To advertise on this space
Per inserzioni pubblicitarie
Um hier Werbung zu machen


All the news not fit to print
To advertise on this space
Per inserzioni pubblicitarie
Editorial correspondence | Back to Politics | Back to the world news
TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Articles after 2005
Gambling in Central Asia
Russia's mess
Do not celebrate the Soviet invasion
Putin's empire
Putin's choice
Lukoil on the rise
Putin vs the oligarchs
Russian hypocrisy on Palestine and Chechnya
The Soviet Union left behind a large free-for-all arsenal of biological weapons
Putin to the rescue
Russia's parliamentary elections: Machiavelli's lessons still work
Russia's own Kosovo: the Caucasus
Russia's power struggle towards the 2000 elections
The danger of Russia
Western capitalists experimented with the lives of ordinary Russians
Power struggle at the Kremlin

  • (November 2005) Gambling in Central Asia. A couple of centuries ago, Central Asia became the unwilling center of the "great game" fought between Russia and Britain. They both tried to establish their supremacy over the mostly tribal and Islamic peoples of the steppes. Eventually, the Soviet Union annexed most of the area. Britain was left with control over Afghanistan, but eventually the Soviet Union tried to swallow that too. (Interestingly, that was the last straw that broke the camel's back: the Soviet Union collapsed after failing to annex Afghanistan). More than a century earlier, China had already taken Turkestan, which is now called Xinjiang. By the end of the Russian civil war (1920), the West had largely lost control of this area. This situation remained more or less stable until the collapse of the Soviet Union, when all the republics of Central Asia (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikstan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan) declared independence.
    Forgotten for a century within the Russian empire, these countries are now again entities to deal with. They happen to be at the intersection where Islam, Russia and China meet. Add the global reach of the West, which is now represented by the USA instead of Britain. (The USA maintains a military base in Kyrgyzstan and thousands of soldiers in Afghanistan: one wonders how Americans would feel if China maintained a military base and thousands of soldiers on the other side of the Mexican border).
    The new game among the powers is for control of the new Central Asian republics. The USA is torn between its commitment to spreading democracy (only Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia are truly democratic) and its strategic interest in supporting regimes that distanced themselves from Russia (all of them, although to varying degrees). "Communist" China loves these Central Asian dictatorships which are basically applying its very model (one-party capitalism) and therefore views as brothers. Right now Russia is too weak and unstable to exert any serious influence on those governments, but, knowing Russian history, nobody (not even Russian citizens themselves) believe that Russia has truly resigned itself to losing those territories forever.
    The Central Asian republics expect Russia to try to return some day, and are afraid of the booming Chinese empire. Thus their alliance with the USA. Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan are strong supporters of the USA. Others like to have the USA in the neighborhood the same way that West Germany used to like it: as a deterrent against the big power next door.
    No power has ever considered Central Asia overwhelmingly significant. But Central Asia has a way of changing the history of the world by periodically emitting "barbaric" hordes that destabilize powerful empires. The Huns were largely responsible for causing the shock waves of Barbarians that eventually overthrew the Western Roman Empire. The Mongols were the most famous of such hordes, but the Turks were no less effective in destroying well-established nations (they are the ones who eventually destroyed the Eastern Roman Empire). The Moghuls went on to create a large empire in India. And just when we thought that we had run out of the region's Barbarians, the warlords of Afghanistan caused the collapse of the Soviet Union and, barely a decade later, Barbarians coming from Afghanistan attacked the USA on its own soil, a feat that no power had achieved during the two World Wars or the Cold War.
    Thus that grey area in the middle of nowhere (far from all oceans and from all imperial capitals) has always cost dearly to those that ignored it.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
    Back to the world news | Top of this page

  • (November 2005) Russia's mess. Russia has a tradition of making colossal mistakes that keep it from becoming the superpower that it should be, given its resources and its extension. Russia also has a tradition of being fooled and betrayed by the West. Putin is probably doing its best to make sure that Russian history does not repeat itself, but the results so far are mixed.
    Few world leaders envy Putin's job. Russia is still reeling from painful conversion to capitalism, dealing with a Caucasus region in turmoil, incapable to break the isolation of its Far East, haunted by Vast masses of poor people in the country side, surrounded by a number of former communist states (Ukraine, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia) who have enthusiastically adopted USA-style democracy, abandoned by former allies that took the first chance to join the rival alliance (NATO), despised by the new nations of Central Asia that had long been oppressed by Russian colonists, etc.
    The Chinese and the Eastern Europeans are getting rich much faster than the Russians, and this is embarrassing for the country that used to pay their bills and provide for their "protection".
    Good news are scarce for Russia. It has few friends around the world (basically, only Chirac, now that Schroeder is gone).
    Mired in its own struggle for survival, Russia has become largely irrelevant on the international scene. It has adopted a very pragmatic foreign policy (e.g., excellent ties with both Israel and Iran) and strives for stability at all costs at its borders (but it doesn't get it). Basically, the USA and Russia are in opposite stages.
    Basically, the USA is internally so stable and strong that it can devote energies and money to the outside world, whereas Russia is so unstable and weak internally that it cannot afford to deal with the outside world.
    The relationship between the two powers is interesting. Putin never misses an opportunity to criticize Bush, but, de facto, it has assented to both USA invasions (Afghanistan and Iraq). Putin even put pressure on Iran to get rid of its nuclear program, making a bold proposal (move that program to Russia). De facto, Putin is fully cooperating with Bush, and is letting him do everything the Texan gunslinger likes. The reason is probably simple: 1. the Bush wars cause the price of oil to go up, which benefits the Russian economy; 2. the Bush wars distract both the world's public opinion and the world's terrorists so that Russia can continue annihilating Chechnya. Putin doesn't realize that Russia, once again, is being fooled by the West.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
    Back to the world news | Top of this page

