Thursday, November 2, 2006 at 11:37 AM
Notwithstanding his rhetoric to the contrary (and US President George W. Bush’s gullible praise for his democratic values), Putin has been unabashed in his systematic efforts to reclaim totalitarian power in Russia: a power grab which I chronicled here in a 25 March 2005 article entitled President Putin reforming Russia in his own image, here in a 1 June 2005 article entitled Vladimir Putin sends political dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky [the richest man in Russia] off to the Gulag!, and here in an 18 May 2006 article entitled Putin’s wife reveals his (old-fashioned) philosophy on domestic affairs….
Moreover, he has been no less zealous in his efforts to exert Soviet-era influence over the newly-independent states of the former Soviet Union, which I chronicled here in a 3 January 2006 article entitled Putin fires first salvo in new Cold War in Europe (when he strongarmed and extorted higher prices from the Ukraine by cutting off the country’s gas supplies that are pumped in by pipelines from Russia).
Therefore, recent reports that Putin has turned his Stalinist wrath on Georgia came as no surprise. After all, since he overthrew pro-Russian leaders in the Rose Revolution of 2003, Georgia’s pro-Western president, Mikhail Saakashvili, has made no secret of his disdain for Putin’s Russia or of his determined plan for his country to join the EU and NATO.
“I know what it is to try to build your own nation when danger is knocking on the door.” [Georgian President Saakashvili]
Of course, no one expected Putin to allow Saakashvili to show such public contempt for Russia with impunity. And, given his penchant for old KGB tactics, it was entirely predictable that Putin would dispatch spies to undermine Saakashvili’s democratically-elected government.
Hence, in recent months, bilateral relations between these erstwhile comrade-nation states have resemebled the Cold-War tensions that characterized relations between the United States and Soviet Union. For example:
In late September, Georgian authorities arrested 5 Russian military officers accused of spying. This, in turn, prompted Putin to accuse Saakashvili of “terrorist and hostage-taking activities” and of being a puppet of Western goverments (i.e. the US).”
Then, demonstrating how truly jingoistic the enmity between the two countries has become, Putin not only recalled his ambassordor but also ordered the evacuation of all Russian citizens from Georgia. In addition, emulating the choke hold he put on the unruly Ukrainians earlier this year, he ordered an economic blockade of Georgia by suspending all transport and mail communications. And the UK’s Guardian Unlimited reports today that he’s now executing his patented squeeze for higher gas prices.
Then, according to a Pravda report, just weeks ago, the Russian police requested schools to provide a list of all schoolchildren with Georgian names to deport them under the pretext of cracking down on illegal immigration. This, in turn, prompted Saakashvili to accuse Putin of:
…singling out Georgians for discrimination and deportation [in a way] reminiscent of czarist policies dispossessing Jews.
NOTE: I suspect Jews whose families were expelled from Russia by the czars and Stalin would probably take issue with Saakashvili’s opportunistic analogy. Nonetheless, Putin’s Putinization of Russia and bullying of his neighbors certainly conjure up those unseemly practices.