Vladimir Putin: Associating with Ukrainian gangsters does not sully you
Letter 25          23-Dec-2004

Russian oligarch
Boris Berezovsky
"Sitting in a jail cell in St Petersburg is Yuri Shutov, also a candidate on Sunday.  He is accused of ordering the contract killings of eight city officials and rival businessmen." Ian Traynor describing a not atypical candidate for the Russian Parliament in 1999

             23 December 2004

Vladimir Putin, President
4 Staraya Square
Moscow 103132

Vladimir Putin:

The Low Morality of Vladimir Putin

It has been my hope to shame you for associating with gangsters Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Yanukovych.  However, even a brief inquiry into your own biography reveals that you are a front man for Russian oligarchs, and have for many years been enmeshed in scandal and dogged by charges of corruption, and have on a few occasions found yourself one step ahead of the law, as is documented in the Washington Times article by Paul J. Saunders, reproduced below from the Nixon Center web site, of which Mr Saunders is Director.

"The Real Vladimir Putin," by Paul J. Saunders, from The Washington Times, January 6, 2000, p. A15.

With characteristic optimism about matters Russian, President Clinton has already said that he is "off to a good start" with Russia's acting president, Vladimir Putin.  Moreover, the president was apparently sufficiently impressed by a New Year's Day conversation with the new Kremlin leader to characterize it as "encouraging for the future of democracy in Russia."  But Mr. Clinton's eagerness to maintain the facade of his administration's "successful" Russia policy ignores serious questions about Mr. Putin's background, particularly regarding the nature of his association with Russia's corrupt oligarchy.  The answers to those questions may have profound implications for Russia's development and American interests.

While the administration has rushed to burnish Mr. Putin's reformist credentials by highlighting his long service in St. Petersburg (still Leningrad when he arrived), under the city's former mayor, Anatoly Sobchak, this and other periods in Mr. Putin's career are ambiguous at best.  First of all, very little is yet known about his decade-and-a-half as an officer in the KGB.  Mr. Putin left his last post, in East Germany, just as communism collapsed there.  This has led some to suggest that he may have been involved in operations intended to defend the dying regime of Erich Honecker.  Other reports accuse Mr. Putin of having been involved in the illicit privatization of Soviet property in East Germany.  If Mr. Putin is to be associated with the lofty goals of the "radical reformers" in St. Petersburg, where he served as deputy mayor from 1994 to 1996, he is no less associated with their venal excesses.  While serving as deputy mayor, Mr. Putin was accused of holding foreign property and bank accounts and was investigated by a commission of St. Petersburg legislators for granting export licenses in a shady barter deal.  The commission recommended his dismissal, which Mr. Sobchak resisted.

When Mr. Sobchak lost an ugly re-election race in 1996, Mr. Putin moved to Moscow as a protégé of another St. Petersburg veteran, the notorious Anatoly Chubais.  Soon thereafter, Russian prosecutors launched an investigation of Mr. Sobchak; he left Russia for medical treatment during the investigation and did not return until earlier this year.

Mr. Putin's new post was as a deputy to Pavel Borodin, the Kremlin's business manager.  Mr. Borodin, who controls a vast empire of Russian government real estate, cars, and other assets, is most recently known for awarding highly lucrative contracts to a Swiss construction firm for Kremlin renovations as part of an alleged kickback scheme.  The Swiss company, Mabetex, also was implicated in the Bank of New York money-laundering scandal and reportedly paid for credit cards issued in the names of members of the Yeltsin family.  Mr. Chubais, Mr. Putin's patron, was also enmeshed in a series of corruption scandals himself, as were other members of the St. Petersburg clique such as former privatization minister Alfred Kokh.

Mr. Putin's later conduct as director of Russia's Federal Security Service, the principal successor agency to the KGB, raises further doubts about his relationship with Mr. Chubais and other oligarchs in the so-called "Family" the Yeltsin inner circle.  Mr. Putin played an active role in squashing high-profile corruption investigations and at one point even appeared on national television to confirm the authenticity of a videotape purported to show the country's prosecutor general entertaining prostitutes.  The prosecutor had been leading inquiries into the behavior of Mr. Yeltsin's daughter and the tycoon Boris Berezovsky, among others.

