A really good op-ed in yesterday's Post and Courier cautions of the steps by Vladimir Putin to hang onto power after his tenure as President ends, warning readers that:
The hopes for a democratic future that were inspired when Boris Yeltsin climbed on a tank in 1991 to resist a Stalinist coup are fading as KGB-style rule returns.
Putin has done much to right the Russian ship of state, by restoring order and clamping down on the widespread corruption that had followed the collapse of the exhausted Soviet Union, combatting a malaise that had some similarites to what was experienced by post-imperial Great Britain between the 1950s and the Thatcher years. But in many ways, Putin's efforts couldn't be more different, as well as the outcomes.
Unlike Britain, where Thatcher's reforms led to revitalized national pride and a blossoming of freedom and opportunity, Putin's moves replaced chaos and malaise with a dull grey blanket. Weighing that blanket down is the gradual erosion of Yeltsin-led democratic reforms, growing consolidation of industry in the hands of the state and state-allied oligarchs, a remilitarization and a growing effort to reach out and build alliances with non-democratic nations.
Those of us who were teens and in our twenties in the late 1980s had great hope when the Soviet Empire collapsed. Suddenly, the prospect of war - anywhere between a massive land war in central Europe to a global nuclear conflict - had ended and our generation faced a much brighter future. We had hoped that whatever rose from the ashes of the fallen Soviet Empire would be a new partner for peace and progress, but this dream would only be half-fulfilled.
While much progress was made when freedom moved east and many of the former client states embraced the West, Russia and its neighboring states first struggled through chaos and corruption, then moved away from the democratic reforms that had prevailed in central Europe. Today, Putin with one hand in the Russian electoral process and another closely meddling in the affairs of his neighbors, makes plans to install a figurehead ruler while retaining his real power.
John McCain's warning about Putin seems rather prophetic: "I looked into Mr. Putin's eyes and I saw three things — a K and a G and a B." For those generations who remember the KGB as the sword and shield of Soviet-era tyranny, and see Putin's manueverings, both at home and abroad, McCain's comparison presents an ominous warning.