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All these points but the last are picked up by Dr. Bergman, who judges the Russian people to be traditionally too immature and irrational to support democracy. Ironically then, Putin’s recourse to juvenile populist exercises and murder of opponents betrays an unwarranted insecurity.
Question: What is the source of this insecurity?
This marks a turning point in the discussion to expressions of greater trust in the opposition and the people. Speaking on the people’s behalf, Yevgeny Legedin states that change demands collective awakening from the Matrix-like stupor of Putin-manufactured pseudo-democracy. Social media can and must stir thought and revolutionize the mind.
Ion Mihai Pacepa documents the massive extent to which the KGB has preserved its power and manipulates the country. The demographic, technological and economic reasons for the regime’s inevitable collapse are identified by Jim Woolsey. All this speaks well for the people and the opposition but it also opens the scenarios and fears described by Dr. Darlymple and Igor Melcuk.
Perhaps these days are coming sooner than later since, as we speak, social media are celebrating the unprecedented event of martial-arts fans declaring that the Emperor has no clothes. Where does the Fedor Emelianenko event fit in the models above?
Yuri Yarim-Agaev: It seems that the participants have agreed that no matter the operational strength of the FSB, to maintain his power Putin must secure a decent standard of living for the Russian people. Even the high level of oil prices may not be sufficient for that purpose, however. Recent polls and election results have indicated that Russians expect an increase in their income, and if the economy stays at the same level, they would not consider that any longer an achievement, but rather stagnation. Nor do Russians live by bread alone. They have feelings, and if Putin and his satraps ignore them completely, his support may quickly start to fade.
Whatever the weaknesses of Putin’s regime, however, they do not present a threat to its existence until challenged by strong political opposition. We seem to agree that the current opposition is weak, yet disagree on the cause of its weakness.
Some participants believe that no real political opposition can exist because it would be crushed by Putin’s regime and that current conditions are even more restrictive than during the Brezhnev era. They even speculate that dissidents such as Elena Bonner would have been killed had they criticized Putin’s regime as Anna Politkovskaya or Alexander Litvinenko did. Such assertions contradict reality. Elena Bonner did speak out against Putin, both in Russia and in the West, with more bluntness and influence than anyone else. She was not killed, and neither were the other dissidents of the Brezhnev’s regime who are among the harshest and strongest of Putin’s critics. None of them was even imprisoned, as they all were under Brezhnev.
Again, not to give any credit to Putin or mitigate his atrocities, the fact is that thousands of people speak out and demonstrate openly against him and are not persecuted for it. That was impossible under the Soviets. There is no doubt that risk of persecution continues to exist, but there is a difference between risk and inevitability.
No less important is the fact that even if a person is eventually silenced, he or she would have been heard or read by thousands or even millions before that.. No comparison to the Soviet times. As a measure of the odds for opposition we may choose the product of the number of people that a critic of regime can reach, by the probability of staying alive and continuing to speak out. Such arithmetic would favor the current situation, in comparison with the communist era.
The main reason for the weakness of the opposition today is not external restrictions, but the opposition’s inability to define itself and to garner broad support. Our opposition under the Soviets was known as moral resistance, and that was its true nature. Dissidents were champions of human rights, yet it was their courage, honesty, and selflessness that secured support and influence among the people who were tired of fear and lies. The current opposition of intellectuals has neither the moral authority of dissidents nor addresses the major concerns of the Russian people. Its appeal to democracy and political freedom falls on dead ears since people do not feel as suffocated as before, have free access to information, and can speak their mind.
The areas in which they feel most that government interferes in their lives are private property and free enterprise. The main challenge to the regime will most probably come from a broad based economic rather than intellectual opposition. The early signs of development of such opposition already exist, yet to time this process is difficult. It will gain full strength when new entrepreneurs and small business owners hit a stone wall and realize that they cannot bribe themselves out of the situation any longer, and have to fight for real political reforms.
Our policy toward Russia should take these developments into accounts. It should not be driven by fear of some imaginary outcome or by problematic tactical decisions, or by the exaggeration of the importance of ancient Russian traditions. Rather, we should always stay on the side of the political forces in Russia that share the fundamental values of our country. Reagan chose that approach at a most dangerous time. There is even more reasons to follow that strategy now.
