Wednesday, May 30, 2007

From Russia With Love

There is a continuing paradox in Russia: the bizarre quasi-democracy, quasi-capitalist, quasi-power where everything is not so sweet and light under the thin veneer of all the queasy, quasiness.

BBC reports on the strange case of apparent growing affluence barely covering the potential crash and burn of the economy. Russia, though apparently full of local products, is still a major importer of goods and not an exporter. Except for oil and natural gas.

At the same time, the state, fearing the complete break up of Russia into many mini-states who can be manipulated and use their economic power (dare I say, energy power?) for their own benefit (cutting off the main land from exports/imports and any income from energy). Putin fears this most. He may indeed love Russia, but he loves it more than any principle or idea. He loves the land and being Russia. If it is a democracy, a kleptocracy, an autocracy or any other beauracracy, Putin doesn't care as long as Russia is Russian as close to the empire of old (evil or not).

It is this fear that continues to see Russia placing itself in opposition to the US even if it seems counter-intuitive; even onto manufacturing reasons to do so.

At the same time, continuing to do so has an advantage. It keeps oil prices high, which in turn helps keep Russia's economy afloat. That and sales of arms to opposing forces, sale of nuclear materials and building nuclear facilities, such as Bushehr in Iran.

To maintain this power, Putin believes the state central government must retain all power and, to do so, it must have a strong leader. One that is not subject to criticism. Whether these killings are simply a response to the age old cry, "who will rid me of this man?" or directly ordered, it doesn't matter. What does matter is that freedom of speech is going along with any democratic principles that may have briefly flourished in the last decade (along with economic and security instability).

Russians have done what Benjamin Franklin warned against: traded their freedom for security.

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