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Subject: Who leads Russia?
Derby    5/5/2002 4:26:06 PM
Last year, before the 9/11 attacks, I went to a lecture given by a U.S. Army counterintelligence major. Among the many interesting things he told us was, "Russia is a country run entirely by professional criminals. I say that without qualification. It is run entirely by professional criminals." Is this true? Is Vladimir Putin a gangster of some kind? If so, what's his racket?
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Phoenix Rising    RE:Who leads Russia?   5/5/2002 10:58:50 PM
Some will say that Putin is owned by mob influence, some will not. Let it suffice to say that the Russian organized crime rings have their claws much more firmly on Russian politics than their American counterparts. When the Soviet Union disbanded, members of the Politburo had first grab at all the choice state-owned property (which was basically the entire country). The former political elite thus had an unsurpassed opportunity to immediately become the economic elite of the new Russian world. Many of the highest-ranking ones had accounts hidden all over Europe, and were able to empty them and buy major Russian industries and swaths of infrastructure at firesale prices. However, human greed is never satisfied, and the opportunity for material gain was such that a lot of influence-peddling went on under the surface; the Russian mob was rich, having been the most capitalistic element of Soviet society, and politicians came cheap. This became especially true as the economic hardship of trying to switch to a capitalist system cold-turkey kicked in, which didn't take long. Many of those politicians are still around in the Russian Duma, and it will be at least another generation of political leaders before they're gone, very likely even longer. Russian political science specialists have done many surveys tracking the careers of the former Soviet Communist Party elite after the USSR shattered. Almost all of them ended up in positions of extreme economic power in post-Soviet Russia. Hence, Russia's democracy was born in a wave of corruption, which still stains it today. Putin almost certainly had a hand in it, though probably no more or less than anyone else randomly picked from mainstream Russian politics. However, he apparently has other loyalties as well, which I believe are genuine. He is a genuine Russian patriot, and has done a much better job at restoring national pride than Yeltsin. This partially accounts for his approval ratings being so high, despite the mediocre Russian economic performance for the past two years (growing, but not on pace with the Asian tigers which they often measure themselves against). The Russian people are as concerned with their wallets as any other culture, but the sense of being important as a country is something they missed. Putin has gone a long way towards restoring that. That will only last so long, but it does say something more permanent about Putin as a person; most people who come to power in historically corrupt governments with the sole intent of enriching themselves and the sponsors that pull their strings would not be capable of awakening intangibles in a people the way Putin has. There is a serious question on the horizon, however, of who will come after Putin. That heavily mob-influenced political system is still there, and it will be another product of that system that ascends to power in Russia. Whether only a partial product, a la Putin, or a more complete product of corruption, a la Zyuganov, remains to be seen. --Phoenix Rising
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