Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Russian Godfather

WARSAW – Russian President Vladimir Putin is behaving like a Mafia boss. In invading, occupying, and finally annexing Crimea, he pointed Russia’s guns at Ukraine and said: your territorial sovereignty or your life. So far, extortion has worked – and Putin knows it.

Indeed, in his speech announcing the annexation of Crimea, Putin spoke his mind: his regime fears no punishment and will do whatever it pleases. Crimea is just the first step toward realizing his dream of revived Russian greatness.

His address in the Kremlin was a tissue of lies and manipulation, though a subtle analysis would be a waste of time. The simple fact is that the president of one of the world’s most powerful countries has embarked on a path of confrontation with the entire international community. His speech smacked of the fevered, paranoid world of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Demons, conjuring as it did a delusional alternative universe – a place that does not exist and has never existed.

What does Kosovo, where the Albanians suffered persecution and ethnic cleansing, have in common with the situation in Crimea, whose people have never been oppressed by Ukrainians? What is the point in displaying open contempt for Ukraine’s government, parliament, and people? Why label Ukrainian authorities “fascist and anti-Semitic”? Crimean Tatars pay no heed to the fairy tales about fascists ruling Ukraine; they can still remember the brutal and murderous mass deportations of their parents and grandparents, ordered by Stalin and carried out by the NKVD.

In Putin’s mind, the whole world has discriminated against Russia for the last three centuries. Russia’s bloody despots – Catherine II, Nicholas I, or Stalin – apparently never discriminated against anyone.

Putin also warns that “you and we – the Russians and the Ukrainians – could lose Crimea completely.” Yet he fails to specify who – perhaps Poles and Lithuanians again? – are setting their sights on Sevastopol.

Russia could not, according to Putin, leave the people of Crimea “alone in their predicament.” These words prompt a sad smile; Leonid Brezhnev used precisely the same phrase in August 1968 to justify the Red Army’s intervention in Czechoslovakia to help beleaguered Communist hardliners there crush the Prague Spring reform movement.

“We want Ukraine to be a strong, sovereign, and independent country,” says Putin. Stalin said the same thing about Poland in 1945. Brave Russian democrats who have not yet been silenced have already remarked on the similarity between Putin’s appeal to ethnic solidarity in annexing Crimea and Hitler’s stance during the Anschluss and the Sudeten crisis in 1938.

This is the real end of history – the history of dreams about a world governed by democratic values and the market economy. Unless the democratic world understands that now is not the time for faith in diplomatic compromise, and that it must respond strongly enough to stop Putin’s imperial designs, events could follow a logic that is too dreadful to contemplate. It takes force to stop a thug, not sharp words or cosmetic sanctions.

I commend and take pride in Poland’s prudent and determined policy and the attitude of its public, which do us great credit. But we must recognize that the best quarter-century in the last 400 years of Polish history is about to end before our very eyes. A time of tectonic shifts has begun. We must appreciate what we have managed to achieve – and learn to protect it.

Mafia bosses often meet an unhappy fate, and I do not think that Putin will fare much better in the end. Unfortunately, many people are likely to be hurt in the meantime, not least those who now support him.

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    1. CommentedDean Mitchener

      How about to the EU? Just because you have bought into the whole piece of unadulterated faeces and dream, doesn't mean we all have to. How long ago was it that Greece was on the brink of finding out exactly how much the EU would support them, or Portugal or Ireland or Italy... nearly? Losing doesn't mean only to another country.......

    2. CommentedDean Mitchener

      So do you remember Australia and its aborigines or Belgium and its hands, or America and its Indians, or South Africa and its Zulus, Xhosa's, or the Hutus and Tutus in Uganda? Lets not pretend that the Crimean Tartars are fighting a battle by themselves!

    3. CommentedDean Mitchener

      I couldn't disagree more strongly if I bit on a lemon with mouth ulcers on all parts of my inflated lip! Putin will be around long after you and I are pushing up daisy's. Supporting him has absolutely nada to do with an unhappy fate. In fact its the complete opposite.

