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November 27, 2006

The Russia House

Posted by Watlington

As a renegade KGB operative is poisoned in London, the KGB's ascendancy in Russia looks unstoppable.

All through the Yeltsin years there was a constant battle between the old Communist apparatchiks (individuals like the old Prime Minister and ex-head of Gazprom, Chernomyrdin et al) and the KGB for supremacy. For a while it looked like the Apparatchiks would hold sway - it was they who encouraged the Oligarchs and took control of the main Russian industries and the finance sector.

As Yeltsin's power waned, the KGB reasserted itself and gradually rested power from what had become a corrupt ' apparatchik' elite. The new KGB were no less corrupt, but much more dangerous. They believed that Russia should emerge once again as a great power and in order to ensure stability at home, a new 'soft' authoritarianism was needed. The KGB chose Vladimir Putin (a long time KGB operative) as a figurehead.

In return for a pledge to leave Yeltsin and his entourage alone, it was agreed that Putin would become President. Year by year and month by month, President Putin has ensured that the FSB (the renamed KGB) have re-emerged as rulers of Russia. The death of Alexander Litvinenko should be set against the backdrop of the curtailing of democratic rights, the emergence of quasi-fascist paramilitary organisations, the free hand given to the FSB, and the intense bullying of ex USSR countries like Ukraine and Georgia (see Time to stand up to Russia). Inexplicably, Russia is also supporting Iran and gives succour to terrorist groups in the Middle East - inviting Hamas to Moscow.

The West has only itself to blame. As Mr Putin has carried out his creeping coup, governments across Europe have turn a blind eye to Russian excesses, so enthusiastic on the one hand to believe that Russia needs "stability" and so anxious to protect energy interests on the other. When barely an eyebrow was raised at the Chechen invasion and the massacres that followed, the Russian government took it as a green light that they could get away with anything.

The murder of Mr Litvinenko should - and must - change the West's attitude to Mr Putin. If we have to return to the days of the Cold War - or if temperatures fall to freezing for a while - then so be it. Leadership from Western governments, from organisations like Nato and the EU is desperately needed. All pressure must be brought to bear - in every possible way - to stop the reversal of democratisation and to curb the power of the FSB. Every effort must be made to encourage reformist elements, every exposure given to every human rights abuse.

The free nations of the world - those who uphold the rule of law and promote liberal values - are under assault as never before. From the Middle East comes wave after wave of Islamic totalitarianism. Now in the heart of Europe comes the Russian bear - posing a different but no less dangerous threat. Let us hope this time the West gets a grip.

To read more by Watlington, see Watlington.


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