Dr. Theodore Dalrymple: The question has been asked why the present opposition seems to lack the moral authority of the anti-Soviet dissidents. In part, this must surely be because of the change from totalitarianism to ‘guided democracy,’ where there is – despite the murder of journalists – some semblance of a marketplace of political and economic ideas. Where there is such a marketplace, it is more difficult to achieve moral grandeur, though it is much easier to say something; strange compromises and alliances are made; it is not simply a matter of courageously facing down patent monolithic evil. You can oppose Marxism root and branch, from its epistemology to its practical economic corollaries; the corruption of the Putin regime seems more the consequence of the weakness of human nature than of an ideology, and few people are quite sure what they would do if subject to the temptation of a quick fortune.
Another question is the degree to which people get the government and leaders they deserve; at the very least, leaders do not come out of a cultural vacuum. It is not difficult to trace Lenin’s monstrosity back to part of the tradition of the Russian intelligentsia of the 19th century. The criminality that Dr. Satter said overwhelmed democratic sentiment in the 1990s is not extraneous to Russia, an implant or an importation. The very concept of the rule of law is alien to Russian tradition, and by comparison with its supporters, its detractors have always been more prominent. Tradition is not everything; people change; but Adam Smith said that there was a deal of ruin in a nation, and the slowness of change must apply to bad characteristics as well as good.
Do we think that, if Putin were somehow to be overthrown or replaced, what would replace him would be very much better? Would Poles automatically have less reason to be anxious about what happened beyond their eastern border? Eternal Machiavellian vigilance is what is required; we should beware of Russians bearing pipelines.
FP: Thank you Dr. Dalrymple.
Dr. Satter, your turn. Kindly give us your thoughts on the discussion so far and share your wisdom on the freedom demonstrations we now see in the streets of Russia against Putin. What does this mean for Putin’s attempt to hold on to power with his iron KGB/Mafioso grip?
Dr. David Satter: Russia is a frustrating subject for writers of contemporary history. Like a volcano that was long dormant, it can suddenly spring to life with the result that the pace of events accelerates dramatically. I think we may face such a situation now. This doesn’t render our deliberations futile. But it does put them in a new perspective.
On December 24, the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the USSR, Moscow was the scene of the largest protest demonstration in the post-Soviet era. The demands of the demonstrators were modest and reasonable. They called for free and fair elections. Implicit in these modest and justified demands, however, is the fall of the Putin regime and the prosecution of its members. This is why they will not be met. To do so would be to sign the death warrant of the regime.
In response to the recent demonstrations, Medvedev announced some reforms, including the direct elections of governors and the creation of an independent public television network. These reforms are not intended to assure democracy. On the contrary, they are intended to help the population reconcile itself to the absence of democracy. This, however, is not likely to work. The most it can do is buy the regime time. Residual satisfaction with Putin because of the economic boom of the 2000s and fear of instability may make it possible (with the help, undoubtedly, of further falsification) for Putin to win the first round of the presidential election. But the core issues for Russians are lawlessness and corruption and these can only be addressed if there is a change in the group that aspires to be a permanent government. The threat to Putin’s rule is therefore not likely to disappear even if he holds on to the presidency.
It is the long term impossibility of the Putin regime holding onto power under existing circumstances that may prompt Putin to take dramatic action now to suppress the looming threat to his rule. Such action is fraught with risks. For all the abuses, Putin has always been concerned to give the impression of being a democratic leader. If the pretense of democracy is completely discarded, he can expect a strong reaction from the West, where so many of his cohorts have their investments, bank accounts and property.
At the same time, if the pretense of democracy is completely discarded, the army, police and the FSB may become unreliable. It is not that these structures are democratic but rather that they will see no reason to enforce Putin’s one man rule. Despite Putin’s public relations stunts and strange efforts to impress the world with his masculinity, he is really unloved and is becoming more so by the day as information about his and his cronies corruption circulates. The risk of defections by the police and security services, moreover, will become greater with every month of delay. Putin and his cohorts may reason that they have to act now or risk dealing with an even worse situation in six months.