    4. CommentedDean Mitchener

      and of course a pseudo referendum has nada to do with it. Pseudo or not, WE DID NOT SANCTION IT! That is all I am hearing nowadays about this referendum. The fact that the people voted seem not to matter. Even if half of them were coerced into voting for the opposition - like Samantha Power likes to pretend is the defacto check mate in a debate of righteousness; this would still be wrong because even at the base of democracy, the ayes would still have it! She is so totally wrong by her own admission without even knowing it that its a disgrace to pretend otherwise. Now to pretend that what Putin is doing is completely lawful is also a delusional gratification of trust but hear me when I say we are no friggen better. Then consider who should look after cleaning up their own back yard then I will say shut up all those who want to preach how bad Putin is. We have a saying in South Africa, Shape up or ship out. Why are we trying to bail out the Ukrainians to the tune of 15 billion? Is it because they were doing so well without us? So much smoke means there must be some fire. I for one can see many if the regions in the eastern regions of the former country that is not capable or worthy of calling itself a country any longer of choosing to become part of something more honourable than our western festering hell of disgrace and printed feit!

    5. CommentedJonathan Lam

      Wakening of a strategist

      One percent rules to explore, Ninety nine follows to suffer;
      Both jammed at its cost of living in the silence of deflation.
      When currencies rose above what he earned; many squealed.
      Money talks, people fellows----plutocracy won.
      As monetarists won by its margins of growth and profits; madness roamed.
      Only a few mesmerized in the writ of democracy and more dissent.
      Uprising at causation, multitude riots over a change---- oligarchy blundered.
      Sovereignty fell to its ground----Balkanize.
      What a strategist was drowned under the hedge of dollars.
      Annexation or abolition, totalitarian toke its stand.
      Inevitably Black Sea fleet made Crimea it home, Democracy writhed EU.
      Change of throne in the battle of economics and sovereign----polarized.

      From Economic cost of Crimea seizure mounts for Russia
      • A World Bank report on the Russian economy, compiled before the most recent evidence of the scale of capital flight, made clear Moscow was already set to pay a significant price in lost growth due to the most serious East-West confrontation since the end of the Cold War.
      • Gross domestic product (GDP) could contract by as much as 1.8 percent in 2014 if the crisis persists, it said. That high-risk forecast assumes that the international community would still refrain from trade sanctions.
      • "An intensification of political tension could lead to heightened uncertainties around economic sanctions and would further depress confidence and investment activities," the World Bank said.
      • "We assume that political risks will be prominent in the short-term."
      • Under a low-risk scenario, assuming only a short-lived impact from the crisis, GDP could grow by 1.1 percent, just half the bank's 2.2-percent growth forecast published in December.
      • At 1050 GMT the rouble-denominated MICEX index was up 2 percent and the dollar-denominated RTS was up 2.6 percent.
      • Hail to Mr. Putin, he saved his rouble. Can he hold? Perhaps, many may learn as well in his faith of one’s value if mergers fail.
      Mr. Putin, how do see the inequality and revival of growth by its means on sustainability and stability?
      And Mr. Obama where will you value your dollar after QE broke its line on ROE?
      Monetarist and totalitarian are competing on the application on productivity at the expense of it populace or benediction to its sovereign is soon to be known; and I hope World Bank could stop disparage competition and keep it data on the digits of stability and sustainability. East-West confrontation may not a bad thing if monetarist cannot balance its books.
      May the Buddha bless you?

    6. CommentedVelko Simeonov

      The Idea that Russia will undertake a direct attack on a NATO country (Poland, the Baltics..) is absurd. The idea that there is a single unified democratic wolrd pitted against Russia is also absurd. Also, to paint the actions of the northatlantic comunity over the past 2 decades as dressed in white and russian actions as utterly and completely sinister is also absurd. The entire article is biased, shallow and thus rather irrelevant. This does not mean that the russians are right (they did invade an independent country and took some of its territory against all international norms and standards). However the americans were just as wrong when they attacked, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afganistan..... I see no mention of those events in the article, except to tell us again that Kosovo is not Crimea (in fact it is, as both actions were undertaken without a security council resolution, which makes them both just as illegal in terms of international law).