The fact that Mr. Putin's first official act was a decree granting Boris Yeltsin and his family immunity from criminal prosecution (among other benefits) suggests that Russia's acting president also had to cut a deal with the Family to win power.  Statements that Russia's crony privatization cannot be reversed seem to reflect this as well.  Because his popularity is largely a manufactured phenomenon created by carefully managed coverage of the conflict in Chechnya by media outlets controlled by the government and the Yeltsin entourage Mr. Putin will remain dependent on the Family at least until Russia's March elections, and possibly beyond.

Needless to say, Vladimir Putin is no more a prisoner of his past than Russia is doomed by its own history.  He has claimed that he will fight corruption and may in fact do so.  But only Mr. Putin's actions can tell us what kind of a president he might be; his words have little significance, particularly when he will face a crucial election in less than three months.  Regrettably despite its concern over Russia's intervention in Chechnya, which Mr. Putin orchestrated the Clinton administration appears to have failed to grasp this distinction.

Further, the administration seems confused about the difference between words and deeds (also known as the difference between spin and reality) not only in Russia, but also in the United States.  Mr. Clinton's statement that his call to Mr. Putin was "encouraging for the future of democracy in Russia" makes this clear.  The United States cannot base a successful Russia policy, let alone an effective foreign policy, on this kind of self-deception.

(Paul J. Saunders is Director of The Nixon Center.)

Originally at  www.nixoncenter.org/publications/articles/1_6_00Putin.htm

One may suppose that the only reason your sullied past does not hurt your popularity today is that you control the media, and that the only reason you are not in jail is that you control the justice system.  In view of this new to me information, I would now say that rather than being debased by your acquaintance with Leonid Kuchma, you are elevated by it at least he was an outstanding missile engineer before he became a gangster, whereas your biography boasts no comparable accomplishment.

The Low Morality of the Russian Government

On top of that, the Russian government appears to be a magnet for criminals:

Welcome to the safest club in town

Ian Traynor in Moscow
Thursday December 16, 1999
The Guardian

A couple of weeks ago Vyacheslav Maltsev, 35, and a deputy in the regional parliament, was arrested after traffic cops found a pistol and a little packet of heroin in his Cherokee Jeep.

Whether guilty or not Mr Maltsev, who insisted police in the Volga city of Saratov had framed him, was unlucky in the timing of his arrest.  As a candidate in Sunday's elections to the duma, parliament, he could once victorious have sat back for four years and enjoyed immunity from prosecution.

If politics is the last refuge of the scoundrel in Russia, the new duma threatens to provide a safe haven for assassins, millionaire embezzlers, murderers, gangsters and petty criminals.

Among those running for seats in Sunday's election are Sergei Mikhailov, said by police to be a key figure in the Moscow underworld and leader of the notorious Solntsevo gang, who spent 26 months in a Swiss jail on money-laundering charges.

Sitting in a jail cell in St Petersburg is Yuri Shutov, also a candidate on Sunday.  He is accused of ordering the contract killings of eight city officials and rival businessmen.

Aleksander Shmonov, who received a seven-year jail sentence for an assassination attempt on Mikhail Gorbachev 10 years ago, is standing for a St Petersburg seat.

In all, the interior ministry says, more than 1,000 of the 6,700 candidates for the 450 duma seats have criminal records "a real storming of the centres of power by the world of crime", according to a police official.

Originally at  www.guardian.co.uk/yeltsin/Story/0,2763,194985,00.html

The impression left by the above is that if an honest man were ever discovered to have infiltrated the Duma, he would be dead by morning.

Vladimir Putin Re-Imposes Dictatorship

And it is not merely that you are a gangster who plays the role of President.  More accurate would be to say that you are a gangster who transformed the post of President into the post of Dictator, as all the world has begun to decry:

Under the direction of Mr. Putin, Russia is well into its transition into an authoritarian state.  [...]

Kristallnacht was the predictable manifestation of years of a hate-mongering legislative agenda in Germany.  Many European leaders turned a blind eye to Hitler's belligerence, naively hoping that he was a new Bismark who wanted only to unite a Greater Germany.  This attitude was exemplified by Neville Chamberlain's remark that he could "do business" with Hitler, a comment that became his epitaph.  [...]

FDR recognized that what Hitler was doing was more important than what he was saying (a gap that was shrinking by the day).  From World War II to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait and the ethnic cleansing of Slobodan Milosevic, history is full of examples of the West ignoring signs of impending explosion.

