Monday, February 18, 2008

Could The West Be Ignoring the Next Major Threat?

In the pages of Playboy magazine, Gary Kasparov muses about Vladimir Putin

When Russians go to the polls on 2 March, 2008, Other Russia party leader and former Chess World Champion Gary Kasparov won't be on the ballot.

Neither will current Russian president Vladimir Putin, although (depending upon whom you ask) he will have a proxy on the ballot.

Yet, in the course of his Playboy interview, Kasparov raises a number of serious concerns about Putin, and hints that US President George W Bush just might be ignoring the next major threat to global security, just as he initially ignored Al Qaida.

Among the failures of Bush's foreign policy toward Putin's Russia, in Kasparov's view, is the failure to support Russian democracy. Furthermore, Kasparov surmises that Bush's undermining of democracy in his own country has helped to further the undermining of democracy abroad, and advanced the spread of cynicism.

"[Bush's] arrogant actions in the past few years convinced [Putin] that... the war on terror, the war in Iraq, the Halliburton story, torture -- they prove all these [democratic] values are a cover-up," Kasparov says. "They prove to Putin and his people that the West doesn't really care about them, either. It's a big joke."

"Bush talks about promoting democracy in Iraq, but in Russia we see he doesn't really care about democracy," Kasparov declares. "He undermines it, betrays it. So it's easy for people in Russia to be cynical. 'Yes, we're as democratic as you are' -- Russians say it with a wink."

"I'm not a big fan of President Bush, as you can guess," Kasparov admits. "But it's not only him. Look at Gerhard Schroeder, Jacques Chirac, Silvio Berlusconi -- unlike Bush and Tony Blair, they were Putin's business partners. They all supported him. But Bush and the others turn a blind eye, and meanwhile this strongman has thrived."

"[Bush] says nothing about most of the assaults on democracy in Russia. He says nothing to Putin and continues to do business with him," Kasparov adds. "Putin is allowed to come to the G8. It should be renamed the G7+1. Again and again no one says anything against Putin."

"Putin is immune unless he hears a firm reaction from the top man," Kasparov insists. "He doesn't care about clerks, even Condoleezza Rice. Only a message from the top counts. Everything else is a game. When Putin made some of the statements that implied he could stay in office for a third term, he didn't hear anything from Bush. President Bush, you stuck up for him; you looked into his eyes. Why are you silent now? Instead, what does Putin hear? Condoleezza Rice says, "we'd rather have him inside than outside the tent."

"This philosophy has never worked before," he continues. "Churchill said 'no matter how beautiful the strategy, occasionally you must check the results.' For seven years, with engagement by the West and with the influx of capitalism, Putin destroyed all democratic institutions in Russia. So we all remember that Bush said he looked into Putin's eyes. Putin looked into Bush's eyes as well. He saw he could push Bush's limits. Every time he pushes he tests the waters. He pushes and Bush does nothing."

"Putin is a psychologist," Kasparov -- a man himself familiar with psychology -- notes.

Of course, a foreign policy realist would note that the state of democratic health within Russia is actually of little consequence to American (or Canadian) foreign policy.

"[Putin] is on all sides," Kasparov says, "The West and Iran and Hezbollah."

Kasparov goes so far as to suggest that Putin is willfully sowing tension in the Middle East, and is doing so by supporting regimes and organizations that have declared themselves to be implacable enemies of the west.

"Putin needs high oil prices," Kasparov insists. "If oil goes down, his regime collapses. It's why he sells weapons to Syria and Hezbollah and Hamas."

"This past year Putin seemed to increase his ties to the US and the West," Kasparov notes, then continues with an unspoken "but", "He has bee supplying Hamas in Palestine and selling military equipment to Sudan, Myanmar and Venezuala, and missile technology to North Korea. Why?"

Kasparov answers his own question.

"It's two ways of making profit," he continues. "One is cash. These industries are all controlled by his guys, so there's lots of cash."

"But he also backs these regimes to create tension in oil-rich regions," Kasparov adds. "The more tension, the higher the oil prices. He needs tension because it muddies the waters, and he thrives in muddy waters."

"If you look at the places of instability around the world, you'll always find Putin's traces," Kasparov insists. "Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Hugo Chavez -- they keep the Middle East boiling. It's a very rational policy if you need high oil prices."

"Putin is a KGB guy," Kasparov says. "He looks at your eyes and smells whether he can move further or if he should go back. Now, he thinks, we have so much money, we can dictate our terms. For his attacks on the values of the West and democracy, he has been rewarded with polite commitments and now the Sochi Olympics. It's the triumph of Russian corruption over international institutions."

