Daily Speculations

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9/7/04
In Praise of Vladimir Putin by Jack Tierney, President of the Old Speculators Club

"Putin=Jimmy Carter=John Kerry."
I can't put a lot of stock in this analogy. As I see it, VP is one of the most successful, innovative, duplicitous, and dangerous politicians of our time. What he has done for (or to) Russia is remarkable. After the '98 debacle, Russia was viewed as a dead end for investors. Now they're standing in line, including the big multi-nationals who lusted for a piece of Yukos. A banana-republic dictator with a short time-horizon would have jumped at the chance to get these foreigners to pony up the funds necessary for all the infrastructure work needed...but, at the same time, losing a great portion of that country's only remaining patrimony: its natural resources.

Further, Putin has been able to gain a tremendous amount of respect from his Western counterparts. How this has occurred puzzles me. Few seem to have noticed that, with few exceptions, Russia's current political and business leaders were at one time all members of the Communist Party and/or the KGB. Yet it is difficult to get through a week of reading without coming across a reference to "the death of communism" most notably in Russia.

Well, though they may be using a different label, most of Russia's communists continue to hold the seats of power. Secondly, how many of the old hardline communists have been prosecuted for their misdeeds? None that I'm aware of. Thirdly, while we have decommissioned or otherwise deactivated over one-half of our nuclear arsenal (pursuant to those wonderful treaties), and provided Russia with something like $90 billion to similarly dismantle theirs, not a single Russian nuclear warhead has been destroyed. Fourth, not only was Putin just re-elected, but the Russian citizenry also elected new members of the Duma Under the Russian constitution (?) for any party to be represented in the Duma it must garner at least 5% of the popular vote. In the recent election, with a proliferation of parties and allegations of vote fraud (even mentioned in the Moscow Times), no party other than Putin's received the necessary minimum. As a result, the entire Duma consists of "representatives" beholden to VP. (Although he is theoretically prohibited from seeking a third term, what is to prevent this collection of hacks from passing an amendment to override the current prohibition?)

And the belief that communism (or radical socialism) is dead is laughable. Merely look to Venezuela, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Ecuador, Vietnam, North Korea, and Colombia, and you'll discover that rather than being less popular, the radical left is becoming more popular (one might also wish to carry this examination further and study today's campus academicians and, perhaps, presidential nominees).

It is no secret that Putin is the fair-haired boy of Euroland. And well he should be. VP controls the sources of oil and natural gas that benighted land so desperately needs. Additionally, he possesses the one other thing that the Belgian Wafflers have dispensed with: a standing army with real guns, real bullets, real tanks, and real fighter planes. And, as has been demonstrated, Putin is not averse to employing them when it serves Russia's purpose (you haven't seen any recent attacks on Russia's pipelines). So, if he wishes, Putin can utilize these forces to deliver his product.

While the recent developments with the Chechenyans have been tragic and might indicate weakness on Putin's part, who's to say it's not a vital scene in a bigger play. I'd be that there are policy wonks in both Moscow and Washington who have the same nightmare: a peaceful Mideast, especially a peaceful Islamic Mideast. Just imagine what kind of interesting plans could be formulated by a group of militant Islamists who could get together any time, any place without fear of a daisy-cutter being dropped on their collective head. No, things are safer now with guerilla groups splintered, group leaders hunted, secrecy harder to maintain, and sanctions (either de facto or de jure), especially in immigration, either in place or being considered.

It might be argued that peace in the Mideast would obviate the necessity of of further Islamic aggression. I would point out that, like Christianity, Islam is evangelical...the True Word must be spread. Both experience high failure rates, but only one believes that they unconverted must be put to the sword. Besides, violent occurrences is Malaysia, the Phillipines, Sudan, and other non-Mideast hot spots, indicate this problem is not confined to a limited area around the Tigris-Euphrates. (Therefore, those who embrace the philosophy that only the existence of Israel prevents peace, are misinformed...in fact, were it not for Israel, we would have previously had little idea how brutal these people can be...now we know and many still cling to the belief that, if left alone, they'll not bother us.)

But Putin is well aware of his enemy's capabilities and proclivities; he is also well aware that Russia faces a population crisis. The adults are either dying too young and/or not having enough children. Russia needs a lot of manpower for its industries, its extensive highways and railways, and its armed forces...it's too big a country for a modest population. If it can't expand its population through generally accepted reproductive methods, it can do so through expansion. But it needs a reason to mount expansionary incursions; the militant Islamists provide him with that reason. Russia isn't dead, nor is communism, and Putin is both. He's the right man in the right place at the right time. And I believe that history will show this wasn't a recently cobbled together plan, but one that goes back a couple of decades.