Here's a longer version of my piece on the neo-conservatives' anti-Russian strategy from the Morning Star.
From a socialist perspective there are certainly plenty of grounds for criticising the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. He’s introduced a flat-rate income tax, which greatly benefits the wealthy, and plans the partial marketisation of Russia’s education and health systems. And while some of Russia’s notorious oligarchs, who made their fortunes from fleecing public funds in the 1990s under Yeltsin have been bought to justice, others remain free to flaunt their ill-gotten gains, in a country where the gap between rich and poor is chasmic.
Even so, those on the left who have been enthusiastically joining in in the current wave of Putin-bashing sweeping the western media, ought to consider whose cause they are serving. For it is beyond doubt that the driving force behind the campaign to portray the Russian President as a sinister totalitarian despot, have been Washington’s neo-conservatives.
Even before the recent unexplained deaths of journalist Anna Politskaya and former secret service man Alexander Litvinenko, hawks in the U.S. were doing all they could to discredit the Russian government. In 2003, Bruce P.Jackson, Director of the ‘Project for a New American Century’ and a key figure in several other neo-con pressure groups, talked of the way Putin’s re-nationalisation of energy companies threatened the West’s ‘democratic objectives- and claimed Putin had established a ‘de facto Cold War administration’. Jackson’s prognosis was simple: a new ‘soft-war’ against the Kremlin, a call echoed by many other leading neo-conservatives. The neo- cons are gunning for Putin not because of concern over alleged anti-democratic practices, but because the current Russian regime stands in the way of their plans for global hegemony. Their imperialistic strategy was recorded in the infamous ‘Wolfowitz memorandum’ a secret Pentagon document, leaked to the New York Times in 1992, which targeted Russia as the biggest future threat to US geo-strategic ambitions. The memorandum, authored by the then under-secretary for defence Paul Wolfowitz, considered by many to be the architect of the Iraq war, projected a U.S.-Russian confrontation over NATO expansion.
For neo-cons the great crime of Vladimir Putin is that he has proved to be a far more assertive Russian leader than his alcoholic predecessor. Putin not only held his ground on Iraq, openly making fun of American and British claims that Iraq possessed WMD, but also opposes Washington’s aspirations for enforced ‘regime change’ in Syria and Iran. He has also supported, to Washington’s chagrin, Venezuela’s bid for a place on the UN Security council.
As part of their anti-Putin strategy, the neo-cons have shown they are prepared to make some interesting alliances. The pro-separatist ‘American Committee for Peace in Chechnya’ (ACPC), claims to be "the only private, non-governmental organization in North America exclusively dedicated to promoting the peaceful resolution of the Russo-Chechen war.’ But its list of members makes interesting reading. Hard-core neo cons Richard Perle, William Kristol, Eliot Cohen, Michael Ledeen and Bruce P Jackson, not usually associated with ’promoting the peaceful resolution’ of international conflicts, are all members. “Although ACPC notes its concern about human rights violations by Russia, the committee appears to be more concerned with advancing U.S. geopolitics in this region with respect to Russia and secondarily with China”, concludes the progressive and highly respected International Relations Center.
The neo-cons have also been willing to champion the cause of some of Russia’s most notorious oligarchs in furtherance of their anti-Putin campaign. After the arrest of the billionaire businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky for tax evasion in 2003, Richard Perle called for Russia's expulsion from the G8, its exclusion from any post-war Iraq oil contracts, and accused it of collusion with Iran's nuclear power programme. The arrest of Khodorkovsky also brought condemnation from no less a person than the US President himself. Just imagine the hiatus if President Putin had commented on the arrest of a U.S. tax dodger by the federal authorities.
In the unrelenting pro-Khodorkovsky, anti-Putin propaganda we were subjected to back in 2003, much was made of the oligarchs' role in building Russian "democracy" - as opposed to the crude attempts of Putin to shunt his country back to the days of Peter the Great. But the "democracy" that oligarchs like Khodorkovsky- and his British based counterpart Boris Berezkovsky, a business partner of George W. Bush’s brother, stand for, is the "democracy" of an elite of billionaire businessmen to buy themselves not just political power, but immunity from the laws of the land. It’s this plutocratic model of ‘democracy’- not the democracy in which decision making power rests with ordinary people, that Washington’s neo-conservatives favour.
The recent unexplained deaths of Anna Politskaya and Alexander Litvinenko, have only provided further impetus to their long-standing - and well-financed campaign- to smear the Kremlin.
In the absence of any evidence to suggest President Putin’s involvement, socialists and progressives should be wary at jumping on a bandwagon orchestrated by the very people who bought death and destruction to the streets of Baghdad and whose aim is to unleash similar unlawful aggression against the populations of Syria and Iran.