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The US and Russia: Democracy in Check

Brandon Batzloff | 18.10.2004 22:20 | Analysis | Indymedia | Repression | World

At the end of September, 115 politicians and foreign policy experts signed a letter that was delivered to the heads of NATO and European Union States. The letter criticized Russian President, Vladimir Putin's recent moves to end Democratic process in Russia. One of the recipients of the letter was George Bush, jr. As a man who has moved to end Democratic process in his own country, it would have been very hypocritical of Bush to condemn Putin for his actions. Consequently the only rebuke was Bush stating that he hopes Putin does not abandon Democracy upheld by checks and balances within the Russian government, but even this was ironic.

The charges brought against Putin in the letter were
that he has given himself the power to appoint
regional governers and would be creating a blacklist
of terrorists in Russia. Senator Kerry added to the
complaints in the first Presidential debate by noting
that "Mr. Putin now controls all the television
stations" (The First Bush). What he means is that the
Russian media is once again controlled by the state as
it was under the Soviets.

It is important to first examine each of these three
charges. We will view these events in Russia and
their parallel developments in the United States.
Following this comparison will be an examination of
the reasoning behind the dismantling of Democracy in
Russia and how it relates to the United States.

State Controlled Media

In 2001 Russian media magnate, Vladimir Gusinsky was
charged with embezzlement and consequently forced to
flee the country. Russia demanded his extradition,
but this was denied by both Spain (Russia Provides)
and the United States (US Refuses). While running
from the Russian authorities he continually tried to
sell 25% of the Russian media to western countries
(Vladimir Gusinsky). In the end, Gusinsky's company
was liquidated (Fomin) and by 2002 had been absorbed
by state owned Gazprom, a natural gas company. It was
reported that the arrest warrents for Gusinsky and the
Gazprom buyout of his corporation were an effort by
President Putin to end the "influence of some
businessmen who used their media and business
interests to gain political clout" (Gazprom Buys).

To this day there is no competetive corporate media in
Russia. The only truly free press in Russia is
Independent Media Center Russia.

In the United States the situation is slightly
different, but much the same. Through investment, the
US government controlls nearly 80% of the media not
only in the US but worldwide (Parenti). While there
is a slim margin of independent corporate ownership,
it is in the interest of these corporations, such as
Clear Channel, Sinclair Broadcasting, and Rupert
Murdoch's News Corporation, to promote the far right
agendas of the Bush regime.

Just as in Russia, the Independent Media Center (IMC)
is an alternative to corporate media that goes beyond
bias and actually lies about facts. In addition to
this pioneering group exists hundreds, if not
thousands of independent news and information sources,
such as Free Voices, who struggle to convey the truth.

Apparently the truth has become too threatening. On
October 7, the FBI confiscated the hard drives of the
servers owned by Rackspace, Inc, a US owned company in
the UK. The removal of these hard drives brought down
twenty IMC sites and several radio streams around the
world (IMC: FBI).

The FBI did not explain their actions except to say
that they were acting under the Mutual Legal
Assistance Treaty (MLAT). MLAT enables authority
agencies in different countries to work together to
combat terrorism and so forth. Supposedly, the
original request came from Italy and Switzerland, but
no information has been released as to why they or the
United States would need to confiscate the drives
(Italy and Switzerland).

On October 13 the drives were returned to Rackspace,
but nobody is certain what information was removed or
added to them or why. IMC is currently working to
restore the downed sites (Servers Returned).
Regardless of the motivation this is a new level of
control being exercised by the US government over

How long before IMC and other independent news and
information sources are simply eliminated in the US
and Russia? Both countries seem to be headed toward
such militant crack downs on free speech.