    7. Commentedj. von Hettlingen

      Mr. Michnik will not be the last person to call Vladimir Putin, the "Russian Godfather". In his 14 years in power, Russia has become a mafia state, built on a political system, in which it is difficult to distinguish between government activities and organised crime.
      It is a far cry from Putin's claim to have brought stability and security to Russia. Even the Kremlin has admitted that in some parts of the country government officials and police have merged with criminal gangs, involved in arms trafficking, money laundering, racketeering, extortion and kickbacks, suitcases full of money and secret offshore bank accounts.
      Following the wikileaks in 2010, US diplomatic cables described Russia as a "corrupt, autocratic kleptocracy" centred on Vladimir Putin's leadership, who created a state run by people he knows and trusts, who aim at enriching themselves. Government officials, oligarchs and criminals are bound together to create a "virtual mafia state", while Putin plays the role of a "godfather" - "capo di tutti capi". He divids the spoils and prevents turf wars between rival clans. His mafia-like behaviour was quite evident in the Crimea annexation. Armed men wearing unmarked uniforms were deployed, instead of official soldiers. Their thuggish behaviour was to intimidate those, who were critical of Moscow and to oversee the swiftly arranged referendum, to justify the land grab.
      The most significant incident, which had damaged Russia's image in the international community was the death of Sergei Magnitsky. As an auditor at a Moscow law firm he discovered a massive fraud by Russian tax officials and police officers. He found out how some Russian companies were registered to new owners and, while money - some $230 million in total - was changing hands, large rebates and VAT claims were allegedly laundered through Russian banks and appropriated by a group of tax and police officials. After reporting the theft to the authorities, he himself was detained in 2008 on suspicion of aiding tax evasion, and died in custody on 16 November 2009 at the age of 37.

    8. CommentedEdward Ponderer

      Surely Mr. Michnik is correct, but sure Mr. Hermann is even more so -- and more so in a critically important way. For only true consensus, by a true world body that concerns itself with the world, not distortions and back-door deals for national interests, can call one countries leader a "Godfather."

      Please know that I mean no insult in what I am about to say, but I think that the point has to be driven home on just how important a true world government, or at least round table, is to such problems as the Ukraine--rather than individual government or loose groups of them taking independent action.

      My father rest in peace, told the pointed joke of a man who asks a woman if she would sleep with him for one million dollars. When she answered in a happy affirmative, he then asked, "what about for fifty dollars?" When she answered angrily, "Now just what kind of a woman do you think I am?!" he answered, "That we've already established, now we are negotiating price."

      Shall America act? If certain events required a similar action by the United States, whatever the formal excuse, to stop an sudden shut off of energy supplied that threatened to destroy the US economy in a matter of weeks -- do you think that it wouldn't act? And like the Russian speaking Crimean population created by the Czars, how exactly did an English-speaking population end up in the Falkland Islands, 10,000 miles away from England and just off the coast of Argentina? And Europe in all its colonial glory? China in Tibet? etc. etc.

      And with all due respect, one can't help remembering an earlier, much worse Godfather, Stalin's suppression of Poland began in the approach of the Russian army against Hitler's troops. Stalin told the Polish partisan's to begin the fight as a fifth column, and they would then join in with a new front. That new front never came, and the partisan's were slaughtered while sending desperate messages to the Russians, "Where are you." The Russians finally arrived when the Germans had been weakened by slaughtering off the partisans. It then was easier to beat the German's, while simultaneously eliminating the potential armed struggle against the puppet government they themselves would set up in Poland. Ah, but this Russian Godfather too had a president. For it wasn't that much before that the Jewish partisans of the Warsaw ghetto uprising were similarly betrayed by the Polish partisans.

