Sunday, November 27, 2022

The Russian conundrum

My memory let me down.  I was under the impression Mikhail Khodorkovsky had been a long time friend of Putin and fell out of favor.  In fact he was a successful businessman who offended Putin after a few years of giving advice.  Mikhail was a leading advocate for western business practices and philanthropy.

As he recounts the perfidy of Putin while extolling his own virtues one hesitates a little as to who is telling the truth.  But there can be little doubt about who has almost no credibility--Putin.  It is too bad that more people didn't heed the words of Khodorkovsky decades ago and perhaps there would have been no need for this book.  His perspective and opinions would serve western powers better than currently.

Khodorkovsky did not have wealthy parents, but he got a good education.   His academic interest was chemistry.  Some bankers liked him and helped him to get access to foreign currencies through bigger banks.  This allowed him to put together a group that took over a heavily indebted state company, Yukos that had not been able to pay its employees.  With better business practices modeled on western practices the company was straightened out.  With good timing it rose to be the largest tax payer in Russia and Mikhail to be the richest man in the country.

Along the way Khodorkovsky was strongly advocating western business practices and democratic systems.  He had many times been called to advise Putin, but too much criticism of the Russian way was too much and Khodorkovsky was eventually charged with spurious crimes and spent over 10 years in prison, mostly in a remote area. 

In 2013 he was released to England where at first he thought things were progressing in Russia, but soon felt otherwise.  Watching the BBC to improve his English he was struck that the rest of the world depicted Russia quite different than what he was familiar with.  It was also quite noticeable that in Russia all Western governments were criticized.

A pro Moscow government in Ukraine was ousted and Russia was determined to assert itself.  In 2014 Mikhail flew to Kiev and spoke at Maidan Square to support Ukrainians and later to Donbas.  He had set up an advocacy group, Open Russia promoting democracy running unopposed outside Russia but over the years repressed in the country.

Putin is deceptive, saying whatever his audience will accept.   Putin's rationalization in a quote:  " A strong state is not an anomaly to be got rid of.  Quite the contrary, it is the source of order."

Putin is motivated in large part by domestic politics. The economy is poorly managed and  Putin has found foreign aggression raises his popularity.  He manipulated elections and when he constitution restricted him to two terms he used Dmitry Mededev as a front man and then rewrote the constitution.

A key person in Putin's setup is Yevgeny Prigozhin who started as a food vendor in St. Petersburg and came to the attention of Putin.  Not put off by his gangster reputation and prison history,   He came with Putin to Moscow and was tasked with organizing a mercenary group that is officially denied.  They seem to appear at various hot spots such as Crimea, Syria, Libya, Georgia, and Central African Republic.  Prigozhin was put in charge of interfering in the American Election of 2016 which involved projects in 2014.  Many of the Russian efforts involved social media.  Robert Mueller correctly identified Prigozhin's role which ended in a sanction.  

They did not at first expect Trump to win, but wanted to tarnish America's image.  They  complained against immigration "failures" Black Lives Matter, Muslims.  A favorite strategy was to suggest voter fraud.  They did hack some Democrat emails to hurt Hillary Clinton..  

Khodorkovsky noted that the Mueller Report was very accurate regarding Russian efforts at the 2016 election.  Trump went so far as to fire the FBI director among other efforts to stop the report.

Russia uses poisons with a lab specializing in the nuances.  We know they have been used on dissidents as well as former agents, but it is possible we don't know all of the victims.  Alexei Navalny, a popular dissident was poisoned twice and saved only by alert doctors and others willing to bend protocols.

Like Michael Cohen, Mikhail believed that Putin did not necessarily have some kind of information on Trump who he thought just admired the stealth of the Russian leader.  But perhaps there was some sort of hold--check

After Joe Biden took over the presidency Putin did not let up.  The January 6th insurrection demonstrated American hypocrisy.            

The Russians are credited with cyber attacks against American corporations with ransomware and also the Joe Biden administration.

Moldova was a small country bordering south of Ukraine.  During most of its existence it had a pro Moscow government.  A few years ago that government was replaced and when Russia invaded Ukraine Moldova supported Ukraine.  Russia had already started supporting an opposition party.  Putin also props up the autocratic Belorussian government and although not able to get them to attack Ukraine, have been using their territory for launching missiles.

Russia has long used China as an ally to frighten America, but Russia no longer has the leverage over China that it once had.  Noteworthy Putin visited China during the Winter Olympics to shore up support and actually started the invasion during the Winter Paralympics against protocol.  China has tried to stay out of it.

His advice is worth considering.  He notes that the sanctions used are often depicted as against the Russian people and feels sanctions need to be specifically against members of the administration.  Courage is needed to stand up to abusive government behavior.  With Open Russia, Mikhail supports opposition publications and tries to educate journalists.  He feels confident Putin will eventually be gone as he makes too many mistakes.  There may well be an heir, but likely a crisis will depose of them.  

Quote from the author:  "...a new society cannot be built with anger and revenge" and "...forgiveness is dearer than punishment."

How do you think we should deal with Putin?

An example of Russia fitting in with the rest of the world with my most recent post:

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