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Argus

The Old Soviet Union coming back to life

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Can anything good be said about Russia since Putin took command? From his brutal war on the Chechins, provoked, very mysteriously, by explosions in Russian apartment buildings that were never clearly explained, to his crushing of what once was a free press, to the government's determination to pressure the former "colonies" of the Soviet Union back into the fold, it seems Putin is determined to bring back the Soviet Union and its murderous Communist ways.

Scotland Yard has launched an investigation into an audacious attempt to murder – using a deadly poison – a leading Russian defector at a restaurant in London.

Alexander Litvinenko, a former colonel in the Russian secret service and a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin, was seriously ill under armed guard at a London hospital last night.

Putin Critic Poisoned in London

In industries such as energy, aviation, engineering, mining and car manufacturing, private companies that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union are being brought back under state control or consolidated in the hands of businessmen loyal to the authorities. Government ministers and Kremlin insiders now sit on the boards of the country's largest companies.

Kremlin Inc.

The national TV networks are under tight government control, which achieved its apotheosis in 2004 with the elimination of the remaining live political talk shows. Television provides only favorable coverage of the president. (This system of control differs from the one employed in Soviet days, however, because it pertains only to subjects deemed “strategic” by the Kremlin.)

Some print media remain high quality, but they are largely irrelevant. Nonetheless the Kremlin is encouraging regime-friendly businessmen to acquire ownership of print outlets. Gazprom (the state natural gas monopoly) recently acquired Izvestia, one of the largest-circulation print dailies. It has since gone tabloid. Thus is consummated an ugly bargain. Kremlin-friendly owners strip an outlet of meaningful information and replace it with rubbishy gossip. The owners increase their profits and the Kremlin silences another independent voice.

Kremlin's Plan

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From everything I've heard first hand to what I've read, Russia is a cesspool of Mafia types and organised gangs of criminals. In order to do anything productive, one must bribe people. I have friends that work in the patch over there and for instance if you need a new power transformer, you just pay someone to steal one for you. And then if you don't watch your stuff, they'll steal it back. The local population drinks Vodka like it's going out of style. Alcoholism is rampant. I'm told they sell vodka in containers similar to pop cans with disposable pop tops. The average life span of men is something like 47 because of alcohol.

I understand Putin is former KGB so it's understandable he may want the old ways given that his country seems to be in a downward spiral. He's got a long way to go yet before he's even 10% the bastard Stalin was.

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My view of history is that very little fundamental ever changes. There may be a lot of intelligent, industrious Russian people. I'll tell you one thing; there's one place you won't find them; in Russia.

The brain drain from that area, in my opinion, has contributed mightily to America's and Canada's development.

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From everything I've heard first hand to what I've read, Russia is a cesspool of Mafia types and organised gangs of criminals. In order to do anything productive, one must bribe people. I have friends that work in the patch over there and for instance if you need a new power transformer, you just pay someone to steal one for you. And then if you don't watch your stuff, they'll steal it back. The local population drinks Vodka like it's going out of style. Alcoholism is rampant. I'm told they sell vodka in containers similar to pop cans with disposable pop tops. The average life span of men is something like 47 because of alcohol.

I understand Putin is former KGB so it's understandable he may want the old ways given that his country seems to be in a downward spiral. He's got a long way to go yet before he's even 10% the bastard Stalin was.

Do you believe the Russian people are better off now that the "Mafia" and government are essentially the same entity?

I think Putin's actioins in Chechnya would have made Stalin proud.

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From everything I've heard first hand to what I've read, Russia is a cesspool of Mafia types and organised gangs of criminals. In order to do anything productive, one must bribe people. I have friends that work in the patch over there and for instance if you need a new power transformer, you just pay someone to steal one for you. And then if you don't watch your stuff, they'll steal it back. The local population drinks Vodka like it's going out of style. Alcoholism is rampant. I'm told they sell vodka in containers similar to pop cans with disposable pop tops. The average life span of men is something like 47 because of alcohol.

I understand Putin is former KGB so it's understandable he may want the old ways given that his country seems to be in a downward spiral. He's got a long way to go yet before he's even 10% the bastard Stalin was.

From a British point of view I can tell the blogs in this forum are very much anti-Russian, but I think it is easy to forget just how powerful and mighty Russia (as the Soviet Union) was - it is almost certain that she will one day regain this position as well, due to her almost unlimited natural resources. In the UK, every day there is a newspaper or television report detailing the fact how dependent Western Europe is becoming on her oil. Russia may have been in decline for the last 15 years, but make no mistake, history teaches us that Russia always bounces back, if only because of her vast size and relatively large population.

