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Manufacturing Russia as a new 'enemy'


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In recent times, there has been rather hyped up talk of a 'New Cold War'.

Putin is increasingly portrayed in the western mass media as a despot, winding back democratic reforms within Russia and posing a threat to world peace.

It's a useful corrective to hear Putin's point of view. Unfortunately, he gets less airtime these days in the western mass media than London-based Mafya bosses.

Here's Putin’s Censored Press Conference - the transcript you weren’t supposed to see by Mike Whitney, whom I believe to be one of the best current affairs commentators in today's world.

Before Putin's words disappear down the Memory Hole...

_____________________________

Putin’s Censored Press Conference:

The transcript you weren’t supposed to see

By Mike Whitney

06/10/07 "ICH" --- - On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave an hour and a half-long press conference which was attended by many members of the world media. The contents of that meeting---in which Putin answered all questions concerning nuclear proliferation, human rights, Kosovo, democracy and the present confrontation with the United States over missile defense in Europe---have been completely censored by the press. Apart from one brief excerpt which appeared in a Washington Post editorial, (and which was used to criticize Putin) the press conference has been scrubbed from the public record. It never happened. (Read the entire press conference archived here )

Putin’s performance was a tour de force. He fielded all of the questions however misleading or insulting. He was candid and statesmanlike and demonstrated a good understanding of all the main issues.

The meeting gave Putin a chance to give his side of the story in the growing debate over missile defense in Eastern Europe. He offered a brief account of the deteriorating state of US-Russian relations since the end of the Cold War, and particularly from 9-11 to present. Since September 11, the Bush administration has carried out an aggressive strategy to surround Russia with military bases, install missiles on its borders, topple allied regimes in Central Asia, and incite political upheaval in Moscow through US-backed “pro-democracy” groups. These openly hostile actions have convinced many Russian hard-liners that the administration is going forward with the neocon plan for “regime change” in Moscow and fragmentation of the Russian Federation. Putin’s testimony suggests that the hardliners are probably right.

The Bush administration’s belligerent foreign policy has backed the Kremlin into a corner and forced Putin to take retaliatory measures. He has no other choice.

If we want to understand why relations between Russia are quickly reaching the boiling-point; we only need to review the main developments since the end of the Cold War. Political analyst Pat Buchanan gives a good rundown of these in his article “Doesn’t Putin Have a Point?”

Buchanan says:

“Though the Red Army had picked up and gone home from Eastern Europe voluntarily, and Moscow felt it had an understanding we would not move NATO eastward, we exploited our moment. Not only did we bring Poland into NATO, we brought in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, and virtually the whole Warsaw Pact, planting NATO right on Mother Russia's front porch. Now, there is a scheme afoot to bring in Ukraine and Georgia in the Caucasus, the birthplace of Stalin.

Second, America backed a pipeline to deliver Caspian Sea oil from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey, to bypass Russia.

Third, though Putin gave us a green light to use bases in the old Soviet republics for the liberation of Afghanistan, we now seem hell-bent on making those bases in Central Asia permanent.

Fourth, though Bush sold missile defense as directed at rogue states like North Korea, we now learn we are going to put anti-missile systems into Eastern Europe. And against whom are they directed?

Fifth, through the National Endowment for Democracy, its GOP and Democratic auxiliaries, and tax-exempt think tanks, foundations, and "human rights" institutes such as Freedom House, headed by ex-CIA director James Woolsey, we have been fomenting regime change in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet republics, and Russia herself.

U.S.-backed revolutions have succeeded in Serbia, Ukraine, and Georgia, but failed in Belarus. Moscow has now legislated restrictions on the foreign agencies that it sees, not without justification, as subversive of pro-Moscow regimes.

Sixth, America conducted 78 days of bombing of Serbia for the crime of fighting to hold on to her rebellious province, Kosovo, and for refusing to grant NATO marching rights through her territory to take over that province. Mother Russia has always had a maternal interest in the Orthodox states of the Balkans.

These are Putin's grievances. Does he not have a small point?”

Yes--as Buchanan opines---Putin does have a point, which is why his press conference was suppressed. The media would rather demonize Putin, than allow him to make his case to the public. (The same is true of other world leaders who choose to use their vast resources to improve the lives of their own citizens rather that hand them over to the transnational oil giants; such as, Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez) Even so, NATO has not yet endorsed the neocon missile defense plan and, according to recent surveys, public opinion in Poland and the Czech Republic is overwhelmingly against it.

Unsurprisingly, the Bush administration is going ahead regardless of the controversy.

Putin cannot allow the United States to deploy its missile defense system to Eastern Europe. The system poses a direct threat to Russia’s national security. If Putin planned to deploy a similar system in Cuba or Mexico, the Bush administration would immediately invoke the Monroe Doctrine and threaten to remove it by force. No one doubts this. And no one should doubt that Putin is equally determined to protect his own country’s interests in the same way. We can expect that Russia will now aim its missiles at European targets and rework its foreign policy in a way that compels the US to abandon its current plans.

The media has tried to minimize the dangers of the proposed system. The Washington Post even characterized it as “a small missile defense system” which has set off “waves of paranoia about domestic and foreign opponents”.

Nonsense. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As Putin said at the press conference, “Once the missile defense system is put in place IT WILL WORK AUTOMATICALLY WITH THE ENTIRE NUCLEAR CAPABILITY OF THE UNITED STATES. It will be an integral part of the US nuclear capability.

“For the first time in history---and I want to emphasize this---there are elements of the US nuclear capability on the European continent. It simply changes the whole configuration of international security…..Of course, we have to respond to that.”

Putin is right. The “so-called” defense system is actually an expansion (and integration) of America’s existing nuclear weapons system which will now function as one unit. The dangers of this should be obvious.

The Bush administration is maneuvering in a way that will allow it to achieve what Nuclear weapons specialist, Francis A. Boyle, calls the “longstanding US policy of nuclear first-strike against Russia”.

In Boyle’s article “US Missiles in Europe: Beyond Deterrence to First Strike Threat” he states:

“By means of a US first strike about 99%+ of Russian nuclear forces would be taken out. Namely, the United States Government believes that with the deployment of a facially successful first strike capability, they can move beyond deterrence and into "compellence."… This has been analyzed ad nauseam in the professional literature. But especially by one of Harvard's premier warmongers in chief, Thomas Schelling --winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics granted by the Bank of Sweden-- who developed the term "compellence" and distinguished it from "deterrence." …The USG is breaking out of a "deterrence" posture and moving into a "compellence" posture. (Global Research 6-6-07)

That’s right. The real goal is to force Moscow to conform to Washington’s “diktats” or face the prospect of “first-strike” annihilation. That’s why Putin has expressed growing concern over the administration’s dropping out of the ABM Treaty and the development of a new regime of low yield, bunker-busting nuclear weapons. The “hawks” who surround Bush have abandoned the “deterrence” policy of the past, and now believe that a nuclear war can be “won” by the United States. This is madness and it needs to be taken seriously.