Likewise, in Russia it will not have been a sudden coup but a steady march to dictatorship.  Mr. Putin has authorized an endless illegal war in Chechnya, taken over the airwaves, jailed a prominent businessman who resisted the Kremlin's intimidation, and presided over rampant electoral fraud.

With that track record it should not shock that Mr. Putin is now eliminating direct gubernatorial elections and giving himself the power to dissolve local parliaments.  There is also a pending amendment that will allow the Kremlin to exercise direct control over the appointment of judges across the country.  For several years Russia has been a democracy in name only; now it will cease to be even that.

And yet the G-7 still plans to meet in Moscow in 2006, which will mean Russia's full integration into this once-respected institution.  Such an endorsement will be worse than having the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936.  The West will give the stamp of democratic legitimacy to Russia, a country whose attorney-general recently proposed to the parliament that state security forces take the families of suspected terrorists hostage.  [...]

The language used by the current Kremlin regime has not been heard in Russia since Stalin.  Official talk of foreign meddlers and fifth columnists will send chills down the spine of any student of history.  If this familiar train continues to run on schedule we can expect violent repression and purges next.

Under Boris Yeltsin, Russia had a weak and unstable democracy.  It now has a weak and unstable dictatorship under Vladimir Putin.  Those Western leaders who want to keep good relations with the Kremlin for motives of future influence are under the delusion that Putin's authoritarian ways mean his control of Russia is stable.  The tighter his control, the more the pressure builds, like a pot ready to boil over.  [...]

Mr. Putin is unwilling to accept the results of proper elections and is currently doing his best to spread this totalitarian virus to neighboring Ukraine.  If there is a democratic transition of power in Ukraine it would serve as a model for Russia, the last thing Mr. Putin wants.

Putin's Appeasers, The Wall Street Journal Europe, 11- Nov-2004, as reproduced by Putin.ru, Russian Independent Ineternet Digest at  putinru.com/news/item/33263.html

Putin's decision on Monday to end the system of direct popular election of Russia's governors, and to have the Russian parliament elected on the basis of slates chosen by national party leaders he mostly controls, is an unambiguous step toward tyranny in Russia.  [...]  Putin is imposing dictatorship the old-fashioned way, in the manner of a Ferdinand Marcos, an Anastasio Somoza or a Park Chung Hee.  He claims that he needs to strengthen the state to face its enemies.  So did they.  Russia does need to fight terrorism.  But eliminating elections and quashing Putin's political opponents has nothing to do with that fight.  [...]  A dictatorial Russia is at least as dangerous to U.S. interests as a dictatorial Iraq.  [...]  A Russian dictatorship can never be a reliable ally of the United States.  A Russian dictator will always regard the United States with suspicion, because America's very existence, its power, its global influence, its democratic example will threaten his hold on power.  [...]  Did the United States help undo Soviet communism only to watch as tyranny takes its place?  Is that the legacy President Bush wants to leave behind?

Robert Kagan, Stand Up to Putin, Washington Post, 15-Sep-2004  www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A21853-2004Sep14.html

More than 50 former Soviet dissidents who spent years in prisons and Siberian exile say Russia is in danger of slipping back into a police state under President Vladimir Putin and the former KGB colleagues he has brought to power.  [...]  "More than 50 percent of the key state positions are occupied by former KGB officials," Kuznetsov said.  "The KGB officials have a specific mentality.  They can't change.  [...]  Bukovsky [...] recalled that Putin has lamented the collapse of the Soviet Union as "a tragedy."  He said Putin's colleagues also share this view.  "They do so because they used to be young officers of the KGB ... and they still have the feeling that they served the great power and now they want the great power to be back, and they think by repeating the Soviet example they once again will bring greatness to Russia," Bukovsky said.

Gerald Nadler, Ex-Soviet dissidents lament Russia's state, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 13-Nov-2004, available online at several locations, as for example at www.freeserbia.net/Articles/2004/Dissidents.html

Ukraine Takes a Rain Check on Russian Rule

Given the low morality of yourself and of the Russian government, and given that you have transformed Russia into a dictatorship, then you might do better for the time being to shelve the Kremlin plan to rule Ukraine.  Ukrainians have an aversion to gangsters, and they are determined to never again live under dictatorship.  And as Ukrainians are resolved to rule themselves, they would reject Russian rule even if the Kremlin were not populated by gangsters, and even if Russia were not a dictatorship.

Lubomyr Prytulak