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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

China Poses Bigger Threat Than Chechnya

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Email the Opinion Page Editor

Editor,
Two things have occurred in Russia recently that broadcast a message of weakness to its principal world rival.

The first is the government's muzzling of the press. Why does a government suppress a free press? Because it has things that it wishes to hide from its own people. Nevermind any excuses about preserving the country's image abroad; if that mattered to the Russian government they would not have shut down the independent news media in the first place.

Press suppression is done for domestic purposes only. President Vladimir Putin, the old KGB apparatchik, has stifled the constant drumbeat of criticism and thus disarmed his opponents in parliament from using the raw material of opposition: news and information. Seen from the other side of the border, however, this strike against the independent press seems to say the Putin government is weak, perhaps too weak to maintain the support of the State Duma or to rally its people in the event of a real crisis.

The other sign of weakness so very revealing to Russia's deadly enemy is the simple fact that the war in Chechnya goes on. Bits and pieces of information leak out, to be sure. We hear of the privations of the common Russian soldier, that ammunition for weapons has run short, that other supplies are in short supply. To the ear of the enemy, it sounds almost as if it were 1941, with every other Russian soldier carrying a rifle, the unarmed waiting for comrades to fall so they might pick up the weapon and continue resistance to the fascists.

The enemy takes comfort in this. And that enemy is not the United States. There is no strategic imperative, no accident of geography, no fundamental political or philosophical reason for the United States and Russia to be enemies. Russia has nothing that the United States wants or needs that it cannot already buy. The two countries simply have no reason to be rivals.

The enemy that threatens Russia the most, and which can do immediate and material harm to that country on its own soil, is the People's Republic of China. Russia does have things that it wants and needs, as do several of the other countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. They include the sparsely populated but resource-rich expanses of Siberia. They include the mostly Islamic republics to the south of Russia. Occupying those territories would effectively outflank India and give China the chance it yearns for, a hegemony over south Asia.

Russia would, undoubtedly, resist bravely — and futilely. China's army is far larger than that of Russia, and does not suffer the shortages of material that the Russian services do. Chinese supply lines will be mostly internal within China, whereas the Russian supply lines, so dependent on a rail system serving its Far East regions, would be tested to the absolute limit. In a direct military contest, China would take a bloody nose, but would prevail by sheer force of numbers. Russia would then face the hardest choice in all its long history, whether or not to use nuclear weapons to conclude the war victoriously.

The answer would have to be "no." As valuable as the oil, natural gas, minerals and timber of Siberia are, what is that against the damage to the great cities of western Russia that could be done by Chinese nuclear-tipped missiles? This would be tantamount to destroying Russia in order to save it.

One hopes that President Vladimir Putin comes to realize who Russia's real friends are. He may wax nostalgic for those days when China and the Soviet Union faced the United States together as socialist states, but those days are gone forever, even if Putin means to become a dictator. As Russia goads and taunts the United States, China makes its plans. They mean to be the dominant power in the western Pacific. With that flank secure and the United States back in its pocket as a harmless trading partner, which will happen sooner or later, China can then begin to concentrate on the Great Game, the prize of which is hegemony over all south Asia. Only Russia stands in the way and Russia is in no shape to stop them, or so it appears.

Brian Murphy
Fairfield, Connecticut



Candle for Boris Jordan

In response to "Jordan's Roots," an April 27 letter to the editor.

Editor,
I was astonished by the personal attack that Alex Lupis made on Boris Jordan. The content of the letter was frankly ludicrous, and the personal angle was both unnecessary and distasteful.

At the root of Lupis' attack are two underlying beliefs: (1) that the conspiracy theories surrounding the NTV affair hold true, and (2) that business is somehow a murky affair to be avoided by those who wish to assist the development of Russia.

The hyperbole written about the NTV affair over the past few weeks defies belief, especially since most of it is pure speculation and conspiracy theory. NTV has become the latest in a long series of issues to be misused by domestic and foreign journalists to paint Russia and its president in a bad light.

