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Posted on on August 18th, 2008
by Pincas Jawetz (

This weekend, as expected, the TV was plastered with the Russians in Georgia and the Beijing Olympics.

President Bush and Secretary Condaleezza Rice said that Russia will not get away with this like it happened in Hungary.

On CNN, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the man with the Kosovo and Bosnia experience, said this was not Kosovo. The Russians were ready to stage this action already two years ago. It happened now because there was a Russian provocation and there has been indeed a real ethnic cleansing going on in Ossetia and in Abkhazia that caused many thousands of refugees pouring continuously into Georgia. The US says the number is 150,000 displaced people.

Holbrooke looks back into history and thinks of Budapest of 19956, Prag of 1966, Afghanistan of 1968 – so this is the invasion of Georgia that was executed in similar methodology.

Dmitry Simes, President of the Washington DC Nixon Center, and Rose Gottemoeller, Director of Carnegie, Moscow, agree to the above and say that the fact that this happened again at the time of the Olympics, just shows the Putin self confidence and that Putin does not worry that this will harm Russia’s Sochi Winter Olympics of 2014. That area is in fact just across the border from were fighting was going on now.

Governor Bill Richardson stressed that this is not time for high US talk, simply, “we have no leverage on Russia,” so we have to engage them and not isolate them. He knows the area, problems, has been there – all as part of his UN Ambassadorship.

Georgia was incorporated into Russia in 1801 and stayed under Russian rule for 190 years. They re-emerged as an independent state only in 1991. The Ossentians always considered themselves different from the Georgians – and also not similar to the Russians. The same goes for Abkhazia and Azaria as per Rick Stengel, editor of Time Magazine, who was this Sunday’s coordinator of the GPS program that is usually brought out by Fareed Zakaria.

So, can one ostracize Russia from world business? Will this bring about a renewal of the Cold War?

He does not think that Russia has become a revisionist State and that it is fighting for a larger Russia. His idea is that the area is specially complicated – something like the Balkans, and that there were many reasons to what went on.






Cold Friends, Wrapped in Mink and Medals.

Published in The New York Times August 16, 2008

Writing in The Financial Times last week, Chrystia Freeland recalled Francis Fukuyama’s 1989 essay “The End of History?,” which trumpeted the definitive triumph of liberal democracy. The great nightmare tyrannies of last century — the Evil Empire, Red China — had been left behind by those inseparable twins, freedom and prosperity. Civilization had chosen, and it chose us.

Russia Marches, Neighbors Check Their Cards (The New York Times, August 17, 2008)
Specter of Arrest Deters Demonstrators in China (The New York Tines, August 14, 2008)

Chrystia Freeland’s Article: The New Age of Authoritarianism August 12, 2008)

So much for that thesis. Surveying the Russian military rout of neighboring Georgia and the spectacle of China’s Olympics, Ms. Freeland, editor of The Financial Times’s American edition and a journalist who started her career covering Russia and Ukraine, proclaimed that a new Age of Authoritarianism was upon us.

If it is not yet an age, it is at least a season: Springtime for autocrats, and not just the minor-league monsters of Zimbabwe and the like, but the giant regimes that seemed so surely bound for the ash heap in 1989.

The Chinese have made their Olympics an exultant display of athletic prowess and global prestige without having to temper their impulse to suppress and control. From the dazzling locksteps of that opening ceremony, to the kowtowing international V.I.P.’s, to the carefully policed absence of protest, this was an Olympics largely free of democratic mess.

Individualism has been confined between lane markers. The pre-Olympics promises that attention would be paid to international norms of behavior went unredeemed. The New York Times’s Andrew Jacobs followed one citizen who decided to take up the government’s Olympic offer of designated protest zones for aggrieved parties who had filed the proper paperwork. Zhang Wei applied for the requisite license and was promptly arrested for “disturbing social order.” Take that, International Olympic Committee.

The striking thing about Russia’s subjugation of uppity Georgia was not the ease or audacity but the swagger of it. This was not just about a couple of obscure border enclaves, nor even, really, about Georgia. This was existential payback.

It turns out that if 1989 was an end — the end of the Wall, the beginning of the end of the Soviet empire, if not in fact the end of history — it was also a beginning.

