By Nick Slepko
Ukraine is the new Taiwan. Recently, Yuschenko made good on his promise to abolish visa requirements for most Western nations--on my birthday no less. And yet, Russia has continued to increase the requirements for Westerners whether they come for business or a simple three-day holiday.
First, let us set aside that barriers to association such as visas (be they the typical external or the even more irritating internal propiskas from the Soviet-era) are immoral and should be abolished. Even if one is to support the idea of a visa regime (and they shouldn't), keeping out citizens of countries richer than yours is a bad idea. These people are not going to take away jobs, overwhelm your social safety net, nor will they create slums on your municipal peripheries. Ignoring the Baltic States (because they're just cheap knock offs of Scandinavia anyway), the Ukraine is the first of the former Soviet republics to recognize that barriers to foreigners are barriers to foreign investment. Moreover, by taking away the discretionary powers of the visa agents, they eliminate one more area of corruption in their bureaucracy. Plus, whereas tariffs on goods can be lucrative for the state (though still not recommended), visas are not and never have been. They have always been about power. Just ask the fascists as they were the ones who invented the modern visa system.
Russia is now in a position to import modern ideas from Ukraine--as it has been doing for centuries. Still, Putin is not as bad a guy as most Westerners want to believe. In fact, in America's much shorter history, we have only had maybe four good presidents and over half of the remaining ones have been as corrupt as any Russian oligarch, but our institutions have kept them in check. Clearly, Putin is superior to the mis-named Liberal Democrats and is better organized to enact reforms than the horribly mismanaged and public relations-retarded Yabloko and SPS parties.
Putin's saving grace lies in the fact that he has very clearly set the rules: Thou shalt not interfere in politics. Now, as in Nigeria or South Africa, this is of course made difficult in a country where most every decision is politicized. Nevertheless, it is concerning that he is now messing up other industries besides oil such as the telecomms sector. And yet, Taiwan, South Korea, and Chile are all examples of right-wing authoritarian states which have survived and eventually prospered in some very parallel circumstances. So while Kiev becomes the new haven for Russian Ã©migrÃ©s just as Taipei absorbed the exodus from Shanghai, perhaps it is time that Putin allow his hometown to become the new Hong Kong.
If Putin does not allow the pace of liberalization to increase and is not willing to allow the state to transition away from his micro-management, Russia is destined to become a white Africa with its resources stripped and their few remaining children adopted by foreigners and their mothers sold into slavery-like prostitution. Oh, but wait I guess that's already happening...
Nick Slepko is a consultant specializing in market-oriented reforms and philanthropic development in transitional and developing economies. He is involved with many international think tanks and has traveled extensively. At the moment he is in Ankara, Turkey.