Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Triumphant Ruling Class of Russia

Former CIA operative Reuel Marc Gerecht paints a disturbing picture in which former KGB and successor intelligence personnel own Russia. His report for the American Enterprise Institute calculates that 78% of the top 1,016 government officials have “an intelligence affiliation”. The good old boys of Soviet oppression or more accurately, their children, appear to have total control. I suppose what never leaves doesn’t have to come back.

A Rogue Intelligence State? The Russian state under Putin has no single, unifying, driving ideology. Lust for power, personal greed, and an aspiration for national greatness have yet to push Russia into fascism, although a number of factors--primitive nationalism, a reflexive "us vs. them" worldview that is often explicitly racist, and a zero-sum understanding of economics and foreign affairs--make it a real possibility. The Kremlin's determined efforts to control the Russian media and--increasingly--the Internet leave little space for any meaningful check on state power.

There is no historical precedent for a society so dominated by former and active-duty internal-security and intelligence officials--men who rose up in a professional culture in which murder could be an acceptable, even obligatory, business practice.

Gerecht believes Vladimir Putin’s minions are behind the Polonium-210 poisoning of ex-KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko which I find improbable. (It seems more likely that was a simple accident of criminal smuggling by a banished robber Baron.) What is clear is the Russians completely comprehend the value of their oil and gas assets and the strategic choke points they control over Europe’s dependence on those fuels. Then there is Iran.

There is another Russia-Iran parallel: in Iran it is difficult to separate the truth from frightful falsehoods because there is little transparency in the deliberations of the ruling elite. The result in Iran has been severe ethical corrosion as the regime's disregard for life defines down what is acceptable.

Only when the United States and Europe appeared to be failing at thwarting Iranian nuclear ambitions did Putin intercede. Intelligence officers always seek to exploit weakness in their targets. If we allow the Russians to believe we can be blackmailed over Iran, Putin will surely blackmail us. If Russia really believes a nuclear Iran is not in its national interest, then American efforts to counter rogue Russian behavior in Europe and the Caucasus are unlikely to change the Russian analysis of the menace from nuclear mullahs.

In other words, with Europe demilitarized, dependent and vulnerable, the US will have little leverage over how Putin wants to play his hand as he deals with the hostile regime on his southwest flank. Hitler and Stalin play their game by signing The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and history attests to the power of those nicely typed pages and inky little signatures.