  • (May 2005) Do not celebrate the Soviet invasion As the "allies" prepare to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Nazi Germany's defeat by the USA, Britain and the Soviet Union, both the politicians and the masses need to restore order in the historical facts.
    Hitler invaded several countries, but Stalin was no less brutal. The Soviet Union attacked Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, besides Ukraine that had already been annexed and Poland, that Stalin split with Hitler. The peoples of Eastern Europe have always considered the Soviet Union as the real enemy (in fact, Hitler was initially welcomed as a liberator in Ukraine). History books have been lying for decades, based on the fact that the Soviet Union did contribute to defeat Hitler and on the fact that communist parties in the West helped propagate the lies.
    It is time to restore the truth: the Soviet Union was no less It did win the war, but that was a mixed blessing: for millions of people, it meant 60 years of slavery under communism. Nothing to celebrate about.
    See also Hastings, Max : "Armageddon" (2004).
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
    Back to the world news | Top of this page

  • (November 2004) Putin's empire. In recent speeches, Putin has made no mystery of his intention to 1. concentrate all power into his hands, and 2. return to Russia's imperial grandeur.
    Putin, Yeltsin and the old Soviet leaders have something in common: they thought and think that the imperial power of Russia comes before the ordinary lives of its citizens. Yeltsin tolerated crime and corruption but did not tolerate Chechnya's secession: the main evil for him was a loss of a piece of Russia, not the thousands of people killed by the mafia and not the billions of rubles stolen by the oligarchs. None of these leaders has tried to provide Russia with a decent judicial system. Ordinary people are still largely powerless in the face of widespread injustice. Putin, like Stalin, has managed to create a vibrant economy, but, at the same time, like Stalin, has made sure that the state "owns" it (and the capitalists have been offered the choice between exile and prison). Faithful to the fundamental dogma of imperial Russia, Putin has renewed the war in Chechnya. He frequently compares with it with the USA's war against Osama bin Laden's terrorists. But the Chechen terrorists do not want to destroy the Russian state: they simply want independence. Al Qaeda is fighting to destroy the USA (and, eventually, all non-Islamic states), as proven by the fact that the USA has done what Al Qaeda originally asked (that the USA withdrew all its soldiers from Saudi Arabia) but Al Qaeda has continued its attacks.
    Thus the struggle for control of the great Russian energy empires (see Lukoil on the rise and Putin vs the oligarchs), the escalating Islamic civil war in the southern regions of Russia (see Putin's choice) and Putin's support for Belarus' president Alexander Lukashenko, the last dictator of Europe, appear to the West as part of a campaign to reconstitute, de facto, the old Soviet order.
    So is the recent coup in Ukraine. The pro-western opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko won the elections (according to exit polls and to international observers) but the government declared pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych the winner; and Russia was the first (and only) country to congratulate him.
    (It is quite amazing that, after so many centuries, Russian leaders still display the same arrogant attitude towards their neighbors. Putin took it for granted that he was entitled to change the outcome of the Ukrainian elections and impose his will to the masses the same way the czars and the communist premiers did in the past).
    Putin's strategy seem to ridicule both the Americans and the Europeans. Bush called him "a friend". The Europeans were dreaming of an eventual entry of Russia in the European Union. Both must be having a cold shower: Russia is still the second most powerful military power in the world, not easily pressured by the USA, and Russia has no intention of becoming a piece of the European Union, but, rather, to eventually absorb the European Union into its orbit.
    The attempted coup in Ukraine (following the partial but permanent occupation of Moldova and Georgia, and the tight control over Belarus) is likely to be the first move in a new kind of "cold war", that will pit Russia against the European Union for the control of Europe. Putin may sense that the USA is less and less interested in Europe (see ( APEC is the real deal), which opens a historic opportunity for Russia: when is the last time that Russia was the main military power of Europe? It never happened before. For sixty years, the USA army concealed this very simple fact: for the first time in history, Russia is the main power in Europe. If the USA withdraws, as it is doing now, it is almost inevitable that Europe will fall in the Russian sphere of influence. (See also The East-West divide in the new European Union).
    But it is not only Putin's imperial ambitions that create problems. There is no question that Ukraine is two countries in one: the vast majority of the Eastern Ukraine voted for closer ties with Russia, while the Western part voted for closer ties with Europe. In a sense, the West creates its own problems (Yugoslavia, Ukraine, not to mention Iraq, Sudan and many other places around the world) by enforcing borders that are accidents of history. In Ukraine, as in Serbia and in many other places, the population is split along ethnic and linguistic (and sometimes religious) lines. The West has adopted the dogma that borders are sacred, no matter how they came to be. Sometimes it was the stupidity of a colonial power (Britain in Sudan and in Iraq), sometimes it was the rationality of a communist regime (Tito in Yugoslavia, Stalin in Ukraine), but the result is the same: artificial borders that do not represent the way people want to live. Serbs want to live with Serbs, Croats want to live with Croats, Russians want to live with Russians. The best way to defuse crises around the world that often backfire against the West (or, at least, force the West to become unpopular among minorities oppressed, yes, by democracy) is to redraw the borders. Just like Iraq should be three countries, and Bosnia should be split among Serbia, Croatia and the Muslims, so Ukraine should be split: let eastern Ukraine federate with Russia (as it was before Stalin redrew the borders) and and let western Ukraine (which historically was part of the Austrian-Hungarian sphere of influence) become the next member of the European Union.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
    Back to the world news | Top of this page