The crisis that Russia is entering is a reflection of the fact that the FSB took over a system that had many of the trappings of democracy, including a Constitution and elections. It could hold onto power in such a system only through the good fortune of an economic expansion that it did little to bring about and astute management of public opinion. The desire to rule without limits, however, created a society that is absolutely suffocating for anyone desiring to live honestly and anger over the situation can no longer be contained with the help of information control and assorted electoral tricks. The regime’s hold on power was always potentially shaky. Now, as the population awakes and demands to be taken seriously, a confrontation may be inevitable. I don’t think that the genie can be put back in the bottle. And in the coming months, Russia is going to need its long lost moral equilibrium as almost never before.
Dr. Igor Melcuk: I’ll reduce my concluding statements to tentative answers to the two main questions that have for the last 150 years tortured the Russian mentality: “What can be done?” and “Who is to blame?”
 What can be done?
After pondering what I know myself and what my colleagues have said, I must say that I don’t know and it seems that nobody does. Unfortunately, “United Russia” has no counterweight. No doubt the elections were rigged terribly; but to whom would the votes go otherwise? To communists? To world-class clown Zhirinovsky? Unfortunately, there are no political figures in Russia of the caliber of Andrei Sakharov, no political bodies able to fill in the void in a highly improbable case that the Last Emperor Puy Khu-Ting yields a little bit.
On the other hand, the FSB is extremely powerful, and having become the owner of Russia, they are not likely to cough up what they had swallowed. For them, it is not simply the question of retaining their astronomic wealth: it is a question of life and death: they have observed what happened to Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qadafi. They will not budge. And the disorganized Russian society has nothing to wield against them. In my magical crystal ball, I don’t see anything nice.
All this said, I believe that there still is a way for us to influence the course of events in Russia. There must be a perpetually increasing pressure on the Russian governmental bodies. The Russian officials should be clearly shown everywhere that they are unwanted pariahs; their bank accounts should be under constant supervision and under the threat of legal persecution. The world should mobilize against FSB-Mafiosi-land: these people are economically and financially quite vulnerable.
However, I don’t see the West ready to get serious with the Russian bandits. Our political elites try to “reset” our relationship with Russia, fully Obamazing and Barakazing the whole issue. This happened first with Hitler, then it happened with Stalin; why should Western politicians behave differently now?
 Who is to blame?
This is the only point where the answer is clear for the Russian people: “Amerikosy i zhidy!” = ‘Bloody Americans and kikes!’ This was always the answer whatever the events. (However, before World War II the place of the Americans was occupied by the British.) The hostile surroundings outside and the poisonous Jewish presence inside are the only culprits. And the only cement in the modern Russian society (excluding of course the thinnest layer of intellectuals) is hatred. And this is not a very solid platform for a step forward.
 But: During all its existence, Russia was an unpredictable country; perhaps in 2012 we’ll see something that defies all of our expectations?
Until the Big Krach of the USSR I was sure that this regime will live for a few centuries more. How happy I am to be proven wrong. It disappeared leaving behind much dirt and mephitic stench—but disappeared. May we hope that an unexpected turn of events will again provide a solution?
Dr. Jay Bergman: In my first contribution to the symposium I emphasized what I saw as a form of insecurity in Putin, which caused him to overreact to journalists such as Anna Politkovskaya and lawyers such as Sergei Magnitsky, who, for all their criticisms of the regime, did not call for its violent destruction. These critics came mostly from the educated elite and for the most part made no effort to establish ties with the masses. As a result, Putin had no reason to fear popular unrest, at least not on a scale that would threaten him politically.
But the recent election results for the Russian parliament, in which Putin’s party, United Russia, could not garner a majority even after the procedures for the election had been rigged to produce a favorable result, suggests that Putin miscalculated — that the kind of hybrid he fashioned in Russia, a soft and mostly subtle dictatorship euphemistically called “managed democracy,” is no longer tenable. Putin either has to “tighten the screws,” and rule overtly as an autocrat in the tradition of the tsars and the Soviets, or see his power and authority whittled away incrementally to the point where his regime would collapse under the weight of its own incompetence the way the monarchy fell in 1917 and the Soviet Union imploded in 1991. Halfway measures, in other words, no longer suffice.
