Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Old Agenda

In the JC (subscription required), ex-Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky tells Jenni Frazer in an interview given at his home in Cambridge, England, that "dark days are back in Russia". As Frazer writes, Bukovsky "is arguably the most famous non-Jewish Soviet dissident after Sakharov." From the interview:
[Bukovsky] was specifically asked to go to Downing Street in order to brief Prime Minister Tony Blair's private secretary on the case of the fallen oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the now-imprisoned former boss of the Yukos oil empire.

Khodorkovsky, like many of the oligarchs, is Jewish, a fact which Bukovsky sees as yet one more reason for the nomenklatura to attack them and whip up popular domestic opinion against them.

"The case is political. There's no doubt about it. And it's outrageous. At the beginning of the '90s, the Russian government identified certain offshore zones as tax-deductible areas, and gave them benefit status. They were economically deprived areas, and Yukos was one of the companies which took advantage of the tax benefits. But when Putin came to power, the government announced that these tax benefits were cancelled and that those who had benefitted in the past would be obliged to pay the money back. It was done solely to punish successful businessmen for their independence. It was vengeance, pure and simple, and political opportunism."

But besides briefing Downing Street about Khodorkovsky, Bukovsky drew attention to more general issues in the former Soviet Union. He paints a bleak picture: "deterioration of human rights, a deliberate whipping-up of spy-mania, xenophobia, the persecution of foreigners -- and anti-Semitism. A regime which is oppressive internally usually becomes aggressive externally. It's clear that the objective is to try to restore the old Soviet Union as far as is physically possible."


He is both weary and cynical about the lack of protest from the international community: "There is a need for an alternative source of oil and gas and, because of the instability in the Middle East, the West turned to Russia. And, second, Bush announced his global war on terror and the Russians were smart enough to jump on the bandwagon and made themselves indispensable. I doubt that Russia is important to the so-called anti-terrorist coalition. They have their own agenda."

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