the Middle East [.pdf], America's name is mud, thanks to the
Bush administration and its
During the Bush era, our international standing took a huge hit,
with millions wondering what crazed act of aggression was going
to come out of Washington next. Our militaristic
foreign policy [.pdf] has alienated our friends while multiplying
and emboldening our enemies.
To listen to Andrei Illarionov tell
it, however, we don't have enough enemies. One more needs
to be added to the list, and that is Russia.
is a Russian citizen, formerly a top economic adviser to then-President
Vladimir Putin, and a senior fellow at the ostensibly libertarian
(and anti-interventionist) Cato Institute. Illarionov resigned
in 2005, declaring that Russia was a dictatorship and Putin was
a monster. He's spent the last few years or so telling anyone
who will listen that Russia poses a military threat to the United
States, and he compares any attempt to repair relations as the
equivalent of Munich,
an idea that Cato Institute scholar Justin
Logan rightly mocked some years ago.
In any case, using his Cato credentials to make himself appear
credible, Illarionov managed to get himself invited to testify
at hearings held by the House committee on international affairs
today, and his
prepared testimony was made available by a reliable source
in the Imperial City. I've dealt with Illarionov's fulminations
in this space on previous
occasions, but I have to say that his statement to the assembled
solons in Washington has got to set some kind of record for looniness.
By any standard, no matter how low, Illarionov's testimony is
clearly one of the most embarrassing moments for libertarians
history of the movement. (Warning: I've preserved the original
grammar and spelling.)
According to Illarionov, the U.S. government has been falling
all over itself to mollify Moscow, starting with Bill Clinton
and continuing during the Bush administration, to no avail. "The
outcomes of these efforts are well known," avers Illarionov.
"They were outright failures. Russia has failed to be integrated
fully into the community of the modern democratic peaceful nations."
This revisionist history, however, leaves out a few items, starting
with the abrogation of the agreement
reached by Bush I and Gorbachev to allow the fall of the East
German communist regime in exchange for a pledge by the Americans
not to extend NATO into Eastern Europe. Then there was the little
matter of the Balkan war, in which the U.S. attacked
the former Yugoslavia, without a UN mandate, killing 5,000 civilians
and installing the Kosovo
Liberation Army in power in Kosovo, which has since been ethnically
cleansed of Serbs and is now Europe's drug
capital and black
market weapons dump.
To acknowledge any of this, however, would contradict the Illarionov
thesis, which is that Russia today is a regime of Satanic evil,
unique in all history, and the quintessential threat to the U.S.,
perhaps more so than al-Qaeda. According to him, the Obama administration's
stance so far "strikingly resembles the beginning of the
two preceding administrations' terms. We can see similar desire
to improve bilateral relations, similar positive statements, similar
promising gestures and visits." Hey, that sounds good to
me, but not to Illarionov, because "since nothing serious
has changed in the nature of political regimes in both countries
it is rather hard not to expect the repetition of already known
pattern high expectations deep disappointments heavy failures
for the third time."
Promising gestures and visits, positive statements, an effort
to improve relations Illarionov is having none of it. Why not?
Well, because "Today's Russia is not a democratic country.
The international human rights organization Freedom House assigns
'Not Free' status to Russia since 2004 for each of the last five
years. According to the classification of the political regimes,
the current one in Russia should be considered as hard authoritarianism.
The central place in the Russian political system is occupied
by the Corporation of the secret police."
House, which prominently supported
the invasion of Iraq and receives truckloads
of U.S. taxpayer dollars through the National Endowment for Democracy
scam, rates Russia on the
same level as China, in spite of the regularly held elections,
both for the presidency and the Duma, in which several
parties, spanning the spectrum from the ultra-left Communists
to the far-right nationalists, compete. Putin and his coalition
of parties are somewhere in the middle. This is glossed over by
both Freedom House and Illarionov, who complain that the government
party is "repressing" the opposition, because, you see,
they keep winning elections.