  • (September 2004) Putin's choice. After the Beslan massacre, the downing of two civilian planes and an attack on the Moscow subway, Russia is virtually on the verge of civil war. Chechen terrorists have been staging some of the most successful attacks in the history of terrorism, not to mention some of the most cruel. Rhetoric does not help bring back the dead, and does not help defeat the terrorists. But rhetoric is all that Putin has offered so far. No wonder that the situation has only gotten worse.
    Putin is the man who was quoted as saying that Russia only needs 20 years of peace and would become the richest country in the world, and the problem is that it never had 20 years of peace. It sounds like a curse, and Putin himself sounds like its new victim. Putin desperately needs peace if he wants to turn Russia into a rich country. He may have believed too much into keeping Chechnya an "internal affair".
    Putin liked to compare Russia's situation to the USA's: they were both attacked by terrorists. But the difference is striking: the USA has never been attacked again in three years, whereas attacks on Russia have increased rapidly. Clearly, Putin must have done something terribly wrong compared with the USA.
    Putin joined France in criticizing the USA's policy of preemptive strike abroad. After the Beslan massacre, Putin's first comment was that Russia was entitled to strike abroad without waiting to be hit first: isn't this the same doctrine of the USA that he was criticizing two years ago?
    Russia is now rather in the same boat as Israel and India. These are three cases in which a nation made a decision that was morally wrong because it did not respect the will of the people (Israel occupied the Palestinian land, India did not allow Kashmir to join Pakistan, Russia did not allow Chechnya to secede) and now the issue has been hijacked by terrorists. The problem, of course, is that noone (least of all the Russians) want to negotiate with terrorists, and thus reward their acts. Russia is in the same boat with Israel and India: these are three countries that cannot admit the obvious because, today, it would mean rewarding terrorism. All three have to stick to their policy despite the fact that they know well it was the wrong policy from the very beginning.
    We agree. The world owes them. Every time a country bends to the terrorists (like Spain did in march 2004) it encourages more terrorism. Every time a country refuses to negotiate with terrorists, it encourages people to solve problems with words, not swords.
    We also agree because all these causes have been hijacked by radical Islam, the most imperialistic and racist ideology of our time. Islam has been expanding through word and sword at a pace that is virtually unmatched in modern history. Neither the USA nor the Soviet Union ever dreamed of expanding so rapidly. Islam has annexed countries such as Afghanistan, Lebanon, Sudan and Eritrea that were not Islamic (they were mostly Buddhist, Christian and Pagan). The last thing we need is an Islamic success in Chechnya, Kashmir, Palestine. In all these places the original issue has been turned into a holy war against the infidels. And resisting the Islamic holy war becomes more important than discussing the original issue (which in all three cases might expose the victim of terrorism as the original "terrorist", but that is now another story).
    Putin has shown that he does not know how to navigate this contradiction, just like Israel and India have not found a way to navigate it. All three nations are still victims of more and more brutal terrorist attacks.
    There is only one country that has been able to avoid terrorist attacks for three years: the USA. What has the USA done that is fundamentally different from Russia in Chechnya, India in Kashmir and Israel in Palestine? To start with, despite the claims of the anti-Americans, the USA is not as guilty. When Osama demands that the USA leave immediately the "holy land" of Islam, he finds a sympathetic audience in the Islamic world, but only to a point (even the dumbest Muslim realizes that there are many more Muslims in infidel countries than infidels in Muslim countries, so the Muslims have a lot to lose if we decide "everybody back to her/his own land"). From the point of view of the masses, the sins of the USA are far less serious than the crimes of Russia, Israel and India.
    The second reason is that the USA has struck back. While Israel, India and Russia have restrained themselves (for different reasons) and treated the Islamic war as a form of common crime, the USA has interpreted it as a foreign war. The USA has annihilated the regimes of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein (alas, it did not find the momentum to continue into Syria, and did not find the guts to pressure its own fascist allies, from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, to change regime). By comparison, Israel has been forced by the West to coexist with Syria in order to avoid another Middle Eastern war, but the real solution to its problem would be to change regime in Syria. India has been forced to stop short of invading Pakistan because it would start a nuclear war. Russia, fresh from the defeat in Afghanistan and the collapse of its empire, has limited its actions to Chechnya. It seems obvious that the USA has achieved some results (three years without a single terrorist attack, not even a suicide bomber in the streets of New York or a little bomb in one of the thousands of amusement parks) while Israel, India and Russia are constantly under fire.
    If the USA is fundamentally right in interpreting terrorism as a foreign, not domestic, problem, what should Israel, India and Russia do? Israel's problem is Syria: there is no way around it. Israel has refrained from "solving the problem" because the USA said so, but there is an obvious solution in search for a diplomatic excuse. India's problem is Pakistan: it needs to find a way to launch a joint clean-up operation with Pakistan's military forces, a groundbreaking agreement that would change forever the meaning of "cooperation" between neighbors. For example, India could work out a deal with Pakistan to split Kashmir for good "after" Pakistan lets India eradicate Islamic terrorists inside Pakistani territory.
    Russia's problem is admittedly more complicated because the terrorists operate from within (which justifies Putin's strategy to a extent). But, again the best solution might be to make it a foreign, not domestic, issue. As Chechen terrorists become more and more "religious", Russia's problem becomes, indeed, more and more "international", because it is fueled by the international faith of radical Muslims in the Islamic war.
    Both Russia and India should become less hypocritical and more helpful to the USA: Muslim support for all these "independence" struggles will stop only when Muslims become less "Muslim" and more "human beings". The final solution is the deafeat of radical Islam, which will only come with democracy and education, which will only come if there is massive "regime change" from Morocco to Iran.
    It is hypocritical and suicidal to condemn the USA for doing precisely what would help defeat the terrorists of Chechnya and Kashmir: turn the Islamic world into a prosperous and democratic region like western Europe (to name a region that used to be bloodier than Chechnya and Kashmir combined).
    Then it would be a lot easier (for both Russia, India and Israel) to return to the original issue in a more civilized tone. All three probably know that they will inevitably have to accept the will of the (Chechen, Kashmiri, Palestinian) people. They just can't do it for as long as those people are represented by Islamic terrorists.
    So far the Islamic terrorists have been smarter than the government of Russia.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
    Back to the world news | Top of this page