Blacklisting Civilians

It is believed that international terrorist
organizations are being funded through money
laundering in Russia. The Russian government is
taking steps to combat this problem. According to
Viiktor Zubkov, Chairman of Russia's new Federal
Financial Monitoring Service, "Russia possesses a list
of organizations that probably fund terrorist
activities" (Tikhomirova). He later goes on to
describe those on the list as potential extremists.
Regardless of how realistic the allegations of funding
terrorists are, the organizations listed will be
blocked from participating in financial activities in

This tactic is being applauded by the United States
and European Union as proof that Russia is working to
fight the War on Terror. Russia is coming late to the
game in blacklisting supposed terrorist
organizations. Bush started blacklisting groups and
individuals immediately after the September 11th

On September 23, 2001, George Bush, jr. issued
Executive Order 13224. According to this order anyone
determined to have any relation to an appended list of
terrorist organizations was liable to have all of
their assets frozen. It was illegal from that time
forward to have any financial interaction that might
be related to these organizations. Any person or
agency to do so would be prosecuted.

Perhaps the most important part of this document is
section 3.d which reads, "the term 'terrorism' means
an activity that involves a violent act or an act
dangerous to human life, property, or infrastructure;
and appears to be intended to intimidate or coerce a
civilian population; to influence the policy of a
government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect
the conduct of a government by mass destruction,
assassination, kidnapping, or hostage-taking."

This language would later be strengthened by the
passage of the USA Patriot Act of 2001. After the
Patriot Act was passed people became very concerned,
as it seemed that this language would make protesting
itself an act of terrorism. Even if it is not
violent, protesting can be construed as an act
dangerous to human life in the simple fact that there
may be thousands of people massed together. Further
all protests are "intended to influence the policy of
government by intimidation."

Not surprisingly, the expanded definition of terrorism
required a new list of possible terrorist agencies.
On November 15, 2002, the Department of State issued
the Terrorist Exclusion List (TEL). This was followed
by the Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign
Assets Control, 163 page list of Specially Designated
Nationals and Blocked Persons. With paranoia still in
control, January of 2004 brought a 65 page addition to
the list (Office of Foreign....Changes to List).

The public was informed that these lists were reserved
for non-US citizens, but the efforts of the Justice
Department and the Department of Homeland Security to
classify several activist organizations like Green
Peace, and a loose collection of animal rights
advocates known as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF)
as terrorists revealed the real intent.

As of 2004, any non-profit organization requesting
federal funding through the Combined Federal Campaign
(CFC) would be required to blacklist possible
employees by verifying whether or not they were listed
on the previously mentioned lists. Part IV, Section
16 states, "I certify that as of _______ the
organization named in this application does not
knowingly employ individuals or contribute funds to
organizations found on the following terrorist related
lists promulgated by the U. S. Government, the United
Nations, or the European Union. Presently these lists
include the Department of TreasuryÕs Office of Foreign
Assets Control Specially Designated List, the
Department of Justice's Terrorist Exclusion List, and
the list
annexed to Executive Order 13224. Should any change in
circumstance occur during the year OPM [United States
Office of Personnel Management] will be notified
within 15 days of such change."

The ACLU issued a statement that these lists were
"riddled with error and do not provide individuals
with a means to correct false information" (John
Ashcroft). The organization then publicly refused
$500,000 in CFC funding to show their commitment to
fighting the blacklists (Citing Government).

In the US the blacklist has grown and the people
affected have also grown. It is only logical, that
eventually it will affect all forms of employment. It
must make George Bush very happy that Vladimir Putin
is following his lead and blacklisting anyone who
might be considered a threat to those in power.

Disenfranchising Voters

The move that made the world most wary of Putin was
his proposal for changes to the appointment of the
Governers of Federation States. Russia is composed of
89 Federation States whose governers are currently
chosen by the parliament of the Federation State in
which they govern, much like a Prime Minister. By
January of 2006, Putin hopes to have reformatted the
Russian map to be composed of 30 Federation States
whose Governers are chosen by himself or his
administration. The reasoning for this change is that
it would simplify the complex government of Russia
which is believed to be cumbersome and inefficient

This news sparked fears of a Kremlin plan to desmiss
the Duma, Russia's lower house of Parliament, with the
intention of re-establishing it after an election in
2007, thereby giving Putin's United Russia Party
control in the decision to enforce the changes to the
electoral process and creating a one party
Parliament. Vice Speaker of the Duma, Oleg Morozov,
refuted the claims that the Duma would be dismissed, "
the United Russia Party is enjoying a very good
position in the State Duma now. It would be absurd for
them to bid farewell to it" (Belous).

