the Middle East [.pdf], America's name is mud, thanks to the
Bush administration and its
the Bush era, our international standing took a huge hit, with millions wondering
what crazed act of aggression was going to come out of Washington next. Our
policy [.pdf] has alienated our friends while multiplying and emboldening
To listen to Andrei Illarionov tell
it, however, we don't have enough enemies. One more needs to be added to
the list, and that is Russia.
Illarionov is a Russian
citizen, formerly a top economic adviser to then-President Vladimir Putin, and
a senior fellow at the ostensibly libertarian (and anti-interventionist) Cato
Institute. Illarionov resigned in 2005, declaring that Russia was a dictatorship
and Putin was a monster. He's spent the last few years or so telling anyone
who will listen that Russia poses a military threat to the United States, and
he compares any attempt to repair relations as the equivalent of Munich,
an idea that Cato Institute scholar Justin
Logan rightly mocked some years ago.
In any case, using his Cato credentials to make himself appear credible, Illarionov
managed to get himself invited to testify at hearings held by the House committee
on international affairs today, and his
prepared testimony was made available by a reliable source in the Imperial
City. I've dealt with Illarionov's fulminations in this space on previous
occasions, but I have to say that his statement to the assembled solons
in Washington has got to set some kind of record for looniness. By any standard,
no matter how low, Illarionov's testimony is clearly one of the most embarrassing
moments for libertarians in the
history of the movement. (Warning: I've preserved the original grammar and
According to Illarionov, the U.S. government has been falling all over itself
to mollify Moscow, starting with Bill Clinton and continuing during the Bush
administration, to no avail. "The outcomes of these efforts are well known,"
avers Illarionov. "They were outright failures. Russia has failed to be
integrated fully into the community of the modern democratic peaceful nations."
This revisionist history, however, leaves out a few items, starting with the
abrogation of the agreement
reached by Bush I and Gorbachev to allow the fall of the East German communist
regime in exchange for a pledge by the Americans not to extend NATO into Eastern
Europe. Then there was the little matter of the Balkan war, in which the U.S.
attacked the former
Yugoslavia, without a UN mandate, killing 5,000 civilians and installing the
Army in power in Kosovo, which has since been ethnically
cleansed of Serbs and is now Europe's drug
capital and black
market weapons dump.
To acknowledge any of this, however, would contradict the Illarionov thesis,
which is that Russia today is a regime of Satanic evil, unique in all history,
and the quintessential threat to the U.S., perhaps more so than al-Qaeda. According
to him, the Obama administration's stance so far "strikingly resembles
the beginning of the two preceding administrations' terms. We can see similar
desire to improve bilateral relations, similar positive statements, similar
promising gestures and visits." Hey, that sounds good to me, but not to
Illarionov, because "since nothing serious has changed in the nature of
political regimes in both countries it is rather hard not to expect the repetition
of already known pattern – high expectations – deep disappointments – heavy
failures – for the third time."
Promising gestures and visits, positive statements, an effort to improve
relations – Illarionov is having none of it. Why not? Well, because "Today's
Russia is not a democratic country. The international human rights organization
Freedom House assigns 'Not Free' status to Russia since 2004 for each of the
last five years. According to the classification of the political regimes,
the current one in Russia should be considered as hard authoritarianism. The
central place in the Russian political system is occupied by the Corporation
of the secret police."
which prominently supported
the invasion of Iraq and receives truckloads
of U.S. taxpayer dollars through the National Endowment for Democracy scam,
rates Russia on the
same level as China, in spite of the regularly held elections, both for
the presidency and the Duma, in which several
parties, spanning the spectrum from the ultra-left Communists to the far-right
nationalists, compete. Putin and his coalition of parties are somewhere in the
middle. This is glossed over by both Freedom House and Illarionov, who complain
that the government party is "repressing" the opposition, because,
you see, they keep winning elections.
Yet any reference to actual facts is out of place in Illarionov's worldview,
as the following makes all too clear. In a section entitled "The Corporation
of Secret Police," he lays out his diagnosis of what lies behind the Russian
"The personnel of Federal Security Service – both in active service
as well as retired one – form a special type of unity (non-necessarily institutionalized)
that can be called brotherhood, order, or corporation. The Corporation of the
secret police operatives (CSP) includes first of all acting and former officers
of the FSB (former KGB), and to a lesser extent FSO and Prosecutor General
Office. Officers of GRU and SVR do also play some role. The members of the
Corporation do share strong allegiance to their respective organizations, strict
codes of conduct and of honor, basic principles of behavior, including among
others the principle of mutual support to each other in any circumstances and
the principle of omerta. Since the Corporation preserves traditions, hierarchies,
codes and habits of secret police and intelligence services, its members show
high degree of obedience to the current leadership, strong loyalty to each
other, rather strict discipline. There are both formal and informal means of
enforcing these norms. Violators of the code of conduct are subject to the
harshest forms of punishment, including the highest form."