I always feel that many Americans feel they have defeated Russia, and can look down on her, but this is so misguided. I don't know if democracy will survive in Russia for long given present conditions, and the increasingly despotic Putin, but history also teaches us that Russia doesn't need democracy to be great - Russian Empire under the tsars, Soviet Union under communism. You could ask - who needs democracy?

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From a British point of view I can tell the blogs in this forum are very much anti-Russian, but I think it is easy to forget just how powerful and mighty Russia (as the Soviet Union) was - it is almost certain that she will one day regain this position as well, due to her almost unlimited natural resources. In the UK, every day there is a newspaper or television report detailing the fact how dependent Western Europe is becoming on her oil. Russia may have been in decline for the last 15 years, but make no mistake, history teaches us that Russia always bounces back, if only because of her vast size and relatively large population.

Russia is, like China, a country that cannot get out of its own way. Its "bounceback" is relative, and it is a pygmy, at its most powerful, compared to what it would be if it had the US's or even Canada's internal cohesion. The fact is that the Yeltsin/Putin experience is showing that Russia needs at least a benevolent dictatorship to avoid blowing apart, given the internal rivalries. The fact also is that Moscow's writ has never really run through the country. It might manage a brutal slaughter in Ukraine or against the "kulaks" but it could never exercise long-term control.

Even the oil sales don't create the leverage they're cracked up to. The fact is that a resource seller has little choice but to sell resources almost as fast as it can, since oil doesn't lend itself to significant storage. Also, the market dictates where oil is sold to. Even if Russia were to "favor" Cuba by "giving" them oil or selling it at a below-market price, the transportation efficiencies would dictate that Cuba's oil come from Venezuela or Mexico. That is the reason that regimes that theoretically hate the US are always selling it oil; they have no choice.

I always feel that many Americans feel they have defeated Russia, and can look down on her, but this is so misguided. I don't know if democracy will survive in Russia for long given present conditions, and the increasingly despotic Putin, but history also teaches us that Russia doesn't need democracy to be great - Russian Empire under the tsars, Soviet Union under communism. You could ask - who needs democracy?

What democracy does is make it more likely that restive populations will stay in the system without the use of force. Also, it minimizes the "brain drain" that is inevitable with totalitarianism. When intelligent people feel stifled, that they cannot get ahead, they leave. That is one of the many reasons that the US, Canada and Australia are light years ahead of Continental Europe in living standards; the loss of millions of talented emigrants during the decades leading up to both of the World Wars did serious damage. Russia could stick its dissidents into Gulags; it could not make them maximize efforts for the USSR or pull together with it.

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From a British point of view I can tell the blogs in this forum are very much anti-Russian, but I think it is easy to forget just how powerful and mighty Russia (as the Soviet Union) was - it is almost certain that she will one day regain this position as well, due to her almost unlimited natural resources. In the UK, every day there is a newspaper or television report detailing the fact how dependent Western Europe is becoming on her oil. Russia may have been in decline for the last 15 years, but make no mistake, history teaches us that Russia always bounces back, if only because of her vast size and relatively large population.

Russia is, like China, a country that cannot get out of its own way. Its "bounceback" is relative, and it is a pygmy, at its most powerful, compared to what it would be if it had the US's or even Canada's internal cohesion. The fact is that the Yeltsin/Putin experience is showing that Russia needs at least a benevolent dictatorship to avoid blowing apart, given the internal rivalries. The fact also is that Moscow's writ has never really run through the country. It might manage a brutal slaughter in Ukraine or against the "kulaks" but it could never exercise long-term control.

Even the oil sales don't create the leverage they're cracked up to. The fact is that a resource seller has little choice but to sell resources almost as fast as it can, since oil doesn't lend itself to significant storage. Also, the market dictates where oil is sold to. Even if Russia were to "favor" Cuba by "giving" them oil or selling it at a below-market price, the transportation efficiencies would dictate that Cuba's oil come from Venezuela or Mexico. That is the reason that regimes that theoretically hate the US are always selling it oil; they have no choice.

I always feel that many Americans feel they have defeated Russia, and can look down on her, but this is so misguided. I don't know if democracy will survive in Russia for long given present conditions, and the increasingly despotic Putin, but history also teaches us that Russia doesn't need democracy to be great - Russian Empire under the tsars, Soviet Union under communism. You could ask - who needs democracy?