      While we remain independent self-interested groups, there can be no real consensus, no real moral high ground, for we all have dirty hands. But only in a truly whole and mutually responsible world--where a participant in a past evil is justified by the supporting presence of that past victim, can any secure and morally sound action take place in this global, interactive civilization of ours.

      Till then, it will remain a matter of "How many troops has the Pope," and this fragmented powers of this world don't even have anything vaguely resembling the moral standing that a pope is to represent. Godfather, yes, pope ("father"), no...

    9. CommentedZsolt Hermann

      It is interesting how one-sided the opinions and analysis about the Ukrainian conflict has been either trying to convict or justify the Russian actions, and also either fully justify or convict the Western maneuvers.
      I think the truth is somewhere in the middle.
      There are simply no "good guys" out there.
      The Western, capitalistic society has been invading the world basically starting with the Marshall plan, through economic, financial, cultural and military tools, while the remaining strongholds of the previous Communist sphere, or the Middle Eastern nations, cultures are a bit more obvious, acting through brutal, military methods, although they also have their "soft power" and covert operations.
      But basically it does not matter which "ism", nation, or even which individual we choose.
      Our inherent human nature, that only cares for self-interest, self-profit is driving us, we are raised and brainwashed to act through ruthless competition and succeed at the expense of others.
      This human nature, attitude built the competitive, constant growth economic system that has now started consuming itself, and as the human and natural resources started running out, the hustle for final morsels and survival started.
      Even in the previous polarized, fragmented world it would lead to very tense stand-off, possible war, but in today's global, integral world, where everybody depends on everybody else this path could explode into a World War before we can even understand what has happened.
      The Ukrainian conflict took only a few weeks to evolve, and even this weekend there were multiple hot-spots around the world with provocative military exercises, missile launches, more and more people protesting on the streets, and we can be certain that under the surface much more, and potentially even more dangerous scenarios are brewing.
      We are sleep-walking into an unprecedented global disaster, which can trigger terrible, global scale suffering by any facet of the global crisis, even without pulling a trigger.
      All through our history we tried changing the world around us, we experimented with different economical, social systems, governing bodies, but we never tried changing ourselves.
      Now we are at crossroads, unless we change ourselves, and then build a new human society based on a new, more "humane" human being, there might not be any world, or future to change any more.

        CommentedHayda do Baydy

        You can crossing a road and a car will end your life. But certainly neither the car nor the street were created to end it :)

        You see, neither should you play God in your thoughts about the human suffering :) You could end like a dictator :)

        But surely, the misuse of the free world after the Cold War with a KGB mind and efficiency didn't work out.

    10. CommentedKarl E

      You all miss the point. This has little to do with Ukraine. Ukraine is just a vehicle used to get closer to the real target which is Russia and its energy resources.
      Russia is not, and has never been, any threat to west. Putin's Russia is, however, one of the last obstacles for the neocon bankers' "Full Spectrum Dominance". (I can recommend to read the books by Willam Engdahl. They will give you a new perspective on the events in Ukraine and in the world).
      How can you criticize a leader for wanting to keep the control of his country's money-system, resources, foreign policy and security?
      There are not many left in the world who still have the possibility (and ability) to do so. The last one who tried in the USA was assassinated in 1963.
      Yes, with power comes responsibility and temptations. But when it comes to corruption, politicians in America and the EU should be careful with throwing stones in their own glasshouse.
      Regarding the domestic policy, Putin has done more for the Russians than most other leaders have done for their people. Just think about what every public protest is against in the west - wages/taxes and work-opportunities.
      With 13% flat tax (6% for individual entrepreneurs) and with companies having a hard time to find ANY employees, poverty and unemployment are not any issues for the folks on the streets. Furthermore, people are not yet slaves to the banks through credits.
      On Crimea, pensioners will get a 400% hike in their pensions after the reunification with Russia.
      Ukraine has been a "free country" since 1991. To blame Russia for their lost possibilities is neither fair nor true.
      Now they will see what it means to live in a country under the financial austerity rules of the IMF and the EU. It will not take long before we will see another uprising there. Let's see then how the American appointed government will use their new "National Guard" to handle those demonstrations. Actually, let's first see how the "free elections" will be carried out.

