The Fall of Russia

Russia has been saved from economic ruin by the two-fold combination of a drastic increase in the price of oil and the West’s unbridled need for fuel. However, rather than using the windfall to invest in infrastructure, social services and education, control of the money has been left up to the different political-mafia clans that make up today’s Russian state.

As far as the modus operandi of Russia’s energy policy is concerned, only one word is necessary: control. It is a policy that has no place for partnership, as can be seen by Russia’s ongoing obstruction of Western companies working in the country.

In the name of ever-increasing control through centralization, Russia refuses to divide the producers and distributors of its energy sector. Such a division would weaken the state’s control by encouraging outside investment and partnership. Putin claims the issue to be “our internal decision and our decision alone”. A de facto embargo on external energy investors is now practically complete, with systems in place to maintain strict control over countries that refuse to tow the line. An example of the lengths to which Russia is prepared to go was provided in January 2006 when Russia simply turned off the gas supply to Ukraine following the sudden hiking of gas prices from $50 to $230 per 1000m3 – a price the country was not prepared to pay. Is this the way that a supposedly democratic nation should behave?

Russian history has never known anything approaching a true democracy. Today, the country ranks towards the lower end of every survey regarding political transparency and human rights. The Press Freedom Index places Russia 147th in the world; The Freedom House Index describes Russia as “not a free country”; Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index places Russia as 121st out of 163 countries: Paraguay, Zambia and Sri Lanka all rate more highly in the survey. It could be said that under Putin, Russia is returning to its most familiar historical role and position, with figures in power assuming a tsarist role. Its basic premise is that of an apparatus-state, in which the respective local barons fight for the spoils, instead of re-investing them or distributing them fairly.

This brings us back to recent headlines. We can be absolutely sure that the Russian police will never uncover the true murderers of the bankers, businessmen and journalists (such as Anna Politkovskaya, shot dead outside her Moscow flat in October) who spoke out against the regime. We can also be certain that the real murderer(s) of the ex-KGB agent Alexander Litviněnko, who turned his back on Russia, will never be found. Putin’s response, that Litviněnko (who died in London after being poisoned with the radioactive substance polonium-210) “did not die a violent death” is simply repugnant. However, it is practically inconceivable that a seasoned politician like Putin would have allowed Poltikovskaya to be murdered on his birthday, or Litviněnko to be murdered at the start of the recent key European summit evaluating Russia’s bid for admission into the World Trade Organization (WTO). Yet what is certain is that in Russia, the hit man and the enforcer have no shortage of clients.

Martin Jan Stránský


The New Presencewinter 2007

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