  • (May 2004) Lukoil on the rise. Vagit Alekperov is not as famous as his former colleague Michail Khodorkovsky, but enjoys two key advantages: he sits on 20 billion barrels of oil and gas reserves, and he is not in jail. Alekperov has not alienated the political power (read: Putin) and is thus one of the few "oligarchs" of Russia to have retained his privileges. A quiet pro-American policy may also get him what Putin could not get: the Iraqi oil fields that Saddam had promised to Russia. Even better: Lukoit makes no mysteries of its plans to "invade" the USA and compete directly with Chevron and Exxon in their own backyard.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
    Back to the world news | Top of this page

  • (October 2003) Putin vs the oligarchs. In october 2003, the Russian government froze the shares of national oil giant Yukos, following a power struggle between president Putin and Yukos' chief executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky (who owns 36.6% of the company), who had already been indicted of serious crimes in a gesture that many interpreted as political (the crimes are real, but just about every Russian magnate has committed the same crimes). Yukos is Russia's largest company and the world's fourth-largest producer of crude oil.
    This is not the first time that Putin confronts one of the "oligarchs", the people who got immensely rich in the aftermath of the fall of communism by buying state companies at ridiculous prices. When Putin seized power in Russia, Boris Berezovsky (who used to be the most influential of the oligarchs during the Yeltsin era) fled the country just in time to avoid being arrested for similar crimes. Gusinsky was actually the first one to be driven to exile.
    The forced removal of Khodorkovsky is another massive strike against the oligarchs, and will certainly deter other capitalists from crossing Putin's path. The richest men in RUssia (after Khodorkovsky) are all oil men: Roman Abramovich, Mikhail M Fridman, Viktor Vekselberg, Vagit Alekperov, all worth more than one billion dollars each.
    At the same time, Putin has also fired Aleksandr Voloshin, his chief of staff (formally, it is Voloshin who resigned). Voloshin was one of the architects of Russia's capitalism. This completes the political clean-up: now the Putin government is entirely run by Putin men (many of whom are veterans of the old KGB, the Soviet secret police).
    Putin is a charismatic leader. He is not a democrat, and perhaps will never be. But he is probably a sincere nationalist. Russia has 25% of the world's oil (30% of the world's natural gas, 20% of the world's precious metals, etc). It is potentially the richest country in the world. Putin knows this. In 2000 he told Russians: "We are a rich country of poor people". He also knows that communism wasted that wealth, and he knows that Yeltsin was robbed by the old communist nomenklatura and by the new capitalist mafia (the "oligarchs") of that wealth. Both the politicians and the oligarchs took advantage of the new opportunities created by the transition to the market economy and made sure that noone else could ever take advantage of them again. In addition, the oligarchs soon realized that, in a democracy, money can buy elections. It is no mystery that Yeltsin's 1996 reelection was in large part financed by Khodorkovsky, Berezovsky, Gusinsky, Abramovich, Potanin, and other capitalists in return for the sale (at ridiculously low prices) of giant state companies (a deal architected by Anatoly Chubais, the same one who had engineered the "voucher" scheme that created those fortunes in the first place).
    The next target in Putin's "purge" of the oligarchs might be Anatoly Chubais himself, who is currently head of Russia's state-owned power monopoly, and who was the man who architected the frantic transition to capitalism that created the oligarchs in the first place.
    Putin is on a mission to restore that wealth to Russia. Just like Putin is on a mission to restore dignity and unity to Russia: Chechnya is a threat to the very essence of Russia, the nation of many nations that brings barbarians of the steppes into Europe. The collapse of the Soviet Union created an identity crisis for Russia: if the Soviet Union is dissolved because it is a messy union of different ethnic groups, why shouldn't Russia follow the same fate, since Russia was already such a messy ethnic union when it became the core of the Soviet Union? Putin is also trying to reestablish the identity of Russia as the European liaison not the world emperor of those tribes that are not European at all. The state needs to reappropriate the country's wealth if it wants to successfully reestablish itself as a desired option for the non-Russian ethnicities, and, viceversa, the state needs to regain control over the runaway provinces if it wants to appeal to capitalists. So Putin's vision is not democratic at all, but it makes a lot of sense from the point of view of Russian nationalism. And, contrary to most predictions, it is likely to succeed: give Putin ten years to carry out his program without significant political opposition, and Russia will become a world power again, but this time it will be a vibrant economic power, easily more powerful that the decaying European Union to its west.
    The december elections gave Putin virtually a political monopoly over Russia: his party United Russia won 37% of the votes and now controls about 50% of the 450 seats of the Parliament (the Liberal Democratic Party is a close ally of United Russia, and its 12% share of the votes guarantees a massive majority in Parliament). Neither of the two parties that favored free-market reforms, Yabloko and Union of Right Forces, reached the 5% minimum to be represented in Parliament. The only opposition to Russia will remain the Communist Party, which won only 13% of the votes.
    Just like China has no intention of antagonizing the USA in its centrally-controlled conversion to the market economy, so Putin is very happy to work with the USA: the end justifies the means.
    Few people noticed who is succeeding Khodorkovsky at the helm of Yukos: Steven Theede, a USA citizen (See, for example, this article).
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
    Back to the world news | Top of this page

