What happens, in other words, is that a paralysis sets in: Those in power see compromise as weakness, while those forced onto the streets by its absence see it as selling out. And the more each side digs in, the less a constructive solution becomes possible. The only way out becomes a revolution and the complete destruction of the status quo. And, as the Russian experience of 1917 and 1991 showed us, striving for a clean slate and a fresh start has a very steep cost.
We saw the seeds of this process in the winter. Addressing a pool of Russian journalists on Dec. 24, four days after an estimated 100,000 Muscovites protested on Sakharov Avenue, an unprecedented number for the past two decades, Putin shrugged and said, “there’s no one to talk to.” In the preceding weeks, he had dismissed the protesters as U.S. State Department pawns, as provocateurs bent on violence, and as the howling, delusional monkeys in Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. He even nervously admitted to mistaking the symbol of the protest — a white ribbon pinned to the lapel — for a condom. It didn’t help, of course, when the protests kicked off Dec. 5, Navalny roared into the microphone with the promise that “we will cut their throats.” Or that, in the two days of protests that followed, police arrested nearly a thousand people in Moscow.
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Can Washington have a working relationship with a Russian leader who thinks Americans are out to destroy him? After a week of listening to official anti-American rhetoric on a visit to Moscow, I find it hard to see how.
Vladimir Putin, newly elected to a third presidential term (after an interval as prime minister), has made clear he believes Washington has him in its crosshairs.
“Nobody can impose their policy on us,” he proclaimed to a cheering crowd at his victory rally near the Kremlin. “Our people could recognize the provocation from those who want to destroy the country. The Orange scenario will never work here.”
Putin was referring to the 2004 Orange Revolution in the Ukraine, where street protests overturned a pro-Russian, antidemocratic president.
The Russian leader thinks the United States directed the Orange Revolution. He also thinks that Russians protesting rigged elections are paid by the United States.
Yevgeny Gontmakher, a sociologist at Moscow’s Institute of Contemporary Development, recently suggested Russia could soon be on the brink of a revolution similar to that of 1917.
“The political machine built by Putin was effective in some places until 2007,” he wrote in an article in Nezavismaya Gazeta, “but the regime has started to malfunction, like a car whose guarantee has long since expired and all of whose systems are starting to fail.”
Protests have rattled the country ever since the Dec. 4 parliamentary elections were riddled with allegations of corruption and ballot stuffing.
White-ribboned crowds continue to storm through the streets of Russia’s main cities demanding, “Russia Without Putin.”
The Russian Revolution in Colour
Masha Gessen is not so sure. A Russian-born writer who grew up in America and now lives in Moscow, and the author of a new book about Putin, Gessen believes that even as he consolidates his power, Russia is seeing the first signs of the inevitable fall of what she describes as ‘this small and vengeful man’.
The tumultuous events of last December, when tens of thousands took to the streets of Moscow and cities across Russia in the biggest anti-government rallies since the fall of the Soviet Union, were the harbinger of what she describes as ‘a revolution’.
Putin will win the election. That, in itself, is not a mechanism for change, Gessen says, ‘because it’s not an election. But I think it will be a catalyst. I think it’s the beginning of the end for Putin. How long this process will last is hard to tell. But I think it is more likely to be a matter of months rather than years.’ She pauses. ‘At least, I hope so.’
Gessen’s book, The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, provides a compelling and exhaustive portrait of a man who rose without trace from being a minor KGB and St Petersburg bureaucrat to become what Gessen describes as ‘the godfather of a mafia clan’, who has amassed a personal fortune that in 2007 was estimated by one Kremlin insider to be $40 billion.
The Man Without a Face is the chilling account of how a low- level, small-minded KGB operative ascended to the Russian presidency and, in an astonishingly short time, destroyed years of progress and made his country once more a threat to her own people and to the world.
Handpicked as a successor by the “family” surrounding an ailing and increasingly unpopular Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin seemed like a perfect choice for the oligarchy to shape according to its own designs. Suddenly the boy who had stood in the shadows, dreaming of ruling the world, was a public figure, and his popularity soared. Russia and an infatuated West were determined to see the progressive leader of their dreams, even as he seized control of media, sent political rivals and critics into exile or to the grave, and smashed the country’s fragile electoral system, concentrating power in the hands of his cronies.
As a journalist living in Moscow, Masha Gessen experienced this history firsthand, and for The Man Without a Face she has drawn on information and sources no other writer has tapped. Her account of how a “faceless” man maneuvered his way into absolute-and absolutely corrupt-power has the makings of a classic of narrative nonfiction.
What it does face, however, is enormous, inchoate rural unrest. The dark side of China’s economic rise has been a shocking widening of the gulf between the prosperous coast and the poverty-stricken interior, a flourishing of corruption among local officials and, by such data as we can gather, widespread anger and discontent. The government has acknowledged tens of thousands of yearly “mass incidents,” which can range anywhere from a handful of elderly widows protesting a corrupt real estate grab to communities in open revolt (like the southern village of Wukan) to murderous ethnic rioting, as occurred in the last few years in western Xinjiang Province and in Inner Mongolia.
In that sense, it is instead the Taiping Rebellion, which nearly toppled the Qing Dynasty 50 years earlier, that bears the strongest warnings for the current government. The revolt, which claimed at least 20 million lives before it was quelled, making it the bloodiest civil war in history, suggests caution for those who hope for a popular uprising — a Chinese Spring — today.
The Taiping Rebellion exploded out of southern China during the early 1850s in a period marked, as now, by economic dislocation, corruption and a moral vacuum….
Some Russian analysts are warning that if Mr. Putin persists in this autocracy-as-usual approach he could provoke an even bigger uprising by Russians, who have already gathered for the largest demonstrations since the collapse of the Soviet Union. But to judge from the official media, if the president perceives a threat, he attributes it to the newly arrived U.S. ambassador in Moscow, Michael McFaul. Mr. McFaul has been pilloried for attending a meeting with opposition activists; it is suggested, darkly, that he has been sent to Russia to foment a revolution.
Vladimir Putin, after eight years as president of Russia and four more as prime minister, is stubbornly holding onto power. He has announced his intention to return as president and declared his party the winner in parliamentary elections that are widely seen as fraudulent. In Moscow 100,000 protesters have taken to the streets in the largest demonstrations since Putin took office.
Putin began his career as a KGB spy but when he became president, he made himself a valued ally of the West. How did he do it? And what made Washington and London turn against him?
This four-part series is made by Norma Percy and the team at Brook Lapping with a track record for getting behind closed doors with multi-award-winning series like The Death of Yugoslavia, The Second Russian Revolution, and Iran and the West. For the first time Putin’s top colleagues – and the Western statesmen who eventually clashed with him – tell the inside story of one of the world’s most powerful men.
In this episode, George W Bush meets Putin in June 2001 and declares he looked him in the eye and ‘got a sense of his soul’. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice recall their discomfort. But Rice, the only Bush adviser in the private talks, reveals that, three months before 9/11, Putin gave Bush a prophetic warning about Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Taliban. After 9/11, Putin describes how he convinced his shocked colleagues that Russia should align with the West. Sergei Ivanov, Russian’s defence minister, tells how the Taliban secretly offered to join forces with Russia against America.