07 December 2007

Putin's Russia

Here are two somewhat contrasting views of Russia under Vladimir Putin after an election many observers are calling the least fair of the post-soviet era. First, Amy Knight writing for The Globe and Mail: Amy Knight on Putin, Russia's democratic future. Here is Prof. Knight:

The election, on the surface, affirms the idea that most people in Russia believe that Mr. Putin is doing a good job. His consistently high ratings in opinion polls (over 70 per cent) add to this impression. But it is important to remember that Russian people are not presented with a full and objective picture, because of the Kremlin's control of the media. Mr. Putin is virtually the only political figure with name recognition in Russia. He gets personal credit for everything, while the continuous stream of sycophantic praise for him on state television is drummed into the minds of the Russian populace. As for Washington trying to undermine Mr. Putin, I am not sure that this is the case. If anything, the Bush Administration has been bending over backwards (too far, in my opinion) to embrace Mr. Putin as a credible leader, with whom the West can do business.

But Mortimer Zuckerman, writing in US News and World Report, has a contrasting view: Has Russia Left the West? Here's Zuckerman:

The Russians' perspective is based on the following: They closed military bases in Vietnam and Cuba; they accepted America's unilateral exit from the antiballistic missile treaty; they cooperated in the war on terrorism; they acquiesced in NATO expansion into the Baltic States, as well as the use of military bases in Uzbekistan, Kirgizstan, and Tajikistan. And what did they get? Certainly not an understanding of Russia's special role in the post-Soviet territories, where some 25 million ethnic Russians live outside Russia. Instead, they had to cope with abrupt acceptance into NATO of the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania and our recent support for admission of Ukraine and Georgia. As they see it, "democracy" is being used to expand American interests, to embarrass and isolate Putin and undermine Russia's influence through the counterrevolutions described as the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the Rose Revolution in Georgia. Ukraine is a specific hot spot since it is a neighboring state that joined the Russian Empire in the 17th century and has a large Russian population. These challenges to Russia in an area so central to its national identity were barely discussed in the West.

Russia also resented NATO when it went to war against Serbia over Russian objections and without the approval of the United Nations Security Council. And when Russia proposed joining NATO, it was rejected. That was not all. Instead of helping Russia's integration into the world economy, the United States turned out to be a major roadblock to Russia's membership in the World Trade Organization. And we have allowed our own laws to be violated in a manner insulting to Russia. The Jackson-Vanik amendment was passed to penalize and constrain trade with countries that restrict emigration. Russia responded positively by removing all restrictions. It was found to be in formal compliance with the immigration provisions of Jackson-Vanik. But it made no difference. The old resolution is still applied because of senatorial pressure, indeed because of a single senator.

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