Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Putin - The man the west loves to hate
Where we were
When Vladimir Putin came to power as Prime Minister in 1999, Russia was nothing more than a wild-west, impoverished state run by gangsters.
The misrule of the western supported alcoholic puppet Boris Yeltsin had pushed millions of people into economic misery and early death. Rampant inflation and the 1998 collapse of the rouble had wiped out what few savings remained.
The country was heavily in debt with the IMF. And what's more the nation had been humiliated by NATO's 1999 attack on Yugoslavia which it had been powerless to prevent.
Where we are
Now, a mere eight years later, Russia is enjoying 7% growth and sits on 300 billion GBP in foreign-exchange reserved. Billions are being poured into infrastructure, space and nanotechnology. While America's space venture has faltered, Russia has provided a steady and safe service to the International Space Station. Russian companies are buying up firms all over Europe, America, China and in the Asian tiger economies.
The building industry is on fire. It had a 50% growth last year, so big that it is almost impossible to find concrete to complete projects.
And the ordinary folks? Well, in 2006 Russians bought twice as many cars as India, whose population is five times larger. You see more Russians on holiday in Europe than you do Americans. Cities regarded as post-soviet hell holes now sport night clubs, good restaurants and hotels.
How Putin did it
Yeltsin, through lack of control allowed a small criminal elite of oligarchs to rape the country of its fortunes while the average person starved. Putin has had the worst of these people thrown into jail, or, as in the case of Uncle Boris, unable to get to the lion's share of their money while they hide in exile in the UK or Israel.
The western media has tried to portray Putin as being a throwback to the Soviet era. They love to point out that he is former KGB. They like to show him as cold, arrogant, ruthless and a vain macho-man, or worse, they follow the crazed ranting of people like Litvinenko and suggest he is a pedophile. It seems as if they have never met him, for if they had they would know immediately what kind of man he is.
They would also know that he is typical of the new political class which has governed Russia since his arrival in power. Many of his most senior ministers are highly professional and non-ideological managers of very successful Russian corporations.
The man views himself as a social democrat, combining sensible economic management with social policies which will protect society's vulnerable. And it is working.
While us President George W can weep into his cornflakes about being a hated and derided caricature of all that is wrong with American robber-baron values and arrogance, Putin can ride confidently into the sunset, knowing that like all the best heroes of western movies, he has ridden into town, run out the baddies, cleaned the place and up left it with a brighter future. It is no surprise that he enjoys a 70% approval rating.
Importantly he has also given Russians a country 100% free from America.
It has not all been easy for him, and very surprisingly, given his record, his character and his way of dealing with issues, he has taken a lot of malice from the west which continues to move with unbridled aggression against Russia, then tries to tell Putin "the cold war is over". Is it hell...
Cold War Continues
The west continues to attack Russia for being "Authoritarian" yet climbs into bed with China.
- Russia was keen to be an ally of the west in the "war on terror". But when terrorists attack Russian citizens - as happened when 200 children were slaughtered by Chechen separatists in Beslan - the west attacked Putin, put the blame at his door and opined that he should find a political solution.
- The west listens to the thieves, murders and embezzlers who have fled the country as if they are some how human-rights activists. These people are thugs who are avoiding justice. Yet each word they utter against Russia or Putin is accepted with unquestioning delight by western media and given as much play as they can get from it.* The west holds up "the rule of law" as being sacred, yet in the Litvinenko case it suddenly wants Russia to ignore its own rule of law to send a suspect to be tried in the UK.
- Russia has broken up the Warsaw Pact. But the west has only increased the size of NATO, extending its borders in a ring of steel around the country it insists is its friend. NATO airplanes and missiles are now only a few moments away from St Petersburg.
- Look at the reaction to Russia's stance of increasing its price of oil to the Ukraine when the former soviet state had been getting it for a cut rate price but still decided to be anti-Russian. "If you support an anti-Russian president in the Ukraine you will have to pay for it," said Putin. "What do you take us for, a bunch of idiots?"
The west is making a grave error of judgment if it thinks it can crush Russia.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Day after day Zimbabwe is on fire. Smoke rises in almost every direction, the wind carries trails of black debris and every evening the sky is smudged with ash. Night after night there is a great orange glow on the horizon and long after the moon and stars are overhead the fires continue to burn unchecked and out of control.
Out on an early morning errand this week I stopped as a Slender Mongoose ran out into the road. We stared at each other for a minute or two and it was a breathtaking sight. The dawn sun highlighted the depth of colour of his rich chestnut fur. The little mammal stood quite still on the tarmac, his black-tipped tail lifted slighted, ready to run. Then as suddenly as it had appeared, the mongoose was gone - running off into the only patch of sunburnt vegetation still left in the nearby grassland. This little African mammal, once a common sight but now rarely seen, is surviving against all odds.
About two hundred metres along the road I passed two men who were carrying sickles and had catapults hanging round their necks. They were accompanied by a pack of hunting dogs who trotted all around them. The intention of their outing was obvious - the sickles to cut grass used to lay lines of fires, the catapults to kill birds, the dogs to catch mice and other small animals that flee from the flames. In an hour or two these men will destroy huge swathes of vegetation,
remove essential habitat for birds and mammals and from the devastation will perhaps get enough meat for one meal. Their activities go unchecked and when they've had enough the men and their dogs head home leaving the fires to burn themselves out, sometimes many kilometres away.
Arriving at my destination I sat across the desk from a smartly dressed woman in her office. As I conducted my business we asked the questions all Zimbabweans are asking each other: have you got water today? Is your electricity on this morning? Have you managed to find bread? All the answers to all the questions were the same from both of us: no! We agreed that things were now 'very hard' in Zimbabwe but to an outsider this would undoubtedly be the understatement of all time. We have got up to find no water in the tap to drink, to bathe or to wash our clothes; we've got no electricity to cook food and no bread, cereal or milk to give to our families for breakfast. Despite it all and against all odds, Zimbabweans are still carrying on: clean, polite, hardworking, dedicated - a credit to a country so close to the edge.
At the end of three days of sixteen hour power cuts this week I finally heard the news that has given Zimbabwe such a lift. Against all the odds and with nothing in their favour, Zimbabwe beat Australia in the 20/20 cricket world cup. Patriotism burns strong, very strong, in our hearts and gives belief that against all odds, we will emerge from these darkest of days.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.
Copyright cathy buckle. 15 September
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