Wednesday, December 13, 2006

"Now the FSB is more powerful than the KGB was."

In November Bush's ploy to use terror threats as a pretext for extending executive privilege began to flounder. Now his besieged presidency appears to be collapsing around him (a recent poll puts George W's approval rating in the low 30s). Sadly, the same can not be said for a keen understudy of the Bush Presidency, one Vladimir Putin.

A truly remarkable story in today's Washington Post paints an ominous picture of post 9/11 Russia. It tells of how Putin consolidated state and commercial and even cultural power in the hands of former KGB operatives by walking the path blazed by President Bush. At least that's where Russia's leaders learned to talk the talk:

"Western countries condemn Russia for encroaching on democracy but invest in their own special and police services nearly unrestricted powers that encroach on the rights and freedoms of their citizens," Yuri Gorbunov, deputy director of the FSB, said in an interview in July with the official newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta. "Why? Because they know what a danger terrorism poses."

Russian critics of the FSB's expanding powers contend that after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, Putin's government essentially entered the slipstream of American policies justifying the extraordinary rendition or targeted killing of terrorism suspects and domestic programs such as warrantless surveillance of citizens.

The critics say that heightened state security, while ostensibly a response to terrorism, is also seen by the Putin establishment as essential to its own political preservation.

"The FSB can take action against any kind of danger that it sees -- not just terrorism but political and economic dangers," said Andrei Soldatov, editor of Agentura.Ru, an Internet publication that monitors the security services. "Now the FSB is more powerful than the KGB was."

The FSB's multiple briefs include intelligence, counterintelligence, counterterrorism, economic crime, electronic espionage, border control, social monitoring and, some observers claim, responsibility for the country's computerized election system.

A study cited in the article suggests as many as 78 percent of the top leadership positions within the Russian government and economy are in the hands of former FSB/KGB people.

This is mind-boggling when you stop to think about it.

Under the Bush presidency, American has not only lost a war in Iraq, it is not only losing another war in Afghanistan. But under Bush, the West lost Russia.

It didn't happen over the course of just one presidency of course. In truth, the son merely completed a trajectory set in motion by his father. After reading this article, who can have any doubt that in the post-Reagan era, the best that can be said for the West is this: we been complacent as forces of totalitarianism within Russia have quietly seized victory from jaws of defeat. The first casualty: the human rights of the Russian people. There will surely be other casualties.

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