January 29, 2004

The Oligarchs


CNN reported Monday: Powell presses Putin on democracy.

In a front-page article published Monday in the major Russian daily Izvestia, Powell said Russian politics were not sufficiently subject to the rule of law and made clear there were limits to the U.S.-Russian relationship without shared values. [...]

"Russia's democratic system seems not yet to have found the essential balance among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government," Powell added. "Political power is not yet fully tethered to law."

Though he did not mention him by name, Powell's comments may have been an allusion to the October arrest of Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose prosecution is widely seen as politically motivated.

The cartoon above is for the cover of the January issue of The Intellectual Activist. Robert W. Tracinski writes in the cover story:

What makes [the] prosecution [of Khodorkovsky as a corrupt businessman] arbitrary is the fact that every successful businessman in the early 1990s was required to become involved in corrupt dealings in order to operate in a corrupt economy. Thus, if prosecutors look closely enough, they can find charges to file against every major figure in the Russian economy. When widespread corruption is tolerated and even required by the policies of the government, prosecutors have unlimited latitude to single out political opponents for special punishment. Indeed, if the purpose of Russian prosecutors was only to clean up corruption, Khodorkovsky was precisely the wrong target. In recent years, he has led the way in bringing the accounting practices of Russian companies up to Western standards by opening up his company's books and ownership structure. [...]

The slogan used to justify these attacks is the smear that describes Russian businessmen as "oligarchs" -- a smear that is used, not to condemn the corrupting influence of a mixed economy, but to justify the growing power of Russia's real oligarchs: the siloviki. The siloviki -- a term derived from the Russian word for "power" -- is the unofficial name for the clique of former KGB men gathered around Vladimir Putin, himself a former KGB officer.

Posted by Forkum at January 29, 2004 12:24 AM