As for what Putin will do, my guess is that through the FSB he will crack down to whatever degree he considers necessary to ensure his continuation in power. In contrast to Lenin and Stalin, who, whatever their monstrous crimes, had no interest in amassing personal wealth (excepting the numerous dachas, or country estates, where Stalin vacationed, sometimes for many weeks of the year, after World War II), Putin by all accounts possesses an enormous fortune, estimated to be in the billions of rubles. Were he to lose power, he would likely lose his wealth as well.
In short, there is a great deal at stake for Putin now that his critics are emboldened by Russia’s declining economy to take to the streets, where their demonstrations can be broadcast into the countries on Russia’s periphery, the intimidation of which is arguably Putin’s foremost foreign policy objective. With the once and future president of Russia challenged at home, Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic states, and the other regions Russians call “the Near Abroad” are more likely to resist his efforts to recover all that was lost when the Soviet Union collapsed two decades ago.
Evgeny Legedin: David Satter’s metaphor of Russia as awakening from a sleep volcano seems quite apt. On the 4th of December 2011 we witnessed a humiliating defeat of Putin’s United Russia, a “party of crooks and thieves”, nicknamed by Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption crusader. This “elections” fraud ignited angry anti-Putin protests all over Russia. I expect more demonstrations, as the president “elections” fraud is inevitable. Different movements have now an opportunity to unite their forces for “elections” control under the slogan “Vote for anybody, but Putin.”
Putin once told a story how, as a boy in Leningrad, he had trapped a rat in the corner, which had leapt at him in a desperate attack. It appears that the opposition cornered Putin like a rat and he is more dangerous. On the one hand, Putin’s KGB-FSB gang wants to keep its wealth, but on the other hand there is a risk to lose everything, if Putin will persecute “shadow president” Navalny and civil resistance more severely than 15 days in detention. Putin’s Matrix has no need to kill dissident icons, so it tries to cooperate with individuals such as the Kremlin’s Lyudmila Alexeyeva. Mafia state targets individual “traitors to Russia,” harasses and persecutes them, disrupting protest activity and intimidating others (see the updated list here).
For example, in 2010 in Yekaterinburg several days after Strategy-31 demonstration, portraying Vladimir Putin as Dracula and President Dmitry Medvedev as Frankenstein, FSB got an approval to spy after the organizer of this rally, local Yabloko leader Maxim Petlin. Three months later he was arrested by the FSB and imprisoned on absurd charges. A fresh case is that of Taisia Osipova, the wife of anti-Putin “Other Russia” leader. On the 29th of December 2011 Osipova, who has a young daughter and diabetes, was sentenced to the 10 years in prison.
I would slightly change Ion Mihai Pacepa’s definition of Russia as not the first intelligence, but rather the first secret police dictatorship. Besides that, I feel the atmosphere of 1935 Hitler’s Germany. Should the West negotiate with Czar Vladimir the Dracula in hope to pacify him? I think there are no illusions in Europe about neither the origin of Putin’s mafia clan, nor about the bloody crimes this clan is capable of. One may ask why there is no action from the West to put Putin in his place?
Putin bribes Europe with “The Blue Stream” project. But in the long run Europe will pay a high price for this realpolitik short-sightedness. Putin’s proto-fascist regime cannot survive without expansion – both territorial and economic. Putin already demonstrates his readiness to trespass the bounds of humanity. The forces are not equal. If economic sanctions and trade boycott are unrealistic methods, there should be some steps for forming the safety barrier against abuse of human rights and liberties in Russia.
Lt. General Ion Mihai Pacepa: Once again, many thanks to Jamie and his brother for putting this unique symposium together. The conclusion? I believe that each of us said, in his own words, more or less what the famous Russian sociologist Petr Chaadayev said in 1854:
“Russia is a whole separate world, submissive to the will, caprice, fantasy of a single man, whether his name is Peter or Ivan. … For this reason it would be in the interest not only of other people but also in that of her own that she be compelled to take a new path.”
