Saturday, February 03, 2007

A short history of post-Soviet Russia

I read it, so that you don't have to.

Michael Specter has written a very good summary of present-day Soviet politics and has provided the context to the strange death of Alexander Litvinienko in London with Polonium 210 poisoning. The article appeared in the New Yorker and is titled "KREMLIN, INC. - Why are Vladimir Putin’s opponents dying?"

Summary:
  • Gorbachev encouraged the press to open up and start criticizing the government etc.
  • Boris Yeltsin supported democracy and freedom. But he lost his way. He did not negotiate with Chechnya when the separatist movement started there and lost the First Chechen War because he thought Russia would crush the rebellion easily. He was suffering from heavy drinking etc. and would have lost elections to Communists led by Alexander Zyuganov in 1996.
  • Oligarchs who controlled TV channels, liberals who ran newspapers and others muzzled themselves and propped up an unpopular Yeltsin to stave off the Communists. In doing so, they went down a slippery slope from which Russian democracy has never quite recovered.
  • When Putin came to power, Russians were suffering. But with high oil prices, it has been extremely resurgent. Putin has taken advantage of the high oil prices (Russia exports 30% of world's oil) and has stifled all opposition completely and sucked democracy out. No elections for state governors, no opposition on television. Even Gary Kasparov, the chess champion, is being harrassed regularly.
  • Anna Politkovskaya, a fearless journalist reporting on Russian atrocities in Chechnya was killed in Moscow. Litvinienko was mysteriously killed in London. Most people blame Putin for those deaths.
  • Russia is a dying country. Male average lifespan is 59, less than that in Pakistan or Bangladesh. Population is projected to go down to 100 million by 2050 from 150 million right now.

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