Yet any reference to actual facts is out of place in Illarionov's
worldview, as the following makes all too clear. In a section
entitled "The Corporation of Secret Police," he lays
out his diagnosis of what lies behind the Russian state:
"The personnel of Federal Security Service both in
active service as well as retired one form a special type of
unity (non-necessarily institutionalized) that can be called brotherhood,
order, or corporation. The Corporation of the secret police operatives
(CSP) includes first of all acting and former officers of the
FSB (former KGB), and to a lesser extent FSO and Prosecutor General
Office. Officers of GRU and SVR do also play some role. The members
of the Corporation do share strong allegiance to their respective
organizations, strict codes of conduct and of honor, basic principles
of behavior, including among others the principle of mutual support
to each other in any circumstances and the principle of omerta.
Since the Corporation preserves traditions, hierarchies, codes
and habits of secret police and intelligence services, its members
show high degree of obedience to the current leadership, strong
loyalty to each other, rather strict discipline. There are both
formal and informal means of enforcing these norms. Violators
of the code of conduct are subject to the harshest forms of punishment,
including the highest form."
In short: Russia is ruled by a secret brotherhood of the KGB,
which never really surrendered power. The members of this secret
brotherhood have retained complete control over the whole of Russian
society, and they have managed to do this because they are a breed
"Members of the Corporation are trained and inspired
with the superiority complex over the rest of the
population. Members of the Corporation exude a sense of being
the bosses that superior to other people who are not members of
the CSP. They are equipped with membership perks, including two
most tangible instruments conferring real power over the rest
of population in today's Russia the FSB IDs and the right to
carry and use weapons." [Emphasis in original.]
Of course, no one in Washington has a superiority complex. And
as for our officials exuding "a sense of being the bosses"
why, it's unthinkable! One is puzzled by Illarionov's tunnel
vision: after all, the right to carry and use weapons is not,
alas, universally recognized in the U.S., either, and is increasingly
attack. Does that mean we're living in a totalitarian state?
This secret society, the "CSP," according to Illarionov,
controls everything and everyone in today's Russia. Oh, he goes
on to assure us, there are a few dissidents;"not everyone"
in the Russian government is a slave of this pervasive neo-Communist
conspiracy. However, the all-powerful CSP lurks behind the scenes,
pulling the strings on its puppets and directing the state. Their
efforts, he claims, are increasingly aggressive, and increasingly
directed against America:
"The TV channels, radio, printed media are heavily censored
with government propaganda disseminating cult of power and violence,
directed against democrats, liberals, westerners and the West
itself, including and first of all the U.S. The level of the anti-U.S.
propaganda is incomparable even with one of the Soviet times in
at least 1970-s and 1980s."
What Illarionov means by "censored" is not government
censorship. There is no government agency that censors the media,
poring over news copy and commentary for evidence of anti-government
opinions. Instead, what exists is a certain uniformity of opinion
in "mainstream" Russia media outlets, which are owned
by pro-government businessmen, powerful figures in the top echelons
of the nation's crony-capitalist elite. To a lesser degree, this
is precisely what we must endure here
in the U.S. a mainstream media owned by corporations feeding
off the government teat, who present a united
front when it comes to the important issues of the day, including
the question of war and peace.
Illarionov seems to have slipped into an alternate timeline,
a fantasy land in which Russia has reverted to the
1930s and a single party wields absolute power. According
"Since 1999 there is no free, open, competitive parliamentary
or presidential election in Russia. The last two elections the
parliamentary one in December 2007 and presidential one in March
2008 have been conducted as special operations and been heavily
rigged with at least 20 mln ballots in each case stuffed in favor
of the regime candidates. None of the opposition political parties
or opposition politicians has been allowed either to participate
in the elections, or even to be registered at the Ministry of
This is quite
simply a lie and a preposterous one, at that. Since 1999,
Russia has had three presidential elections in which an average
of half a dozen major candidates were on the ballot, along with
slates of at least a few dozen political parties. Along with
United Russia, the Putinite party, the Russian voter has many
other choices: the Communists, the Agrarians, the Liberal
Democrats, the Democratic Party of Russian, the Russian Democratic
Party, the Union of Right Forces, Fair Russia, Civilian Power,
the Party of Social Justice, and the list goes on. In America,
we get to choose between only two parties, both of which are subsidized
and privileged by the state and federal governments.
