What was "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century"? The rise of Nazi Germany? The spread of genocide as a tool of state power? Some might say it was the crushing of a host of nations by the totalitarian Soviet Union, at the cost of millions of lives. But not Russian President Vladimir Putin. For him, the greatest catastrophe was not the Soviet Union's rise but its collapse -- an event that freed 14 of those nations, from Latvia to Kyrgyzstan, from Moscow's domination. "The old ideals were destroyed," Mr. Putin lamented during his annual state-of-Russia address on Monday.Read the whole thing.
Most accounts of Mr. Putin's speech focused on the passages intended for Western consumption: his claim that "the development of Russia as a free and democratic state" is now his highest priority; his assurance to Russian and foreign business executives that their investments will not be seized by rapacious authorities, despite the state's recent confiscation of the country's largest oil company; his announced plans to strengthen political parties and make the state-controlled media more independent.
Yet the former KGB officer's nostalgia for the former Soviet empire seemed as telling as any of his promises. So did his denunciation of the "disintegration" of Russia before he came to power, which he defined as the "capitulation" of granting autonomy to Chechnya and the "unrestricted control over information flows" that allowed private business executives to operate newspapers and television networks. Mr. Putin has reversed both of those liberalizations -- in Chechnya's case, by means of an ongoing war that has killed tens of thousands.
Friday, April 29, 2005
The Old Ideals
In the Washington Post, a consideration of Mr. Putin's Verdict: