Beast of the Month - January 2000
Vladimir Putin, Russian Leader
"I yam an anti-Christ..."
John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) of The Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the UK"
"We'll get them anywhere -- if we find terrorists sitting in the outhouse, then we will piss on them there. That's it. The matter is settled."
Vladimir Putin, shortly after Russia launched its Chechen war in September 1999
A century has closed (well, okay, not technically, but everyone has celebrated it already) and much time has been focused on the history of the late great era that has ended. Not all about the 20th Century has been great, however, and a deserved amount of focus has been heaped on the twin movements of fascism and communism, which have caused so much death and misery over the past hundred years.
In particular, the focus has been on Germany and Russia, whose Nazi Third Reich and Soviet Union have been twin engines of destruction over the time period. Granted, this is a simplification shrouded in propaganda (genocide doesn't begin or end with either, and focusing merely on two countries ignores the United States terrible record of terror) but there is much to this simplification. The debate rages on: Hitler or Stalin, which was worse? The best answer is that it hardly matters, that both ordered unspeakable acts which are truly above any grotesque competition.
Still, give some credit to the Soviet Evil Empire: while the Nazis only did damage for a dozen years (if you ignore the further atrocities courtesy of Operation Paperclip), back in the USSR they wreaked havoc for over seven decades. And much of the credit for this impressive output in repulsive actions is due to the KGB, the Soviet CIA and secret police.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the KGB didn't disappear: it merely changed its name to the Federal Security Service and remained the Russian secret police. How closely aligned are the two intelligence agencies? In July 1998, Boris Yeltsin appointed to head the new agency Vladimir Putin, the Konformist Beast of the Month. Putin, it turns out, was previously a longtime member of the KGB's foreign intelligence service. In March 1999, he was also named secretary of the Security Council, which coordinates the work of the interior ministry, ministry of defence, federal border guards service and federal security service. The Security Council has been described by the AFP news service as "secretive but omnipotent."
Putin didn't stay long as head of the neo-KGB, and his reign was reported to be best noted for his ability in "demonstrating his personal devotion to the president," important during a period where a communist-led coup was attempting to impeach Yeltsin. He was rewarded in August with the prestigious Prime Minister post, and suddenly, Putin went from an unknown bureaucrat to an insider in the spotlight.
Soon after his promotion, Russia began waging the latest round of its bloody war in Chechnya. Putin has been the chief architect of the battle in Chechnya to restore Russian control. Thanks to a Gulf War-esque PR campaign to promote the war (and Putin), both have become highly popular. So popular, in fact, that a new party Putin helped form, Unity, rode into the State Duma (the lower house of parliament) on his back during the December 19 elections. As the AFP notes:
The party is described as "centrist." But the respected Moscow Times said in an editorial: "There is no particular reason to believe that Unity is 'centrist,' unless 'centrist' is another word for 'unknown.'"
The English-language newspaper added: "But what seems clear is that the Kremlin has been dealt a winning hand -- or the Kremlin has dealt itself a winning hand, depending on one's point of view."
Now may be a good time to take a step back and examine the career of this charisma-deficient (his nickname is "the grey cardinal") company man and ask some questions as to who he is and where he comes from.
While with the KGB, Putin spent the 1980s in Berlin, and suspicion is high he slipped into West Germany to learn trade secrets of such companies, including computer giant IBM. KGB officers knew the Soviet Union was in ruins, and were already planning to transform the USSR into a Western economy (and cash in on the transformation.)
After the collapse of communism in 1991 he worked with Mayor Anatoli Sobchak in St. Petersburg. He became the chief liaison for foreign investors in 1994. Local journalists report it was impossible to make foreign investments in the city without first contacting him.
He became a trusted ally of economics chief Anatoly Chubais, the mastermind of Russia's mass privatization program in the early 1990s. Chubais brought Putin to Moscow in 1996 and made him responsible for monitoring regional leaders who were seeking greater independence from Moscow. One political analyst reported that Putin was told to collect so-called "compromising material" on governors which could then be used as an "incentive" for them to toe the Kremlin line.
All of which makes some rather interesting connections. Chubais, it turns out, is unsurprisingly one of five prominent Russian individuals named that are being investigated by senior law enforcement bodies in both Russia and Britain, in connection with the money-laundering through two New York banks, the Bank of New York and the Republic National Bank. Janine Wedel of George Washington University (a U.S. expert on the scandal) said that "Chubais has been under suspicion for years. Nevertheless, he has remained the favorite son of individuals at the top levels of the United States government."
Why is Chubais a favorite son in the US? Maybe because his "free market" program has been quite beneficial to US korporate interests. It certainly hasn't been to the average Russian, as the program has hardly freed Russia but turned it into a criminal syndicate business oligarchy. (Which, come to think of it, it already was under the Soviet Union.) Indeed, looking at the names of the gangsters (whoops, that is, "businessmen") who now run the Russian economy courtesy of Chubais, and there is an undeniable link to them and the KGB, as though these barons are little more than a front for the business as usual.
As it turns out, the money laundered by Russian organized crime figures through the New York banks (least $15 billion) were intended to finance Russian President Boris Yeltsin's allies in the December elections. Ariel Cohen of the conservative Heritage Foundation puts it bluntly: "Judging by the large amount of funds involved and the desperate need for money that has been expressed privately by officials at the highest level of the Yeltsin administration, this was the political 'war chest' of the Yeltsin clan. It was the collection of funds that was being moved out of Russia for safekeeping until it needed to be used in the parliamentary and presidential elections. In the West, this money laundering scandal is being treated as a pure law enforcement issue, but that is very misleading. For Moscow, this is primarily a political issue."
At least $10 billion of the money came from what the International Monetary Fund has loaned to Russia since 1992. Coincidentally, the IMF was the leading proponent of the Chubais "privatization" plan.
There appears to be two power groups within the Russia: both, unsurprisingly, are gangsters organizations. One is the neo-KGB thugs who have gone from "communism" to "capitalism" without blinking. (This is the former Kremlin establishment, and it is represented well by Putin.) The other is the Jewish Mafia in Russia, who have shady ties to the Israeli government and banking institutions - including the two banks involved in the laundering scandal. (One of the top leaders of these gangsters, Semion Mogilevich, is described by The Village Voice as "The Most Dangerous Mobster in the World.")
Like most gangster-industry-political outfits, they are both in bed together and fighting at the same time, and most of the public revelations of corruption in Russia has to do with power politics between these two groups. One thing that all power groups don't like is a wild card, and that is what Chechnya is all about. The supposed justification for the bloody war is that Chechnya is run by "gangsters," which is like the pot calling the kettle black. The truth is, Chechnya IS run by gangsters, but Russian leaders are only bothered by who the gangsters are and not that they are criminal outfits. It is all about wiping out competitors, and if innocents need to be slaughtered in the process, so be it. And just as Afghanistan is Russia's Vietnam, Chechnya is its Iraq, a puny competitor easily pounded, to the delight of a manipulated society needing escapism from despair.
Putting all these dots together, Putin appears to be a servant of supposed "free market" interests such as Chubais who have profited from the looting of Russia by international business interests. For his two decades of excellent service to this faction (culminating in the recent Chechnya massacre) he is being rewarded with more political power. Even mainstream analysts admit the Kremlin is repaying Putin by making him a star, one which has put his presidential rating at an unheralded 46 percent and a shoe-in for the 2000 presidential election.
Make that re-election. On December 31st, as most were celebrating the end of the century, Yeltsin, pleading forgiveness, resigned from the presidency, and Putin immediately replaced him. One of his first acts was a grant of immunity to Yeltsin for any criminal activity he may have been involved in, a deal which suspiciously echoes what Ford granted to Nixon.
Of course, Tricky Dick may not be the best comparison as to who Vladimir Putin really is. Looking at his life and career, he is clearly the Russian George Bush. After all, Putin is a career intelligence agent with strong ties to the political and business establishment who, after briefly serving as head of the top intelligence agency, was rewarded with the second highest political position in the country. Then, while the president was suffering from not-so-well hidden health problems, Putin led a war against a pesky neighbor who was a threat to his business associates. In this case, a drunken Yeltsin sits in for the senile Ronnie Reagan, and it Yeltsin who ends up holding the bag for a huge banking scandal, just as Reagan did for the S&L crisis.
The comparison isn't a flattering one. With what is now known of Bush in the information underground, Putin using him as a model doesn't bode well for the future of Russian citizens, the Chechnyans, or the rest of the world.
In any case, we salute Vladimir Putin as Beast of the Month. Congratulations, and keep up the great work, Vlad!!!
Yeltsin's Out, Putin's In, but What's Up?
NewsMax.com, December 31, 1999
Bank of New York probe exposes ties between Western financiers and Russian Mafia
James Brookfield, World Socialist Web Site ( http://www.wsws.org ), 27 August 1999
The Most Dangerous Mobster in the World
Robert I. Friedman, Village Voice, May 20-26, 1999
Putin Rocked Russians with Ruthlessness
AFP, December 31, 1999
Vladimir Putin: Spy Turned Politician
Malcolm Haslett, BBC, September 29, 1999
Laundered Billions May Fund Election Races
UPI, August 27, 1999
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