It gave birth to a bitter resentment in the humiliated soul of Russia, and no one nursed the grudge so fiercely as Vladimir V. Putin. He watched the empire he had spied for disbanded. He endured the belittling lectures of a rich and self-righteous West. He watched the United States charm away his neighbors, invade his allies in Iraq, and, in his view, play God with the political map of Europe.

Mr. Putin is, in this sense of grievance, a man of his people, as visitors to the New York Times Web site can see in the sampling of breast-beating commentary from Russian bloggers. It is safe to assume that Mr. Putin’s already stratospheric popularity at home has grown to Phelpsian proportions, not least among the long-suffering military.

In China, 1989 was the year that a spark of liberal aspiration flickered on Tiananmen Square, and was decisively extinguished. That was another beginning, or at least a renewal: of Chinese resolve. In May of that year, in the midst of the Tiananmen euphoria, Mikhail S. Gorbachev visited Beijing, and two visions of a new communism stared each other in the face.

The protesters on the Chinese pavilion held banners welcoming Mr. Gorbachev as a champion of the greater freedom they sought. Meanwhile, the visiting Russian delegation marveled at the abundance in Chinese stores, the bounty of a policy that chose economic liberalization without political dissent.

The Chinese and Russians scorned each other’s neo-Communist models, but in some ways they have evolved toward one another. Both countries now tolerate a measure of entrepreneurship and social license, as long as neither threatens the dominion of the state. Both countries have calculated that you can buy a measure of domestic stability if you combine a little opportunity with an appeal to national pride. (The Chinese “street” felt no more sympathy for restive Tibetans than the Russian blogosphere felt for Georgia.) And both have discovered that if you are rich the world is less likely to get in your way.

President Bush was mocked from both sides for his seeming impotence. Neoconservatives were appalled by photos of President Bush sharing a laugh with Mr. Putin in Beijing while Russian armor gathered at the Georgian border. For a president who has made the export of democracy his signature doctrine, that looked to the stand-tough crowd like a “Pet Goat” moment.

Others argued that this was a crisis Mr. Bush tacitly encouraged by talking up Georgia’s rambunctious president as a friend and NATO candidate. By midweek, possibly goaded by the wailing of neoconservatives and the aggressively anti-Putin rhetoric of Senator John McCain, Mr. Bush had abruptly amped up his opprobrium and dispatched an American airlift of humanitarian aid. And by the weekend there was a cold war chill in the air.

But Mr. Bush’s predicament is not just his. The question of how to deal with these reinvigorated autocracies bedevils the Europeans and will surely rank high among the legacy issues that confound Mr. Bush’s successor.

This time it is not — or not yet — the threat of nuclear apocalypse that limits the West’s options toward our emboldened Eastern rivals. The Chinese, in fact, are acting as if they have gotten past the saber-rattling stage of emerging-power status; they lavish diplomacy on Taiwan and Japan, and deploy the might of capital instead. The Russians may be in a more adolescent, table-pounding stage of development, but Mr. Putin, too, prefers to work the economic levers, bullying with petroleum.

The United States, meanwhile, is mired in Iraq and Afghanistan, estranged from much of the world, and bled by serial economic crises.

History, it seems, is back, and not so obviously on our side.

Bill Keller, executive editor of The Times, covered the last years of the Soviet Union for the newspaper.



The New Age of Authoritarianism.
By Chrystia Freeland
Published: August 12 2008 in The Financial Times.

In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, democracy was on the march and we declared the End of History. Nearly two decades later, a neo-imperialist Russia is at war with Georgia, Communist China is proudly hosting the Olympics, and we find that, instead, we have entered the Age of Authoritarianism.

It is worth recalling how different we thought the future would be in the immediate, happy aftermath of the end of the cold war. Remember Francis Fukuyama’s ringing assertion: “The triumph of the west, of the western idea, is evident first of all in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to western liberalism.”

Even in the heady days of 1989, that declaration of universal – and possibly eternal – ideological victory seemed a little hubristic to Professor Fukuyama’s many critics. Yet his essay made such an impact because it captured the scale, and the enormous benefits, of the change sweeping through the world. Not only was the stifling Soviet – which was really the Russian – suzerainty over central and eastern Europe and central Asia coming to an end but, even more importantly, the very idea of a one-party state, ruthlessly presiding over a centrally planned economy, seemed to be discredited, if not forever, then surely for our lifetimes.

