Odd Reaction
by Charley Reese
December 18, 2003

It's odd that the American reaction to the recent Russian elections was that they were not up to snuff and probably rigged. One would think that Americans would instead celebrate the fact that the Communist Party suffered a serious defeat that will probably finally consign it to that famous dustbin.

The truth is that the elections strengthened the hand of President Vladimir Putin and greatly weakened the Communists and liberals. Most of the gains were by parties that have in common a strong sense of nationalism.

To make sense of world politics today, you have to keep in mind that "neoconservative" is very close to being a synonym for "Trotskyite." Leon Trotsky was the unlucky third member of the triumvirate that imposed communism on Russia. Vladimir Lenin died, and the other member, Joseph Stalin, outmaneuvered Trotsky and forced him to flee into exile, where one of Stalin's killers eventually put an ice ax into his brain.

Trotsky's gig was internationalism. He hated nationalism and nationalists. And so do the neoconservatives and most liberals in the United States. They look with jaundiced eye on any nationalist, be he Arab, Russian, French, German or American. That and a high regard for big government are about all liberals and neoconservatives share in common.

Putin has been drawing criticism for going after the crooked oligarchs, men who used bribery and influence to grab most of the state's assets when the Soviet Union collapsed. He gets criticism from ideologues who don't distinguish between capitalists and crooks, and he's gotten some because some of the oligarchs he's targeted are Jewish.

The Jewish magazine Forward, in an articled headlined "Kremlin Targets Jewish Tycoons in War on Critics," later says: "In the eyes of most Russians, the oligarchs are clearly guilty, of theft and corruption in the best case, and probably a lot worse. That much of their wealth is ill-gotten no one really doubts."

Still, the point of the article is that while Jewish oligarchs have been arrested or have fled into exile to avoid prosecution, the Kremlin has not yet gone after the non-Jewish oligarchs. A valid point. Maybe after these elections, which have greatly strengthened Putin's hand, he will go after the other oligarchs. We'll have to wait and see.

I don't see it as "undemocratic" for Putin to go after crooks who stole the assets of the Russian people and made themselves into billionaires while ordinary Russians were impoverished. I wouldn't call it undemocratic if he had them shot. There is no incompatibility between justice and democracy. Nor is there any incompatibility between democracy and nationalism. Putin understands he was elected president of Russia, not of the world. His duty is to improve the lot of the Russian people. I wish George Bush had the same common sense.

As for whether the Russian elections were strictly honest, I doubt it, but ours aren't either. I would be surprised if there is a 100 percent honest election anywhere in the world. It's too easy to steal or buy votes.

We should not forget that in America it's said that "The only qualification you need to vote is to be alive and 18 years old; in some parts of the country, you don't even have to be alive." Cemeteries in Cook County, Ill., Louisiana and Texas have often provided a margin of victory in American elections.

Another great blunder of American foreign policy has been to ignore Russia. It's far more important for us to have a strong relationship with Russia than it is with, say, Great Britain. The United Kingdom is a minor power. Russia still has the means to blow us off the face of the Earth. We ought to be congratulating Putin, not criticizing him.

© 2003 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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Charley Reese has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969-71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column three times a week for King Features, which is carried on Antiwar.com. Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner.

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