Friday, 29 June 2012

Vladimir Putin: "The Man Without a Face"

Putin in a KGB uniform
The Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen - whose excellent Putin biography "The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin"  has recently been published by Riverhead Books - has some interesting things to say in a Harper´s Magazine interview

 From 1985 to 1990, Putin was stationed as a KGB officer in Dresden, where you note that he had dealings with West German radicals associated with the Red Army Faction. During this time, the RAF carried out the assassination of Deutsche Bank chairman Alfred Herrhausen, among other terrorist acts. Is there anything tying Putin to the RAF’s trail of assassinations and robberies?
I had a source claim that there was, but I was never able to corroborate what he told me. That is why I refrain from speculating on this in the book.

Who is Marina Salye, and how did she help you resolve the puzzle about the “missing years” in Putin’s biography?
 Marina Salye is Putin’s oldest enemy. In the late 1980s, she emerged from the world of academia to become the most popular politician in Leningrad. She was a leader of the popular, pro-reform People’s Front, and she was elected to city council and became a leader there, too (though, sticking to her radically democratic principles, she chose not to seek the chairmanship). In 1992 she spearheaded a city-council investigation that concluded that Putin, as St. Petersburg’s deputy mayor, had embezzled or helped embezzle as much as $100 million. The council passed a resolution calling on the mayor to dismiss Putin and refer the case to the prosecutor’s office for investigation. Instead, the mayor dismissed the council, and ruled the city by decree for the next year. Salye became a professional organizer and eventually moved to Moscow.
When Putin suddenly rose to national prominence in 1999 and was running for president in 2000, she tried to draw attention to her old investigation, warning in one memorable article that he would become “the president of a corrupt oligarchy.” This uncannily accurate prediction was ignored by the public and by Salye’s old comrades from the pro-democracy movement, as was Salye herself (though she was not ignored by everyone). She was threatened—she refuses to say by whom or how—and she fled the city. Rumor had it she was in Paris, but I eventually found her in a tiny, semi-abandoned village in the woods not far from the Russia–Latvia border. She had been living there for a decade. She talked to me about her investigation (I had the report itself), allowed me to make copies of many important documents relating to corruption in the St. Petersburg city administration, and talked about that period in detail. On February 4 of this year, she emerged from her hideout to be the lead speaker at an anti-Putin protest in St. Petersburg.
After becoming president, Putin spoke of a “dictatorship of the law,” and when Dmitri Medvedev ran for the presidency in 2008, he criticized the cynicism and weakness of Russia’s legal culture and promised reform. This seems to have appealed to a whole generation of young Russians, who thought their nation was charting a new course. One of them was a young auditor named Sergei Magnitsky. What happened to Magnitsky and what does this say about the Putin government’s commitment to law?
I found the “dictatorship of the law” slogan disturbingly oxymoronic from the beginning: the law does not rule by dictatorship; the law serves as an arbiter. It facilitates deliberation and ultimately leads to justice. Or it should. But we got exactly what Putin promised: a corrupt system of law enforcement and the judiciary, which acts in concert with the executive branch to exert terror—just like a dictatorship would. Sergei Magnitsky uncovered a corruption scheme that allowed a group of tax-police officers to use the courts to steal several companies and then fraudulently obtain $230 million in tax returns filed on their behalf. When Magnitsky pushed for an investigation, he was jailed; when he persisted while in jail, he was tortured to death. He died in November 2009, at the age of thirty-six, in prison.
In a review of Gessen´s book in the Australian Quadrant Online, Daryl McCann writes: 
Over the years Putin has repeatedly stolen the assets of prosperous companies and individual billionaires, the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2004 providing as good an example as any: 
And with the assets of the country’s largest private company hijacked in broad daylight, Putin had claimed his place as the godfather of a mafia clan ruling the country. Like all mafia bosses, he barely distinguished between his personal property, the property of his clan, and the property of those beholden to his clan.  
Putin’s compulsion to pilfer apparently knows no bounds, high or low. In 2005, while hosting a delegation of American businessmen in St Petersburg, Putin expressed his admiration for the 124-diamond Super Bowl ring of Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots. With no more ado Putin pocketed the ring and abruptly left the room: “After a flurry of articles in the US press, Kraft announced a few days later that the ring had been a gift—preventing an uncomfortable situation from spiralling out of control.” Putin’s insatiable greed, contends Gessen, is not a case of kleptomania so much as pleonexia, “the insatiable desire to have what rightfully belongs to others”.
What Putin has done to Russia is very sad. Russia deserves something better. Fortunately more and more people have began to realize what kind of a person Vladimir Putin is. 

Obama, Merkel, Cameron and other western leaders of course know the truth about Putin, but they continue to treat him like an ordinary head of state. The ultimate reason for this is fear: Madman Putin is in charge of a huge nuclear arsenal. 

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