The Great Debate UK

from The Great Debate:

Was a Putin mentor poisoned?

Excerpted from The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen, by arrangement with Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright © 2012 by Masha Gessen.

Encouraged by his former deputy’s meteoric rise, former St. Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchak decided to end his Paris exile and go back to Russia in the summer of 1999. He returned full of hope and even more full of ambition. As Sobchak was leaving Paris, Arkady Vaksberg, a forensics specialist turned investigative reporter and author with whom Sobchak had become friendly during his years in France, asked him whether he hoped to return to Paris as an ambassador. “Higher than that,” replied Sobchak. Vaksberg was sure the former mayor was aiming for the foreign minister’s seat: the rumor in Moscow’s political circles was that Sobchak would head up the Constitutional Court, the most important court in the country.

With characteristic overconfidence, Sobchak immediately ran for parliament -- and suffered an embarrassing loss. But once Putin launched his election campaign, he appointed his former boss his “empowered representative” -- a job that basically entitled Sobchak to
campaign for Putin (candidates may have dozens and even hundreds of “empowered representatives”). Campaign Sobchak did, seeming to forget that his political reputation had once rested on his democratic credentials. He called Putin “the new Stalin,” promising potential voters not so much mass murder as an iron hand -- “the only way to make the Russian people work,” Sobchak said.

But Sobchak didn’t stop at the rhetoric. He talked too much, as had always been his way. Just as Putin was dictating his new official life story to three journalists, Sobchak was reminiscing, in response to questions asked by other journalists, and recounting key episodes of Putin’s career in ways that contradicted the story told by his old protégé.

from Ian Bremmer:

Prokhorov’s presidential chances are not the point

By Ian Bremmer
The opinions expressed are his own.

After a week full of anti-government and pro-government protests, Russians woke up on Monday to big news. Mikhail Prokhorov, a political novice with billions of dollars—and the New Jersey Nets— to his name, announced his Presidential bid.  Alexei Kudrin, a longtime bureaucratic infighter, also declared his plans to re-enter the political arena. These developments were even more significant considering both were ousted in rather public quarrels with the powers that be just months ago. Kudrin said he would support and aid a pro-reform liberal party that would stand as a counterweight to the incumbent United Russia. Prokhorov intends to challenge Putin for the presidency in March 2012 on a platform that would appeal to Russia’s “disenchanted middle class.”

No matter what Kudrin and Prokhorov say in public, they both represent the same thing to Russia and the world: Vladimir Putin’s iron grip on power. As I’ve written before, Putin is the most powerful individual on the planet. To think that either man would risk his freedom or his fortune to oppose Putin’s Kremlin, no matter what their stated reasons are, is just wrong. That said, there are reasons to watch this “race” as it will give some insight into Putin’s inevitable third term as president.

from The Great Debate:

Why is Obama giving Libya to the Russians?

By John Bolton
The opinions expressed are his own.

With President Obama’s Libya policy staggering from one embarrassment to another, last week he and Secretary of State Clinton outdid themselves. They publicly welcomed Russia’s effort to insert itself as a mediator, an act of such strategic myopia that it must leave even Moscow’s leadership speechless.

Permanent Security Council members Russia and China abstained on the initial resolution authorizing force to create a Libya no-fly zone and to protect innocent civilians. By not casting a veto, Russia thereby tacitly allowed military action to proceed. As they did, Russia repeatedly second-guessed and harshly criticized NATO’s operations. Now, as a mediator, Russia will, in effect, have the chance to rewrite the Council’s resolution according to its own lights.

from MacroScope:

Give me liberty and give me cash!

Photo

Come back Mr Fukuyama, all is forgiven.

In his 1992 book "The End of History and the Last Man", American political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously argued that all states were moving inexorably towards liberal democracy. His thesis that democracy is the pinnacle of political evolution has since been challenged by the violent eruption of radical Islam as well as the economic success of authoritarian countries such as China and Russia.

Now a study by Russian investment bank Renaissance Capital into the link between economic wealth and democracy seems to back Fukuyama.

Aid: In favour of zero-tolerance

By Laurance Copeland

After one year, the progress report on the Coalition reads “Moving in the right direction, but with a lot more to do”.

Nonetheless, it is a prisoner of its commitment at the outset to leave two departmental budgets untouched: the NHS and international aid. It is not simply the amounts of money involved (colossal in the case of the NHS, relatively small for aid). It is also the signal it sends that there is such a status as sacrosanct, which immediately begs the question from policemen, firemen, teachers, the legal system, the armed forces: why isn’t our budget sacrosanct too?

from Global Investing:

Russia’s babushka time-bomb

Photo

The babushka, that embodiment of Russian grandmotherly goodness that has spawned iconic dolls and inspired a Kate Bush song, poses one of the gravest threat to the Russian economy.

