In the wake of Putin’s annual press conference, RFE/RL features archived audio from August 1, 2006 of Don Jensen, RFE/RL‘s Director of Communications, thoughts on what constitutes “Putinism” as a state practice and political ideology. For Jensen, Putinism amounts to nothing more than authoritarianism, centralization of political and economic power, and corruption. Basically, Russia is nothing more than a weak political system held together by a caudillo. You be the judge. Listen to Jensen’s presentation on Real Audio and Windows Media.
Following is George Washington University Professor Emeritus Peter Reddaway’s thoughts on the possible scenarios for the upcoming Presidential Election. You can listen to Reddaway’s presentation on Real Audio and Windows Media.
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By Sean — 5 years ago
The financial crisis in Cyprus has put Putin in a bind. On the one hand, sitting silent and allowing Russian depositors take up to a 10 percent haircut on its $31 billion in Cypriot banks jeopardizes Putin’s standing with the Russian elite. On the other, if Putin is serious about anti-corruption and de-offshorization, the crisis gives him opportunity to make some modest headway. Either way, the Russian government’s hesitance in striking a deal with Cyprus reflects the schizophrenia between Putin the populist patriot and Putin the guarantor of the class interests of the Russian bourgeoisie.
The European Commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund have inadvertently accomplished a remarkable feat: prompting the normally disharmonious Russian bourgeoisie to suddenly sing in tune. Note some of the reactions from Russia’s bourgeois quarters. Putin furiously denounced the Troika’s plan as “unfair, unprofessional and dangerous.” Medvedev took the defense of the Russian bourgeoisie even further by red-baiting the EU with comparisons to Bolshevik expropriations. Oligarch and faux-oppositionist Mikhail Prokhorov warned the tax on Cypriot depositors could open “Pandora’s box.” Similar to Medvedev, neoliberal champion and effervescent Putin hater, Yulia Latynina blasted the EU’s “confiscation” as indicative of socialism. The crisis even has the Moscow Times running uncharacteristic op-eds imploring Putin to stand up for Russian capital against EU “bullying.” Even Andreas Aslund, who is ever dour on Putin’s Russia, believes that in this instance Putin “is undoubtedly getting strong advice to act from wealthy, smart, and daring Russian businessmen.”
The great irony in all this is that we find the Russian elite, which normally has no problem cannibalizing each other’s assets at home, defending in Cyprus what they are unwilling or unable to institute in Russia: a working legal system that protects capital from predation. With Cyprus the Russian elite gets its cake and eats it too: capital extraction at home and a safe harbor for its storage in its safe Cypriot colony.
How did Cyprus become so important to Russian capital? As Business Insider explains, all roads lead back to the Cypriot-Russian 1998 Double Tax Treaty:
Additionally, according to Bloomberg Russia billionaire reporter Rich Lesser, there is no penalty for moving money out of Cyprus, so if you want to move your money to another tax shelter, say, The British Virgin Islands, you’re free to do that.
So some oligarchs do.
How does this work? According to the Christian Science Monitor‘s Fred Weir:
“For quite a long time, Cyprus has been the major offshore zone where Russian corporate earnings are banked, and then re-invested in Russia,” says Grigory Birg, co-director of research at the independent Investcafe equity research provider in Moscow.
It works like this: Russian companies and wealthy oligarchs set up shell companies in Cyprus, which then invest in Russian operations and “repatriate” their profits to Cyprus, where they pay a flat corporate tax of 10 percent compared to more than 20 percent in Russia. Since Cyprus adopted EU banking rules in 2004, experts say, the scrutiny has become a little tougher, but not enough to discourage most rich Russians.
According to Russian central bank figures, little Cyprus invested almost $14-billion in Russia in 2011, compared with barely $2.3-billion invested by Russia’s biggest European trading partner, Germany.
“Cyprus is really convenient place for Russians, because it’s in the EU, has a low tax rate, and has adapted itself to Russian customers. It offers infrastructure, proximity, and Russian-speaking staff. It’s about capital protection … but now, no matter what happens with this tax plan, that’s bound to change,” says Mr. Birg.
Basically, Cyprus is for Russians as Caribbean tax shelters are for American oligarchs: a means to squirrel money away from the prying eyes of government auditors and tax collectors.
At the same time, Putin’s allegiance to the Russian elite puts him at odds with his de-offshorization efforts. Again Weir:
“Russian authorities have long pursued a campaign of “de-offshorization,” declaring that this practice of cycling money through other countries is bad for Russia,” says Alexei Makarkin, deputy director of the independent Center for Political Technologies in Moscow.
“In practice, it has usually meant that money just gets shunted from one offshore destination to another…
The crisis certainly presents Putin with an opportunity to fight corruption, as Stefan Wagstyl of the Financial Times notes. Indeed, Russia’s first intervention into the crisis suggests that anti-corruption and de-offshorization is on Putin’s mind. Ten days ago, Kommersant reported that the Ministry of Finance considered giving Cyprus aid in exchange of the names of its Russian depositors. The hope is that even modestly depriving Cyprus as a Russian tax haven will stave off the capital outflow from Russia. Capital flight from Russia is already around $14 to $16 billion so far this year, exceeding Central Bank estimates of $10 billion for the entire year. Medvedev even floated the idea of creating an offshore zone in the Far East. The money would still be under a tax haven but in Russia where the government would know who’s depositing, how much, and ostensibly where the money came from. This would undoubtedly give Putin some leverage in keeping the increasingly fractured elite in line. However, given that a main reason Russians park their money abroad is to avoid government raiderstvo, I seriously doubt a Sakhalin tax haven will be much of a draw.