The Bush administration sees itself as a main player in Central Asia and the Middle East---controlling vital resources and pipeline corridors throughout the region. That means Russia’s influence will have to be diminished. Boris Yeltsin was the perfect leader for the neoconservative master-plan (which is why the right-wingers Praised him when he died) Russia disintegrated under Yeltsin. He oversaw the dismantling of the state, the plundering of its resources and state-owned assets, and the restructuring of its economy according to the tenets of neoliberalism.

No wonder the neocons loved him.

Under Putin, Russia has regained its economic footing, its regional influence and its international prestige. The economy is booming, the ruble has stabilized, the standard of living has risen, and Moscow has strengthened alliances with its neighbors. This new-found Russian prosperity poses a real challenge to Bush’s plans.

Two actions in particular have changed the Russian-US relationship from tepid to openly hostile. The first was when Putin announced that Russia’s four largest oil fields would not be open to foreign development. (Russia has been consolidating its oil wealth under state-run Gazprom) And, second, when the Russian Treasury began to convert Russia’s dollar reserves into gold and rubles. Both of these are regarded as high-crimes by US corporate chieftains and western elites. Their response was swift.

John Edwards and Jack Kemp were appointed to lead a Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) task force which concocted the basic pretext for an all-out assault on the Putin. This is where the idea that Putin is “rolling back democracy” began; it’s a feeble excuse for political antagonism. In their article “Russia’s Wrong Direction”, Edwards and Kemp state that a “strategic partnership” with Russia is no longer possible. They note that the government has become increasingly “authoritarian” and that the society is growing less “open and pluralistic”. Blah, blah, blah. No one in the Washington really cares about democracy. (Just look at our “good friends” in Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan) What they’re afraid of is Putin ditching the dollar and controlling his own oil. That’s what counts. Bush also wants Putin to support sanctions against Iran and rubber stamp a Security Council resolution to separate Kosovo form Serbia. (Since when does the UN have the right to redraw national borders? Was the creation of Israel such a stunning success that the Security Council wants to try its luck again?)

Putin does not accept the “unipolar” world model. As he said in Munich, the unipolar world refers to “a world in which there is one master, one sovereign---- one centre of authority, one centre of force, one centre of decision-making. At the end of the day this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within.… What is even more important is that the model itself is flawed because at its basis there is and can be no moral foundations for modern civilization.”

He added:

“Unilateral and frequently illegitimate actions have not resolved any problems. Moreover, they have caused new human tragedies and created new centers of tension. Judge for yourselves---wars as well as local and regional conflicts have not diminished. More are dying than before. Significantly more, significantly more!

Today we are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper use of force – military force – in international relations, force that is plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts.

We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law. And independent legal norms are, as a matter of fact, coming increasingly closer to one state’s legal system. One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way. This is visible in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations. Well, who likes this? Who is happy about this?

In international relations we increasingly see the desire to resolve a given question according to so-called issues of political expediency, based on the current political climate. And of course this is extremely dangerous. It results in the fact that no one feels safe. I want to emphasise this – no one feels safe! Because no one can feel that international law is like a stone wall that will protect them. Of course such a policy stimulates an arms race.

I am convinced that we have reached that decisive moment when we must seriously think about the architecture of global security.”

How can anyone dispute Putin’s analysis?

“Unilateral and illegitimate military actions”, the “uncontained hyper-use of force”, the “disdain for the basic principles of international law”, and most importantly; “No one feels safe!”

These are the irrefutable facts. Putin has simply summarized the Bush Doctrine better than anyone else.

The Bush administration has increased its frontline American bases to five thousand men on Russia’s perimeter. Is this conduct of a “trustworthy ally”?

Also, NATO has deployed forces on Russia’s borders even while Putin has continued to fulfill his treaty obligations and move troops and military equipment hundreds of miles away.

As Putin said on Tuesday: “We have removed all of our heavy weapons from the European part of Russia and put them behind the Urals” and “reduced our Armed Forces by 300,000. We have taken several other steps required by the Adapted Conventional Armed Forces Treaty in Europe (ACAF). But what have we seen in response? Eastern Europe is receiving new weapons, two new military bases are being set up in Romania and in Bulgaria, and there are two new missile launch areas -- a radar in Czech republic and missile systems in Poland. And we are asking ourselves the question: what is going on? Russia is disarming unilaterally. But if we disarm unilaterally then we would like to see our partners be willing to do the same thing in Europe. On the contrary, Europe is being pumped full of new weapons systems. And of course we cannot help but be concerned.”

(This is why Putin’s comments did not appear in the western media! They would have been too damaging to the Bush administration and their expansionist plans)

Who Destroyed the ABM?

Putin said:

“We did not initiate the withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. But what response did we give when we discussed this issue with our American partners? We said that we do not have the resources and desire to establish such a system. But as professionals we both understand that a missile defense system for one side and no such a system for the other creates an illusion of security and increases the possibility of a nuclear conflict. The defense system WILL DESTROY THE STRATEGIC EQUILIBRIUM IN THE WORLD. In order to restore that balance without setting up a missile defense system we will have to create a system to overcome missile defense, which is what we are doing now.”

Putin: “AN ARMS RACE IS UNFOLDING. Was it we who withdrew from the ABM Treaty? We must react to what our partners do. We already told them two years ago, “don’t do this, you don’t need to do this. What are you doing? YOU ARE DESTROYING THE SYSTEM OF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY. You must understand that you are forcing us to take retaliatory steps.” …we warned them. No, they did not listen to us. Then we heard about them developing low-yield nuclear weapons and they are continuing to develop these weapons.” We told them that “it would be better to look for other ways to fight terrorism than create low-yield nuclear weapons and lower the threshold for using nuclear weapons, and thereby put humankind on the brink of nuclear catastrophe. But they don’t listen to us. They are not looking for compromise. Their entire point of view can be summed-up in one sentence: ‘Whoever is not with us is against us.’”

Putin asks, “So what should we do?” The present predicament has brought us “the brink of disaster”.

Putin: “Some people have the illusion that you can do everything just as you want, regardless of the interests of other people. Of course it is for precisely this reason that the international situation gets worse and eventually results in an arms race as you pointed out. But we are not the instigators. We do not want it. Why would we want to divert resources to this? And we are not jeopardizing our relations with anyone. But we must respond.

Name even one step that we have taken or one action of ours designed to worsen the situation. There are none. We are not interested in that. We are interested in having a good atmosphere, environment and energy dialogue around Russia”.