What democracy does is make it more likely that restive populations will stay in the system without the use of force. Also, it minimizes the "brain drain" that is inevitable with totalitarianism. When intelligent people feel stifled, that they cannot get ahead, they leave. That is one of the many reasons that the US, Canada and Australia are light years ahead of Continental Europe in living standards; the loss of millions of talented emigrants during the decades leading up to both of the World Wars did serious damage. Russia could stick its dissidents into Gulags; it could not make them maximize efforts for the USSR or pull together with it

I think your last quote is the most important - Russia DID stick its dissidents into Gulags and was still one of the worlds most powerful countries - and the second richest in the world after the United States in terms of total GDP.

Also everything in this world is relative - people in different countries have different expectations. You say that the US, Canada and Australia have standards of living light years ahead of the countries of continental Europe, but (speaking as an Englishman) I probably expect different things than you from my government - mainly a much higher level of state involvement in terms of health care and welfare benefits (I wouldn't even dream of buying healthcare insurance, and yes, if I was out of work, I would expect the state to support me financially without question).

I think your quote about democracy keeping people 'in the system' is understandable but false. If you look at the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s when she lead the world in science and technology it was nationalism and grandeur that kept people in the system - they knew their country was one of the greatest on Earth - they didn't require democracy for that. I think it's also important to understand that many Russians won't have any knowledge of the concepts of democracy - they grew up in a country where democracy didn't exist - and certainly wasn't taught favourably in any Soviet school textbooks!

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I think your last quote is the most important - Russia DID stick its dissidents into Gulags and was still one of the worlds most powerful countries - and the second richest in the world after the United States in terms of total GDP.

As far as being the "second richest" keep in mind that the standard of living was sustained only by draining its Warsaw Pact satellites, and receiving "back door US aid" in the form of below market grain sales and subsidized access to the world credit system. In no sense was it producing such wealth. The possible exception is oil exports, during the brief periods (1973-4, 1979-81 and 2004-current) when oil prices have been historically high.

Also everything in this world is relative - people in different countries have different expectations. You say that the US, Canada and Australia have standards of living light years ahead of the countries of continental Europe, but (speaking as an Englishman) I probably expect different things than you from my government - mainly a much higher level of state involvement in terms of health care and welfare benefits (I wouldn't even dream of buying healthcare insurance, and yes, if I was out of work, I would expect the state to support me financially without question).

I mean visible living standards. Who pays for health, etc. is a question for card shufflers, not a question involving real wealth. In Britain and in Continental Europe, my understanding is that people live in smaller homes, often don't have central air conditioning, etc., comforts which we take for granted.

I think your quote about democracy keeping people 'in the system' is understandable but false. If you look at the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s when she lead the world in science and technology it was nationalism and grandeur that kept people in the system - they knew their country was one of the greatest on Earth - they didn't require democracy for that. I think it's also important to understand that many Russians won't have any knowledge of the concepts of democracy - they grew up in a country where democracy didn't exist - and certainly wasn't taught favourably in any Soviet school textbooks!

Then why did so many of their "best and brightest" such as Andrei Sakharov, Alexandr Solzenitsen (sp), Sharansky, etc. feel the need to leave the country, at great personal sacrifice? As far as regions, the totalitarian system drove away the Baltic States, Ukraine, Georgia, etc.

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I agree that Putin is a real problem. I have to wonder if he isn't the result of a bad decision made by Gorbachev to institute political reform before economic reform. Deng Xiao Peng did it the other way around and look at the difference.

The question is... what is Putin reacting to? There is strong evidence of a mafia style culture in Russia. Is that why he does what he does? What does he see as his major problem and what does he see as his biggest goal?

To be sure, his behaviour in Chechnya is criminal, but then look at Iraq!

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I mean visible living standards. Who pays for health, etc. is a question for card shufflers, not a question involving real wealth. In Britain and in Continental Europe, my understanding is that people live in smaller homes, often don't have central air conditioning, etc., comforts which we take for granted.

Well I cant't really speak for continental Europe but as far as Britain is concerned we live in smaller homes because we live in a small country!!! (just like Japan). You only need to look at property prices in the UK to see that you could buy a small mansion in the United States for the same price a detached property would cost you in the UK. The average detatched house price in the UK is now just over £285,000 or over US$400,000. Additionally we don't need air-conditioning as the climate is extremely and pleasantly mild - why have something you would never use? I think the only countries in continental Europe where air-conditioning may be needed is Spain, Portugal and perhaps southern France.

Then why did so many of their "best and brightest" such as Andrei Sakharov, Alexandr Solzenitsen (sp), Sharansky, etc. feel the need to leave the country, at great personal sacrifice? As far as regions, the totalitarian system drove away the Baltic States, Ukraine, Georgia, etc.