No doubt this stems from newspaper editors' and owners' demands for sensational copy. A story about the breakdown of democracy in Russia sells more newspapers than a dry article about a media company that overstretched its balance sheet. A reference to the Russian president's KGB past sells more papers than a comment that the president is actually making a fine stab at one of the world's toughest jobs.

When will domestic journalists realize that this kind of ill-informed negative reporting damages the country? The media has a professional duty to look at both sides of an argument. There is very strong evidence that the NTV affair is a purely commercial matter. It seems that the business has been mismanaged, possibly criminally mismanaged, and that its creditors have stepped in to pick up the pieces. This happens on a regular basis throughout the world, not just in Russia.

Lupis describes Jordan as a "political stooge" of President Vladimir Putin. Businessmen of Jordan's stature must inevitably foster good relationships with key political figures to a certain extent. However, this does not make them yes men. Boris is actually the antithesis of a stooge, as his scrapes with Russian authority over the past decade have shown. I recall the day in 1996 when I saw Jordan walking down Fifth Avenue in New York clutching a newspaper. That very newspaper carried a story explaining why he was not Russia that day — a long-running dispute with the Russian authorities that had led to his work permit and visa being withdrawn.

Lupis alleges that Jordan has taken "the ethically compromised path of money and power rather than respecting the heritage of his own ancestors." It is naive to argue that businesspeople come to Russia for purely selfless reasons.

Jordan wishes to make excellent money from his business pursuits, and indeed owes this profit motive to himself, his family and his business partners. This is the essence of capitalism, and Jordan is capitalism incarnate.

However, believers in the capitalist doctrine hold that the country benefits most from this method of organizing its resources. Jordan is keenly aware of this, and knows that the side effects of his business activities in Russia have and will reap great benefits for the country. Jordan is one of Russia's most prominent investment bankers, and has assisted the flow of billions of dollars into the country over the past decade. This money has built and renovated factories, created thousands of jobs, stimulated the economy and helped develop Russia's financial capital markets.

Lupis and the motives behind his letter intrigue me. Does he advise that all businessmen sever their ties with Russia until an entire post-Soviet generation peoples its shores? Apart from making candles for the Russian Orthodox Church, a job Lupis says Jordan found him years ago in New York, what has this gentleman done for Russia in recent years, and how does this compare with the efforts of Boris Jordan? And what causes someone to publicly denounce an acquaintance from his or her close-knit, small Russian-American community? Especially the person that found you your first job.

Stephen Ogden
St. Petersburg



Putin's Pragmatism

In response to "Time for Putin to Take the Initiative," an April 9 comment by Michael McFaul.

Editor,
Thank you for Michael McFaul's comment and his advice to President Vladimir Putin. Unlike the standard, preconceived diagnoses of Russia that one normally sees ("the patient is deranged"), McFaul shares my belief in Putin's pragmatism and the ability of Russia to make what is possible and what is desirable correspond.

Alexander Berezikov
Geneva
Security Balancing Act



In response to "Counting the Cost of NATO Expansion," an April 24 comment by Norma Brown.

Editor,
I have read the comments of Norma Brown on the very important topic of NATO expansion, and I am very glad to at last read a sound reaction to arguments often proposed on this topic that to my mind smell strongly of nonsense.

A real and long-lasting stability is assured not so much when there is strength enough to counter any attempt to break the status quo, but when all the interests of all actors are in balance.

As former U.S. National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane very wisely wrote a few weeks ago in the International Herald Tribune, Russia in the 1990s accepted a tremendous drawback of its positions in Europe, a situation that was in line with Mikhail Gorbachev's new thinking — thinking that was echoed in the West by the new world order of then-President George Bush.

Today, all that hopeful thinking seems gone, replaced by memories of the first true war in Europe waged since World War II — and of how the civil societies of Europe were far from united behind the means chosen by the United States and its closest allies to stop Slobodan Milosevic.

Signing up new NATO members will increasingly create a grouping of states that Russia does not belong to. If the security calculations of a country must always envisage the ability to face the worst-case scenario, expansion of NATO will worsen Russia's strategic position. And that would be so even without the very effective and concrete reference made by Brown to the acceptable reasons for intervention listed in NATO's newest strategic concept.

