The Wall Street Journal has an article today named "West Hits a Wall With Putin".
The easiest way to address my disagreements with the WSJ's opinion would be to comment on the short graph (Acting Up) attached with the article (click on the link to view the graph).
The arrest of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky didn't have to do much with his political criticisms of Putin. I will quote parts of the previous Russia Blog articles and add some new stuff.
Khodorkovsky had acquired billions of dollars (anywhere between 8 and 20, depending on where you read about it), and his "charity" was focused only on bashing Putin, who stood in the way of his businesses, and not for multiple social projects. If someone young in his late 30s made a fortune from oil by getting lucky and smart during the "privatization" period, wouldn't it be more "ethical" to consider larger giving to charity than a lousy 50 million dollars a year? The Gates Foundation in contrast gives out a billion dollars to charitable causes all over the world each year.
Although the technical part of the prosecution of Mr. Khodorkovsky and the "tycoon-friendly" companies and law firms was unfair and illegal, the crimes he was charged with were real and have been proven multiple times. Everyone in the corrupt Russian society knows the "deal" -- share with the government officials, whose official salaries are way too small to feed their families, and stay out of selling Russian hard assets to anyone outside of the country (doesn't matter whether the customer is America or India). Mr. Khodorkovsky broke both of those unspoken rules.
You must "share" with the officials, because most companies don't pay taxes in the first place from multi-billion dollar profits. No taxes paid means no money for the government budget, which means low salaries for the officials, which means -- just share the cash! Russian elites are greedier than their counterparts in other countries, and they don't quite know when the limits of conspicuous consumption and ruthlessness are being pushed.
Khodorkovsky had all his companies registered offshore so that he didn't have pay taxes in Russia, he stopped sharing with the right people, and to top it all of -- he decided to sell 40%(!) of Russia's oil reserves to the Americans. These are the reasons why Khodorkovsky went to jail, and Abramovich didn't. Abramovich has always shared, and eventually sold his company to the Russian government for a pretty good chunk of money. As for democracy being violated -- the writer of this article doesn't believe that liberal democracy has ever existed in Russia in the first place.
Purchasing votes with free vodka and tickets to a movie theater isn't exactly what democracy means to Americans, right? Well, that's what has been happening for years in Russia, and it leads to the complete destruction of civil society, many businesses and makes a mockery of the word "democracy". Appointing governors is not good, but it's far down on the list of Russia's problems right now, unless the Wall Street Journal's editors like the idea of more Chechnyas in other breakaway Russian states, or the idea of 37 year-old billionaire oligarchs buying legal immunity from prosecution.
The Kremlin's attempt to influence the Ukrainian presidential campaign was a complete failure, which reveals more of Putin's helplessness than his strength. Of course superpowers, or countries that used to be great powers, are trying to influence politics in the surrounding states. Putin's mismanaged campaign in Ukraine only showed that Russia is losing its grip on Russia's near abroad.
Yukos was not simply nationalized, it was bought out through a very complex process, from which the "nation" is not going to benefit at all. Here at Russia Blog we haved posted several times about the Kremlin's move to dismantle Yukos. Abramovich is just as guilty as Putin, because he became one of the beneficiaries of the Yukos-deal along with unknown persons and a Chinese state oil company.
The new NGO bill is not an attractive piece of legislation, but it had to be done. Russia Blog has a great article on this subject that has been published on Johnson's Russia list, Intelligent.Ru and other internet media outlets. There are 450,000 active NGOs in Russia, a country without genuine civil society or a banking system. Doesn't that sound like a big scam instead of independent groups advocating for freedom? By the way, the bill had some amendments to it, which made it not required for the domestic NGO's report to the government.
Imagine if Wal-Mart started giving out free DVD players day and night, and the people taking them saying "I'll pay you back later" and running off with the goods. Does this sound normal? Well, then why should Russia give gas to a country that is not an ally for 25% of its true market price? Ukraine has been given multiple notices about the possible shut off, and the Russian government has offered Ukraine long-term credits to pay for the gas, however Kiev chose not to pay, refused Russia's offered loans and stole the gas from the European countries. The European gas shut off has been vastly misreported by the American media. Russia has never shut Europe off. Russia lowered the pressure in the pipes, because Ukraine was not supposed to be siphoning gas that it hadn't paid for, however Ukraine chose to simply steal it, which caused the shortage of gas in Europe. I believe that Putin's actions in this case moved the former Soviet Union closer to free markets, not towards some new KGB-style repression. Please read more about the gas dispute here.
Overall, American media is trying to paint a dragon that does not exist. Putin isn't dangerous, because he is not going to nuke Manhattan, or behead Dr. Rice.
Muslim terrorists killing Russian children are dangerous, because later on they will come to Seattle or D.C. Chinese expansion is dangerous, because I would pay money to see Condoleezza Rice arguing with Beijing over world natural gas prices after China occupies part of Russian Siberia. By the way, have you ever thought that every single American consumer is indirectly sponsoring the Chinese military? When you buy that $5 watch at Target, you give the Chinese another few cents towards their new Russian military jet.
On top of that, I would be concerned with the enormous and growing gap between the social classes in Russia and the flood of child pornography in Russia's impoverished regions. These are the problems that I would stress on the pages of The Wall Street Journal, though it takes much more research and reading to understand why Russian kids are featured in 50% of the child pornography on the web, and why Russia is so desperate that it sells weapons to Muslim countries like Iran that have armed and supported the Chechen jihadists.
Read the original WSJ article here. You must have a WSJ subscription to access this page.