Kasparov notes that particularly problematic, in his view, is the difference between the two men. "See, Putin is a psychologist," Kasparov reiterates, "and much smarter than Bush. Putin realized all these big guys were not as strong, not as smart -- he could easily outplay them. Basically he does what he wants, manipulates them and does more of what he wants. He keeps oil prices high, keeps tension in the Middle East, becomes a necessary ally but on his own terms."

But, as Kasparov notes, Putin is particularly vulnerable to rebukes from world leaders.

"Putin's biggest disappointments were in October of last year, a day or two after [Anna] Politkovskaya was murdered. He was in Germany and offered a big deal to German Chancellor Angela Merkel: Russia has gas, and Germany would be the distributor," Kasparov says. "Responding to the murder, Merkel said no. Putin was devastated. Next there was a meeting in Finland, and the European countries turned down a similar proposal. He was stunned because he believes that everything and everyone has a price. The EU's Organization for Security and Cooperation refused to come to Russia to monitor this past December's parliamentary elections because Putin was not cooperation with visas and they would have been restricted. This shocked Putin."

"These are very good signs," Putin declares. "Finally some of the Western leadership is showing they have reached their limits and won't play his game."

Putin's supply of weapons to some of the most turbulent regions in the world has clear implications for foreign policy -- even among those who consider themselves realists. And given that Putin is using the proceeds of these funds, both directly and indirectly, to fund his continuing stranglehold on Russian democracy, the state of Russian democracy is an issue that should be addressed in the foreign policy of all Western states.

Putin may well be pliable to the influence of world leaders. But the limits of this pliability have yet to be tested. If we in the West are truly interested in pacifying the Middle East, the Sudan, Myanmar and other global trouble spots, it's clearly time for western leaders to turn the tables on Vladimir Putin, and see how far he can be pushed until he mends his ways -- both domestically and internationally.


  1. There are criticisms that can be brought against Putin but Kasparov is hyping features of Russian politics to suit his own political ends.

    First, let's get rid of the "Russia is arming Helzbollah etc" meme. They are, but the US is openly funding terrorist groups the MEK, Jundallah and Sunni groups linked to al Qaeda. Not to mention their funding for "democracy groups" in former Russian states fully intended as an invasion of Russia's political sphere of influence. And we won't even mention the US backed coup against Hamas or the endless funding for Israel. So please, spare us the selective moral outrage.

    The truth is that Putin has tried rapproachment with the West. This is from an hour and a half press conference Putin gave before a large media contingent in June 2007 which, except for a brief comment in the Washington Post, remained unreported by the US media. It was discussed by Mike Whitney:

    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.

    He went on...

    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.

    On the issue of the failure to limit ABMs Putin had this to say:

    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.

    The short version of all this is that the US is positioning missiles in Europe, ostensibly targetting Iran, but in fact targetting Russia. With only an eight minute flight time to downtown Moscow, Russia has every right to demand that the US get the hell out of the region and its face. The US is destabilising Western-Russian relations by its foreign policy programs.

    I strongly invite people to read both Putin's comments and Whitney's analysis. Putin had the last laugh at the conference when asked about "democracy":

    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.

  2. When you fund and supply as many groups as the United States does, it's actually inevitable that those funds and weapons will wind up in the hands of people you don't want them to -- this has long been a principle weakness of American foreign policy.

    That being said, Israel, unlike states like Syria is at least democratic, and stable, unlike states like Lebanon.

    To blame Israel for instability in the Middle East simply reeks of selective moral outrage. I shouldn't have to explain the implicit virtue of condemning terrorism to you and if I really do, then you're clearly even more hopeless than I thought you are.

    And don't even dream about claiming Putin has attempted rapproachment with the West. The issue with Putin is that he's playing both sides of the field -- and in order to do that you have to pretend to play nice with both sides while secretly stabbing them in the back. He's quite astute at it.

    Then again, if you want to sanctify a man who has his political opponents arrested for the grievous crime of holding a political rally, you just go ahead and do that. (Who's next? Fidel Castro? Wait... maybe I'd better not ask that question.)

  3. I am not blind to the domestic criminality of Putin, nor do I endorse it. But the West was quite happy to see Yeltsin's economic meltdown which saw mafia gangs running the country and pensioners starving. Putin put an end to the worst excesses even though it can be clearly acknowledged that he runs his own favored nomenclature. I'm not arguing about Russian domestic politics. I'm concerned about weapons programs and East West relations.

