What I find surprising is the level to which the government feels it
needs to engage in electoral hanky-panky: all signs suggest that
Edinaya Rossiya would receive a comfortable majority, even without the
blatant manipulation of the system. Kommersant reports
that a recent poll shows that it is very likely that no party besides
Edinaya Rossiya will clear the 7% threshold for Duma representation--in
that case, a "loyal opposition" may actually need to be manufactured to
preserve the pretense of a multiparty system. Is this a dictator's fear
that his popularity is merely illusory? Or is it based in a belief that
greater legitimacy is derived from a manipulated landslide than a clean
victory? It's hard to tell from the outside. -- Maia Gemmill, the Duck of Minerva
Here's a guess. The Russian population needs to be conditioned to understand that the State, not the citizens, has full responsibility even for big incumbent victories, and that the State, not the citizens, can guarantee the fair and balanced presence of opposition parties. If 'hanky panky' is an open secret, manipulation itself gains the legitimacy of unopposed practice. Of course, it's always illegitimate, if the word 'legitimate' has any real meaning, so the State will have to pay off and churn a steadily expanding elite class of people with no political liberty and lots and lots of economic and social liberty. (Welcome to the pink police state.)
Kasparov knows. He tells GOOD Magazine that
The West should not be panicking when Putin talks about targeting Western cities with Russian missiles. ... If the West is getting serious about halting Putin, you should stop talking about petty issues and look at the big one, which is the investments of the Russian ruling elite in the free world.
What's kitscher than kitsch? Move over, childhood nostalgia of the emotionally stunted American hipster. If 1UP mushrooms and Clash T-shirts, why not this?
young and trendy Muscovites are in the throes of nostalgia for the
staples of Soviet childhoods, relics of a time when the U.S.S.R. was at
the height of superpower status. That may explain why one of
the most popular fashion designers this fall is Denis Simachev, who is
selling overcoats fastened with hammer-and-sickle buttons, gold jewelry
minted to look like Soviet kopecks and shirts festooned with the Soviet
coat of arms, complete with embroidered ears of wheat. “People
in their 30s see these kinds of symbols as reminders of happy memories,
like going to pioneer camp where they lived together, ate breakfast
together and played sports,” said Mr. Simachev, 33, who wears his hair
in a Samurai-style ponytail. He insists he is no Communist — for one
thing, his overcoats sell for about $2,100 and his T-shirts for about
$600. His boutique is sandwiched between Hermès and Burberry stores on
a pedestrian lane, Stoleshnikov, that is one of the capital’s most
expensive shopping streets.
Ah the irony, when history repeats itself as farce and capitalism's to blame.
UPDATE: Julian about nails it with the Hang the Capitalists Playset analogy: a fake gulag, though tacky, is always to be preferred to the real thing.
Problem is of course that in Russia's case today the gilded hammer and sickle is merely one shiny facet of the Putinocratic diadem. Kind of takes the shine off freedom of contract when it applies only to the entertainment sector. But that's what I keep nattering on about with this 'pink police state' stuff.
Would have to shift scale even higher than neutrality among faiths to neutrality among belief, semibelief, nonbelief, and, presumably, antibelief. How ephemeral a cloud is that? The state will get tired flapping its stubby wings so furiously to hover so close to the ground yet so pointedly above it.
Another problem: he thinks Turkey is not in Europe because it isn't Christian, then says in the same breath things are far more complicated. There are lots of Christian countries not in Europe. Imagine if Turkey was as ethnically white of a country as Russia. Think about why people insist Georgia is European: yes, there are four big red crosses (five actually) on the rejiggered Georgian flag, but we flatter ourselves if we think it's that simple. And not just ethnicity but the properties and singularities of geography that we still can't transcend (you can't make Turkey not adjacent to Iraq, Syria, and Iran) profoundly impact the shape of the Western world, too.
Yes, in a strict sense, we do need others’ cooperation; unfortunately, we’re not getting it. The last few years show that Russia, China, and their friends do not want to become “responsible stakeholders”—if I may use the State Department’s optimistic term—in the world as it is.