So, what should Putin do? And how else can he meet his responsibilities to the Russian people without taking defensive “retaliatory” action to Bush’s act of war. By expanding its nuclear capability to Europe, all of Russia is in imminent danger, and so, Putin must decide “precisely which means will be used to destroy the installations that our experts believe represent a potential threat for the Russian Federation”. (Note that Putin NEVER THREATENS TO AIM HIS MISSILES AT EUROPEAN CITIES AS WAS REPORTED IN THE WESTERN MEDIA)

Putin has made great strides in improving life for the Russian people. That is why his public approval rating is soaring at 75%. The Russian economy has been growing by 7% a year. He’s lowered the number of people living beneath the poverty-line by more than half and will bring it down to European levels by 2010. Real incomes are growing by an astonishing 12% per year. As Putin says, “Combating poverty is one of our top priorities and we still have to do a lot to improve our pension system too because the correlation between pensions and the average wage is still lower here than in Europe.”

If only that was true in America!

Russia now has the ninth largest economy in the world and has amassed enormous gold and currency reserves--the third largest in the world. It is also one of the leading players in international energy policy with a daily-oil output which now exceeds Saudi Arabia. It is also the largest producer of natural gas in the world. Russia will only get stronger as we get deeper into the century and energy resources become scarcer.

Putin strongly objects to the idea that he is not committed to human rights or is “rolling back democracy”. He points out how truncheon-wielding police in Europe routinely use tear gas, electric-shock devices and water cannons to disperse demonstrators. Is that how the West honors human rights and civil liberties?

As for the Bush administration---Putin produced a copy of Amnesty International’s yearly report condemning the United States conduct in the war on terror. “I have a copy of Amnesty International’s report here, which includes a section on the United States,” he said. “The organization has concluded that the United States IS NOW THE PRINCIPLE VIOLATOR OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS WORLDWIDE.”

He added, “We have a proverb in Russian, ‘Don’t blame the mirror if your face is crooked.’”

Putin is fiercely nationalistic. He has helped to restore Russia’s self-confidence and rebuild the economy. He’s demonstrated a willingness to compromise with the Bush administration on every substantive issue, but he has been repeatedly rebuffed. The last thing he wants is a nuclear standoff with the United States. But he will do what he must to defend his people from the threat of foreign attack. The deployment of the missile defense system will require that Russia develop its own new weapons systems and change its thinking about trusting the United States. Friendship is not possible in the present climate.

As for “democracy”; Putin said it best himself:

“Am I a ‘pure democrat’? (laughs) Of course I am, absolutely. The problem is that I’m all alone---the only one of my kind in the whole wide world. Just look at what’s happening in North America, it’s simply awful---torture, homeless people, Guantanamo, people detained without trial and investigation. Just look at what’s happening in Europe---harsh treatment of demonstrators, rubber bullets and tear gas used first in one capital then in another, demonstrators killed on the streets….. I have no one to talk to since Mahatma Gandhi died.”

Well said, Vladimir.

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Once again, we have the spectacle of increasingly strident western attacks on a democratically-elected nationalist leader with:

- strong and stable popularity

- the determination to assert the interests of the part of the world community he represents above the interests of global corporations and banking interests

I'd be interested in comments about the following paragraphs from Whitney's article:

Putin has made great strides in improving life for the Russian people. That is why his public approval rating is soaring at 75%. The Russian economy has been growing by 7% a year. He’s lowered the number of people living beneath the poverty-line by more than half and will bring it down to European levels by 2010. Real incomes are growing by an astonishing 12% per year. As Putin says, “Combating poverty is one of our top priorities and we still have to do a lot to improve our pension system too because the correlation between pensions and the average wage is still lower here than in Europe.”

Are these statistics accurate?

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Once again, we have the spectacle of increasingly strident western attacks on a democratically-elected nationalist leader with:

- strong and stable popularity

- the determination to assert the interests of the part of the world community he represents above the interests of global corporations and banking interests

I'd be interested in comments about the following paragraphs from Whitney's article:

Putin has made great strides in improving life for the Russian people. That is why his public approval rating is soaring at 75%. The Russian economy has been growing by 7% a year. He’s lowered the number of people living beneath the poverty-line by more than half and will bring it down to European levels by 2010. Real incomes are growing by an astonishing 12% per year. As Putin says, “Combating poverty is one of our top priorities and we still have to do a lot to improve our pension system too because the correlation between pensions and the average wage is still lower here than in Europe.”

Are these statistics accurate?

It would appear they are accurate. The CIA world factbook basically endorses them:

Russia ended 2006 with its eighth straight year of growth, averaging 6.7% annually since the financial crisis of 1998. Although high oil prices and a relatively cheap ruble initially drove this growth, since 2003 consumer demand and, more recently, investment have played a significant role. Over the last five years, fixed capital investments have averaged real gains greater than 10% per year and personal incomes have achieved real gains more than 12% per year. During this time, poverty has declined steadily and the middle class has continued to expand. Russia has also improved its international financial position since the 1998 financial crisis. The federal budget has run surpluses since 2001 and ended 2006 with a surplus of 9% of GDP. Over the past several years, Russia has used its stabilization fund based on oil taxes to prepay all Soviet-era sovereign debt to Paris Club creditors and the IMF. Foreign debt has decreased to 39% of GDP, mainly due to decreasing state debt, although commercial debt to foreigners has risen strongly. Oil export earnings have allowed Russia to increase its foreign reserves from $12 billion in 1999 to some $315 billion at yearend 2006, the third largest reserves in the world. During PUTIN's first administration, a number of important reforms were implemented in the areas of tax, banking, labor, and land codes. These achievements have raised business and investor confidence in Russia's economic prospects, with foreign direct investment rising from $14.6 billion in 2005 to an estimated $30 billion in 2006. In 2006, Russia's GDP grew 6.6%, while inflation was below 10% for the first time in the past 10 years. Growth was driven by non-tradable services and goods for the domestic market, as opposed to oil or mineral extraction and exports. Russia has signed a bilateral market access agreement with the US as a prelude to possible WTO entry, and its companies are involved in global merger and acquisition activity in the oil and gas, metals, and telecom sectors. Despite Russia's recent success, serious problems persist. Oil, natural gas, metals, and timber account for more than 80% of exports and 32% of government revenues, leaving the country vulnerable to swings in world commodity prices. Russia's manufacturing base is dilapidated and must be replaced or modernized if the country is to achieve broad-based economic growth. A 20% appreciation of the ruble over 2005-06 has made attracting additional investment more difficult. The banking system, while increasing consumer lending and growing at a high rate, is still small relative to the banking sectors of Russia's emerging market peers. Political uncertainties ahead of the elections, corruption, and widespread lack of trust in institutions continue to dampen domestic and foreign investor sentiment. From 2002 to 2005, the government bureaucracy increased by 17% - 10.9% in 2005 alone. President PUTIN has granted more influence to forces within his government that desire to reassert state control over the economy. Russia has made little progress in building the rule of law, the bedrock of a modern market economy. The government has promised additional legislation to make its intellectual property protection WTO-consistent, but enforcement remains problematic

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/th...book/index.html

It seems the US is determined to obtain a generous share of Russia's resources. Their game plan is to ratchet up the military threat and incite unrest with the possibility of a regime change. The media's job is to pretend that Putin is a tyrant.