In short: Russia is ruled by a secret brotherhood of the KGB, which never
really surrendered power. The members of this secret brotherhood have retained
complete control over the whole of Russian society, and they have managed to
do this because they are a breed apart:
"Members of the Corporation are trained and inspired with the
superiority complex over the rest of the population. Members of the
Corporation exude a sense of being the bosses that superior to other people
who are not members of the CSP. They are equipped with membership perks, including
two most tangible instruments conferring real power over the rest of population
in today's Russia – the FSB IDs and the right to carry and use weapons."
[Emphasis in original.]
Of course, no one in Washington has a superiority complex. And as for our officials
exuding "a sense of being the bosses" – why, it's unthinkable! One
is puzzled by Illarionov's tunnel vision: after all, the right to carry and
use weapons is not, alas, universally recognized in the U.S., either, and is
attack. Does that mean we're living in a totalitarian state? Get serious.
This secret society, the "CSP," according to Illarionov, controls
everything and everyone in today's Russia. Oh, he goes on to assure us, there
are a few dissidents;"not everyone" in the Russian government is
a slave of this pervasive neo-Communist conspiracy. However, the all-powerful
CSP lurks behind the scenes, pulling the strings on its puppets and directing
the state. Their efforts, he claims, are increasingly aggressive, and increasingly
directed against America:
"The TV channels, radio, printed media are heavily censored with government
propaganda disseminating cult of power and violence, directed against democrats,
liberals, westerners and the West itself, including and first of all the U.S.
The level of the anti-U.S. propaganda is incomparable even with one of the
Soviet times in at least 1970-s and 1980s."
What Illarionov means by "censored" is not government censorship.
There is no government agency that censors the media, poring over news copy
and commentary for evidence of anti-government opinions. Instead, what exists
is a certain uniformity of opinion in "mainstream" Russia media outlets,
which are owned by pro-government businessmen, powerful figures in the top echelons
of the nation's crony-capitalist elite. To a lesser degree, this is precisely
what we must endure here
in the U.S. – a mainstream media owned by corporations feeding off the government
teat, who present a united
front when it comes to the important issues of the day, including the question
of war and peace.
Illarionov seems to have slipped into an alternate timeline, a fantasy land
in which Russia has reverted to the
1930s and a single party wields absolute power. According to him,
"Since 1999 there is no free, open, competitive parliamentary or presidential
election in Russia. The last two elections – the parliamentary one in December
2007 and presidential one in March 2008 – have been conducted as special operations
and been heavily rigged with at least 20 mln ballots in each case stuffed in
favor of the regime candidates. None of the opposition political parties or
opposition politicians has been allowed either to participate in the elections,
or even to be registered at the Ministry of Justice."
This is quite
simply a lie – and a preposterous one, at that. Since 1999, Russia has had
three presidential elections in which an average of half a dozen major candidates
were on the ballot, along with the parliamentary
slates of at least a few dozen political parties. Along with United Russia,
the Putinite party, the Russian voter has many
other choices: the Communists, the Agrarians, the Liberal Democrats, the
Democratic Party of Russian, the Russian Democratic Party, the Union of Right
Forces, Fair Russia, Civilian Power, the Party of Social Justice, and the list
goes on. In America, we get to choose between only two parties, both of which
are subsidized and privileged by the state and federal governments.
Illarionov and other "libertarian" enemies of Russia complain that
Putin and his successor, Medvedev, garnered over 70 percent of the vote, but
even if one allows for the usual amount of fraud – is Moscow that different
from Chicago in that respect? – polls show Putin and his party are overwhelmingly
popular with the Russian people. You can't complain about the lack of real
"democracy" in Russia, then complain about the outcome when Putin
and his pals rack up victory after victory at the polls.
Illarionov claims there are "about 80 political prisoners in the country
who are serving their terms for their views and political activities."
He only names one: Mikhail
Khodorkovsky, the billionaire businessman convicted of tax evasion, corruption,
money-laundering, and murder, among other crimes. The others, whom he doesn't
mention, are members of the National Bolshevik Party, led by Eduard
Limonov, whose political philosophy and methods can bested be summed up
by the party's symbol:
a black hammer-and-sickle emblazoned on a white circle against a red background.