  • (October 2003) Russian hypocrisy on Palestine and Chechnya. Russia has consistently voted against Israeli policies in Palestine, defending the Arab thesis that Israel is using terroristic tactics, killing innocent civilians and assassinating political leaders without any legitimacy. Surprise: Russia has been doing the exact same things in Chechnya. The difference, of course, is that Russia does not allow news of its massacres to spread around the world. But the current headcount is 200,000 people killed in Chechnya's civil war, compared with 2,000 Palestinians killed in the current intifada. The Russians have been 100 times more lethal than the Israelis. The Russians make no mystery of wanting to assassinate political leaders of the insurrection, just like Israel does. The difference is that the Israeli army is much more efficient and precise than the Russian army, so Russia kills a lot more civilians than Israel. Israel has been accused of (and publicly condemned by Russia for) demolishing Palestinian houses: Russia has demolished entire cities, including the very capital of Chechnya.
    It is odd that Russia would antagonize a country like Israel that shares with Russia the same problem: an Islamic minority that was occupied a long time ago and that now wants to become independent, and is using terrorism as a weapon against the occupying force. If one is wrong, the other one is wrong too. If one is right, the other one is right too. Russia should decide which one it is: either ally with Israel against the common enemy, or grant Chechnya the same independence that Russia advocates for Palestine.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
    Back to the world news | Top of this page

  • (October 2000) The Soviet Union left behind a large free-for-all arsenal of biological weapons. Between 1945 and 1992, the Soviet Union produced the largest stockpile of biological weapons in the world, about ten times more than the USA. We now know that 60,000 Soviet scientists worked on biological weapons, as opposed to 3,400 American scientists (see this table). It is unknown what happened to that huge stockpile of biological weapons and what happened to those 60,000 Soviet scientists (A brief history of the Soviet biological weapons program).
    We do know that the Soviet Union used an island in the Aral Sea, Vozrozhdeniye, to carry out experiments on biological weapons and to bury the biological weapons that it did not want to develop. That island is probably the largest single deposit of anthrax in the world. Worse: the strains that are still alive on this island are the enhanced, virulent ones that are particularly murderous and possibly resistant to antibiotics. The Soviet Union did not take too many precautions, so today the anthrax and many other biological weapons are still alive. In fact, a terrorist may be able to just walk through the island and collect enough anthrax to kill an entire city. Today that island is shared by Uzbekistan and Kazakstan which, literally, don't know what to do with it.
    Besides the chances that a natural catastrophe spreads anthrax and the other germs around the world, and the chance that a terrorist "collects" them on purpose on the island, there is a growing possibility that laboratory experts can take those germs and use gene-splicing (a technique that is now as well-known and widely-available as steelmaking) to create even more harmful germs. The 60,000 Soviet experts that worked on those biological programs are all very capable of doing so.
    See the timeline of Russia
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
    Back to the world news | Top of this page

  • (March 2000) Putin to the rescue. Vladimir Putin (the winner with nearly 53% of the vote) succeeds Yeltsin as Russia's second freely elected president but will face the daunting task of proving to the people what Yeltsin failed to prove: that western-style democracy is better than communism. Russia is far worse today than it was when Breznev was ruling with iron fist. Corruption is rampant. Gangsters terrorize honest businesses. And Russia's prestige abroad has never been so low since the revolution. Putin seems to believe that the first step to salvage democratic Russia is to clean up the Kremlin. He is going to appoint a number of former KGB associates to top posts that will allow them to scrutinize the dealings of the Russian elite. The expectations are that Putin will enforce the rule of law among Russia's gangster-style capitalism and reduce the power of those capitalists. He can do this only with the help of the army, which so far has been democracy's number one victim. A quasi-police state seems to be Putin's favorite solution to the current anarchy. It wouldn't be surprising if Putin decided to learn from the southeast asian economies, all of which emerged from the third world thanks to "enlightned" dictators. Putin is also convinced that the West wronged Russia. The United States gave all the wrong advices and then ran away when the system collapsed. The West cannot be trusted. Russia has to develop its own economy for the sake of its own economy, not for the sake of friendship with the West. China is the model here. No doubts China has become de facto a capitalist country, but it has not changed its antagonistic stance towards the West. China's new capitalism serves China, not the West. Putin is likely to learn from China and send the American advisors packing. It would not be surprising if Putin revitalized the Communist Party. It would sound anathema to the West, but the truth is that Russia has only one party, and that is the communist party. All the other parties are federations of special-interest groups that have a life span of an election. The Communist Party is still there, and one Russia out of three voted for its presidential candidate, the most despised man in the Russian press: Zyuganov. This is precisely what ordinary Russians want: no Western interference, order, accountability, a national vision. Putin may turn out to be the right man at the right time. The West may not be too happy that Putin plans to serve Russia's interests... but that's what he was elected for.
    See the timeline of Russia
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
    Back to the world news | Top of this page