Americans need not be reminded of similar changes that
have taken place in the United States. We could begin
with the fact that the 2000 Presidential Election was
determined not by voting, but by the partisan
manuevers of the Supreme Court Justices as detailed in
the revealing Vanity Fair article "The Road to
Florida." This was followed by redistricting
legislation in several states that cast an unfair
electoral advantage for the Republicans.

In recent months fears of moves by the Bush regime to
stall or cancel the election have gripped the
country. Would he be bold enough to cancel the
election through the declaration of a national
emergency and martial law? Many political and legal
experts believe so and stated as much (Batzloff).

Bush has gone as far as to create the United States
Election Assistance Commission (USEAC) whose duty it
is to establish the methods used to cancel an
election. USEAC Director, DeForest Soaries, jr.
justified his role in cancelling an election. Soaries
claims that under the threat of a terrorist attack,
"If the federal government chose not to suspend an
election it has political implications. Who makes the
call, under what circumstances is the call made, what
are the constitutional implications?" And further to
twist what cancelling the elction actually means, "I
think we have to err on the side of transparency to
protect the voting rights of the country" (Ochenski).

With the amazing similarity in the erosion of
Democracy in both the United States and Russia, it is
understandable that George Bush, jr. would not be able
to take a solid stance on the reforms that Vladimir
Putin has made in Russia. Indeed, Bush should be
proud, as many of these reforms were based on his own
Constitutional demolition work.

Terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction

Historically, a state will begin limiting the freedom
of it's citizens because of an external threat. The
oppression of the Chinese began when the United States
threatened to march into China and use nuclear weapons
during the Korean War. Castro began limiting the
freedom of Cubans when the United States began
threatening to remove him from power. The perceived
threats of terrorism after the September 11th attacks
enabled the Bush regime to eradicate American

Russia has suffered greatly since the collapse of the
Soviet Union. It began when American corporations
entered the country and exported much of it's wealth,
devastating the economy. In recent years an
escalating series of terrorist attacks has complicated
matters. The hostage taking and murder of school
children in Breslan is viewed as the most severe
attack to date. Much of this terrorism is related to
the ongoing conflict in Chechnya. Incidentally, this
is a conflict that Putin himself engineered in the
early 1990's.

Again, this is an area that the US has been
interfering in and making things worse. After the
invasion of Afghanistan, the US began placing soldiers
in the former Soviet Republics that border Russia to
the south. This has two effects. There is a great
deal of mineral wealth in Georgia and Chechnya that
the US is seeking to control. It is also
geostrategically beneficial to have Russia boxed in

The mineral resources in Georgia have resulted in a
massive influx of US soldiers into the country under
the guise of fighting terrorism originating in
Chechnya, which borders Georgia to the East.
Consequently, American military deployments have
largely been along this border. It can be noted that
the increased presence and activity of the US in this
area seems to be somewhat proportional to the increase
in terrorist activities in Russia.

Are the two series of events connected? It is
difficult to tell, but as in Iraq, an American
military presence seems to have the effect of
exacerbating a situation.

The Russian government is pinched between the
increasing attacks and the demand of the Unites states
and European Union to regulate terrorism. Director
for Legal Cooperation of the European Council Roberto
Lamponi claims that ""Russia is one of the main
financial sources for terrorists" (Tikhomirova).

If the US is in fact making the terrorist situation in
Russia worse, then the demands for Russias cooperation
and subsequent subjugation in the War on Terror can be
viewed as a form of political strong-arming.