Edited by Mark Stapleton
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Once again, we have the spectacle of increasingly strident western attacks on a democratically-elected nationalist leader with:

- strong and stable popularity

- the determination to assert the interests of the part of the world community he represents above the interests of global corporations and banking interests

I'd be interested in comments about the following paragraphs from Whitney's article:

Putin has made great strides in improving life for the Russian people. That is why his public approval rating is soaring at 75%. The Russian economy has been growing by 7% a year. He’s lowered the number of people living beneath the poverty-line by more than half and will bring it down to European levels by 2010. Real incomes are growing by an astonishing 12% per year. As Putin says, “Combating poverty is one of our top priorities and we still have to do a lot to improve our pension system too because the correlation between pensions and the average wage is still lower here than in Europe.”

Are these statistics accurate?

I get the feeling that you might be making the above statements in sarcasm, but if not;

Per the Hudson Institute and the Economist, Putin, former high ranking KGB officer, has filled most of the Russian Government posts with former KGB and FSB officers and agents. Criticism of Putin is quite typically met with retribution, often violent.

From the Hudson Institute (Irwin Stelzer):

Russia's president has managed, brilliantly it must be conceded, to use his nation's oil and gas resources in a way that his predecessors never managed to use the Red Army--to gain huge influence in Western Europe. "If power is measured by the fear instilled in others--as many Russians believe--[Putin]is certainly winning," observes the Economist.

None of this would matter if we were dealing with ordinary commercial transactions, aimed at maximizing the value of Russia's natural endowments. But that is not the case. When Sergei Kuprianov, press spokesman for Gazprom, described its natural gas operations as "normal business," former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray commented, "Normal business is the last thing Gazprom is involved in."

First, Gazprom is an important weapon in Putin's program of eliminating dissenting voices in Russian media. Gazprom Media took over what had been the country's only independent television channel after Putin closed it down. The company also bought two of Russia's large and once-independent newspapers, and Alisher Usmanov, chairman of Gazprominvest Holdings, the company's financial arm, bought the remaining one--after which the editor was fired and the defense correspondent had a fatal fall from a third-story window. Gazprom's control of the media is so complete that Ambassador Murray reports, "The era of free speech . . . is now over." Second, the takeovers of Shell, BP, and other assets hardly represent transactions at market prices between willing parties. Putin takes his instruction from Mario Puzo's The Godfather rather than Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, and makes potential sellers offers they can't refuse: my price or nothing if you are a foreign corporation with billions already sunk in Siberia, and my offer or a long visit with Khodorkovsky if you are within my reach.

From the Wall Street Journal:

The key to the situation is corruption. Russian officials run the biggest companies, controlling, according to some estimate, financial flows from assets that account for 80% of the capitalization of the Russian stock market. Persons and institutions challenging this oligarchy's hold on power have been steadily eliminated.

To distract attention from this situation, Russian leaders insist on Russia's "right" to dominate the nations that emerged from the Soviet Union and -- to a degree -- the Warsaw Pact, and to pursue its "great power" interests in a manner that pays little heed to the security needs of the West. Russia reacted with hysteria to the removal of the Soviet war memorial in Tallinn, although the bodies of Soviet World War II soldiers still lie unburied in Russia 60 years after the end of the war. Russia backs secession for Abkhazia and South Ossetia but not for Chechnya, and is concerned about U.S. anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic but not the nuclear development of North Korea and Iran.

From The Daily Mail:
Peter Hain, the outspoken Northern Ireland Secretary, told BBC1's Sunday AM programme: "His success in binding what is a disintegrating nation together with an economy which was collapsing into Mafioso-style chaos... his success in that must be balanced against the fact there have been huge attacks on individual liberty and on democracy and it's important he retakes the democratic road in my view."

He added: "The promise that President Putin brought to Russia when he came to power has obviously been clouded by what has happened since, including an extremely murky murder of a senior Russian journalist.

Haine has said that Putin was systematically attacking liberty and democracy.

From the Daily Mail, ex-Spetznaz commandos have formed a secret 'Persuasion' organization:

'Dignity and Honor' are loyalists waging their own Cold War campaign against critics of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Putin spends the eqyuivalent of tens of millions of dollars each year to shine his public image. Critics of Putin are arrested, violelently persuaded to change their views, or outright murdered.

Putin has systematically nationalized (which is another word for 'seized') foreign interests in Russian business, such as British Petroleum's investments in Russian oil.

By the way, Boyle is incorrect when he says that the US is continuing its first strike nuclear policy. The US has always taken a defensive position with respect to Nuclear weapons. It was the former Sovite Union that had a first strike policy.

Concerning the murder of Anna Plitovskaya, a critic of Putin's genocidal treament of Chechnya:

Politkovskaya captures both the horror and the absurdity of life in Putin’ s Russia...

Anna Politkovskaya, one of Russia’ s most fearless journalists, was gunned down in a contract killing in Moscow in the fall of 2006. Just before her death, Politkovskaya completed this searing, intimate record of life in Russia from the parliamentary elections of December 2003 to the grim summer of 2005, when the nation was still reeling from the horrors of the Beslan school siege. In A Russian Diary, Politkovskaya dares to tell the truth about the devastation of Russia under Vladimir Putin– a truth all the more urgent since her tragic death.

Writing with unflinching clarity, Politkovskaya depicts a society strangled by cynicism and corruption. As the Russian elections draw near, Politkovskaya describes how Putin neutralizes or jails his opponents, muzzles the press, shamelessly lies to the public– and then secures a sham landslide that plunges the populace into mass depression. In Moscow, oligarchs blow thousands of rubles on nights of partying while Russian soldiers freeze to death. Terrorist attacks become almost commonplace events. Basic freedoms dwindle daily.

(Per a posthumus review of her book:)

"One cannot read these journals without the awful knowledge that their author, Politkovskaya (1958-2006), paid for them with her life, shot in the head in front of her Moscow apartment on October 7 (President Vladimir Putin's birthday). Internationally known as one of the few Russian journalists fearless enough to report Russian news independent of Kremlin spin...

The US hasn't had the best record on human rights recently, RE Gitmo, interrogation methods in secret CIA camps overseas, etc., but by comparison to Putin and company, the US is a soft touch.

Some of the silenced critics of Putin's Kremlin (from The Independent) Note that this is only a partial list, the entire list is quite a bit longer:

Dmitry Kholodov

Following an anonymous phone call to his office in October 1994, the journalist travelled to a Moscow train station to collect what he thought was a briefcase of documents that would help him in his exposs of corruption within Russia's military. The briefcase exploded, killing him and wounding a colleague. Six military officers were acquitted of his murder in 2004.

