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Please help me understand Kuchins’ article | Статьи на английском
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Please help me understand Kuchins’ article

18.12.2003 11:03

Johnson`s Russia List,  December 18, 2003

My name is Matthew Maly, and I do not have a Ph.D. But I am interested in Russia, and I really want to understand Andrew Kuchins’ article “Checkisty and Balances in Russian Politics”. JRL #7438 (November, 25, 2003)

I will now quote the entire Kuchins article, paragraph by paragraph, and comment on each of them.

Kuchins writes:

“The Yukos affair and the arrest of its now former CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky has brought much greater uncertainty to the electoral prospects for Russia’s two liberal parties, Yabloko and Union of Right Forces (URF) in the upcoming Duma elections. As I noted in an earlier column, their constituencies may turn out in higher numbers because they feel a more urgent need to defend the legal rights of private property.”

Maly comments:

The key words here are “the legal rights of private property”. First, most everybody agrees that Khodorkovsky did quite a bit to prove that Russia has no “legal rights of private property” as he has done nothing (but the acts of insider trading, bribery, violence, and fraud) as a result of which he emerged with an $8B fortune. So what is there to defend, especially on the occasion of HIS imprisonment? Secondly, URF was built on the foundation of voucher privatization, while Yabloko was built on the basis of screaming that the voucher privatization was a fraud. Is not it like saying, “Cat ate a mouse; on average, the cat and the mouse had a moderately successful day”?

Kuchins continues:

On the other hand, the dubious legal underpinnings of the arrest of Khodorkovsky has placed their leaders in the awkward position of having to publicly defend an oligarch - a very thin and unpopular social group in today’s Russia.

Maly comments:

The very foundation of every law is that it exists in a certain territory. In the US, there is US law, In Saudi Arabia, there is Saudi law, and in Russia, there is : Russian law. Gee, even legal proceedings in Russia are conducted in Russian! Now, what could be, from the point of view of Russian law, “dubious” in Khodorkovsky’s arrest? Nothing at all. Here is how a Russian law enforcement official explained Russian law to me: “I can rape any girl I like and nothing will happen to me since I work in law enforcement.” Here is Khodorkovsky’s career: he would come to someone who controlled some property and say, “I know some in Kremlin, give me the property you control or I bust your head open”. Would not you say that Mr. Putin (aka “a Cagey Beast”) knows someone in Kremlin? I think he does. So he came to Khodorkovsky and busted his head open. There is nothing “dubious” in it: it is Russian law in its purest form. Mr. Kuchins probably meant to say that the arrest was dubious if we were to view it from a US legal standpoint. Well, it was not from a US legal standpoint as well, as Mr. Khodorkovsky may actually be linked to several acts of physical violence, may become dangerous if released (he has a significant private army), and his acts may have contributed to: how should I put it : alienation of national treasure. If an American were to shuffle some papers and then emerge as a rightful owner of the State of California intending to sell it to Mexico, I suspect he would have heard from the FBI. But this argument is irrelevant: Russian law is Russian law, and yes, it is thuggish, horrendous, and utterly corrupt.

A legitimate question is: USAID has spent very considerable amount of money, and gave some of it to the Carnegie Foundation, to promote Rule of Law and Civil Society in Russia. And where are the results? I just worry that someone would claim that all these millions of dollars were spent solely on shredding my book “Understanding Russia” and making sure I can’t get any US-funded assistance position: Other tangible results being so few, especially considering the amounts expanded:

Again, comparing Russian law to a foreign “ideal” is counterproductive. Russian law must be considered as it is, understood as it is, and improved from whatever it is now, in some workable and realistic fashion that would be understood and accepted by Russians, who are what they are. I once wrote that comparing Russian law to the American one is like peeing while standing next to a male elephant, very bad for one’s self-esteem.

Kuchins writes:

Yabloko is in an especially precarious position as their main source of financial support has dried up, and much important organizational data disappeared with the raid in October of their PR firm [Andrei-if you can add the name of the firm that would be great-Andy] supposedly as part of the Yukos investigation.

Maly comments:

If you write with an assistant, absent-minded as he may be, please give your piece for him to read as Russians are smart and may come up with many useful suggestions.

Kuchins writes:

Anatoly Chubais and other URF leaders have been urging Yabloko to combine forces in what they describe as emergency conditions in order to ensure that the real liberal and democratic forces in Russia are assured representation in the next Duma. Predictably these entreaties have fallen upon deaf ears because there is too much bad blood between the parties and also there are significant differences in their constituencies and voting records. For example, Yabloko tends to vote in opposition to Unified Russia far more often than URF. Nevertheless, the failure to unite is disappointing for two reasons. First, perhaps a unified liberal and democratic party could attract more votes than the two existing parties would separately. Second, they run a higher risk of one or even both parties not cracking the 5% bar to ensure party representation.