Limonov's ideology is based on ultra-nationalism, a deep and abiding hatred
of all things Western, and an openly nihilistic glorification of violence. NBP
members have engaged the police in pitched
battles and taken over government buildings, and they recruit among skinhead
gangs and the dregs of Russian society.
The National Bolsheviks, in cooperation with chess champion Gary Kasparov,
have created an anti-Putin coalition, "the
Other Russia," which has met with a notable lack of success in mobilizing
anyone beyond Limonov's loonies and other groups better known in the West than
they are in Russia.
All of this is pretty standard stuff for the Russophobes: we've heard the same
line for quite a few years, ever since Richard Perle declared that Russia must
be expelled from the G-8 for the crime of not supporting the U.S. invasion
of Iraq and Dick Cheney accused Moscow of launching an "oil war" against
its neighbors. Illarionov takes up Cheney's war cries, listing a series of alleged
wars waged by the Russians in the years since Putin's rise to power:
"Wars against other nations.
"Since 2004 the Russian political regime embarked on a series of wars
of different kinds against foreign nations. The list of wars waged in the last
5 years is not a short one:
Russian-Byelorussian Gas War 2004,
First Russian-Ukrainian Gas War, January 2006,
Russian-Georgian Energy Supply War, January 2006,
Russian-Georgian Wine and Mineral Water War, March-April 2006,
Russian-Georgian Spy War, September-October 2006,
Russian-Estonian Monuments and Cyber War, April-May 2007,
Russian-Georgian Conventional War, April-October 2008,
Russian-Azerbaijan Cyber War, August 2008,
Second Russian-Ukrainian Gas War, January 2009,
Anti-US full fledged Propaganda War, 2006-2009."
"Wars of different kinds": a slippery phrase that lacks any precise
definition, and, in Illarionov's hands, can mean anything, or, more often, nothing.
In the case of these mysterious "gas wars," it means simply adjusting
the price of Russia's oil and natural gas output to reflect global market conditions.
Ever since the incorporation of, for example, Ukraine into the old USSR, the
Kremlin subsidized its oil and gas exports to that country, as well as to the
other members of the Soviet bloc. With the fall of communism and the rise of
capitalism in the former Soviet Union, the Russians sought to finally end
the subsidies and save some money – this is what Illarionov, who
works for Washington's premier "free market" think-tank, the Cato
Institute, means by the Russians launching a "gas war." Will wonders
And what is this "Russian-Georgian Wine and Mineral Water War" of
March-April 2006 all about? Why, that's when Russia – in response to plenty
of Georgian provocations – banned the importation of Georgian wine and mineral
water. This may be unwise economically, but is it really the equivalent of
a "war"? Does this mean that the U.S. declared war on China when
it increased tariffs on the import of Chinese-made toys? Are we smack dab in
the middle of the Sino-American Toy War of 2009, without even knowing it? Get
I see that, in addition to the fabled "Russian-Estonian Cyber War"
of April-May 2007, we also have the previously little-known "Russian-Azerbaijan
Cyber War" said to have taken place in August 2008. The reality of these
"cyber wars," however, is in serious
doubt, given the inability of the alleged victims to trace the attacks back
to the Russian government. This, like so much war propaganda, appears to be
a total fabrication. That Illarionov raises these "wars" as credible
evidence of Russian perfidy is a perfect joke.
Unsurprisingly, Illarionov repeats the assertion, since widely debunked, that
Russia invaded Georgia last year, instead of the
other way around. He simply ignores the reporting that proves Georgian aggression
preceded the Russian response.
Illarionov descends into a parody of himself as he notes that the title of
the hearing is "From Competition to Collaboration: Strengthening the U.S.-Russian
Relationship," and goes on to deliver a rant to end all warmongering rants,
grammar and spelling as in the original:
"Policy of the proclaimed 'cooperation,' 'movement from competition
to collaboration,' 'improvement of relations' with the current political regime
in Russia has very clear consequences. Such type of behavior on the part of
the US administration can not be called even a retreat. It is
not even an appeasement policy that is so well known to all of
us by another Munch decision in 1938. It is a surrender.
It is a full, absolute and unconditional surrender to the regime of the secret
police officers, chekists and Mafiosi bandits in today's Russia. … And therefore
it is an open invitation for new adventures of the Russian Chekists' regime
in the post-Soviet space and at some points beyond it.
