Monday, January 24, 2011

Domodedovo and Putin

The latest horrific terrorist act in the Domodedovo Airport in Moscow ought to be a clarion call for Putin and Co. to finally resign. Let's perform a simple thought experiment. What if the September 2011 World Trade Centre attack was followed by a continuous and expanding wave of terrorist acts on U.S. soil? What if it was followed by attacks on Broadway theatres, on schools in the Midwest, on high-rise apartments in Chicago, on subway in Los Angeles? What if, despite pouring many billions into new anti-terrorism agencies, new anti-terrorism legislation, fresh campaign promises to fight anti-terrorism, and so on, the wave of terror only grew? How long would Bush's regime have survived before being forced to resign in the wave of public outrage?

Prime Minister Putin's mandate when he was Russia's president between 2000 and 2008 was stability: both economic and physical. His promise to: “Drown the responsible in an outhouse” back in 2000 brought him to power and bought him 11 years of uninterrupted rule. And yet over that time the number of terrorist acts on Russian soil grew from 130 attacks per year in 2000 to 750 attacks per year in 2009. During that same time the federal budget for anti-terrorism and law enforcement grew from $2.8 billion in 2000 to $31.3 billion in 2009. At every step Putin and his closest supporters used each major terrorist act to slowly erode what was remaining of democracy in Russia. The horrific murder of children and teachers in Beslan was the pretext for cancelling free elections of provincial governors, the failed attempt to rescue hostages during the attack on Dubrovka theatre in Moscow was the pretext to pass censorship laws to bring Russian TV stations under government control, and so on.

The Domodedovo attack underscores the need for both Russian people and Western states to rethink their relationship with Putin's regime. Regardless of how much more 'humane' President Medvedev may appear than Putin, there are no illusions as to who is really in control of Russia. Putin's regime must answer for its abuse of civil liberties and due course of law, its failed policies in the Caucasus region that are directly responsible both for the escalation of terror and murder of hundreds of civilians, its repeated attempts to get rid of free speech vis-a-vis censorship laws and murders and attacks on Russian journalists, and the staggering growth of economic corruption that has placed Russia in the 154th spot on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index for 2010 (that's up unprecedented 82 spots since Putin became president in 2000). While the terrorist attack on Moscow's largest airport is inexcusable, horrific, and evil, Russians and Western leaders must realize that lasting solution to this kind of violence does not lie with Putin and his clique. If Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev truly have Russia's best interests and commitment to democracy at heart, they should resign immediately.