That collapse brought freedom and prosperity to millions of people who had lived under Soviet rule. Moreover, the implosion of Soviet communism inspired hundreds of millions of others around the world to embrace freer markets and demand more responsive governments. The great global economic boom of the past 20 years, which has brought more people out of poverty more quickly than at any other time in human history, would not have been possible had the Soviet way of ordering the world not been discredited first.

Yet today, in much of the world, the spread of freedom is being checked by an authoritarian revanche. That shift has been most obvious in the petro-states, where oil is casting its usual curse. From Latin America to Africa to the Middle East, the black-gold bonanza has given authoritarian regimes the currency to buy off or to repress their subjects. In Russia, oil has fuelled an economic boom that prime minister Vladimir Putin, and some of his foreign admirers, mistakenly attribute to his careful demolition of the chaotic democracy of the 1990s.

For Russians, that argument is strengthened by the fact that the rising economic power of the moment – China – is unashamedly sticking to its faith in one-party rule. The end of the cold war made it tempting to believe that as countries opened up their markets, and became richer in the process, they would inevitably open up their societies, too. George W. Bush, US president, reiterated that hopeful thesis on his Asia tour last week, insisting: “Young people who grow up with the freedom to trade goods will ultimately demand the freedom to trade ideas.”

But the Chinese mandarins and the Russian siloviki are taking a different view – and acting on it. As China scholar David Shambaugh recounts in his new book, China’s Communist Party: Atrophy and Adaptation , the CCP studied the collapse of Soviet communism with great care. And rather than seeing it as proof of the inevitable, global triumph of western liberalism, the Chinese comrades treated the Russian example as a textbook case of what a ruling Communist party ought not to do.

In this version of history, sinologist Andrew Nathan tells me, 1989 is also a turning point, but not because that was when communism’s most notorious wall came down. Instead, the key event of that year was the bloody suppression of protesters in Tiananmen Square: “As a propaganda position they have put it out that we had a crackdown in 1989 and we saved the party and we saved the country,” he says. “We didn’t have a failure of will like the Russians. Without that, we wouldn’t have been a great, modern power.” That’s a point of view Mr Putin has embraced, too, describing the collapse of the Soviet Union as a tragedy and his own reconstruction of a neo-authoritarian state as the only way to restore Russian “greatness”.

The west has been remarkably sanguine about this resurgence of authoritarianism, and one reason is that, this time, the comrades have money. Even as the Kremlin repeatedly confiscates the assets not just of its own businesspeople but of foreign ones, too, investment bankers, and plain old investors, are flocking to a Moscow flush with petro-roubles. The same is true of the Gulf states. China, on a path to become the world’s largest economy, is the most attractive of all.

But the Age of Authoritarianism is bad news for all of us, not just the human rights campaigners that businesspeople and practitioners of realpolitik love to dismiss. Like all overly rigid objects, authoritarian regimes conceal a tremendous fragility in their apparent strength – and their leaders know it. It is this realisation that has driven Mr Putin’s systematic destruction of all forms of civil society – an eminently pragmatic measure, although it has mystified some outside observers, who wonder why so popular a leader needs to be so heavy-handed. China’s chiefs have figured this out, too, hence their anxiety about everything from the Muslim Uighurs to the internet to the former Soviet Union’s “colour revolutions”.

Of course, another way to ensure popular support for your authoritarian regime is by playing up nationalist sentiment. We are more tolerant of our home-grown bullies if we think we need them to fight our enemies abroad – as even democratic America has demonstrated in recent years. Mr Putin has understood this all along, launching a brutal attack on Chechnya even before his coronation as president in 2000.

Russia’s expert taunting of the hotheads in Georgia, followed by immediate and massive retaliation the moment Tbilisi took the bait, is the latest evidence that, for the Kremlin, neo-imperialism is an essential bulwark of neo-authoritarianism. Bringing down the walls really did make the world safer. Now that so many leaders are building them back up again, figuring out how to contain the 21st century’s monied authoritarians is our most pressing foreign policy dilemma.

 chrystia.freeland at



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