Illarionov and other "libertarian" enemies of Russia
complain that Putin and his successor, Medvedev, garnered over
70 percent of the vote, but even if one allows for the usual amount
of fraud is Moscow that different from Chicago in that respect?
polls show Putin and his party are overwhelmingly
popular with the Russian people. You can't complain about
the lack of real "democracy" in Russia, then complain
about the outcome when Putin and his pals rack up victory after
victory at the polls.
Illarionov claims there are "about 80 political prisoners
in the country who are serving their terms for their views and
political activities." He only names one: Mikhail
Khodorkovsky, the billionaire businessman convicted of tax
evasion, corruption, money-laundering, and murder, among other
crimes. The others, whom he doesn't mention, are members of the
National Bolshevik Party, led by Eduard
Limonov, whose political philosophy and methods can bested
be summed up by the party's symbol:
a black hammer-and-sickle emblazoned on a white circle against
a red background. Limonov's ideology is based on ultra-nationalism,
a deep and abiding hatred of all things Western, and an openly
nihilistic glorification of violence. NBP members have engaged
the police in pitched
battles and taken over government buildings, and they recruit
among skinhead gangs and the dregs of Russian society.
The National Bolsheviks, in cooperation with chess champion Gary
Kasparov, have created an anti-Putin coalition, "the
Other Russia," which has met with a notable lack of success
in mobilizing anyone beyond Limonov's loonies and other groups
better known in the West than they are in Russia.
All of this is pretty standard stuff for the Russophobes: we've
heard the same line for quite a few years, ever since Richard
Perle declared that Russia must
be expelled from the G-8 for the crime of not supporting the
U.S. invasion of Iraq and Dick Cheney accused Moscow of launching
an "oil war" against its neighbors. Illarionov takes
up Cheney's war cries, listing a series of alleged wars waged
by the Russians in the years since Putin's rise to power:
"Wars against other nations.
"Since 2004 the Russian political regime embarked on
a series of wars of different kinds against foreign nations. The
list of wars waged in the last 5 years is not a short one:
Russian-Byelorussian Gas War 2004,
First Russian-Ukrainian Gas War, January 2006,
Russian-Georgian Energy Supply War, January 2006,
Russian-Georgian Wine and Mineral Water War, March-April 2006,
Russian-Georgian Spy War, September-October 2006,
Russian-Estonian Monuments and Cyber War, April-May 2007,
Russian-Georgian Conventional War, April-October 2008,
Russian-Azerbaijan Cyber War, August 2008,
Second Russian-Ukrainian Gas War, January 2009,
Anti-US full fledged Propaganda War, 2006-2009."
"Wars of different kinds": a slippery phrase that lacks
any precise definition, and, in Illarionov's hands, can mean anything,
or, more often, nothing. In the case of these mysterious "gas
wars," it means simply adjusting the price of Russia's oil
and natural gas output to reflect global market conditions. Ever
since the incorporation of, for example, Ukraine into the old
USSR, the Kremlin subsidized its oil and gas exports to that country,
as well as to the other members of the Soviet bloc. With the fall
of communism and the rise of capitalism in the former Soviet Union,
the Russians sought to finally end
the subsidies and save some money this is what Illarionov,
who works for Washington's premier "free market" think-tank,
the Cato Institute, means by the Russians launching a "gas
war." Will wonders never cease?
And what is this "Russian-Georgian Wine and Mineral Water
War" of March-April 2006 all about? Why, that's when Russia
in response to plenty of Georgian provocations banned the
importation of Georgian wine and mineral water. This may be unwise
economically, but is it really the equivalent of a "war"?
