Edward Lucas, Daily Mail, February 28, 2012
For the past four years, Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister, and his sidekick Dmitry Medvedev, who has the nominal post of president, have been engaged in a huge propaganda operation to fool Russians and the West.
With much fanfare, they have pretended to reform their benighted land. Mr Medvedev denounced corruption, and they pretended to be friends with the West, particularly through a warming of their relations with the U.S. in 2009.
But this has been a sham to conceal the truth: that Russia is shamefully misruled.
The ruling former KGB regime has squandered tens of billions of pounds and missed a once-in-a-lifetime chance to modernise the country.
It has no real interest in friendship or co-operation with the West, whatever our gullible diplomats and officials may think. It wants to launder money in London, but not to adopt our values of liberty or the rule of law.
Mr Putin, 59, has admitted that standing again as Russia’s president — for up to two more six-year terms — in elections this Sunday was a decision he made only with Mr Medvedev.
But to call the event an ‘election’ is an insult to true democracies. Real elections involve a real choice between real candidates, where the outcome is in doubt.
In this farcical poll, just as in the shamefully rigged parliamentary ‘elections’ in December, any candidate who could present a challenge to the regime and its criminal cronies has no chance of taking part.
In fact, electoral fraud will scarcely be necessary. Mr Putin faces no real rival at the polls.
The other candidates — a clapped-out Communist, an extremist and a playboy billionaire — are not remotely plausible alternatives. Even Russians who detest Mr Putin would hesitate to vote for them.
State-run TV dutifully reports the deeds of the ‘First Person’ in cloying terms reminiscent of Stalinist Soviet propaganda.
It portrays Mr Putin as the guarantor of stability — something many Russians still crave after the chaos and humiliation of the Nineties under the drunken Boris Yeltsin.
The official media machine also decries the regime’s opponents — the ordinary people demonstrating on the streets of Moscow this week in their thousands — as foreign-financed puppets and provocateurs. The barely concealed subtext is that they are in league with terrorists.
The arrest of an alleged Chechen terrorist this week, and his fanciful confession that he had been instructed to attack Mr Putin’s motorcade with landmines, has all the hallmarks of the lame and cynical electioneering stunts previously employed by the regime.
Mr Putin’s ascent to power in 1999 was speeded by a series of devastating apartment block bombings in which 293 people died. The public believed Russia was under terrorist attack. In panic, they turned to Mr Putin — renowned as a tough man of action — to deal with the threat.
But investigations showed no sign of terrorists and plenty of evidence of involvement by the FSB — Russia’s internal security service, once run by Mr Putin.
Those who investigated these mysterious bombings were jailed or exiled. Some ended up dead — like Anna Politkovskaya, a brave journalist, and Alexander Litvinenko, an FSB defector murdered in London with radioactive polonium. British officials believe his murder followed direct orders from the top.
Fear of such guilty secrets being exposed is one reason why Mr Putin cannot relinquish power. He is a prisoner of the system he has created.
The murderous and thieving regime in Moscow is laid bare in The Man Without A Face, a brilliant new book by Russian-born author Masha Gessen.
She describes the gangsterism at the heart of the regime, epitomised by Mr Putin’s bizarre penchant for pocketing trinkets, including a ring that an American sports magnate unwisely allowed him to try on.
Ms Gessen says Putin suffers from pleonexia, a bizarre form of kleptomania, where satisfaction is gained by expropriating others’ possessions.
Consider the fate of Mr Putin’s greatest rival: the tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Once Russia’s richest man, he is now serving a lengthy prison sentence after a grotesquely unfair trial.
The regime’s cronies broke up Mr Khodorkovsky’s Yukos energy empire using bogus tax demands. They shared the proceeds, costing foreign shareholders £5 billion.
The London-based financial speculator Bill Browder, once the biggest foreign investor in Russia, reckons the top 1,000 people in Russian politics and officialdom have stolen a trillion dollars over the past ten years.
Part of that was a £145 million fraud against Browder’s companies, perpetrated by FSB officials. His lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, uncovered the swindle — and died in agony in prison after a severe beating.
Mr Browder is campaigning for the 60 people directly involved in this outrage to be banned from travelling to the West. He has U.S. support and this week won backing from backbench Conservative MPs.
But the biggest threat to Mr Putin is not the West, which is increasingly inward looking as it wrestles with its own economic woes. No, the real threat comes at home.
The man who was once not just all-powerful but stunningly popular now looks weak.
Of course, he will still win Sunday’s election. Ill-educated, provincial Russians who believe official propaganda and the millions on the bloated state payroll will see to that.
But in the longer term, Mr Putin has lost. He has become a figure of fun among the middle classes in Russia’s big cities.
The internet is buzzing with wickedly funny parodies of his mannerisms and the grotesque excesses of official propaganda. They liken him to the decrepit Soviet ruler Leonid Brezhnev.
And they mock his authoritarian style with ‘Putler Kaput’ — a daring combination of his surname with that of Hitler. They seize on his most embarrassing moments — such as when he crooned Blueberry Hill at a star-studded charity concert. Typically, the money supposedly raised for children then disappeared.
When he took to the ring to congratulate the winner at a martial arts contest in November, the crowd — tough Russian men who had previously been his ardent supporters — booed and whistled. Now, he can’t possibly appear at a sporting or cultural event without risking a repeat performance.
For modern-minded Russians, increasingly well-educated and well-travelled, Putin’s paranoia, incompetence and greed is an embarrassment.
They want Russia to take its rightful place in world affairs as one of the great cultures of modern civilisation, not to skulk in the shadows with other rogue states.
They consider the Kremlin’s support for the ongoing bloodbath in Syria, and its pandering to the nuclear mullahs of Iran, to be a disgrace.
To be fair, such derision does not yet spell defeat for Putin. The mainly middle-class demonstrators who formed a human chain around central Moscow at the weekend numbered only 30,000. Demonstrations in other towns and cities were even smaller.
The opposition is still largely leaderless. Opportunists and extremists abound. By paying participants to turn up to his rallies (typically £10 a head, with food and vodka thrown in), Mr Putin can summon up a far larger army of supposed supporters.
But the bombast is hollow, just as his election victory will be. The bleak truth is that the Putin regime has run out of ideas.
His lavish and meaningless promises during the election campaign don’t offer a programme for social reform.
Russia’s distorted economy is perilously dependent on a high — and rising — oil price. Yet Putin wants to boost social spending, increase the arms budget and raise salaries.
That is a recipe for bankruptcy, as even his own economically literate followers know all too well.
Increasingly, Russian voters no longer believe in Mr Putin. And neither should we.
Originally posted at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/new...
Also posted on the Baltic American Freedom League website, wher EWR first noticed it http://www.bafl.com/page/newsA... )
EDWARD LUCAS is the author of Deception, an expose of East-West espionage, to be published on March 15.
Putin and His Cronies Have Plundered Russia for a Decade, but Though He’ll Win Sunday’s Sham Election, His Days are Numbered