        CommentedHayda do Baydy

        KARL E

        And in the Soviet Union they lived happy in rows for products, without the knowledge about toilet paper :)

    11. CommentedPaulo Sérgio

      Basically,Moscow took control of a strategically important Naval access point - which makes up a tiny portion of the Crimean Peninsula - for the Black Sea and onwards into the Mediterranean, and the West was naive enough to think they wouldn't do it -- even as Rostov-on-Don, or any other point of the eastern Black Sea coastline of the troubled Caucasus Russian region. I see both countries claim Crimea, which means military & economic power dictate the way these things pan out -- not international law. Like Georgia, a consequence of the war in Iraq.

        CommentedHayda do Baydy

        It is originally Ukrainian. Even "Volgorad" you can spell as Ukrainian Vil'horod, while the name of the river Volga is originally spelled Voloha / Волога or with a closed syllable Vil'ha / Вільга, which is a word from the Ukrainian language. It means the Moistness.

        You see, the Muscovite propaganda about "ethnic Russians" means nothing else that say have in mind the former "citizens of the Soviet Union". They live even in Germany in a large number.
        Like the term "Russian" means the former citizen of the European state Rus' / Русь.
        The proper name “Russia” comes from it.
        But the nowadays Russia with the capital Moscow comes from the Golden Horde, which has destroyed the European state Rus'.
        Hence, the proper name of this "Russia" is Rosia. This Rosia comes from the Mongolian Strom, which is an aphorism of the Islamic taking of the Silk Road.
        But more essential, that this Russia, thus Rosia, is a creation from Pyotr the First on the basis of the military state Prussia, which was built on an massacre of the ancestors of Lithuanians. Prussia has remained the archenemy of France (Napoleon) and the modern values of Europe.
        From a Prussian lineage had come the last czars of czarist Russia. Which has given the basis for the Stalin-Hitler Pact...
        You see, in a larger picture for a takeover of Europe, it fits very well :)
        Take in mind, that the Kremlin pays alone for Russia Today over 400 million for propaganda in the USA. Like the propaganda from Stalin has in the West worked very well. And now you have such an appearance like the Tea Party. It can be much more powerful for Putin than an aircraft-carrier.

    12. CommentedHayda do Baydy

      The world economy conquered by a mafia with the head Putin.

      That would be another reading of the occurrences, which lies behind of Putin's "strong Russia".
      Such a reading gives you a well accounted base to act internationally in a powerful and more modern manner, reforming even our global-ship.
      Hereby it is clear, that you don't destroy the mafia by beheading.
      Mafia that is a parasite on society and its economy. Putin plays with the mafia myth, allegedly helping poor people against an unjust system.
      But don't be mistaken if you feel unjustly treated, while Putin, thus the mafia, is the exploiter of an unjust system.
      That's why the former president Yanukovych hasn't improved the legal system in Ukraine with the help of Putin’s friend V.V. Medvechuk, while former KGB lawyer.
      Here might, at the end, even be based the barbed hook of the critic from Snowden and Glenn Greenwald. All the more, if the critic is in a way for you reasonable, while the mafia as parasite can therefore better exploit it, and, furthermore, without such a resistance from the population, hence democratic establishments, rather paralyzing with "those critics" the natural immune system, which would be otherwise more accordingly act.

    13. CommentedWilliam Hough

      Dear Mr. Michnik, thank you for your bravery in fighting communism and all your efforts for freedom in Eastern Europe; your words are golden! Dzienkuje bardzo!