Larissa Yudina

Her battered body was found in June 1998, a day after she failed to return from a meeting with an anonymous caller. She had been stabbed and had a fractured skull. As editor of the only non- government newspaper in Russia's autonomous Kalmykia region, she had made powerful enemies. Members of the Kalmykia president's inner circle were later implicated in her death.

Galina Starovoitova

A human rights campaigner and leading liberal politician, she was gunned down by hired killers in November 1998 as she left her apartment in St Petersburg. Supporters claimed the killing could only have been political because she had fewbusiness interests. Although two hitmen were eventually jailed for hermurder, no one has been prosecuted for ordering the killing.

Sergei Yushenkov

As cochairman of Russia's leading opposition party, Liberal Russia, Yushenkov was a fierce critic of the Kremlin. He had lambasted what he sa was increasingly anti-democratic legislation and was extremely critical of the Russian government's wars in Chechnya. He was killed in April 2003 by a shot to the chest outside his Moscow apartment. Fourmen were convicted of his murder.

Paul Klebnikov

The US born editor of Russia's Forbes magazine was shot outside his office in July 2004, just three months after taking up the position. No one has been convicted of his murder and, even as he lay dying, he was unable to think of anyone who might order such an attack. He had written extensively on crime and corruption following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Andrei Kozlov

The deputy chairman of Russia's Central Bank had made it his mission to clear up the corrupt banking system and was murdered last month for doing so. Two gunmen opened fire on his car as he left a football stadium. One week earlier he had called for a lifetime ban on bankers found guilty of tax crimes and fraud. He had also taken away licences from Russian banks he thought to be corrupt.

It goes on and on.

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Once again, we have the spectacle of increasingly strident western attacks on a democratically-elected nationalist leader with:

- strong and stable popularity

- the determination to assert the interests of the part of the world community he represents above the interests of global corporations and banking interests

I'd be interested in comments about the following paragraphs from Whitney's article:

Putin has made great strides in improving life for the Russian people. That is why his public approval rating is soaring at 75%. The Russian economy has been growing by 7% a year. He’s lowered the number of people living beneath the poverty-line by more than half and will bring it down to European levels by 2010. Real incomes are growing by an astonishing 12% per year. As Putin says, “Combating poverty is one of our top priorities and we still have to do a lot to improve our pension system too because the correlation between pensions and the average wage is still lower here than in Europe.”

Are these statistics accurate?

I get the feeling that you might be making the above statements in sarcasm, but if not;

Per the Hudson Institute and the Economist, Putin, former high ranking KGB officer, has filled most of the Russian Government posts with former KGB and FSB officers and agents. Criticism of Putin is quite typically met with retribution, often violent.

From the Hudson Institute (Irwin Stelzer):

Russia's president has managed, brilliantly it must be conceded, to use his nation's oil and gas resources in a way that his predecessors never managed to use the Red Army--to gain huge influence in Western Europe. "If power is measured by the fear instilled in others--as many Russians believe--[Putin]is certainly winning," observes the Economist.

None of this would matter if we were dealing with ordinary commercial transactions, aimed at maximizing the value of Russia's natural endowments. But that is not the case. When Sergei Kuprianov, press spokesman for Gazprom, described its natural gas operations as "normal business," former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray commented, "Normal business is the last thing Gazprom is involved in."

First, Gazprom is an important weapon in Putin's program of eliminating dissenting voices in Russian media. Gazprom Media took over what had been the country's only independent television channel after Putin closed it down. The company also bought two of Russia's large and once-independent newspapers, and Alisher Usmanov, chairman of Gazprominvest Holdings, the company's financial arm, bought the remaining one--after which the editor was fired and the defense correspondent had a fatal fall from a third-story window. Gazprom's control of the media is so complete that Ambassador Murray reports, "The era of free speech . . . is now over." Second, the takeovers of Shell, BP, and other assets hardly represent transactions at market prices between willing parties. Putin takes his instruction from Mario Puzo's The Godfather rather than Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, and makes potential sellers offers they can't refuse: my price or nothing if you are a foreign corporation with billions already sunk in Siberia, and my offer or a long visit with Khodorkovsky if you are within my reach.

From the Wall Street Journal:

The key to the situation is corruption. Russian officials run the biggest companies, controlling, according to some estimate, financial flows from assets that account for 80% of the capitalization of the Russian stock market. Persons and institutions challenging this oligarchy's hold on power have been steadily eliminated.

To distract attention from this situation, Russian leaders insist on Russia's "right" to dominate the nations that emerged from the Soviet Union and -- to a degree -- the Warsaw Pact, and to pursue its "great power" interests in a manner that pays little heed to the security needs of the West. Russia reacted with hysteria to the removal of the Soviet war memorial in Tallinn, although the bodies of Soviet World War II soldiers still lie unburied in Russia 60 years after the end of the war. Russia backs secession for Abkhazia and South Ossetia but not for Chechnya, and is concerned about U.S. anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic but not the nuclear development of North Korea and Iran.

From The Daily Mail:
Peter Hain, the outspoken Northern Ireland Secretary, told BBC1's Sunday AM programme: "His success in binding what is a disintegrating nation together with an economy which was collapsing into Mafioso-style chaos... his success in that must be balanced against the fact there have been huge attacks on individual liberty and on democracy and it's important he retakes the democratic road in my view."

He added: "The promise that President Putin brought to Russia when he came to power has obviously been clouded by what has happened since, including an extremely murky murder of a senior Russian journalist.

Haine has said that Putin was systematically attacking liberty and democracy.

From the Daily Mail, ex-Spetznaz commandos have formed a secret 'Persuasion' organization:

'Dignity and Honor' are loyalists waging their own Cold War campaign against critics of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Putin spends the eqyuivalent of tens of millions of dollars each year to shine his public image. Critics of Putin are arrested, violelently persuaded to change their views, or outright murdered.

Putin has systematically nationalized (which is another word for 'seized') foreign interests in Russian business, such as British Petroleum's investments in Russian oil.

By the way, Boyle is incorrect when he says that the US is continuing its first strike nuclear policy. The US has always taken a defensive position with respect to Nuclear weapons. It was the former Sovite Union that had a first strike policy.

Concerning the murder of Anna Plitovskaya, a critic of Putin's genocidal treament of Chechnya:

Politkovskaya captures both the horror and the absurdity of life in Putin’ s Russia...

Anna Politkovskaya, one of Russia’ s most fearless journalists, was gunned down in a contract killing in Moscow in the fall of 2006. Just before her death, Politkovskaya completed this searing, intimate record of life in Russia from the parliamentary elections of December 2003 to the grim summer of 2005, when the nation was still reeling from the horrors of the Beslan school siege. In A Russian Diary, Politkovskaya dares to tell the truth about the devastation of Russia under Vladimir Putin– a truth all the more urgent since her tragic death.