Well I agree that the majority of the Baltic States were unhappy under Soviet (Russian) rule, mainly as they had been forced into the Union, but you only need look at how far living standards and GNP have fallen in these countries to see that the Soviet Union did have some social and economic benefits. I have read many articles written by (mainly older) people who live in ex-Soviet countries who can remember the days of the Soviet Union and miss the feeling of belonging to a great state. Nationalism is very important in the minds of many, particularly intellectual, people. There will always be some people who emigrate from country to country, particularly when countries such as the United States can offer them such strong financial incentives!

It should also be remembered whilst standards of living could not compare with those in western countries, most people in the Soviet Union could still rely on free state healthcare and social care - what can they rely on now? You said it yourself - 'the best and the brightest' - what about the normal lay person?

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russia is not becoming communist, it's becoming a dictaotship. there's a big difference.

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I think your last quote is the most important - Russia DID stick its dissidents into Gulags and was still one of the worlds most powerful countries - and the second richest in the world after the United States in terms of total GDP.

GDP by definition is supposed to measure the total market value of all goods and services purchased for final use during a given year. The key phrase is "market value." Even without blatant statistical deception, a nation can increase its GDP if the government rather than the market decides what has value and what does not.

Richest? Even leaving aside that estimates say something like 18% of Soviet GDP came from slave labour camps the Soviet people froze in the dark and lined up for bread each day. The Soviet Union was a pauper nation, its people in rags. It was an economic pygmy with a giant fist.

I think your quote about democracy keeping people 'in the system' is understandable but false. If you look at the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s when she lead the world in science and technology

Eh, what? The Soviet Union has never led the world in science and tech. The world has mocked backward Soviet technology as long as I can remember. The fact they put huge resources into the space race and military technology at once point did not mask the fact that throughout the Soviet Union technology lagged a generation behind the West in almost anything you care to discuss.

it was nationalism and grandeur that kept people in the system - they knew their country was one of the greatest on Earth - they didn't require democracy for that.

What makes a country great? Size alone? Would the Soviet Union have been "one of the greatest countries on earth" if they were a tenth their size? And nationalism and grandeur wouldn't have kept tens of millions from fleeing to the west if they'd had the opportunity - if the border guards wouldn't have shot them down.

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Richest? Even leaving aside that estimates say something like 18% of Soviet GDP came from slave labour camps the Soviet people froze in the dark and lined up for bread each day. The Soviet Union was a pauper nation, its people in rags. It was an economic pygmy with a giant fist.
I think your quote about democracy keeping people 'in the system' is understandable but false. If you look at the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s when she lead the world in science and technology

Eh, what? The Soviet Union has never led the world in science and tech. The world has mocked backward Soviet technology as long as I can remember. The fact they put huge resources into the space race and military technology at once point did not mask the fact that throughout the Soviet Union technology lagged a generation behind the West in almost anything you care to discuss.

it was nationalism and grandeur that kept people in the system - they knew their country was one of the greatest on Earth - they didn't require democracy for that.

What makes a country great? Size alone? Would the Soviet Union have been "one of the greatest countries on earth" if they were a tenth their size? And nationalism and grandeur wouldn't have kept tens of millions from fleeing to the west if they'd had the opportunity - if the border guards wouldn't have shot them down.

Firstly you forget that the economic crises where people had to line up for food generally occurred during the 1980s. During the 1960s and 1970s, when the Soviet Union was at its zenith, these were rare occurrences. I am not trying the say the Soviet Union was a huge success but even anti-Soviet American scholars could not deny vast progress was made in the 1960s and 1970s.

In terms of 'mocking' Soviet technology, I am aware that technology used for civilian purposes

did not match that in the west, but in terms of technology used for military and industrial applications, it is undeniable that the Soviet Union lead the world.

Although size alone does not make a country great, it certainly helps. If the Soviet Union had been tenth the size it would not have been as powerful because the Soviet Union as it was was almost completely self-sufficient in natural resources, and was not at the mercy of other powers to fulfill its needs. I certainly agree that many people would have left the Soviet Union if given the chance, but not tens of millions as you suggest.

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The problem that Mr. Putin is experiencing right now is that he's stuck with a country full of people that, after being caged for so long , are not house broken. And being let out they now think that they can sh*t on everything .... everywhere. I lived behind the Iron Curtain, so I know.

Once the Russian people get through this basic training, they too will be leashless, just you wait and see.

One HAS to learn when to hold it and when to let it rip, don't you think?

