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Update
“Conversion of Russia”
From Russia with Dread

By Christopher A. Ferrara

The headline of Jonathan Dimbleby’s story in The Daily Mail online (May 17, 2008) says it all: “Russia: A totalitarian regime in thrall to a Tsar who’s creating the new Fascist empire.” Commenting on developments in Russia which have been followed regularly in this column, Dimbleby, writing from Russia, observes that Putin has “not only written the script for his constitutional coup d’etat, but staged the play and given himself the starring role as well.”

The way Putin has arranged things, “President” Medvedev operates as nothing more than his executive assistant. Writes Dimbleby: “No decision of any significance for the Russian people or the rest of us will be made in the foreseeable future without the say-so of Medvedev’s unsmiling master.”

Dimbleby focuses on the claim that Putin is entitled to his ascendancy as Russia’s dictator because he has “delivered” the Russian people from the deprivations of the Communist era. “He has,” Dimbleby writes, “told the Russian people that life is much better than it was before he took over [and] no doubt that the majority of his subjects believe him.” Thus, even though Putin’s Russia “is increasingly autocratic and irredeemably corrupt, the man himself — their born-again Tsar — is overwhelmingly regarded as the answer to the nation’s prayers.”

But the reality is other. Russia has endured, says Dimbleby, “centuries of suffering — its brutalities, its wars and revolutions, culminating in the collapse of communism and the anarchic buffoonery of the Yeltsin years — have taken a terrible psychological toll.” And now, “Cynicism and fatalism which eat away at the human psyche have wormed their way into the very DNA of the Russian soul. In a nation that has not tasted and — with very few exceptions — does not expect or demand justice or freedom, all that matters is stability and security.”

The “stability and security” that Putin claims to offer comes at an exorbitant price. And Dimbleby observes that “Russians have been criminally short-changed...” While average real incomes “have more than doubled... [t]hey started from a very low base and they could have done far better.” Meanwhile, the vast profits from Russia’s booming oil trade have “not been used ‘to share the proceeds of growth’ with the people [or] to resurrect a health service which is on its knees (and is ranked by the World Health Organisation as 130th out of the 190 countries of the UN)... It has not brought gas and running water to the villages where the peasants have been devastated by the collapse of the collectives, or even developed the infrastructure that a 21st century economy needs to compete with the rest of the world. Russia may be a member of the G8 whose GDP [Gross Domestic Product] (because of oil) should soon overtake the United Kingdom, but, in many ways, it is more like a Third World country.”

Then there is the ongoing Russian AIDS epidemic and rampant alcoholism, which have contributed to an average life expectancy for Russian males of only 58 years. At the same time, the Russian population “is projected to shrink from 145 million to 120 million within a few decades.”

And all that wealth from oil? Where has it gone? Apparently to gargantuan payouts for Putin’s cronies. As Dimbleby explains, citing an expert report by former Kremlin insiders who have dared to speak out, “‘a criminal system of government [has] taken shape under Putin’ in which the Kremlin has been selling state assets cheaply to Putin’s cronies and buying others assets back from them at an exorbitant price.” For example, Roman Abramovich, “one of Putin’s closest allies, paid a mere $100 million for Sifnet; ten years later, the government shelled out $13.7 billion for it — an astronomical sum and far above the going market rate.” As Dimbleby concludes: “You can forget any talk from the new President about ‘stamping out’ corruption. This social and economic disease is insidious and rampant.”

Nor can Russian citizens expect any real opposition to this endemic corruption, because, as Dimbleby notes, “the media has been muzzled by the Kremlin, their freedom of expression stifled by the government. Almost every national radio and television station is now controlled directly or indirectly by the state, and the same applies to every newspaper of any influence.”

In addition to tyranny at home, there is saber-rattling toward the West. Russia’s military alliance with China, thanks to which, as Dimbleby notes, “the adversaries of a generation ago are now not only major trading partners, but conduct joint military exercises,” represents a development that “shifts the balance of power in the world.”

For all these reasons, writes Dimbleby, “as life on earth becomes less and less secure, with ever more people competing for a dwindling supply of vital resources, Russia, as an energy giant, is once again a big player on the world stage. Make no mistake, we are in for a very bumpy ride.”

Thus do things stand 23 years after a “consecration of Russia” that deliberately omitted any mention of Russia. No wonder we have heard less and less from the Fatima revisionists who once marveled at the “miraculous transformation” of what Sister Lucia so rightly called “that poor nation.”