Writing with unflinching clarity, Politkovskaya depicts a society strangled by cynicism and corruption. As the Russian elections draw near, Politkovskaya describes how Putin neutralizes or jails his opponents, muzzles the press, shamelessly lies to the public– and then secures a sham landslide that plunges the populace into mass depression. In Moscow, oligarchs blow thousands of rubles on nights of partying while Russian soldiers freeze to death. Terrorist attacks become almost commonplace events. Basic freedoms dwindle daily.

(Per a posthumus review of her book:)

"One cannot read these journals without the awful knowledge that their author, Politkovskaya (1958-2006), paid for them with her life, shot in the head in front of her Moscow apartment on October 7 (President Vladimir Putin's birthday). Internationally known as one of the few Russian journalists fearless enough to report Russian news independent of Kremlin spin...

The US hasn't had the best record on human rights recently, RE Gitmo, interrogation methods in secret CIA camps overseas, etc., but by comparison to Putin and company, the US is a soft touch.

Some of the silenced critics of Putin's Kremlin (from The Independent) Note that this is only a partial list, the entire list is quite a bit longer:

Dmitry Kholodov

Following an anonymous phone call to his office in October 1994, the journalist travelled to a Moscow train station to collect what he thought was a briefcase of documents that would help him in his exposs of corruption within Russia's military. The briefcase exploded, killing him and wounding a colleague. Six military officers were acquitted of his murder in 2004.

Larissa Yudina

Her battered body was found in June 1998, a day after she failed to return from a meeting with an anonymous caller. She had been stabbed and had a fractured skull. As editor of the only non- government newspaper in Russia's autonomous Kalmykia region, she had made powerful enemies. Members of the Kalmykia president's inner circle were later implicated in her death.

Galina Starovoitova

A human rights campaigner and leading liberal politician, she was gunned down by hired killers in November 1998 as she left her apartment in St Petersburg. Supporters claimed the killing could only have been political because she had fewbusiness interests. Although two hitmen were eventually jailed for hermurder, no one has been prosecuted for ordering the killing.

Sergei Yushenkov

As cochairman of Russia's leading opposition party, Liberal Russia, Yushenkov was a fierce critic of the Kremlin. He had lambasted what he sa was increasingly anti-democratic legislation and was extremely critical of the Russian government's wars in Chechnya. He was killed in April 2003 by a shot to the chest outside his Moscow apartment. Fourmen were convicted of his murder.

Paul Klebnikov

The US born editor of Russia's Forbes magazine was shot outside his office in July 2004, just three months after taking up the position. No one has been convicted of his murder and, even as he lay dying, he was unable to think of anyone who might order such an attack. He had written extensively on crime and corruption following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Andrei Kozlov

The deputy chairman of Russia's Central Bank had made it his mission to clear up the corrupt banking system and was murdered last month for doing so. Two gunmen opened fire on his car as he left a football stadium. One week earlier he had called for a lifetime ban on bankers found guilty of tax crimes and fraud. He had also taken away licences from Russian banks he thought to be corrupt.

It goes on and on.

Peter,

Putin's a hard case with a tough record and plenty of enemies. You should hear what Gary Kasparov thinks of him. But the fact is that Russia has the oil and America wants it.

Provoking Russia into a cold war won't benefit the people of Russia or America, or anywhere else. If you can tell me how it will, I would love to know. It would benefit the armaments industry and the oil conglomerates.

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Once again, we have the spectacle of increasingly strident western attacks on a democratically-elected nationalist leader with:

- strong and stable popularity

- the determination to assert the interests of the part of the world community he represents above the interests of global corporations and banking interests

I'd be interested in comments about the following paragraphs from Whitney's article:

Putin has made great strides in improving life for the Russian people. That is why his public approval rating is soaring at 75%. The Russian economy has been growing by 7% a year. He’s lowered the number of people living beneath the poverty-line by more than half and will bring it down to European levels by 2010. Real incomes are growing by an astonishing 12% per year. As Putin says, “Combating poverty is one of our top priorities and we still have to do a lot to improve our pension system too because the correlation between pensions and the average wage is still lower here than in Europe.”

Are these statistics accurate?

I get the feeling that you might be making the above statements in sarcasm, but if not;

Per the Hudson Institute and the Economist, Putin, former high ranking KGB officer, has filled most of the Russian Government posts with former KGB and FSB officers and agents. Criticism of Putin is quite typically met with retribution, often violent.

From the Hudson Institute (Irwin Stelzer):

Russia's president has managed, brilliantly it must be conceded, to use his nation's oil and gas resources in a way that his predecessors never managed to use the Red Army--to gain huge influence in Western Europe. "If power is measured by the fear instilled in others--as many Russians believe--[Putin]is certainly winning," observes the Economist.

None of this would matter if we were dealing with ordinary commercial transactions, aimed at maximizing the value of Russia's natural endowments. But that is not the case. When Sergei Kuprianov, press spokesman for Gazprom, described its natural gas operations as "normal business," former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray commented, "Normal business is the last thing Gazprom is involved in."

First, Gazprom is an important weapon in Putin's program of eliminating dissenting voices in Russian media. Gazprom Media took over what had been the country's only independent television channel after Putin closed it down. The company also bought two of Russia's large and once-independent newspapers, and Alisher Usmanov, chairman of Gazprominvest Holdings, the company's financial arm, bought the remaining one--after which the editor was fired and the defense correspondent had a fatal fall from a third-story window. Gazprom's control of the media is so complete that Ambassador Murray reports, "The era of free speech . . . is now over." Second, the takeovers of Shell, BP, and other assets hardly represent transactions at market prices between willing parties. Putin takes his instruction from Mario Puzo's The Godfather rather than Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, and makes potential sellers offers they can't refuse: my price or nothing if you are a foreign corporation with billions already sunk in Siberia, and my offer or a long visit with Khodorkovsky if you are within my reach.

From the Wall Street Journal:

The key to the situation is corruption. Russian officials run the biggest companies, controlling, according to some estimate, financial flows from assets that account for 80% of the capitalization of the Russian stock market. Persons and institutions challenging this oligarchy's hold on power have been steadily eliminated.

To distract attention from this situation, Russian leaders insist on Russia's "right" to dominate the nations that emerged from the Soviet Union and -- to a degree -- the Warsaw Pact, and to pursue its "great power" interests in a manner that pays little heed to the security needs of the West. Russia reacted with hysteria to the removal of the Soviet war memorial in Tallinn, although the bodies of Soviet World War II soldiers still lie unburied in Russia 60 years after the end of the war. Russia backs secession for Abkhazia and South Ossetia but not for Chechnya, and is concerned about U.S. anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic but not the nuclear development of North Korea and Iran.