Does this mean that the U.S. declared war on China when it increased
tariffs on the import of Chinese-made toys? Are we smack dab in
the middle of the Sino-American Toy War of 2009, without even
knowing it? Get real.
I see that, in addition to the fabled "Russian-Estonian
Cyber War" of April-May 2007, we also have the previously
little-known "Russian-Azerbaijan Cyber War" said to
have taken place in August 2008. The reality of these "cyber
wars," however, is in serious
doubt, given the inability of the alleged victims to trace
the attacks back to the Russian government. This, like so much
war propaganda, appears to be a total fabrication. That Illarionov
raises these "wars" as credible evidence of Russian
perfidy is a perfect joke.
Unsurprisingly, Illarionov repeats the assertion, since widely
debunked, that Russia invaded Georgia last year, instead of the
other way around. He simply ignores the reporting that proves
Georgian aggression preceded the Russian response.
Illarionov descends into a parody of himself as he notes that
the title of the hearing is "From Competition to Collaboration:
Strengthening the U.S.-Russian Relationship," and goes on
to deliver a rant to end all warmongering rants, grammar and spelling
as in the original:
"Policy of the proclaimed 'cooperation,' 'movement from
competition to collaboration,' 'improvement of relations' with
the current political regime in Russia has very clear consequences.
Such type of behavior on the part of the US administration can
not be called even a retreat. It is not even an
appeasement policy that is so well known to all of us by
another Munch decision in 1938. It is a surrender.
It is a full, absolute and unconditional surrender to the regime
of the secret police officers, chekists and Mafiosi bandits in
And therefore it is an open invitation for new
adventures of the Russian Chekists' regime in the post-Soviet
space and at some points beyond it.
"The very term for such type of policy has not been chosen
by me, it is borrowed from the title of this hearing, namely,
collaboration. Therefore the term chosen for the agents of the
US administration's policy in the coming era is 'collaborationists.'"
[Emphasis in original.]
Russia, says the Cato Institute's Illarionov before a full committee
of Congress, is preparing for war and so should we. This is
nonsense, of course, dangerous nonsense, as is Illarionov's "Anti-US
full fledged Propaganda War [of] 2006-2009." Putin, like
most Cato employees, opposed the Iraq war and warned that the
U.S. was alienating its friends around the world by engaging in
aggressive wars, another favored Cato theme.
Russia, although nuclear-armed, has neither the resources nor
the desire to engage the U.S. or its allies militarily. Illarionov's
sole evidence for this is an uproarious list of "cyber wars"
and "gas wars" supposedly launched by the Kremlin, phantom
"aggression" that exists entirely in Illarionov's embittered
and monomaniacal mindset. The obscene reality is that he's trying
like heck to get us involved in a real shooting war with the Russkies,
all based on his ludicrous conspiracy theories about the "unique"
evil supposedly represented by the Russian state.
At a moment when Russia's relations with the U.S. are at a particularly
plastic juncture and could go either way toward a new Cold War,
or toward a new era of mutual understanding to have this lunatic
testify before a committee of Congress representing a supposedly
libertarian perspective is sheer criminality. Shame on the Cato
Institute for allowing this nut-bar to sully their name with his
Russia is emerging from the nightmare of Communism astonishingly
intact. It's a miracle the country survived the
Yeltsin years, when the nation was looted by "former"
communist apparatchiks who seized control of the nation's resources
in a series of rigged "privatizations." There is hardly
any democratic tradition in Russia, and liberalism is a minority
viewpoint rather than the majority mindset: long-standing habits
die hard, particularly in a nation as mired in history and tragedy
as Russia. Given all this, it's amazing they have elections
relatively free and open ones in Russia at all. It wasn't so
long ago that Stalin's gulags held millions. Now Illarionov wants
us to go to war with the Kremlin over a grand total of 80 "political
prisoners" of dubious provenance. What a joke except nobody's
laughing. These are deadly serious matters, and it's disturbing
that Congress would even entertain the rantings of someone so
~ Justin Raimondo