Let me put it in my own words: the more things change in Russia, the more they seem to stay the same. The main difference between Chaadayev’s time and today’s Russia seems to be that the tsars are now “elected.” But there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Vladimir the Bare-Chested will be elected tsar for the third time. And little, if any, doubt that the Russians will enthrone him for the fourth time.
There is also no doubt in anyone’s mind that Putin will do his best to preserve Russia’s historical form of aristocracy, in which he Kremlin runs the country with the help of its political police. During the old Cold War, the KGB was a state within a state. Under Putin, the KGB, the rechristened FSB, became the state. The Soviet Union had one KGB officer for every 428 citizens. In 2004, Putin’s Russia had one FSB officer for every 297 citizens.[x]
Neither the Russians, nor we, are able to see what these hidden FSB officers are doing–they seem to be as cloaked in secrecy just as the old KGB officers were. Nevertheless, there is reason to believe that the FSB continues to wield the weapon of anti-Semitism almost as violently as its predecessors did–countless Soviet citizens were executed by the KGB after being framed as Zionist spies.
In 1998, soon after Yevgeny Primakov, one of my former KGB colleagues, became prime minister of Russia, General Albert Makashov, now a member of the Duma, called for the “extermination of all Jews in Russia.” He alleged that they were being paid by American Zionism to ruin the motherland.[xi] On November 4, 1998, the FSB-controlled Duma endorsed Makashov’s statement by voting (121-107) to defeat a parliamentary motion censuring his hate-filled statement. At the November 7, 1998 demonstration marking the 81st anniversary of the October Revolution, crowds of former KGB officers showed their support for the general, chanting “hands off Makashov!” and waving signs with anti-Semitic slogans.[xii]
Anti-Semitism has always generated terrorism. The Okhrana’s anti-Semitism spawned the pogroms. The Gestapo’s anti-Semitism engendered the Holocaust. The KGB’s anti-Semitism generated today’s international terrorism. Post-Soviet Russia’s anti-Semitism gave rise to a contemporary Hitler in Iran’s Ahmadinejad, and is now arming him with nuclear weapons. Iran’s anti-Semitism threatens to transform today’s international terrorism into a nuclear holocaust—with Israel and the United States the first targets, and the rest of the Judeo-Christian world next.
Can Russia be compelled to take a new path? Certainly. Jim Woolsey has convincingly demonstrated that Russia’s democratic squeeze and her vulnerability to oil and natural gas price competition will eventually cripple the Kremlin’s unchecked power. Dr. Dalrymple has shown how Russia’s new marketplace of political and economic ideas could help the Russians to seek change. Dr. Satter has credibly presented the hidden power of Russia’s new trappings of democracy, which is now awakening the population.
Rebuilding America’s international leadership would, in my view, play another important role in helping the Russians to break with their past. The Kremlin will not voluntarily cast off the peculiarly Russian political police that has for centuries given it unchecked power. The Kremlin should be compelled by the Russians to do that. Our current policy of Reset, laughingly translated as Overload, had stirred just hilarity in Russia. Let’s hope that this year elections will give our country new leaders who are capable of rebuilding the international prestige of the United States of America. Let’s also hope that this symposium will help.
Jim Woolsey: There is much collected wisdom here in contributions from those who are for more expert on Russia than I. I will forgo assessing the reasons for and quality of the opposition to the Soviet regime compared to the opposition to Putin (can we settle on christening him Czar Vladimir the Bare-Breasted?). Like Igor Melcuk I would concentrate on answering Chernyshevsky’s (later Lenin’s) question, “What is to be done?
It is impossible to read Russian history without feeling a sense of tragedy and substantial sympathy for the Russian people. Four times in the nineteenth and twentieth century the promise of reform and decent government seemed manifest and was then crushed: the Decembrists, then their defeat; Alexander II, then his assassination; the Mensheviks, then Lenin’s triumph; the collapse of the USSR, then Putin.
In Freedom House’s annual survey of freedom in the world, 147 of the world’s 195 states are rated as free or partly free. Russia languishes amidst the remaining 48 states that are “not free”‘ along with the likes of North Korea and Sudan – its legacy from all those failed attempts at reforms and decency. As Igor Melcuk put it, “I don’t see anything nice.”
