree with the core of what had so far been said in this follow-up Symposium. Gregory’s prediction that a new Elena Bonner in today’s Russia will not be sent to the gulags but will be shot like Anna Politkovskaia, is my guess as well. Yarim-Agayev’s view that the KGB’s assassination of its critics does not prove omnipotence is, in my view, also right on the money. And, as always, I concur with Dr. Satter’s vision: the KGB’s historic violence could indeed lead to horrific bloodshed signaling the birth of “a new, fully terroristic dictatorship.”
The KGB role in Soviet Russia was, however, a lot broader than just squelching political opponents, although most of its other tasks were so highly classified that few who were outside its inner sanctum knew about them.
For example, the KGB was also the custodian of all the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal. This super secret task was given to the KGB (at that time called NKVD) on September 29, 1949, when the first Soviet nuclear bomb, built with American technology stolen by Soviet spies (the Rosenberg network) was successfully exploded at the Semipalatinsk test site in Kazakhstan.
When I left Romania for good, the KGB was safekeeping some 6,000 nuclear bombs, along with many thousands of nuclear artillery shells.
All these nuclear weapons had been developed and manufactured in KGB-managed cities hidden throughout Russia. Not a single such secret town was listed even on the Soviet Union’s most highly classified maps. Chelyabinsk city in the Urals was on the map of the Soviet Union, but Chelyabinsk-40, a city of 40,000 people also located in the Urals, was not. Nor did any maps show Chelyabinsk-65, Chelyabinsk-70, Chelyabinsk-95 and Chelyabinsk-115, all in the Urals. Krasnoyarsk city was shown in eastern Siberia, but there was no mention anywhere of Krasnoyarsk-25, Krasnoyarsk-26 and Krasnoyarsk-45.
After a nuclear accident at the East Siberian city of Tomsk-7 in April of 1993, ten newer “secret cities” located in that part of the country were disclosed. Recent information has shown that the nuclear military industry of the former Soviet Union might alone have had as many as 87 “secret KGB cities,” some occupying whole islands, such as the military laboratories on Vozrozhdeniye and Komsomolsk islands in the Aral Sea.[i]
These secret KGB cities are so enormous, they almost cannot be disassembled. Nothing so far indicates they have been. They, and the custody of the country’s nuclear arsenal, made the KGB the most powerful—and most dangerous—intelligence organization in the world.
Glasnost and its spectacular outcome in Eastern Europe made an instant hit in the West. The nuclear-armed KGB, however, proved to be a horse of another color. On June 22, 1991, its chairman, Vladimir Kryuchkov, informed the Soviet parliament that the motherland was on the brink of catastrophe. He then revealed “secret” KGB information showing that Western intelligence services were drawing up plans for the occupation of the Soviet Union. By remarkable coincidence, his speech was “clandestinely” videotaped and broadcast on Soviet television that same evening.
Soon after that, the world was horrified by news of a KGB coup d’état in Moscow.
The official Soviet version is that the KGB coup collapsed. The main loser, however, was the Communist Party, not the KGB. The Party was disbanded, and nobody within the country missed it. Until Lenin came along, Russia had never had a significant political party anyway.
The KGB survived with new nameplates on its door, and it became the only disciplined, well financed, and heavily armed force in post-Soviet Russia.
On December 31, 1999, the KGB organized a new coup. Speaking in front of a gaily-decorated New Year’s tree, Russia’s first freely elected president, Boris Yeltsin, stunned the world by resigning. “I understand that I must do it, and that Russia must enter the new millennium with new politicians.”[ii] Yeltsin then signed a decree transferring his power to former KGB officer Vladimir Putin.[iii] For his part, the just appointed president pardoned Yeltsin—who was allegedly connected to massive bribery scandals—“for any possible misdeeds” and granted him “total immunity” from being prosecuted (or even searched and questioned) for “any and all” actions committed while in office. Putin also gave Yeltsin a lifetime pension and a state dacha.[iv]
I have here recalled those old specifics of the past, because I want to set the record straight about what Russia really is. In spite of what we read in newspapers and hear on TV, Russia is not yet a democracy. It is rather the first intelligence dictatorship in history.
Two years after the December 1999 KGB palace coup that deposed Yeltsin, over 6,000 former KGB officers were in the driver’s seat, running Russia’s federal and local governments, and nearly half of all top bureaucratic positions in Russia’s governmental institutions were held by former officers of the KGB.[v]
Behind a façade of democracy, these former KGB officers restored the legal right of the KGB to electronically monitor the population without judicial approval, to control political groups, search homes and businesses, infiltrate the federal government, create its own front enterprises, investigate cases, and run its own prison system.