The Cyprus crisis has pitted Putin against himself. It opposes Putin the patriot against Putin the guarantor of Russian elite; Russian national interests versus Russian class interests. I can only speculate how this internal struggle has played in the recent ebbing of Russian-Cypriot negotiations.Post Views: 323
By Sean — 1 year ago
By Sean — 10 years ago
Does Vladimir Putin have a soul? He doesn’t if you ask Hillary Clinton. In a campaign stump in New Hampshire, Clinton pondered the existence of Putin’s soul as a means to crack at George Bush’s foreign policy. She said:
“Bush really premised so much of our foreign policy on his personal relationships with leaders, and I just don’t think that’s the way a great country engages in diplomacy. . . . This is the president that looked in the soul of Putin, and I could have told him, he was a KGB agent. By definition he doesn’t have a soul. I mean, this is a waste of time, right? This is nonsense, but this is the world we’re living in right now.”
The comment drew laughs and applause from a Democratic crowd always eager to hear jabs at the Prez they love to hate. Forget for a moment that Clinton’s beating up on lame duck Bush only shows how desperate she is. She has nothing to offer but Bush-lite (though I’m positive that all Obama has to offer is Clinton-lite. That’s only two short degrees from Bush by my count.) But the inanity of American democracy is not the issue here.
The issue is Putin’s soul. For a genealogy of its nature we have to begin not with Bush, but with Putin himself. In October 1999, Putin speaking on Ukraine’s desire to become chummy with NATO made a collective assessment of not only his soul, but of the entire CIS. “Both Ukraine and Russia, as well as many other CIS countries, are in the process of soul-searching, seeking to clarify their positions in the world,” he told reporters. “To do so, one should not look only to the West or only to the East. Above all, one should look inside one’s own country to see what its people want and expect.” (BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 10/10/99). Putin didn’t have a clue where to find his or Russia’s soul and decided that it would be best to look everywhere.
The Western media also seemed to think that Putin was missing a soul. More specifically he lacked the gregarious Russian soul that so personified Boris Yeltsin. In the Daily Mail on January 1, 2000, Owen Matthews wrote “Whatever his failings, Yeltsin is loaded with that indefinable Russian quality, dusham (soul) whereas Putin is as colourless as a winter evening in Moscow.” While Matthews thought Putin’s soul, if he indeed had one, to be colorless, Itar-Tass thought that its nature was best found in Putin’s love for animals. In a report titled “Putin Bares Soul on Animal Rights in Letter to Brigitte Bardot,” Putin was said to have told the French actress, “[Animals] live alongside with us on our planet, on our land and their fate depends on us to a large degree. That is why people must always behave in a humane way both towards other people and towards animals” (Itar-Tass, 1/5/2000). By February 2000, Putin’s soul went beyond a warmness for animals and began showing its political side. The Financial Times‘ John Thornhill declared that the approaching Presidential elections signaled that “the battle for Vladimir Putin’s political soul was intensifying” (FT, 2/8/2000). Putin won that battle but not without the help of some “dead souls” reported the Moscow Times (9/9/2000).
The exact nature of Putin’s soul came under more focus after his electoral victory. In an editorial in the Sunday Times, historian Robert Service appeared to have looked into Putin’s soul and found “the words “order” and “power” engraved on [it]” (Sunday Times, 10/22/2000). The London Times suggested that this true nature of Putin’s soul was being shrouded that the soft, sweet, but firm imagine of him emerging from his cult of personality. The “Putin cult” painted him as neither zoophiliac nor power imprinted figure but as a a dedicated “church goer and guardian of Russia’s soul” (2/10/2001).
The most talked about definition of Putin’s soul, however, came in June 2001 when George Bush peered into Putin’s soul at their first meeting at Brdo, Slovenia. In his now infamous statement on Putin’s soul, Bush said, “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.” He then added, “I wouldn’t have invited him to my ranch if I didn’t trust him.”
Bush’s playing soul doctor has been lambasted ever since. The NY Times’ Thomas Friedman called Bush and Putin “soul brothers” (6/29/2001). Contra Bush, the Washington Post argued that Putin’s service in the KGB “calls the quality-of-soul claim into some doubt” (6/27/2001). A few days latter, the WP again questioned the real nature Putin’s soul. “We’re still hoping to get that glimpse of Mr. Putin’s soul that President Bush talked about last month,” wrote the Post’s editors (7/5/2001). Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez however bucked the emerging conventional wisdom. In talks with Putin, Chavez expressed gratitude to the Russian President “for the generosity of his soul.” This is probably one of the only times Bush and Chavez would see eye to eye on something (Itar-Tass, 10/22/2001).
Bush’s assessment of Putin stuck and he continued to be excoriated for it in the press. It appeared that every time Putin did something the West didn’t like, the press reminded its readers of Bush “looking into his soul.” By 2004, if the Christian Science Monitor’s Daniel Schorr is to be believed, the day Bush blandished Putin’s soul was “a dim memory.” Now Putin was “an authoritarian ruler [who] sees his regime trembling on the brink of destabilization and is running scared” (9/17/2004). Was this the return of the repressed KGB soul? A new kinda running scared soul? Where is St. Peter when you need him?
For most commentators, Putin’s increasing grip on the Russian body politic made his soul merely a facsimile of a Soviet dictator. Since the Soviets were all godless communists, there is no way that Putin possessed a soul. At least not one worthy of divine appreciation. This of course is despite the fact that Putin considers himself a devout Orthodox Christian. Eastern perversion of Christianity doesn’t make the cut among America’s Protestants. Their soul has no middle ground. It’s nature is either of good or of evil. The soul of a chekist is always dyed black. It’s even in their eyes. As John McCain said, “I looked into his eyes and saw three letters: a K, a G and a B.”
With Clinton the search for Putin’s soul continues.Post Views: 350