  • (December 1999) Russia's parliamentary elections: Machiavelli's lessons still work. The Yeltsin clique has won the elections. They have been involved in all sorts of scandals, they have waged a ruthless war that has killed thousands of Chechnyen civilians, they have destroyed the Russian economy, but in the end they made all the rights moves: they gave the people a leader (Vladimir Putin), they pitted their people against an enemy (Chechnyen terrorists), they divided the opposition by creating another party (The Unity block they used government-controlled media to smear their opponents with all sorts of unfounded charges, and they promised favors to just about everybody. Machiavelli would have been proud of them. The result was impressive:
    • the Communist Party of Gennadi Zyuganov lost 36 seats although it is still the largest party with 24% of the votes;
    • the Unity coalition (created three months ago and led by a Putin associate, Sergei Shoigu) won 23% of the votes;
    • the Fatherland-All Russia coalition of Yevgeny Primakov and Yuri Luzhkov, widely expected to win, got only 13% of the votes;
    • the Union coalition of right-wing parties (which includes all the politicians blamed with the collapse of the economy the rise of rampant capitalism and is likely to endorse Putin) won almost 9% of the votes; Sergei Kiriyenko commands this troop of desperados which includes Aleksandr Rutskoi (who led an armed uprising against Yeltsin in 1993) and Kirsan Ilyumzhinov (the president of a province who threatened secession from Russia);
    • Grigori Yavlinsky's Yabloco party got 6%, not surprisingly since he was the only one to criticize the war in Chechnya
    • the ultranationalists of Zhirinovsky won 6% of the votes
    • Viktor Chernomyrdin's Our Home Is Russia had only 1% of the votes
    Now the chances for Putin to succeed Yeltsin are very high. He is projected to have 45% of the votes, ahead of Zyuganov (20%) and Primakov (8%).
    See the timeline of Russia
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
    Back to the world news | Top of this page

  • (August 1999) Russia's power struggle towards the 2000 elections. The power struggle at the Kremlin is a unique phenomenon in the modern world that reminds us of other eras (the machinations of the French and English monarchies of a few centuries ago). Yeltsin has appointed yet another prime minister, Vladimir Putin, yet another candidate to succeed him.
    Everybody is thinking of the year 2000 elections. Yevgeny Primakov, pre-predecessor of Putin, has gained the alliance of the mayor of Moskow, Luzhkov, which many consider the second most powerful man in Russia (Gazprom accounts for most of Russia's gross national product, and for 25% of federal taxes, and Gazprom's chairman, Rem Vyakhirev, is a close ally of Luzhkov). Their alliance ("Fatherland-All Russia") is projected to win 25% of the vote, more than any other party. Stepashin will probably lead a reformist list, but his unlikely to represent any serious challenge to such a powerful alliance. Chernomyrdin has his own party, and of course the communist party is still feared by everybody.
    Addition. In November 1999, pollsters were projecting for the parliamentary elections: the Primakov-Luzhkov alliance with 20% of votes; Gennadi Zyuganov's communists with 15% of votes; Grigori Yavlinsky's "Yabloco" party with 11%. No other party seems to be close to win the minimum 5% required to qualify for seats in the Parliament, even if 28 parties are formally registered.
    Addition. In November 1999, pollsters were projecting for July 2000's presidential elections: Putin with 29% of the votes; Zyuganov with 20%; Primakov with 20%. Putin has used the war in Chechnya to distract voters from money-laundering investigations (close to a billion dollar may have been illegally shuttled out of Russia) and the continuing decline of the Russian economy.
    Addition. In December 1999 Anatoly Chubais, Boris Nemtsov and Sergei Kiriyenko formed a new party, the Union Of Right Forces, which is expected to get 7% of the national vote. They have all been disgraced by Russia's economic collapse, but their pro-western and pro-capitalist stand is nonetheless shared by some. They are unlikely to improve their standings, but they can serve a purpose in post-Yeltsin's Russia: only parties that obtain more than 5% of the vote enter Parliament, and it is expected that very few will manage. Those who manage will have to broker alliances. Chubais could be Putin's best man at his crowning.
    See the timeline of Russia
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
    Back to the world news | Top of this page

  • (August 1999) Russia's own Kosovo: the Caucasus. It started with the mighty warriors of Chechnya, who defied Russia's army from 1994 till 1996, and eventually won the war (Chechnya is virtually independent). Now the humiliation is deepening because Chechen warriors have crossed over the mountains and are invading neighboring Dagestan, another Muslim republic of the Russian Federation. These republics aspire to the same level of autonomy that sparked the Kosovo war, and Russia is likely to be as firm and thorough as Milosevic in its response. There will certainly be no independence for the Caucasus republics.
    The effect of the new unrest may actually be favorable to Russia. Georgia, Armenia and Azerbajan, the three republics that did gain independence when the Soviet Union collapsed, are all on the verge of instability. Georgia is formally ruled by Eduard Shavardnadze but is de facto partitioned in several warlordships. The region of Abkhazia has declared independence and expelled thousands of ethnic Georgians, and, surprise, Abkhazia is backed by Russia. Armenia is a base for the Russian army, and that tells how independent it is. One million azeris were expelled from the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbajan, under the iron rule of Heydar Aliyev, has managed to get poorer than Russia itself. Notwithstanding their immense problems, these countries have become strategic since the Caspian oil boom: the oil and gas pipelines will cross their territories, bringing trillions of dollars of oil and gas to energy starving Western countries. There are no doubts that Russia would very much like to re-annex these turbulent regions and gain full control over the flow of oil and gas to the West. But for one century Russia has underestimated the importance of Islam. Both Iran and Turkey are undermining the Russian influence in the region, and a general destabilization of the Caucasus could lead to unwanted consequences for Russia, possibly including an all-out invasion of Muslim forces well into Russian territory.
    See the timeline of Russia
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
    Back to the world news | Top of this page