Now Putin and his ex-KGB cronies seem to own Russia not only politically, but financially as well. According to the respected British Guardian, Putin has secretly accumulated over $40 billion, becoming Europe’s richest man. He is said to own at least: 37% of the stocks (worth $18 billion) of Surgutneftegs, Russia’s third largest oil producer; 4.5 % of the stocks (worth $13 billion) of Gazprom, the largest extractor of natural gas in the world; and 75% (worth $10 billion) of Gunvor, a mysterious oil trader based in Geneva.[vi] Vadim Medvedev—who will be the Russian president until 2012, when Putin will return to the Kremlin’s throne—was chairman of Gazprom, which accounts for 93% of Russian natural gas production and controls 16% of the world’s reserves. Putin’s first deputy prime-minister, Igor Sechin, is chairman of Rosneft, the biggest oil company in the world.[vii]
Oil and gas account not only for Putin’s exorbitant wealth, but for 50% of the Russian budget and 65% of its exports as well. When the price of oil went over $122 a barrel on May 6, 2008, analysts pointed to attacks on pipelines in Nigeria and turmoil in Iraq. The oil production of these two countries was dramatically reduced. Russia, however, made a fortune. Other disruptions of foreign oil supplies may give Russia—and Putin—other fortunes. Putin and his KGB seem to be well aware of that possibility.
In 2010, the European Union-sponsored Gulf Research Centre, which provides journalists an inside view of the Middle East, found out that the terrorist Hezbollah’s military forces were armed with a large quantity of the “Soviet-made Katyusha-122 rocket, which carries a 33-lb warhead.” Hezbollah was also armed with Russian-designed and Iranian-made Fajr-5 rockets that can reach the Israeli port of Haifa, and with Russian- designed Zelzal-1 rockets that can reach Tel Aviv. Hezbollah also possessed the infamous Russian Scud missiles, as well as Russian anti-tank missiles AT-3 Sagger, AT-4 Spigot, AT-5 Spandrel, AT-13 Saxhorn-2, and AT-14 Spriggan Kornet.[viii]
With the passage of time, evidence has begun to mount that Putin’s Kremlin was involved in igniting, and then stealing, some of the 2011 Islamic revolutions as well. In Egypt, for instance, anti-government demonstrations started on January 25, 2011, when people carrying Hezbollah’s green flags mixed with red hammer-and-sickle banners took over Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The leader of the Russian-armed Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, admitted to being involved in organizing and boosting those street protests.[ix]
I agree with our Dr. Bergman’s view that Putin will not rule forever—nor did my former boss, Ceausescu, who also thought he owned his country. I knew how to help Romania get rid of its tyrant because I got to know him well. But I know little about Putin. Even his co-workers calls him the “Gray Cardinal” for his secrecy and Vatican-like mastery of backroom intrigue. Putin, of course, spent most of his working life as a spy and has secretiveness in his blood.
Fortunately, former director of Central Intelligence, James Woolsey, has agreed to join our Symposium. The CIA, by far the world’s best intelligence organization, decisively contributed to demolishing the Soviet empire without firing a single shot. The CIA will also decisively contribute to ending Putin’s reign. Let’s now listen to James Woolsey, who is a superb expert on Russia and an internationally recognized oil authority as well.
Jim Woolsey: General Pacepa’s characterization of Russia today as an “intelligence dictatorship” is quite apt. It is clearly a heavily authoritarian state and, with respect to its neighbors (e g Georgia, Ukraine), domineering in the extreme.
Its power is highly fragile, however, and quite possibly within the reign of Czar Vladimir the Bare-Chested, or at the latest shortly thereafter, three relentless trends are likely to weaken it severely. Whether these will produce a withdrawn, isolated and resentful Russia or a Russia that seeks to compensate for its weakness with bluster, aggression, and braggadocio is difficult to say. In neither case does a move away from authoritarianism seem likely. But it will of course matter greatly to Russia’s neighbors. In either case, however, Russia’s power to influence world events is likely to be heavily degraded.
First, the demographic squeeze created by Russia’s short male life expectancy and low birth rate may, according to some observers, reduce Russian population by mid-century to near or even below 100 million. Its conventional armed forces already appear to be inadequate to the task of defending its borders – this may even be more challenging by mid-century against, say, a China that has never recognized Russia’s claims to much of Siberia and that is hungrily eying its oil, gas, and minerals.
Second, Russia’s leverage over its neighbors due to its being their supplier of natural gas is likely about to be severely degraded.
Since it is expensive to liquify gas for shipment other than by pipeline, gas pipeline geopolitics became a major league sport in the last decade. It is highly likely that, in Putin’s eyes, Georgia’s great sin was to permit the construction on its soil of a gas pipeline that did not pass through Russia. Russian artillery now sits on Georgian soil, ranging that pipeline. And when Putin is angry at Ukraine he need only fashion a gas cost dispute and cut it off, sending a bracing message to the rest of Central Europe as well.