Call it what you wish—World War III, World War IV, or the Long War—but the existing international system is disintegrating. We have to confront the reality that we are already involved in destabilizing competition with other great powers. Not supporting Georgia and other democracies under attack will only hand victory to the aggressors. -- Gordon Chang, Contentions
Make up your mind, Mr. Chang: is the world 'as it is,' or is it 'disintegrating'? If we are 'already involved in destabilizing competition with other great powers,' what part of the world that we live in are those other powers refusing to recognize? Is Georgia under attack, or under phony attack? Why not equally phony support from the US? What other sort of support did you have in mind? Dropping dud missiles in Russia? But that's destabilizing! Oh, yes, but you already admitted this is already so. So when we destabilize the world, the world's being as it is, but when Russia destabilizes...um, Georgia, the whole world is plunged into destabilizing competition?
The more we care about what happens next door to Russia, the greater a power Russia becomes. Nothing in that realization means selling Georgia down the river, or standing by smugly while a now-sovereign state is subverted or overthrown or whatever by the Kremlin. If you can think of a constructive and proportionate way to 'support' Georgia in its time of crisis, I'm open to suggestions. Only, we're already 'supporting' Georgia as much as we can without planting a NATO flag there (aha...), and the 'Georgia' we're supporting is in fact a Saakashvili regime more interested in American protection than the rule of law. I understand Chang's gist that letting Russia do as it pleases with a nervous smile and nary a peep is bad policy. That's what I take that last, dissatisfyingly vague sentence above to be saying. But I am tempted to wonder whether a first draft of his post read like the following:
Yes, in a strict sense, we can't 'force' people to appreciate freedom; unfortunately, we have to. The last few hundred years show that Russia, China, and other countries that aren't US allies do not want to become “responsible stakeholders”—if I may use the State Department’s optimistic euphemism for US allies—in the world as it could be if tyranny was ended in it.
Call it what you wish—World War III, World War IV, the Eternal War, Better Living through War, the War on Words Beginning With 'Terr' or 'Tyrr', Permanent Revolution—but the international system we never actually succeeded in establishing after World War II and World War III is in catastrophic danger of not ever being established. We have to confront the reality that we might need one last big war in order to get it right this time. Not declaring Georgia and other democracies to be under attack will only prove there isn't another total war going on, and without total war, what's victory?
While I hesitate to do so, I must take issue with the take of James Poulos on the Litvinenko affair. [...] Someone must speak the Derbyshirean hard truth here, which is that
someone who makes a name for himself as a defector and associate of a
man loathed and wanted on criminal charges in Russia, and as a tacit
apologist for the Chechen cause, just is liable to get whacked on
someone's orders - or even by freelancers or rogues. Contrary to the
idea that the Russian policy, whoever applied it in this case, was
unduly concerned with one man, that policy was very much concerned with
an entire nation: the pet causes of the West have no purchase in any
corridors of power, because they are bad for Russia. -- John Martin (Maximos), WWWtW
I did make the assumption that "the Russians" ordered Litvinenko's death, and I insinuated (but only insinuated) that 'the' Russians who did so were carrying out an element of Russian foreign policy. I agree with JM(M) that much in Russia that would seem 'official' under Western circumstances actually is not, and vice versa.
But I'm not sure this at all dilutes my main point -- namely, that Litvinenko was indeed "whacked on someone's orders," that only an idiot could believe those somebodies were not powerful Russians, and that Britain erred not in the slightest by reminding the Kremlin that, regardless of how they do things at home or in the rest of the world, transnational hit jobs involving anti-Putin Russians are not to be conducted on British soil and will be treated as the responsibility of the Russian government to prevent. The idea that Chechnya is still a sore spot is compelling, but the notion that the British should have shown some restraint because of it is not.
In the end the question is whether the onus is on a country -- Britain, which had just unwillingly hosted a high-profile, exceedingly clumsy, and distressingly inventive assassination -- to figure out precisely how 'official' of a killing it was, or whether, in fact, the onus is on the country -- Russia, from which both perpetrators and victim had come -- to deal with the fallout when the host country rebukes them for an all too useful lack of oversight.
Advantages. How can it get them? There is no shortage of ways. What has Russia got to lose? Nothing. What is the best way to fix this? Ironically, I think, the answer is a strategic relocation back toward apparent multipolarity. The question is whether or not we want to expend the effort required to zig rather than zag. Because right now the zag appears to be a sag. It is worth bearing in mind that even a moderate success in Iraq, now defined, will not alter the nature of our relationship with Russia or China. Or, I wager, India.