In the first presidential debate, both Bush and Kerry
stated that nuclear proliferation is the greatest
threat at this time. One of Kerry's main concerns on
this topic was the lack of control over Russia's
nuclear arsenal., something that the Bush regime is
already focused on. US Assistant Secretary of State
for Arms Control, Stephen Rademaker has expressed the
Bush regimes concern about the fact that Russia still
possesses nuclear weapons which could be upgraded to
strike the US. There are also unspoken fears that
Russia might be assisting In Iran's production of
nuclear weapons. The Russians have responded by
saying that they believe Iran's construction of a
nuclear power plant is within the bounds of
international law and that they will continue to
assist Iran with the project (Litovkin).

The discussion is so serious that it has prompted
Russian fears that when Kerry spoke of the Russian
involvement with the problem of nuclear proliferation,
he was actually planning military action against
Russia. This fear stems from the proposals put forth
by US Ambassador to the United Nations, Richard
Holbrooke and Mark Brzezinski on the subject of
dealing with Russias weapons of mass destruction.
Kerry is reportedly attempting to recruit both of
these men to his cabinet if he becomes president.
Holbrooke and Brzezinski wrote in their reccomendation
that "Six hundred tons of nuclear materials remain
unsecured in Russia. Currently, it would take 13 years
to secure it. But with a concerted effort, and at a
fraction of the cost of the war in Iraq, the problem
could be eliminated in three to four years" (Kerry to

It should be noted that Merk Brzezinski is the son of
Zbigniew Brzezinski, former Carter advisor and expert
on the Soviet Union. In 1997 Zbigniew Brzezinski
wrote a book called The Grand Chessboard: American
Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives. The book is
nothing less than a game plan for global dominance by
the United States. Russia is described as sitting in
the middle of the Eurasian chessboard. One of the
eight geostrategic imperatives that Brzezinski
discusses is to continue weakening Russia. Another
iis the abolition of Democracy in America.

Russia may not have too good a grip on their nuclear
arsenal, but the US is even more frightening. After
the Gulf War, UN inspections teams began storing
material and hardware that might have been used to
build nuclear weapons in storehouses in Iraq. After
the United States conquered Iraq, George Bush, jr.
barred the weapons inspectors from being able to enter
Iraq again. This then brought these storehouses under
american supervision. On October 10, the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) submitted a
report to the UN Security Council that the materials
had disappeared. Satellite images reveal that the
buildings in which these items were stored have been
completely dismantled without the US government taking
notice (Arieff).

In response, Iraq's American controlled government
announced that weapons inspectors were welcome to
return to the country. They claimed that none of the
materials had been reported missing after the time of
the mass looting that took place in 2003 (Baker).

IAEA refuted this claim with evidence that the
disappearance took place at the end of 2003 and
beginning of 2004. They point out that theses
materials could not have been moved and the buildings
dismantled without the use of of heavy machinery

Did the United States, it's puppet government in Iraq,
or US companies remove and sell these items or are
they being used to start a new nuclear weapons
production program in the country? Whatever the case,
this incident has created a dramatic increase in
nuclear proliferation. With all of the emphasis on
Russia by US politicians, it would not be surprising
that when this proliferation stemming from Iraq has
negative consequence, the blame will fall on Russia.

Democracy in Check

All facts considered it appears that Russia is
following the example set in the United States on
limiting or perhaps completely eliminating Democracy.
Media control, blacklisting, and the failure of
electoral process in both countries is extremely
alarming. The United States and Russia have in the
past been considered the most powerful countries in
the world and are today considered the most dangerous.

It would seem that both countries are engaged in a
game of chess in which millions of people have a
stake. The political intrigues and manipulations of
the War on Terror are the framework for the game. The
players, at least in the US, seem to stop at nothing
to win this game. During the Cold War the nuclear
race was one that seemed to be very controlled because
the US and USSR were the only countries who could
really resort to the use of nuclear weapons. Now we
are in a situation where these countries have begun
distributing these weapons and the ability to build
them to the pawns of the game, to the very people we
are supposedly protecting ourselves against.

Both countries are responding to the resultant
external threats, not only by attempting to checkmate
each other, but by placing Democracy in check as
well. This destructive and self-serving game must be
brought to an end before we lose all that remains to
us in both countries.

Copyright © 2004 by Brandon Batzloff

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Brandon Batzloff
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