Russia’s use of gas for its own geopolitical purposes, however, is about to be badly crippled. The technique of hydrofracturing to recover gas from deep shale formations is creating a whole new set of possibilities for extracting gas, and making gas far more affordable. Today it is, for an equal amount of energy, about one-fourth the price of oil. One place that seems to have extensive deep shale gas formations is Poland. If Ukraine and other states in Russia’s “near abroad” have ready alternative supplies of affordable natural gas Russia’s leverage over them is heavily undercut. In light of Poland’s having been carved up by its neighbors over the centuries, there is an attractive irony in the possibility that it will be able, because of its underlying geology, to protect both Ukraine and Germany against a Russia once again seeking domination.
One wryly humorous aspect of the current maneuvering for advantage in the natural gas geopolitics is Mr. Putin’s newly-discovered environmental fervor. Although a recent major study by MIT discounts the environmental risk of hydrofracturing (which has been carried out in one form or another since the 1860′s), there are still environmental and regulatory issues that need to be dealt with in order to make the combination of horizontal drilling and hydrofracturing environmentally benign. Mr. Putin, however, widely publicizes environmental fears about hydrofracturing. One wonders why we haven’t seen him wearing this bright shade of green before – e g on issues such as Russian nuclear-fueled submarines deteriorating in arctic waters, about which there is no reasonable controversy regarding environmental damage.
The third reason Russia is likely to lose power in the relatively near term is the growing possibility of our being able to replace its principal cash cow, petroleum, with fuels available from other than petroleum sources.
In recent years it has been remarkable how much Russian physical and verbal aggression has coincided with oil prices. For example, its invasion of Georgia in August of 2008 coincided almost perfectly with the peak oil price of $147/barrel. Russia typically lobbies for the maximum price for oil on the world market. Although it is not a member of OPEC, its interests often coincide with those members, such as Iran, who also seek to maximize oil prices.
Russia’s vulnerability to oil (and gas) price competition stems from the fact that its production costs are high and it is rapidly depleting its reserves. Costs are high because of weather, geology, great distances that must be traversed, and the deteriorating nature of much of its infrastructure. Consequently the Saudis, who can lift oil for a fraction of Russia’s cost, are much less vulnerable to price declines. If oil drops to $50/barrel the Saudis may feel a bit strapped, but the Russians are devastated: their major source of income is trashed.
Russia’s undoing may turn out to be a century-old idea – famously advocated by Henry Ford – that cars should be fueled by alcohol, not gasoline. Grain alcohol (ethanol) can be made from sugar cane, corn, and several other plants, including in the near future agricultural waste. Wood alcohol (methanol) can be made from wood chips but also natural gas and coal. Because of the low price of natural gas today – as a result of hydrofracturing - methanol now beats gasoline hands down as a cost-effective fuel. It requires only a few dollars per vehicle to make it possible for a car to run on methanol or ethanol as well as gasoline, as is the case in Brazil, where consumers all have cars that let them choose between gasoline and ethanol at the pump.
If we can just bring ourselves to be as wise and decisive as the Brazilians, alcohol fuels and hydrofractured natural gas may move a depopulated Russia, before long, to being just another country whose mood swings rouse only a modicum of interest in the rest of the world.
Dr. Gregory Glazov: I would like to summarize and highlight antitheses in the above reflections:
The debate in the first symposium turned on Yuri Yarim-Agaev description of Putin’s power as a “farce” and his suggestion that modern Russia’s opposition lacks the courage of former dissidents like Bonner. In the present symposium, he has affirmed the brutality of the regime but has detailed its weaknesses and recommended how the West can stop prolonging the life of the regime. The second of these ways entailed western support for the democratic opposition.
Question: If the regime’s power is limited, does the opposition need courage equal to that of Bonner’s generation?
In affirming Yarim-Agaev’s totalitarian-authoritarian distinction, Dr. Darlymple underscored that the new regime is dangerously destabilized by lip-service to democratic ideals.
Question: Isn’t this a warning to make haste slowly?
Dr. Satter noted that unlike the opponents of the former totalitarian regime, the present opposition fails to focus on fundamental moral issues by concentrating on corruption, a mere symptom of the problem. Why is this? Is it because the opposition lacks moral character or because it is weary and afraid of the abyss that might follow?
Igor Melcuk articulates this danger while issuing the bleakest response, viz. that the Russian people, genetically changed by seventy years of war and terror, are massively behind the regime, anti-western, and deserving of the regime they have. There is no democratic opposition. What hope remains depends on time and western resolve. If the regime collapses, the people will side with radical Islam.
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