    14. CommentedLuis De la Garza

      Mr Adam Michnik:

      I guess that maybe I don't understand politics but please explain this to me like I'm a 4 year old. Was Crimea really happy being part of Ukraine? Why do you think this whole confict stasrted in the first place. The people who live in Criimea and Ukraine, are they not Russians? Do all of them speak the same language? If so, what is so wrong with Putin thinking that it would be a good idea to be reunited? I mean, put yourself in his shoes and you'll se that the man actually has a point. What about Buush invading Irak? Did both countris have the same language or were bouth countries once united as was thhe case with the U.S.S.R? I would love an explanation.

        CommentedInna Thorn

        The conflict started, because Ukraine was going through transition and was unstable, Russia who has key interests in this country and the region took the opportunity to grab part of Ukraine to reinstate its geopolitical force and show who is in charge. All of this was done against all possible international and bilateral laws. If not for Russia, people of Crimea would not have had this mockery of a referendum in the first place.

    15. Commentedhari naidu

      I think Michnik is demonstrating the historical differences between Slavs (eastern & western) and today's Catholic ideology. In spite of the Solidarity revolution, Poland is still not a secular state.
      Putin is utilizing this inherent Slavic mind-set to conjure the glory of Russia and its Orthodox Church.

      Neither (US) Beltway pundits nor modern Europeans have any idea of what's driving this Russian mind-set. And that I suppose is the most dangerous aspect of the emerging catharsis in east-west relationship.

    16. CommentedLukasz Adach

      Mr. Putin is acting like rouge not Godfather but why not, current situation allows it. When we're watching behaviour of 28 European and 1 American governing persons, what we can deduct? They're acting surprised because each their move means that world's order is gonna change.
      And they will stop to be beneficiary of today's balance of world. Mr. Putin noticed it. The Union can play safe what will be first step to break-up. Other way Eastern Europe can boxing with Russia. But when the electorate feel costs of boxing they will outplace governments. All of it is matter of Union's system value.

    17. CommentedMohamed Mehenoun

      What's the différence between this and the invasion of Irak ?

        CommentedInna Thorn

        No part of Iraq was annexed by US or other state. Crimea, a part of Ukraine, was annexed by Russia. This is the key difference.

        CommentedKarthik Tadepalli

        There are similarities, one has to admit, but it's acknowledged that Bush got into a war because he wanted a bump in approval for the midterms (riding on post 9/11 sentiment) and for reelection. He had no grand plans of U.S. territorial expansion. In claiming de facto ownership over Crimea, and with his provocative speech, Putin seems to have demonstrated his expansionist plans. That's the real worry, now. Crimea is over and done with, even if the U.S. wants to maintain a pretence of fierceness. It's what happens next that worries people.

    18. CommentedGerry Hofman

      When Ukraine fell to the mobs of protesters in the streets, right after a peace deal had been struck that would have left his preferred President in control there, Putin must have decided, we may have lost Ukraine but you' re not going to get my naval base as well. In doing this he did not act like a mafia boss, but like someone who decided that he's going to get something back for everything that he's lost. By doing this he also showed that he's not entirely helpless against all this' democracy' that's being used to put him into a corner. Perhaps we should pay a little more attention to precisely what groups have come to power there in Kiev. Russia's point of view may be strongly colored, but likely so is ours. Svoboda is know to have fascist roots, unless the west starts opening the eyes we just could be in for a real nasty surprise when they decide to revive their old nuclear production facilities.

        CommentedInna Thorn

        Like Svoboda is ruling Ukraine. There is no need for paranoia. Presidential elections are set for May 25th, let Ukraine have this opportunity instead of being torn by a brotherly Russia.

    19. CommentedMarko Vujicic

      Incredibly simplistic point of view. You, Mr. Michnik, were brainwashed and are drowning in historical inaccuracies and moronic lack of depth. I recommend retirement from public opining. But I wish you the best.

        CommentedDov Fowler

        The point of view shared by many Russians and Ukrainians is that Ukraine changed one crooked government for another crooked government.