Back in the USSR (You Don't Know How Lucky You Are)
The news this week has offered us a wonderfully satirical view of Russia. Headlines tell us that Russian Premier Vladimir Putin will once again "run" for president of the Russian Republic. Now, this is being reported as if he really has to run for the office. And it seems that the current "president," Dmitri Medvedev, is only too willing to step aside to allow for Mr. Putin to make his run. That's like saying the monkey is willing to give way for the organ grinder.
Vladimir Putin's Russian nickname would not be Vlad, but Vova. And the Russian word for what he is is vozhd. That's what Russians call the boss. And boss he is, to be sure.
He has had his puppet parliament increase the length of the term of the Russian president. From now on, the Kremlin vozhd will serve six-year terms. And Vova is eligible to serve two consecutive terms. That would put him in power until 2024 -- when, at 72, he may get a hankering to "run" again.
Russian journalists are not likely to question this arrangement of things too much. A number of inquiring minds in the Russian press have turned up dead in the past few years.
Foreign journalists are unlikely to probe too deeply, either. Luke Harding is one of those who did. Harding wrote Mafia State, a book whose title gives you all you need to know about Putin's Russia. Harding is not a veteran Cold Warrior. Far from it. He writes for the reliably left-wing Manchester Guardian.
Harding provided this chilling picture:
There could be no doubt: someone had broken into my flat. Three months after arriving in Russia as the Manchester Guardian's new Moscow bureau chief, I returned home late from a dinner party. Everything appeared normal. Children's clothes lying in the corridor, books piled horizontally in the living room, the comforting debris of family life. And then I saw it. The window of my son's bedroom was wide open.
It would be such a tragedy if Luke Harding's six-year-old son fell out of the tenth-story window. That was the message the invaders of his flat were leaving for him.
Luke Harding follows in an honorable tradition. In the 1930s, the Manchester Guardian's Malcolm Muggeridge reported on Stalin's deliberately provoked famine in the Ukraine. Five million died. The New York Times' Man in Moscow at the time was Walter Duranty. Duranty won a Pulitzer Prize for his articles that glowingly portrayed Stalin's USSR.
He never missed those five million Ukrainians.
Muggeridge would later write a novel about his experiences called Moscow in Winter. B-r-r-r-r! In it, he wrote that in the 1930s, western journalists were especially keen on the USSR because they could get free abortions there for their mistresses.
And besides, if you did write something critical, you might find the tenth story window of your flat open some cold, dark Moscow night.
The Washington Post published a story about our national security apparatus last year. Titled "Up All Night," it was supposed to reassure Americans that their security was in safe and knowing hands. The July 4, 2010, front-page story informed us that President Obama's national security adviser, four-star General James Jones (USMC), spoke regularly by cell phone with Sergei Prikhodko, the Russian national security adviser.
Even as a boy, Jones was not afraid of the dark. He was afraid of Russia. His parents would talk soberly about the iron curtain. The image "terrified me as a child. Millions of people in prison, behind a so-called curtain."
Now a presidential envoy, Jones finds himself on many nights dialing Moscow, capital of his boyhood bogeymen. If the cold war of Jones's youth seemed scary, "this world has me more concerned. The threats we face are asymmetric and more complex." So he calls, at all hours, old adversaries to connect against the new threat.
What naiveté. Can Gen. Jones really think we have a community of interest with Putin's Russia? Can the Obama administration really be so devoid of common sense not to see that Russia has not ceased its agitation against us, nor has it ceased menacing its neighbors? Letting Hillary Clinton "reset" our relations with Russia after Putin's summer 2008 invasion of the Republic of Georgia serves only to confirm American weakness in Russian eyes. Calling Russians at all hours is only a way to broadcast our insecurity and flaccidness. As to Russia helping out with U.N. sanctions against Iran's nuclear program, Iran will find little difficulty in evading those sanctions, by teaming with the Venezuela of Hugo Chávez, if necessary.
It was widely reported when, in 1991, Russian crowds singing freedom songs tore down the 30-foot statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky outside Moscow's dreaded Lubyanka prison. "Iron Felix" graced the headquarters of the Soviet KGB, whose founder he truly was.
Many of us thought that was truly the end of Soviet tyranny. Writing in The Los Angeles Times, Kathryn Stoner-Weiss noted in 2002 that Vladimir Putin didn't need that statue of Iron Felix after all. He was widely reported to have a smaller bust of the secret police terror chief -- right on his desk. What else do we need to know?