  • The danger of Russia (May 1999). World history never witnessed before the case of a nation capable of destroying the world and at the same time ranking among the poorest countries in the world. Russia is becoming increasingly poor, as the economy slides into anarchy with no remedies in sight. Russia is one of the few spots of the world where life expectancy is decreasing, where even soldiers are under-nourished, where subpolar regions have no heating, where millions of workers have not been paid for months.
    To exacerbate the problem, Russians come from centuries of dictatorship (first the czars, then the communists, two rather similar systems): the Russian population has lived for centuries in a deep ignorance of what a democratic/capitalistic system is and how it works. Russians are siding with Milosevic because they were the first to carry out ethnic cleansing (in the Baltic regions when Stalin annexed them). Russians blame Gorbacev for the collapse of the Soviet Union, as if the Soviet Union was something to be proud of. Russians don't fully realize how much their satellite countries hated them, and how these countries completely erased any vestige of Russian domination. Other nations would be deeply aware of these facts. Russians are not aware of it because they were never "trained" to be proud of what is right and to be ashamed of what is wrong (democratically speaking). Russians even seem to respect their Parliament (well, they elected it), which mainly consists of clumsy demagogues who would be lucky to be hired as waiters in most European parliaments.
    Russia is still a vast empire that rules over hostile tribes: both in North Ossetia and in Dagestan, not to mention Chechnya, which are home to some 40 ethnic groups, Russians are deeply hated. Nonetheless, the average Russian citizen supports the occupation of those regions. This can only lead to violent confrontation.
    Now, where will economic poverty plus democratic ignorance plus ethnic disintegration lead Russia to? Most likely, to political anarchy. Sooner or later, Russia will start collapsing under its own weight. Right now Moscow is holding the country together, but the periphery is less and less dependent on Moscow. Vladivostok would be a lot better if its ties were with Japan and China, not with Moscow. Siberia would be a wealthy country as a Chinese supplier of oil and mineral resources. Most of European Russia would be better off as small independent economies in the style of the Czeck Republic and Hungary.
    What will happen to the nuclear arsenal? The likelyhood that Moscow will eventually be ruled by a crazy dictator is very high. The Roman empire, far more educated than the Russian empire, routinely produced crazy leaders which caused mass devastation. Moscow is likely to be run, sooner or later, by a nationalist who will preside over a failed economy and a disintegrating society: what else will he have left but to leverage on the nuclear arsenal to regain some internal control and some international respect?
    What can the world do to minimize the risks? Several measures are urgently needed: a defense system to protect from nuclear missiles, to be installed all over the world (as proof that these are indeed defense systems); a policy to buy back from Russia its nuclear arsenal, no matter what the cost (you disarm, we finance your reconstruction); a policy to foster international trade with each Russian region; a treaty to allow members of the Russian federation to declare independence, if they wish so.
    As long as Russia remains a poor country in the hands of incompetent leaders, its nuclear arsenal represents the greatest risk to peace in the world. And the greatest danger for the survival of the human race.
    See the timeline of Russia
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
    Back to the world news | Top of this page

  • (September 1998) Western capitalists experimented with the lives of ordinary Russians, more than with the Russian institutions. Unfortunately, the experiment has been a vast failure. Now the capitalists leave the ship that is sinking, but ordinary Russians will have to find a way to survive the disaster. It is not a pretty picture. No wonder that one can sense an anti-Western and anti-capitalistic reaction in the streets of Moscow. The mighty Soviet economy has simply been looted by a gang of government insiders skilled in bribing the appropriate officials. GDP has fallen by about 50% since 1990. The country basically produces only mineral resources, energy and weapons. Three out of four Russians (about 60 million people) live below the poverty line. Life expectancy (57 years) is one the lowest in the world. The pensions and savings of citizens have been dilapidated. Russia has been for a few years an American protectorate, forced to practice only three credos: price liberalization, privatization and currency stabilization. So much so that Russia has now some 2,700,000 legally registered private companies. In the meantime a few young and ruthless capitalists were ammassing huge fortunes and shipping them abroad (mainly through United States companies) (September 1999: Switzerland, then the US and the UK will start investigating the transfers of money from Russia to the West).
    Now Yeltsin has decided (or has been forced to decide) that it was time to regain independence and he has, de facto, returned to Gorbachev's economics: both Yuri Maslyukov and Viktor Gerashcenko, the new chief economists, hail from his age. Primakov, the new prime minister, embodies that spirit. Unfortunately, now they have to face a new, terrible power, the only tangible legacy of the American-style "reforms" of the Nineties: a business oligarchy that owns most of the Russian economy.
    Boris Fyodorov has been fired from the post of head of the Tax Office, which means that now no reformer is left in the high ranks of the Russian government. All of Primakov's men are communists.
    See the timeline of Russia
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
    Back to the world news | Top of this page

