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>Headlining Russia’s poisoned democracy

> As the unfortunate Alexander Litvinenko fights for his life a few streets away at University College Hospital, it’s interesting to note how his attempted assassination has also finally poisoned the British media’s view of Vladimir Putin . The vocabulary is an entirely Cold War one of ‘defectors’, ‘dissidents’ and the KGB. The assumption, reasonably accurately, is that Russia is an authoritarian state, not some rather rough and ready new capitalist democracy suffering from too much freedom. Political scientists and NGOs have tended to classify Russia as ‘semi-authoritarian’, an ‘illiberal democracy’ or ‘semi-free’, as authoritarian ends are used by democratic forms and a form of ultra-manipulative stage managed politics that my SSEES colleague Andy Wilson has explored in his eye opening book Virtual Politics. Ironically, informed academic observers of Russian politics, seem to have a low opinion of Litvinenko and the Boris Berezovsky, whose London based network he forms part of, seeing the ex-oligarch and ex-FSB officer as part of the problems, rather than part of the solution. Neither has the moral integrity or political credibility of the late Anna Politovskaya.

>Russian oil – time to be a Green neo-con?


An interesting article by the ever provocative Bulgarian liberal Ivan Krastev in (‘The energy route to Russia democracy’ (13 June 2006)
reflecting on the geo-political consequences of a turn to sustainable carbon-neutral energy in the West (if it ever happens).

After exploring the familiar Oil and Democracy argument – natural resources are a curse that reduce the democratic leverage of the international community; dependence of the state on a broad tax base – and its need to be representative of and accommodating to social demands –weakens civil society; and provides loads of cash for well armed security forces and client networks – he then suggested that the momentum of Coloured Revolutions in the FSU has run its course. “If you want to see Russia free and democratic,” says Krastev “stop signing anti-Putin petitions and voting for hardline anti-communists This will change nothing. What you should do is to turn down the lights when you leave your apartment, sell your American car and start using public transport. The fight for democracy today is a fight against the tyrannical price of oil”.

As the Bush administration has partly grasped, reduced dependence on oil will also change the geo-politics of the Middle East, rather more effectively than the tools of the Project for a New American Century, plunging the region into strategic obscurity, although its physically centrality might still carry some weight. Unfortunately, such Greening is a long game. Hard to sell politically to Western electorates on security or moral grounds, so the short-term response – as Krastev notes – is for the West to cosy up to Putin and other semi (and not so semi-) authoritarians in the FSU on the grounds that they are an alternative, easier to do business – and more politically stable? – with than the Saudis, Iranians or whichever Iraqis come out on top of the pile when the US finally withdraws form Iraq, ultimately leaving the locals to fight things out.

Still it seems – intellectually at least – one can be a Green neo-con of sorts. And as recent reports in Time and Slate make clear real neo-cons – and, to a lesser extent, Greens – are already working on security and political strategies to make it a more tangible reality….