[Allan Topol / AllanTopol.Com]
Lightning paced thriller writer
of International Intrigue
National Bestselling Author

Blame It On Vodka
by Allan Topol, [IMAGE]2004


Photo Courtesy: Julie Zitin
[Allan Topol / AllanTopol.Com] Vladimir Putin, officially the Russian President, is in reality the country’s newest dictator. Two weeks ago, he stunned the world by ending the system of direct popular election of Russia’s regional governors. He also ordered the Russian Parliament to be elected on the basis of slates chosen by national party leaders. Not surprisingly, Putin controls most of those leaders.

Critics decried the end of Russian democracy. There was massive hand wringing on the part of those who thought Russia had finally entered the realm of freedom and representative government. More experienced Russian watchers cynically retorted: “what democracy?”

Putin was smart as well as bold and ruthless. Let’s give him that. He used the horrific bloody school siege in Beslan, the downing of two airliners and other terrorist attacks to justify his power grab.

His stated rationale was that the country needed a more unified political system to fight terrorism. He wanted to make sure no Russian missed his long message culminating in the words “the unity of the country is the main prerequisite for victory over terror.” So his speech was broadcast repeatedly day and night on state television channels.

Among Putin’s opponents, there was stunned disbelief and anger. A few even dared to speak out, knowing there might later be a price to pay for their words. But Putin could implement his autocratic moves because democracy in Russia had never taken hold. Some in the United States and Western Europe were deluding themselves into believing that for the first time in its long, bloody history Russia had become democratic.

We’ve now had thirteen years of post Soviet politics. Boris Yeltsen was no democrat. He was a would be demagogue who never managed to gain enough control over the country to assert his will. Lest revisionists look at Yeltsen fondly, they should recall that he shelled the Parliament to roust defiant legislators. Then he proceeded to endorse a constitution codifying democracy as if that would be a cloak for his ambition.

Chaos was the best word to describe the Russian economy and society before Putin took control. An absurdly greedy group of industrialists, the “new oligarchs,” as they are called, managed to rape and pillage the old Soviet assets in the transition from Communism to so called free market. Entire industries were hijacked and ended up under the control of these oligarchs. The American robber barons from the nineteenth century would have been envious. Putin declared war on these industrialists with the Yukos show trial.

In the southern and Asia areas of the country, Muslim groups were developing their own power structure. And hanging over all of this was the Chechen separatist movement. For them, Putin launched bloody military attacks.

I often wonder what would happen if Russians were given a choice to continue the status quo or to restore old pre Gorbechav Communism. In the post World War II era, even the authoritarian Germans have yielded to democracy, but not Russia. How is it that this country which has spawned so many talented scientists, writers and musicians can’t develop a responsive system of government?

Is it something in the Russian character or the country’s cruel weather that nurtures autocracy? When I presented this theory at a speech one day, in a Q&A session I was told that I had it all wrong. The real explanation is that “the Russians drink so much vodka that the institutions of government selected by sober individuals, like America’s puritans, can never catch on.” Perhaps the commenter was being only partly facetious.

But regardless of the explanation, the United States has to care about these developments in Russia. In the short run, Bush now has one more problem to worry about. He needs Putin’s help, or at least the Russian’s acquiescence, on a number of issues like Iraq. So criticizing Putin is not a good idea for the American Administration right now. On the other hand, Bush’s pursuit of democracy for the world has been dealt a powerful blow.

More troublesome are the long term impacts. Powerful dictators usually build strong armies. The EU with its new Eastern Europe members had better start worrying. The predatory bear that they were sure had gone to sleep forever may now be waking up.

The past may be prologue. Chirac and Schroeder turn around and look eastward. The real object of your concern may not be across the Atlantic.