From The Daily Mail:
Peter Hain, the outspoken Northern Ireland Secretary, told BBC1's Sunday AM programme: "His success in binding what is a disintegrating nation together with an economy which was collapsing into Mafioso-style chaos... his success in that must be balanced against the fact there have been huge attacks on individual liberty and on democracy and it's important he retakes the democratic road in my view."

He added: "The promise that President Putin brought to Russia when he came to power has obviously been clouded by what has happened since, including an extremely murky murder of a senior Russian journalist.

Haine has said that Putin was systematically attacking liberty and democracy.

From the Daily Mail, ex-Spetznaz commandos have formed a secret 'Persuasion' organization:

'Dignity and Honor' are loyalists waging their own Cold War campaign against critics of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Putin spends the eqyuivalent of tens of millions of dollars each year to shine his public image. Critics of Putin are arrested, violelently persuaded to change their views, or outright murdered.

Putin has systematically nationalized (which is another word for 'seized') foreign interests in Russian business, such as British Petroleum's investments in Russian oil.

By the way, Boyle is incorrect when he says that the US is continuing its first strike nuclear policy. The US has always taken a defensive position with respect to Nuclear weapons. It was the former Sovite Union that had a first strike policy.

Concerning the murder of Anna Plitovskaya, a critic of Putin's genocidal treament of Chechnya:

Politkovskaya captures both the horror and the absurdity of life in Putin’ s Russia...

Anna Politkovskaya, one of Russia’ s most fearless journalists, was gunned down in a contract killing in Moscow in the fall of 2006. Just before her death, Politkovskaya completed this searing, intimate record of life in Russia from the parliamentary elections of December 2003 to the grim summer of 2005, when the nation was still reeling from the horrors of the Beslan school siege. In A Russian Diary, Politkovskaya dares to tell the truth about the devastation of Russia under Vladimir Putin– a truth all the more urgent since her tragic death.

Writing with unflinching clarity, Politkovskaya depicts a society strangled by cynicism and corruption. As the Russian elections draw near, Politkovskaya describes how Putin neutralizes or jails his opponents, muzzles the press, shamelessly lies to the public– and then secures a sham landslide that plunges the populace into mass depression. In Moscow, oligarchs blow thousands of rubles on nights of partying while Russian soldiers freeze to death. Terrorist attacks become almost commonplace events. Basic freedoms dwindle daily.

(Per a posthumus review of her book:)

"One cannot read these journals without the awful knowledge that their author, Politkovskaya (1958-2006), paid for them with her life, shot in the head in front of her Moscow apartment on October 7 (President Vladimir Putin's birthday). Internationally known as one of the few Russian journalists fearless enough to report Russian news independent of Kremlin spin...

The US hasn't had the best record on human rights recently, RE Gitmo, interrogation methods in secret CIA camps overseas, etc., but by comparison to Putin and company, the US is a soft touch.

Some of the silenced critics of Putin's Kremlin (from The Independent) Note that this is only a partial list, the entire list is quite a bit longer:

Dmitry Kholodov

Following an anonymous phone call to his office in October 1994, the journalist travelled to a Moscow train station to collect what he thought was a briefcase of documents that would help him in his exposs of corruption within Russia's military. The briefcase exploded, killing him and wounding a colleague. Six military officers were acquitted of his murder in 2004.

Larissa Yudina

Her battered body was found in June 1998, a day after she failed to return from a meeting with an anonymous caller. She had been stabbed and had a fractured skull. As editor of the only non- government newspaper in Russia's autonomous Kalmykia region, she had made powerful enemies. Members of the Kalmykia president's inner circle were later implicated in her death.

Galina Starovoitova

A human rights campaigner and leading liberal politician, she was gunned down by hired killers in November 1998 as she left her apartment in St Petersburg. Supporters claimed the killing could only have been political because she had fewbusiness interests. Although two hitmen were eventually jailed for hermurder, no one has been prosecuted for ordering the killing.

Sergei Yushenkov

As cochairman of Russia's leading opposition party, Liberal Russia, Yushenkov was a fierce critic of the Kremlin. He had lambasted what he sa was increasingly anti-democratic legislation and was extremely critical of the Russian government's wars in Chechnya. He was killed in April 2003 by a shot to the chest outside his Moscow apartment. Fourmen were convicted of his murder.

Paul Klebnikov

The US born editor of Russia's Forbes magazine was shot outside his office in July 2004, just three months after taking up the position. No one has been convicted of his murder and, even as he lay dying, he was unable to think of anyone who might order such an attack. He had written extensively on crime and corruption following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Andrei Kozlov

The deputy chairman of Russia's Central Bank had made it his mission to clear up the corrupt banking system and was murdered last month for doing so. Two gunmen opened fire on his car as he left a football stadium. One week earlier he had called for a lifetime ban on bankers found guilty of tax crimes and fraud. He had also taken away licences from Russian banks he thought to be corrupt.

It goes on and on.

Peter,

Putin's a hard case with a tough record and plenty of enemies. You should hear what Gary Kasparov thinks of him. But the fact is that Russia has the oil and America wants it.

Provoking Russia into a cold war won't benefit the people of Russia or America, or anywhere else. If you can tell me how it will, I would love to know. It would benefit the armaments industry and the oil conglomerates.

You’re right Mark. Establishing another cold war would not benefit the US, Russia, and especially not the European countries that would be caught in the middle of such paranoid policy administration.

The US has been following carefully constructed foreign policy with respect to Russia, avoiding blatant human rights abuses (e.g. Chechnya) seemingly in the hope that democracy would take hold and an elected government could right the ship, at least until the proposed installation of the missile defense shield.

Despite the turning of blind eyes and the tip-toeing about by US policy masters, paranoia seems to be creeping back into the chambers of the US policy and intelligence gurus.

Putin has installed security service agents and officials in most key government positions. He has asserted the right to install puppet governments in all former Warsaw pact countries, and he has apparently authorized acts of retribution against his critics on foreign soil (not Litvinenko. And not that the US hasn’t committed human rights abuses against its enemies on foreign soil). Apparently the mystics and major policy analysts feel that Russia may be re-forming a totalitarian government.

This will likely stand in the way of nuclear disarmament, and the success of Reagan’s military buildup and threats of a missile defense shield is being dusted off and copies made for distribution.

The best approach in light of such behavior is to behave like the polar opposite and uphold human rights, to stand for Democracy, and not to re-visit the late 1960s with its divisive policies.

A Russian friend of mine, who came to the US under the Helsinki agreement in 1972, told me once that the US had been viewed abroad as a country that stood for human rights and equanimous justice. That the US was a symbol of hope to the oppressed nations of the world.

That has changed. We should try and find those sentiments again, and not act out of paranoia.

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Once again, we have the spectacle of increasingly strident western attacks on a democratically-elected nationalist leader with:

- strong and stable popularity

- the determination to assert the interests of the part of the world community he represents above the interests of global corporations and banking interests

I get the feeling that you might be making the above statements in sarcasm, but if not;

Per the Hudson Institute and the Economist, Putin, former high ranking KGB officer, has filled most of the Russian Government posts with former KGB and FSB officers and agents. Criticism of Putin is quite typically met with retribution, often violent.