I have no experience there, but often wondered that exact thing. People under the screw for so long now are free to make choices as never before. I assume it's major growing pains while the checks and balances of society work themselves out.

Argus,

I believe the Chechnya thing WOULD have made Stalin proud, but then he would have said, "Hey, watch this.", and then wiped it off the map including the surrounding countries as well just in case they had some Chechnyans in them. Putin just isn't in the same class of villains as Stalin, IMO. Same shit though, just a smaller pile.

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Firstly you forget that the economic crises where people had to line up for food generally occurred during the 1980s. During the 1960s and 1970s, when the Soviet Union was at its zenith, these were rare occurrences. I am not trying the say the Soviet Union was a huge success but even anti-Soviet American scholars could not deny vast progress was made in the 1960s and 1970s.

Yes. With lots of help from detente and the 1972 grain sales sure. And wasn't Khruschev booted for, under the table, getting Western aid? Didn't the election of Ronald Reagan, and the dismantling of detenté more or less create the shortages of the 1980's, along with lower oil prices?

Although size alone does not make a country great, it certainly helps. If the Soviet Union had been tenth the size it would not have been as powerful because the Soviet Union as it was was almost completely self-sufficient in natural resources, and was not at the mercy of other powers to fulfill its needs. I certainly agree that many people would have left the Soviet Union if given the chance, but not tens of millions as you suggest.

Again, I point out that self-sufficiency in a resource is great if you use that resource. The ability to sell the resource, and its price, is dictated by market forces outside of Russia's control. Autarchy in oil has done nothing to industrialize the Arab world. Similarly, other than by imposing a blockade, we would have no ability to use our status as exporter of wheat to starve the Arab world (as much as I'm sometimes tempted to want that).

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[Yes. With lots of help from detente and the 1972 graiin sales sure. And wasn't Khruschev booted for, under the table, getting Western aid? Didn't the election of Ronald Reagan, and the dismantling of detenté more or less create the shortages of the 1980's, along with lower oil prices?

Again, I point out that self-sufficiency in a resource is great if you use that resource. The ability to sell the resource, and its price, is dictated by market forces outside of Russia's control. Autarchy in oil has done nothing to industrialize the Arab world. Similarly, other than by imposing a blockade, we would have no ability to use our status as exporter of wheat to starve the Arab world (as much as I'm sometimes tempted to want that).

I was under the impression Kruschev was deposed because he 'backed down' during the Cuban missile crisis. One thing to bear in mind about the Soviet Union is that international trade as a percentage of her GNP was minute. The Soviet Union could, if it had managed her land correctly, have easily fed all the people in her borders. What's to say in the future Russia will not accomplish this?

The dismantling of detente certainly had an effect because resources that could have been ploughed into agriculture were diverted to defence.

What you have just said is simply false i'm afraid. I'm not disputing that Arab countries are not as industrialised as their western counterparts, but oil revenues have had a vast impact on the standard of living in most Arab nations. Increases in state provisions have touched almost everyone. Kuwait, for example, has a free national health care system for pet animals! - not even western countries can boast that! And I think you only need look at the early 1970s oil crisis to see that countries who control oil supplies can have a dramatic effect on economies of industrialised nations, particularly the United States, Europe and Japan.

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was under the impression Kruschev was deposed because he 'backed down' during the Cuban missile crisis. One thing to bear in mind about the Soviet Union is that international trade as a percentage of her GNP was minute. The Soviet Union could, if it had managed her land correctly, have easily fed all the people in her borders. What's to say in the future Russia will not accomplish this?

The dismantling of detente certainly had an effect because resources that could have been ploughed into agriculture were diverted to defence.

Eastern Europe has their ag back on line or they are very close to it. They might not get 1 CWRS with 15 protein, but they produce a lot. The thing with the USSR was that it was state owned land and the workers could give two shits about it. When 5 bells hit they would shut down and you cannot have this in ag. Our markets for ag are in fact countries in OPEC not eastern Europe anymore.

Again, I point out that self-sufficiency in a resource is great if you use that resource. The ability to sell the resource, and its price, is dictated by market forces outside of Russia's control. Autarchy in oil has done nothing to industrialize the Arab world. Similarly, other than by imposing a blockade, we would have no ability to use our status as exporter of wheat to starve the Arab world (as much as I'm sometimes tempted to want that).

If the countries that exported grain formed a cartel like the Arabs did, they'd be hooped. Oh you want the price of oil sky high, well we'll just take your share of our wheat exports and turn it into biofuel. If we really wanted to we could hoop them with that. Look what's happening in Palestine, we cut them off and now they're fighting each other.

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