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Web Letter

Remarkable insight into what is going on in the American political scene regarding Russia. I am a regular Russia observer, and articles like these are rare in American media.

I would like to add following comments/suggestions:

1. It seems that Russophobia is so deeply ingrained in both parties' DNA that the cold war approach towards Russia will remain in the foreseeable future.

2. Ukraine's neutrality is unlikely. It's either NATO, or Ukraine splits in two, one half going to the United States, the other toward Russia. If the Russian half of Ukraine is coerced into NATO, a nuclear confrontation based on the doctrine of nuclear primacy and full-spectrum dominance might lead to a life-or-death crisis for Russia.

3. Europe's powerlessness to forge an independent political and foreign policy and its failure to recognize Russia as a natural European ally with centuries of common history and shared experience will eventually make Europe even more vulnerable to competition from the Islamic world and almost entirely dependent on Middle Eastern energy resources.

4. The possibility that a powerful oligarchical interest group allied to the Kremlin and the American elite sees Russia mainly as a natural resource supplier and may support centrifugal forces inside Russia to weaken it, seeking an independent role and even secession of the Russian far east. This would enable the oligarchs, the far-east governing elite and American interests to freely develop Russia's energy deposits.

5. Most of the nineties-era oligarchs still operate inside Russia and continue to transfer hundreds of billions in off-shore banks. Except three or four examples, such as Berezovsky, Gusinsky and ex-Yukos-Chairman Kohodorkovsky, there has been no systematic attempt to bring organized crime heads to justice. This makes one wonder if Putin has really been sincere in dealing with oligarchs or if the Yukos affair was merely a ploy to neutralize Russian public resentment.

6. Both the state-owned and private oil and gas companies such as Gazprom, Rosneft, TNK-BP and Lukoil lack transparency, public accountability and public scrutiny. It is unclear how privatization and a lack of transparency benefits Russian public interests. Norway and Malaysia's examples show that transparent state ownership of natural resources remains the best success story so far.

7. Although this sounds like a conspiracy theory, one cannot help but be deeply suspicious as to why Russia's more than $600 billion in reserves and possibly another hundreds of billions in oligarchs' off-shore accounts have not been tapped for investment in Russia's decaying infrastructure, healthcare and education, despite the appalling death rate and poverty. Why inflation, for instance--especially in the agricultural sector--is being blamed on money supply, when it is the shortage and monopolistic mark-ups that seem to be the cause.

8. It is hard to pin the blame on Americans, Obama or McCain, Democrats or Republicans, when sustained socioeconomic crises and looting are Russia is being caused by Russian oligarchs, under the very nose of Putin and Kremlin, possibly with their tacit approval. External influence on Russia is probably much less responsible for Russia's problems than internal state and non-state actors.

In other words, the greatest threats to Russia are from their own corrupt private-oligarchs and kremlin-oligarchs, rather than from the American elite.

Sanjay Singh

Cambridge, MA

Sep 9 2008 - 2:32pm

Web Letter

I just saw the author on Washington Journal, and I am generally in agreement with his positions. However, I am a nationalist, though not a chauvinist, and feel quite comfortable with other cultures. As we have seen in our recent history, it is difficult enough to keep a nation on track, and micromanaging other nations is impossible. I too am from the South and have similarly been preoccupied with change.

The gentleman from Georgia asked why we were close to China and not close to Russia. Our present relationship with China is not complicated. It is based on greed. China has, to some extent, bought into "free trade" and supplied cheap labor for the Multinationals to use to drive down wages in other countries. As Cohen has noted, Russia is very nationalist and will not roll over for the Multinationals. Russia would be the Bush Administration's best friend if it opened up and let the multinational rape that country.

Pervis J. Casey

Riverside, CA

Jul 7 2008 - 12:50pm

Web Letter

I fail to understand why our attitudes towards Russia are little different from our attitudes towards the USSR. Russia is an important state and much closer to our objectives and values than the alien Chinese or Indians. We should try to be friends with Russia instead of the policies we are pursuing. An animus against Russia pervades not only our political elites but also the media. I guess it is hard to end attitudes born in 1917 and 1948, no matter how counterproductive and unfair they are.

Norman Ravitch

Savannah, GA

Jul 3 2008 - 9:35am