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Life in Russia today?

I asked Cameron Sawyer if he had known Edmund Pope, author of Torpedoed, an account of his imprisonment in Russia. Cameron replied: "I moved to Moscow in 1991, when the Soviet Union still existed, and have lived here ever since. I never met Pope and know no one who did. Among the American community in Moscow, opinion is divided about whether Pope was actually spying or not. His story seems pretty fishy, although perhaps Pope was merely extremely naive. I suppose you know that Pope was dealing in highly classified military technology (related to submarines, hence the title of his book). Someone told him that it could be declassified and sold, but the FSB had other ideas. Pope is lucky; his Russian partner will probably spend the rest of his life in prison.

Pope is right about one thing -- the old KGB indeed hated Yeltsin, who lacked a clear vision of Russia s place in the world after Communism and did a lot of damage to the organization. The first couple of years of Yeltsin's administration was marked by a foreign policy overly optimistic about the immediate effects of the end of the Cold War. He made drastic cuts of budgets and resources for the security agencies, and then swung back the other way. Putin, by way of contrast, has an extremely clear vision of post-Communist Russia's place in the world. Putin' s Russia is a powerful capitalist country which perhaps will not regain the geopolitical significance of the Soviet Union anytime soon, but which will not be subordinated to the West, either. Putin s strategy for this is clear finish market reforms, complete the destruction of the Communists as a political force inside Russia, crank the economy up to a sustained 6% or 7% annual growth rate, work out Russia s relationship to the West, making all compromises necessary for this in the short term (NATO expansion, missile defense), rebuild Russian power. Putin is not a starry-eyed liberal. He is building democratic institutions in Russia but doesn't mind cheating to expand his own power (election fraud is maybe not as rampant as in Latin America, but Russia is not Switzerland, either). Putin's administration seems to be more corrupt than Yeltsin s, but the general level of corruption seems to be declining as a result of more effective law enforcement under Putin and an improved climate of law and order. As an example, Putin has himself led the charge to cut tax rates radically, and start collecting taxes, and this program has succeeded brilliantly. Tax collections are up to such an extent that the budget is now in surplus.

So I agree with you; I like Putin very much. He is extremely popular in Russia and has turned out to be most effective reformer since Peter the Great. Russia has been cursed for centuries by never having a reformer with the ability to effectively work the political system, or by having such men murdered at just the wrong time; take Stolypin, for example. Putin has got the vision, and is a master of practical politics. Under Putin, Russia is getting stronger and more prosperous by the day, and that is good for the West as well as for Russia herself. We should grab the chance and finally integrate Russia into the West. The signs so far are that the Bush administration is not totally ignorant of the historic opportunity here".

My comment: I have one more question for Cameron. Representative Roscoe G. Bartlett,(R, MD) is a member of the Armed Services Committee. At a committee hearing he gave an account of a large, secret, closed Russian city, with privileges unique in Russia, devoted to nuclear weapons preparation. He said the Russians believe a nuclear war is winnable. Bartlett must have access to a lot of privileged "information". But is the information correct? Russians could make a similar assertion about the United States. I confess my ignorance. It seemed odd to make this statement at a time Bush was preparing to discuss these mattes with Putin.

Ronald Hilton - 5/27/02