Anton Giulio de' Robertis
Full Professor of History of Treaties and International Politics
University of Bari, Italy



Security on the Brink

Editor,
I was stunned by the cynicism of Norma Brown's article "Counting the Cost of NATO Expansion," which completely disregarded the positions of the Baltics themselves.

All opinion polls in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania clearly demonstrate that the Baltics see NATO membership as the only possible way to secure the independence of their countries and stability in the region. It is exactly this position that is reflected in the official policy of these countries. So Brown's declaration that "further expansion of NATO is not in anybody's interests" indicates that she is either ill-informed or deliberately misleading the readers. It is incomprehensible why Brown believes that the opinion of any third party, be it Russia or New Zealand, should prevail over that of the very actors involved in the process — NATO and the candidate states. Russia may have an opinion, no doubt about that, and this opinion should not be ignored. But why should this opinion dictate to NATO and the Baltics how to settle matters between themselves?

The second question to be addressed is why the negative attitude of Russia toward NATO expansion has emerged. Why doesn't Finland try to interfere in the NATO enlargement process? After all, as a result of its expansion the infrastructure of the alliance may get within 80 kilometers of Helsinki, and the Finns themselves strongly oppose the idea of their country joining NATO.

NATO does not pose any threat to democratic countries like Finland, or to any countries that respect the human rights and the sovereignty of their neighbors. So if Russia perceives a threat from NATO, it leads to a strong suspicion that it wants to reserve for itself the freedom to violate the human rights and territorial integrity of its neighbors. This is actually a conviction of many Baltics, given their bitter experience of occupation and the recent developments in Chechnya. Moreover, the official position of Russia to this day is that the Baltic States joined Stalin's Soviet Union voluntarily (!).

A Canadian prime minister once remarked that living near the United States was like sleeping next to an elephant: You never know what its next move will be, or whether he will be careful enough not to run you over. This is exactly the situation of the Baltic States. So to my mind, a cartoon accompanying an article about NATO expansion might show George Robertson erecting a fence by the side of a sleeping clumsy giant — and not erecting a fence up to somebody's doorstep, as it was in the cartoon in your April 24 edition.

Denis Trapido
Student
Tartu University, Estonia



Global Eye Tic?

Editor,
Judging from Chris Floyd's weekly column Global Eye, it appears that this "angry young man" suffers from ideological delusions caused by an inability to cope with his major personal ideological crisis. Apparently, Mr. Floyd — unlike many of his fellow believers in Marxist and communist ideology who were heavily influenced in their young formative years by their Marxist college professors in U.S. universities — cannot rid himself of the red fog that occupies most of his otherwise empty upstairs, and stubbornly keeps believing in communist ideology.

Of course, that's what Lenin, Stalin, Hitler and their henchmen always counted on. I know. I do understand. It is difficult to slowly climb up the mountain toward the shining dream of equality, brotherhood and happiness for all, and then, once on top, discover an immeasurable ocean of human suffering and sacrifice, a horrible betrayal of human beings for the sake of personal power by the lowest scum (my parents in the Soviet Union cried when Stalin died in 1953). Millions of crucified lives and shattered destinies — it's just too scary to face. The weak ones among us could never face it, so they continued to cling to myths and legends rather than face the truth.

So one cannot blame Chris Floyd, a man probably too old and inflexible to face the truth, for continuing to defile and torture the truth just to prove himself right. It is so much easier to continue to lie and blame everything on Mr. Bush and compare him to the Taliban. Nobody would take Floyd seriously in their own truly free countries, where they can be easily proved wrong. That's why the Floyds attach themselves to weak and uncertain countries like Russia today, where they can still try to mislead people. What's strange is that your newspaper hires such people and prints their delusionary fantasies. By doing so you undermine whatever remains of journalistic integrity (if there's such a thing).

Well, you chose the wrong place and wrong people to preach your failed ideology. After all, Russia lost between 60 million and 80 million people to socialism-fascism-communism. But there are still places in the world where Mr. Floyd can apply his talents: North Korea, or Cuba. Or The Washington Post. But a mental hospital would do better as I think Floyd's is a medical case.

Arkady Morgulis
Virginia