Edward Luttwak on Eastern Tyranny

Canada’s Globe and Mail and France’s Le Figaro recently published an interesting article by Edward Luttwak of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Mr. Putin’s Russia Instead of Western legality, we have Eastern tyranny EDWARD LUTTWAK The murder of Russian exile and former spy Alexander Valterovich Litvinenko is now being complicated by new accusations. Perhaps they reflect the natural complications of exile politics — there are many quarrelling Russians in London — but perhaps we are witnessing a classic disinformation campaign. Because the accusation that Mr. Litvinenko was poisoned by his former colleagues to stop his denunciations of Russian President Vladimir Putin is all too plausible, denials are not enough. Instead, the original accusation is being diluted by other theories. It hardly matters that none is very credible — they still divert attention from the simplest explanation. … When Mikhail Khodorkovsky, then Russia’s richest man, campaigned for the presidency in 2003, he was arrested and charged with tax evasion. In the ensuing trial, the judges rejected almost every defence motion, accepted almost every prosecution motion, and their 662-page verdict rendered in May, 2005, repeated the prosecution’s accusations almost word for word. A few months later, Mr. Khodorkovsky announced from prison, where he was serving a nine-year sentence, that he would run for parliament. He was legally entitled to do so while his case was still in the appeal court, a process that usually takes a year or so. Instead, the final verdict came in just two weeks, a wholly unprecedented speed, precluding any parliamentary campaign. By this time, nobody could believe in either Mr. Khodorkovsky’s innocence, nor in the independence of the courts that found him guilty. Meanwhile, even as Mr. Khodorkovsky’s giant oil company Yukos was taken away from him and other shareholders by further court actions of dubious legality, Western oil companies continued to invest vast sums in Russian oil and gas ventures. They may come to regret that — and soon. Russian authorities have now begun accusing these companies, which have invested some $37-billion (!) in Sakhalin, of ruining the environment. This could be true, of course, except that the concerted Soviet-style propaganda campaign now under way to take away their property is based on showing repeated TV footage of dead salmon — salmon that die every two years in a regular spawning cycle. Other Western oil companies are being accused of tax evasion, Mr. Khodorkovsky’s crime. That accusation could also be true, of course, except that production consortia include Russian companies and, yet, it is only the Western partners being accused. … Instead of Western legality there is the spirit of Eastern tyranny in this, as in Mr. Putin’s own aborted attempt to cut off Ukrainian gas supplies last year. He had obviously forgotten that Russian gas supplies to Italy and the rest of southeast Europe must go though the Ukrainian pipeline. And, most significantly, none around him in the Kremlin was willing to contradict Mr. Putin by showing him a map. It is such servility that makes tyrants. So, after all, it really does not matter who killed Mr. Litvinenko, and whether it was to please Mr. Putin that the deed was done. Edward N. Luttwak is a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.