Why is this? Why should a talented people remain lodged within structures of autocracy and worse? Is Theodore Dalrymple right? Is the concept of the rule of law just basically alien to Russian tradition? Or is the somewhat more hopeful tack of Yuri Yarim-Agaev and David Satter more on point – that we should focus on pushing Russia to affirm basic human rights, not be distracted by merely dealing with the symptom of corruption, and take heart that Russians feel less suffocated today than before?
In my first contribution I emphasized that there were three trends in Russia that would likely weaken it substantially before long: it’s demographic decline; the increasing availability and low cost of natural gas due to new drilling technologies that could weaken Russia’s energy stranglehold over Eastern and Central Europe; and the possibility that, in addition, transportation fuels derived from natural gas such as methanol could replace oil-based fuels in many parts of the world and thus do serious damage to the current oil-based Russian economy.
I will close with a few words about why this latter development – the replacement of much of oil with other transportation fuel – may well be essential in order for there to be a positive evolution in Russia toward the rule of law, political liberty, and over time a movement within Freedom House’s taxonomy from “not free” to “partly free” to, eventually, “free”.
I would call attention to the work of Professor of Economics at Oxford, Paul Collier, and particularly to his concept of the “resource curse” – in these days and times principally an “oil curse”. Collier contends, I believe with great persuasiveness, that when an autocratic or dictatorial state possesses large amounts of a commodity, such as oil, that is characterized by very large economic rents, then such rentier states will see their elites grow more powerful and entrenched. It is important to stress that such entrenchment by elites in power does not typically occur if a democracy with a free economy discovers large amounts of oil – Norway and Canada are not about to become dictatorships. But evolving toward liberty is much easier for states developing a diverse economy than for oil states.
Thus we may have to tell our Russian friends in the years to come that as the rest of us move away from using oil-based fuels for transportation they should think of our actions as “tough love”. We mean them no harm, we just want to see their economies evolve in a direction that is compatible with greater freedom for the Russian people.
Not to sound too much the economic determinist, but whatever the roots of Russian authoritarianism over the centuries, if we get oil right, which is to say get away as much as possible from using it, it will make a number of things easier for the rest of us and, in time, for Russia as well.
FP: Jim Woolsey, Evgeny Legedin, Yuri Yarim-Agaev, Igor Melcuk, Gregory Glazov, Theodore Dalrymple, Mike Pacepa, Jay Bergman and David Satter, thank you for joining this special edition of Frontpage Symposium.
[i] Murray Feshbach, “The Toxic Archipelago in the Former U.S.S.R, An Empire of Deadly Waste,” The Washington Post, July 11, 1993, p. C1.
[ii] Barry Renfrew, “Boris Yeltsin Resigns,” The Washington Post, December 31, 1999, 6:48 a.m.
[iii] Renfrew, “Boris Yeltsin Resigns,” p. 3.
[iv] Ariel Cohen, “End of the Yeltsin Era,” The Washington Times, January 3, 2000, Internet Edition, cohen-20000103.
[v] Yevgenia Albats, The KGB: The State Within a State 23 (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1994).
[vi] Luke Harding, Putin, the Kremlin power struggle and the $40bn fortune, The Guardian, December 21, 2007.
[vii] Luke Hardin, “Putin, the Kremlin power struggle and the $40 bn future,” Guardian.co.uk, December 21, 2007.
[viii] Paul Weitz, Hezbollah, Already a Capable Military Force, Makes Full Use of Civilian Shields and Media Manipulation, JINSA Online, August 12, 2006, http://web.archive.org/web/20080107090241/http://www.jinsa.org/articles/articles.html/function/view/categoryid/158/documentid/3504/history/3,2360,655,158,3504.
[ix] The Brotherhood, or Muslim Brotherhood, is an Islamic fundamentalist organization whose slogan is “Islam is the solution.” Its “General Strategic Goal for the Group in North America” makes its objectives clear: “The process of settlement is a ‘Civilization-Jihadist Process’ with all the word means. The Ikhwan must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and ‘sabotaging’ its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.”
[x] Yevgenia Albats, The KGB: The State Within a State 23 (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1994).
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