    And don't even dream about claiming Putin has attempted rapproachment with the West. The issue with Putin is that he's playing both sides of the field -- and in order to do that you have to pretend to play nice with both sides while secretly stabbing them in the back. He's quite astute at it.

    Baloney. Russia moved conventional forces out of Europe and sought for ABM cutbacks. What do you expect him to do, move to Vladivostok? It's his region, for God's sake! Imagine if Putin was funding "pro democracy" groups in Mexico, Texas or the Marianas. Or siting nuclear missiles in Cuba ostensibly aimed at Guatemala. Do you honestly believe the US would be obliged to sit there and just accept that nonsense. Of course, Putin is a political player! But it's part of his region, they are his neighbors and he has made verifiable offers to limit weapons systems in the region. Bush has sought to confront Russia by positioning missile systems in Europe.

    And don't even dream about claiming Putin has attempted rapproachment with the West. -- Your evidence? Or don't you need any?

    When you fund and supply as many groups as the United States does, it's actually inevitable that those funds and weapons will wind up in the hands of people you don't want them to.

    Oh, look, I'm sorry but this is just silly. The MEK, Jundallah and any number of Sunni "terrorist" groups have been specifically funded and armed by the US to achieve particular goals. Pretending those arms fell off the back of a truck or were spirited away from others is just nonsense. The US is arming various terrorist groups within the Middle East.

    To blame Israel for instability in the Middle East simply reeks of selective moral outrage.

    Nowhere did I blame Israel for the "instability in the Middle East". Those are your words. But, certainly the US has acted, with Israel's support in many instances, to support one group over another using arms and terrorist methods.

    That being said, Israel, unlike states like Syria is at least democratic, and stable, unlike states like Lebanon.

    Yep, and Hamas was a democratically elected government until the US and Israel decided they would prefer something else and organized a coup against them, armed 500 Fatah troops, trained them in Egypt and sent them into Gaza -- unless, of course, you believe they walked there on water or mysteriously sneaked their way through Israeli check points?

    That's what I like about Right wing politics: the Good Guys always wear the white hats and the Bad Guys wear the black. So simple -- and meaningless.

  4. Yeah, Hamas was a democratically-elected government that, like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, wants to destroy Israel, and somehow you think Israel is supposed to just be OK with that.

    Frankly, both Israel and the Palestinians will be better off with Hamas out of power.

    And there's nothing silly about pointing out the foolishness of supplying groups you should know you can't control. The United States did help train Osama Bin Laden, for example -- real smart move that was. I won't even begin to defend it.

    All that can really be said about that is: hindsight is always 20/20. When you lay down with the dogs sometimes you wake up with fleas.

    It doesn't change the state of the world. It doesn't change the fact that Putin is a risky global double agent who needs to be countered. It doesn't change the fact that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is, to put it lightly, a complete asshole who talks out of both sides of his face while doing things he knows he isn't supposed to be doing. It doesn't change the fact that the Taliban bombs its own people, even when NATO troops are nowhere to be seen.

    And you want to lecture me about white hat/black hat analogies? You, who insists that all Republicans are criminals simply by virtue of being Republicans?

    Good fuckin' grief.

  5. You say -- It doesn't change the state of the world. It doesn't change the fact that Putin is a risky global double agent who needs to be countered.

    ...protect from what? Invading Poland? He can control Europe any day he wants just by shutting down their gas supply.

  6. But if he were to do that he would lose the funds he needs to maintain his regime and his control over the Russian state.

  7. That's exactly right. Which is why stories about Putin being a "a risky global double agent" and a threat to the West are hyped nonsense.

  8. No, I think you still aren't getting it. Putin is really not much of a threat to the West per se -- but he is a threat to global peace and stability, regardless of whether or not he sows instability merely in the name of keeping himself in power in Russia or not.

    That's precisely the point.

  9. The US has ripped up the Middle East, there's a million innocent people dead and you're telling me Putin is a threat to global peace and stability. Gimmee a break! At what point does reality kick in? Or are you required to carry around these silly views as part of some oddball religion?

    A million dead due to Bush! And you hyperventilate about Putin. Total garbage.

  10. "Putin is really not much of a threat to the West per se -- but he is a threat to global peace and stability"

    Patric Ross is not a terrorist per se but he is a threat to global peace and stability.


    Duh...because I say so, that's why.

    ...and that's precisely the point!

    C'mon, Patrick, help me out here. This is like a conversation with a 5 year old.

  11. "This is like a conversation with a 5 year old."

    My thoughts exactly.


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