Maly comments:

Do I read here a recipe for creating a “unified liberal and democratic party” in Russia?

URF is not liberal or democratic as it has Chubais, Kokh, and Gaidar in it. Yabloko may actually be both liberal and democratic, but it has had trouble becoming relevant, being mostly a party of those who like to assign the blame. A unification with Chubais is an end of Yabloko, because, unfortunately, Yabloko is little more than a group of people who hate Chubais.

We read in the beginning that Khodorkovsky’s arrest could mobilize will energize those who “feel a more urgent need to defend the legal rights of private property.” Now, there is a prediction that these defenders of private property may not pass the 5% barrier:

Kuchins writes:

A Duma without Yabloko and URF would be an unfortunate development indeed. These two parties include many of the best brains in Russian politics as well as those politicians most committed to promoting Russia’s transformation into a market democracy.

Maly comments:

Does that mean that “the best brains in Russian politics” are not necessarily the ones who are “most committed to promoting Russia’s transformation into a market democracy”? This is a good distinction. But what are they doing in one party? Will the brains beat the transformers? Or are these parties like a transformer with a brain, similar to a Japanese dog robot? Or is it today a transformer, tomorrow a brain, depending on who gives a grant? Vladimir Lenin, who is immortal, but currently lacks a brain, once said, “Who are you with, masters of culture?” The same question applies here: Who are we with, transformers to democracy or the brains? George W. Bush is with transformers to democracy, which may explain why some people doubt whether Mr. Bush has a brain.

Kuchins writes:

Their departure would result in a less informed and intelligent public legislative debate on crucial issues for Russia’s development. The loss of their experience in drafting legislation would erode the quality of laws passed.

Maly can’t comment as he weeps inside.

Kuchins writes:

Current trends suggest that the next Duma will be more leftist and more beholden to the Kremlin’s interests.

Maly comments:

How can the Duma become “more leftist”? Are there any leftists parties running? Which ones? What are their “leftist” demands? How can the Duma be “more leftist AND more beholden to the Kremlin’s interests?” Is Putin a “leftist”? In what way?

Kuchins writes:

Judging from the use of so-called “administrative resources,” this seems to be the direction of those charged with managing Russia’s “managed democracy.”

Maly comments:

I sort of remember that Yeltsin was re-elected in 1996, starting with an approval rating of something like 2%. Did the Carnegie Foundation use the phrase “managed democracy” a lot at the time or was it introduced a bit later?

Kuchins writes:

I understand that Mr. Putin may be irritated by Yabloko’s chummy relationship with Mr. Khodorkovsky, although Grigory Yavlinsky has also been one of the most long-standing, impassioned, and intelligent critics of the oligarchic system in Russia.

Maly comments:

Would not that suggest that Mr. Yavlinsky is a bit disingenuous? I also would like to call Mr. Kuchins a Vermeer of political analysis for this subtle interplay of light and darkness.

Kuchins writes:

And yes, the notoriously thin-skinned Russian president may also be more than a little irritated with Anatoly Chubais’s very sharp criticism since the arrest of Khodorkovsky. But is it really in Mr. Putin’s interests to eliminate these two political parties? Is it really in his interests to further erode even the semblance of checks and balances in Russian politics?

Maly comments:

Here we go: failed managers of the democratization process beg Putin to preserve the “semblance” of democracy so as to avoid accounting for the millions of democratization dollars.

Kuchins writes:

My answer is no, but I fear many of the chekisty in and around the Kremlin think otherwise.

Maly comments:

My answer is no to anyone who can only think of political correctness and grants, disregarding a real problem we have emerging in Russia: a KGB-run state, bent on revenge, with no ethics or accountability.

Finally, I would suggest not to use the word “democracy” in vain as it is sort of important. One person may choose to stick a Chinese petard up monkey’s ass and light it up, because he likes to laugh out loud. Another person may choose to pronounce himself a defender of democracy because he likes the food at the US Embassy’s receptions. Different people choose different ways to have fun. But I think one cannot be called a democrat unless one is a halfway decent human being, at least not a murderer or a large-scale thief. In every conversation, if you divorce the words from their meaning, you immediately stop understanding anything. For example, if “pre-school education” stands for “go look at this elephant”, it becomes unclear whether “half a pound of cheese” stands for “sacred vows of marriage” or “Saturday night”. When Kuchins calls Chubays a democrat he loses me completely. What is it that makes him a democrat?

***
Andrew Kuchins is the Director of Carnegie Moscow Center.
Matthew Maly just has a site http://matthew-maly.ru

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