  • (April 1998) Power struggle at the Kremlin. Yeltsin fired prime minister Chernomyrdin (and his deputy Chubais) after Chernomyrdin became too prominent a politician and Yeltsin sensed that he was accumulating enough power to challenge him. Instead, Yeltsin appointed a 35-year old technocrat, Sergei Kiriyenko, and he's probably tempted to make that temporary appointment a permanent one (Yeltsin loves weak prime ministers, weak parliaments, weak democracies). Before analyzing how and why this happened, let's backtrack and doublecheck the current balance of power.
    Yeltsin certainly stole the show. But he is likely to be manipulated by other figures.
    For example, Kulikov (interior minister, hated by the generals who are still faithful to Khorzakov), and of course Chubais (the former chief of staff who orchestrated Yeltsin's reelection, after Yeltsin had fired him and mysteriously re-hired him).
    Yuri Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow, is probably another key figure. He ranks with Aleksander Lebed as one the most popular men in Russia, and, coincidence, Lebed was fired two days after Luzhkov criticized him for the first time. Moscow has always been the center of power (it boasts 6% of the russian population and 13% of the gross national product), and Luzhkov has turned his city government into one of the most successful investment companies in the country (it is a partner in literally hundreds of ventures, ranging from car manufacturing to restaurants to hotels to real estate), which translates into influential friends (most of Moscow's bankers and enterpreneurs, not to mention Vladimir Yakovlev, elected mayor of St Petersburg thanks to Luzhkov's support). Now he has started his own television channel, "Centre Television", and his own newspaper, "Rossiya", not to be left behind by his media-friendly rivals. It is rumoured that even Yeltsin's own motorcade has to ask for Luzhkov's permission to ride to the Cremlin.
    A man who has never been completely removed from power is Khorzakov, the ex interior minister, timely purged by Chubais, now allied to Lebed. He remains one of the most powerful men in the country thanks to his ties to the army and the ex-KGB (probably the only man who could pull a coupe).
    Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky are two capitalists who control 99% of Russian airwaves. They architected Khorzakov's dismissal and now Lebed's, after engineering Yeltsin's reelection. Yeltsin owes them. They represent the tip of the oligarchy of bankers and industrialists who control the economy. Berezovsky, in particular, has managed to have one of his men, Valentin Yumashev, appointed as the president's chief of staff, and to be appointed himself chairman of the Commonwealth of Independent States. He is strongly opposed by Chubais. His main rival is Vladimir Potanin, head of the Uneximbank group, who seems to support Luzhkov. Gusinsky (head of Most) is the main sponsor of Yavlinsky's socialdemocratic party. The other great capitalists are Rem Vyakhirev, head of Gazprom, who took Chernomyrdin's job and is reputed to be a personal friend of his, Vagit Alekperov of Lukoil (non-aligned), Michail Khodorkovsky of Menatep (non-aligned) and Alexander Smolensky of SBS-Agro (non-aligned).
    Aleksander Lebed, the general and national hero that was fired by Yeltsin after negotiating the truce with Checnia, when he was becoming too prominent a persona, enjoys the support of masses spread around the entire country. He is also backed by Berezovsky, if nothing else because they have a common enemy, Luzkhov.
    Reformers such as Boris Nemtsov and Grigory Yavlinsky remain highly unpopular and relatively isolated. The communist leader, Gennady Zyuganov, is currently topping the opinion polls, but this is likely to reflect more of a general sense of dissatisfaction with Yeltsin's clique than an actual determination to reinstate the communists in power.
    So, what happened in Moscow? Why did Yeltsin fire Chernomyrdin? Vox populi pointed to Boris Berezovsky as the man who masterminded this internal coupe in favor of Yeltsin. It is likely to be the other way around: Berezovsky may have attempted an internal coupe to "depose" Yeltsin, but only to find Yeltsin still alive and capable of his proverbial anger. Two facts must be remembered: first, Yeltsin's lawyer had just filed a motion to remove the only constitutional obstacle to a third presidential bid by Yeltsin (claiming that he's been elected president of Russia only once, since the first time Russia was still part of the Soviet Union); second, Berezovsky had just publicly endorsed Chernomyrdin as a viable candidate for president. The two may have decided it was time to move openly against Yeltsin and speed up the succession. Yeltsin got wind of what was going on and did not lose time.
    Berezovsky has two sworn enemies in Yeltsin's cabinet: Chubais and Nemtsov. Nemtsov public declared that the government's duty is to break the grip of the capitalists on Russian politics. Chubais has been appointed to the important post of chief executive of the Russian electrical power monopoly, which is a prized possession for all Russian capitalists. And Berezovsky is also hated by Luzhkov, probably because Luzhkov resents that capitalist's alliance with Chernomyrdin (but their enmity goes back several years).
    Yeltsin, who is obviously not as drunk as his opponents describe him, has come up with a bold new cabinet which upsets in exactly equal measure both the communists and the capitalists. Kiriyenko (35 years old) has now three deputies: Oleg Sysuyev (42), Boris Nemtsov (38) and Viktor Khristenko (40), all of them young technocrats who are committed to reforms. They are Moscow outsiders, picked from outside the establishment, with little or no experience in the political scheming of the capital. They are also the first homogeneous cabinet in the history of the new Russia. For the first time, there will be no bickering over the course of the economy.
    Incidentally, the latest poll shows Zyuganov with a rating of 18%, Luzhkov with 11%, Lebed with 9%, Nemtsov with 8%, Yavlinsky and Yeltsin both with 7% and Chernomyrdin with only 3%. Unless somebody launches a massive public-relations campaign in his favor right now, Chernomyrdin has zero chances of succeeding Yeltsin...
    Coming from behind, Andrei Nikolaev just won an important local election. He is a former general who commanded Russia's border guards and is popular. But, as of now, he has no alliance with a media group (one of the requirements for becoming president in Russia!)
    See the timeline of Russia
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
    Back to the world news | Top of this page
Editorial correspondence | Back to the top | Back to Politics | Back to the world news