"The very term for such type of policy has not been chosen by me,
it is borrowed from the title of this hearing, namely, collaboration. Therefore
the term chosen for the agents of the US administration's policy in the coming
era is 'collaborationists.'" [Emphasis in original.]
Russia, says the Cato Institute's Illarionov before a full committee of Congress,
is preparing for war – and so should we. This is nonsense, of course, dangerous
nonsense, as is Illarionov's "Anti-US full fledged Propaganda War [of]
2006-2009." Putin, like most Cato employees, opposed the Iraq war and
warned that the U.S. was alienating its friends around the world by engaging
in aggressive wars, another favored Cato theme.
Russia, although nuclear-armed, has neither the resources nor the desire to
engage the U.S. or its allies militarily. Illarionov's sole evidence for this
is an uproarious list of "cyber wars" and "gas wars" supposedly
launched by the Kremlin, phantom "aggression" that exists entirely
in Illarionov's embittered and monomaniacal mindset. The obscene reality is
that he's trying like heck to get us involved in a real shooting war with the
Russkies, all based on his ludicrous conspiracy theories about the "unique"
evil supposedly represented by the Russian state.
At a moment when Russia's relations with the U.S. are at a particularly plastic
juncture and could go either way – toward a new Cold War, or toward a new era
of mutual understanding – to have this lunatic testify before a committee of
Congress representing a supposedly libertarian perspective is sheer criminality.
Shame on the Cato Institute for allowing this nut-bar to sully their name with
his disgraceful "testimony."
Russia is emerging from the nightmare of Communism astonishingly intact. It's
a miracle the country survived the
Yeltsin years, when the nation was looted by "former" communist
apparatchiks who seized control of the nation's resources in a series of rigged
"privatizations." There is hardly any democratic tradition in Russia,
and liberalism is a minority viewpoint rather than the majority mindset: long-standing
habits die hard, particularly in a nation as mired in history and tragedy as
Russia. Given all this, it's amazing they have elections – relatively free and
open ones – in Russia at all. It wasn't so long ago that Stalin's gulags held
millions. Now Illarionov wants us to go to war with the Kremlin over a grand
total of 80 "political prisoners" of dubious provenance. What a joke
– except nobody's laughing. These are deadly serious matters, and it's disturbing
that Congress would even entertain the rantings of someone so manifestly un-serious.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
Whew! I'm sure glad that column's over with,
because it gives me the chance to talk about another kind of libertarian institution,
one dedicated to the cause of peace. In response to our two-week long series
of appeals, our readers have supported us to the point that we're only $7,000
short of our goal. That went against all my expectations, given the recession-turning-into-depression
that seems to be happening, but there you have it. You, our readers and supporters,
have stood behind us. I like to think that's because, unlike a certain "libertarian"
institution with oodles of money and a big Washington headquarters, we stand
for principle – the libertarian principle of non-aggression in the foreign
policy realm, as well as on the home front.
I might add that our high standards are not only ideological. Our content
is fact-based, backed up with links and plenty of documentation, and we give
no platform to the ideological constructs of neoconnish ideologues with overseas
axes to grind.
Ron Paul is a member of the House international affairs committee, which is
holding the "From Competition to Collaboration" hearing. Rep. Paul,
of course, belongs to the orthodox libertarian school of thought when it comes
to foreign relations, which adheres to the principle of nonintervention. Illarionov,
the "cosmotarian," wants to intervene in Russia in a big way. I can't
wait to see that confrontation: when libertarian matter meets anti-libertarian
anti-matter, the resulting explosion should be both amusing and instructive.
This still doesn't explain why Cato, staunchly anti-interventionist on virtually
every other issue, has it in for Russia. Here's a theory. Cato's Russophobia
manifested itself only after Cato sponsored a joint conference with the Russians
at which several top government officials and advisers were invited to speak.
Cato President and founder Edward H. Crane III met
with Putin [.pdf], in the company of a bevy of free-market types, and the
group proffered advice to the Russian leader, which boiled down to: free up
the system. Crane cited Putin as saying that he, Putin, wanted to make Russia
"the center of liberal debate in Europe," and Crane, for his part,
wrote: "he may well mean it." When Crane began to suspect he didn't
mean it, and Putin blocked Western investment in Russia's vast oil and natural
gas reserves, a business that Koch Industries, for years the chief source of
Cato's lavish funding, has definite interests in, Cato turned against its former
ally big-time. Go figure.