Moscow-based investment bank Renaissance Capital also expects this segment of the demography to spur politically risky pension reforms.

from Global News Journal:

UNsensational? Five more years of Ban Ki-moon

Photo

U.S. Senators Joseph Lieberman and John Kerry look on as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon addresses reporters in Washington. REUTERS/Molley Riley

U.S. Senators Joe Lieberman and John Kerry look on as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon addresses reporters in Washington. REUTERS/Molley Riley

It's hard to find a delegate to the United Nations who despises U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. But it's even harder to find someone who thinks he has the gravitas and charisma of his Nobel Peace Prize-winning predecessor Kofi Annan, who invoked the wrath of the previous U.S. administration when he called the 2003 invasion of Iraq "illegal." As one senior Western official, who declined to be identified, said about Ban: "It's not as if he's lightning in a bottle, but we can live with him."

from Davos Notebook:

Will Goldman’s new BRICwork stand up?

Photo

RTXWLHHJim O'Neill, the Goldman Sachs economist who coined the term BRICs back in 2001, is adding four new countries to the elite club of emerging market economies. But does his new edifice have the same solid foundations?

In future, the BRIC economies of Brazil, Russia, China and India will be merged with those of Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey and South Korea under the banner “growth markets,” O'Neill told the Financial Times.

from Chrystia Freeland:

Putin’s authoritarianism has a sad logic

For anyone who ever hoped Russia could become a liberal, free-market democracy, the grim trial last month of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former oil tycoon who was once his country’s richest man, offered a slender solace—it was widely and loudly condemned.

David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, compared the prosecution to that of the late poet and Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky. Joe Nocera, writing about the business and economic consequences in The New York Times (whose global edition is the International Herald Tribune), described the Kremlin’s tactics as “boneheaded.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that the case would “have a negative impact on Russia’s reputation,” and particularly on its “investment climate.” What was notable about this chorus of foreign criticism was the implication that, even judged by the Kremlin’s own standards of realpolitik, the treatment of Mr. Khodorkovsky was a mistake. Moscow’s leaders want to restore Russia’s wealth and greatness: Western assertions that the Khodorkovsky trial had hurt Russia’s reputation and would discourage foreign investment suggested that the Kremlin was harming its own cause.

from Global News Journal:

WikiLeaks Scandal: Is the United Nations a Den of Spies?

Photo

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice has dismissed suggestions that her diplomats are part-time spies, as suggested by the latest batch of documents released by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks.
 
"Let me be very clear -- our diplomats are just that, they're diplomats," Rice told reporters at the United Nations where she was peppered with questions about the latest chapter in the WikiLeaks scandal. "Our diplomats are doing what diplomats do around the world every day, which is build relationships, negotiate, advance our interests and work to find common solutions to complex problems."
 
She didn't exactly deny the charges of espionage. But the top U.S. diplomat in New York did reject the idea that there would be any diplomatic fallout from the release of thousands of documents obtained by WikiLeaks, some of which have been published by The Guardian and other newspapers.
 
One U.S. diplomatic cable published by The Guardian shows how the State Department instructed diplomats at the United Nations and elsewhere around the world to collect credit card and frequent flyer numbers, work schedules and biometric data for U.N. officials and diplomats. Among the personalities of interest was U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as were the ambassadors of the other 14 Security Council member states. 
 
There is nothing new about espionage at the United Nations, but it's always embarrassing when classified documents proving it happens surface in the media.
 
Most Security Council envoys declined to comment on the WikiLeaks documents as they headed into the council chambers on Monday for a meeting on North Korea. Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, however, told reporters, "Surprise, surprise."
 
Churkin should know. One of the diplomats in his charge was implicated earlier this year in a high-profile Russian espionage case in the United States in which nearly a dozen people were accused of being part of a Russian spy ring that carried out deep-cover work in the United States to recruit political sources and gather information for Moscow. The U.S. Justice Department said that an unnamed diplomat at the Russian mission to the United Nations had delivered payments to the spy ring.
    
And then there was the man known as "Comrade J", a Russian spy based in New York from 1995 to 2000. Working out of Russia's U.N. mission, Comrade J directed Russian espionage activity in New York City and personally oversaw all covert operations against the United States and its allies in the United Nations. According to a book about his exploits, Comrade J eventually became a double agent for the FBI.
 
Nor does the history of U.N. espionage end there. In 2004, a former British cabinet minister revealed that British intelligence agents had spied on Ban Ki-moon's predecessor Kofi Annan, who fell afoul of Washington and London by opposing the 2003 invasion of Iraq. 
    
Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the Vienna-based U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was also the victim of a phone-bugging operation, according to media reports from 2004. He had also opposed the invasion of Iraq and angered the United States by saying that their intelligence on Saddam Hussein's alleged revival of his nuclear arms program was not only incorrect but partly based on falsified evidence. U.S. officials pored over transcripts of ElBaradei's telephone intercepts in an attempt to secure evidence of mistakes that could be used to oust him from his post, the reports said. Not only did they fail to unseat him, he went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

  •