From the Hudson Institute ....... Wall Street Journal....... Guardian.......

It goes on and on.

Indeed it does, Peter. And that's my point.

Ironically, to refute my argument, you have quoted sources I said I believe are showing serious bias in their coverage of Putin's Russia.

No, I was not being facetious at all. I think the western mass media's criticisms of Putin's Russia are not 'balanced and fair'.

Your claim that the USSR, not the USA, had a 'first strike' policy on nuclear weapons is quite incorrect, IMO. The USA came closer to abandonning 'Mutual Assured Destruction'' than the Soviet Union. The Star Wars program was - and remains - a unilateral US attempt to 'break out' of the MAD paradigm, and has been justified on that basis.

IMO, the case that the US is now seeking to go beyond 'deterrence' towards an intimidatory 'compellance' was well made in Whitney's article.

In general, I think you give far too much credence to sources that have shown themselves very unreliable in the context of other major news stories. That's understandable, for someone who apparently buys the official line on topics such as 9-11. I surmise you don't think western political culture is anything like as corrupted - at the highest levels - as I believe it to be.

I hope you are right, but fear you are not.

Edited by Sid Walker
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The US has been following carefully constructed foreign policy with respect to Russia, avoiding blatant human rights abuses (e.g. Chechnya) seemingly in the hope that democracy would take hold and an elected government could right the ship, at least until the proposed installation of the missile defense shield.

Who did arm and train the child-killers of Beslan: and why so little investigation into the matter, certainly in Britain? Could it be the finance and training came from...Washington? Perish the thought.

Comment:The Chechens' American friends

The Washington neocons' commitment to the war on terror evaporates in Chechnya, whose cause they have made their own

John Laughland

Wednesday September 8, 2004

The Guardian

An enormous head of steam has built up behind the view that President Putin is somehow the main culprit in the grisly events in North Ossetia. Soundbites and headlines such as "Grief turns to anger", "Harsh words for government", and "Criticism mounting against Putin" have abounded, while TV and radio correspondents in Beslan have been pressed on air to say that the people there blame Moscow as much as the terrorists. There have been numerous editorials encouraging us to understand - to quote the Sunday Times - the "underlying causes" of Chechen terrorism (usually Russian authoritarianism), while the widespread use of the word "rebels" to describe people who shoot children shows a surprising indulgence in the face of extreme brutality.

On closer inspection, it turns out that this so-called "mounting criticism" is in fact being driven by a specific group in the Russian political spectrum - and by its American supporters. The leading Russian critics of Putin's handling of the Beslan crisis are the pro-US politicians Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Ryzhkov - men associated with the extreme neoliberal market reforms which so devastated the Russian economy under the west's beloved Boris Yeltsin - and the Carnegie Endowment's Moscow Centre. Funded by its New York head office, this influential thinktank - which operates in tandem with the military-political Rand Corporation, for instance in producing policy papers on Russia's role in helping the US restructure the "Greater Middle East" - has been quoted repeatedly in recent days blaming Putin for the Chechen atrocities. The centre has also been assiduous over recent months in arguing against Moscow's claims that there is a link between the Chechens and al-Qaida.

These people peddle essentially the same line as that expressed by Chechen leaders themselves, such as Ahmed Zakaev, the London exile who wrote in these pages yesterday. Other prominent figures who use the Chechen rebellion as a stick with which to beat Putin include Boris Berezovsky, the Russian oligarch who, like Zakaev, was granted political asylum in this country, although the Russian authorities want him on numerous charges. Moscow has often accused Berezovsky of funding Chechen rebels in the past.

By the same token, the BBC and other media sources are putting it about that Russian TV played down the Beslan crisis, while only western channels reported live, the implication being that Putin's Russia remains a highly controlled police state. But this view of the Russian media is precisely the opposite of the impression I gained while watching both CNN and Russian TV over the past week: the Russian channels had far better information and images from Beslan than their western competitors. This harshness towards Putin is perhaps explained by the fact that, in the US, the leading group which pleads the Chechen cause is the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya (ACPC). The list of the self-styled "distinguished Americans" who are its members is a rollcall of the most prominent neoconservatives who so enthusastically support the "war on terror".

They include Richard Perle, the notorious Pentagon adviser; Elliott Abrams of Iran-Contra fame; Kenneth Adelman, the former US ambassador to the UN who egged on the invasion of Iraq by predicting it would be "a cakewalk"; Midge Decter, biographer of Donald Rumsfeld and a director of the rightwing Heritage Foundation; Frank Gaffney of the militarist Centre for Security Policy; Bruce Jackson, former US military intelligence officer and one-time vice-president of Lockheed Martin, now president of the US Committee on Nato; Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute, a former admirer of Italian fascism and now a leading proponent of regime change in Iran; and R James Woolsey, the former CIA director who is one of the leading cheerleaders behind George Bush's plans to re-model the Muslim world along pro-US lines.

The ACPC heavily promotes the idea that the Chechen rebellion shows the undemocratic nature of Putin's Russia, and cultivates support for the Chechen cause by emphasising the seriousness of human rights violations in the tiny Caucasian republic. It compares the Chechen crisis to those other fashionable "Muslim" causes, Bosnia and Kosovo - implying that only international intervention in the Caucasus can stabilise the situation there. In August, the ACPC welcomed the award of political asylum in the US, and a US-government funded grant, to Ilyas Akhmadov, foreign minister in the opposition Chechen government, and a man Moscow describes as a terrorist. Coming from both political parties, the ACPC members represent the backbone of the US foreign policy establishment, and their views are indeed those of the US administration.

Although the White House issued a condemnation of the Beslan hostage-takers, its official view remains that the Chechen conflict must be solved politically. According to ACPC member Charles Fairbanks of Johns Hopkins University, US pressure will now increase on Moscow to achieve a political, rather than military, solution - in other words to negotiate with terrorists, a policy the US resolutely rejects elsewhere.

Allegations are even being made in Russia that the west itself is somehow behind the Chechen rebellion, and that the purpose of such support is to weaken Russia, and to drive her out of the Caucasus. The fact that the Chechens are believed to use as a base the Pankisi gorge in neighbouring Georgia - a country which aspires to join Nato, has an extremely pro-American government, and where the US already has a significant military presence - only encourages such speculation. Putin himself even seemed to lend credence to the idea in his interview with foreign journalists on Monday.

Proof of any such western involvement would be difficult to obtain, but is it any wonder Russians are asking themselves such questions when the same people in Washington who demand the deployment of overwhelming military force against the US's so-called terrorist enemies also insist that Russia capitulate to hers?

• John Laughland is a trustee of the British Helsinki Human Rights Group www.oscewatch.org

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