Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Back in the USSR?

Is Russia regressing back to the USSR, with Putin centralizing power back to Moscow, steadily increasing curbs on free speech and now NGOs? Nikita Krushchev's great-granddaughter, living in New York, thinks so:
Nina Krushcheva "Why Russia Still Loves Stalin":
Putin often notes that Russia is developing "its own brand of democracy." Translation: His modern autocracy has discovered that it no longer needs mass purges like Stalin's to protect itself from the people. Dislike of freedom makes us his eager backers. How readily we have come to admire his firm hand: Rather than holding him responsible for the horrors of Chechnya, we agree with his "democratic" appointment of leaders for that ill-fated land. We cheer his "unmasking of Western spies," support his jailing of "dishonest" oligarchs and his promotion of a "dictatorship of order" rather than a government of transparent laws.
Recently, breaking from the united front of the West, Russia invited Hamas to visit without demanding that the group denounce terrorism. The Tribune:
Russia's invitation last week runs counter to the stand recently taken by the so-called quartet of Mideast peace negotiators, made up of Russia, the U.S., the European Union and the UN. The quartet insisted it would not deal with a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

Hamas, whose charter calls for Israel's destruction, has carried out scores of deadly attacks against Israelis in recent years. Hamas leaders said they plan to travel to Moscow this month.
Given Putin's willingness to host avowed terrorists, we have to question Russia's sincerity in trying to stop Iran's nuclear development. And given Russia's playing energy politics, it looks like Putin is making a bid to reassert Russia as a major power player counter to the interests of the US.

Russia's ambassador to the US claims they only wanted to give a little help to their friends, (See also my earlier post, Energy Blackmail) but abruptly jacked prices up and cut off energy supplies briefly earlier this year. Here are the "injured" ambassador's comments (emphasis mine):
Over the last 15 years, the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union were treated differently from other European consumers of our energy: Our pricing policy toward some of them was shaped by our history of interdependence and our hopes for expanded integration with Russia. That policy was inherently transitional -- a temporary step to help former "roommates." Selling them energy at bargain prices indefinitely does not merely defy common sense, it means subsidizing the entire industries of sovereign countries. It also hurts the interests of our energy companies' shareholders. Now that the Russian government has switched to a universal pricing formula dictated by the market, as evidenced in a recent, widely debated natural gas deal, Russia is being accused of politicizing the energy issue.
How unjust!! The ambassador to the US goes on to remind us that we too are Russia's energy customers.
And the ruling elite is not treating their people any better, just like the old days, according to the following account. (I was almost run over by a communist bigshot's ZIL in Moscow in the 70's, such fond memories.) But some of the freedom of their neighbors has rubbed off, AFP reports (via Drudge):
A column of hundreds of cars has paraded slowly through Moscow as motorists fed up with road chaos caused by traffic privileges for elites massed in a peaceful protest participants said reflected grassroots demand for more basic fairness in Russian life.

The pretext of the unusual demonstration was the sentencing earlier this month of a man, Oleg Shcherbinsky, to four years in prison after he was blamed for the death of the Altai region's governor in a traffic accident because he was not quick enough to get out of the official's way.

"The Shcherbinsky case has resonated throughout Russian society," said Vassily Bochin, a 35-year-old computer programmer, who took part in the demonstration in Moscow, one of many cities due to take part in the nationwide protest that included planned rallies in 21 other cities.

"We want the law to be equal for everyone."

It's a crucial time for the future of freedom in Russia. And it impacts us.

No comments: