Will Russia Keep the Treaty?

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Now that the U.S. Senate has ratified the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), it is worthwhile to consider the kind of people they have decided to trust. During a recent conversation, former KGB Lt. Col. Victor Kalashnikov made the following remark: "It seems to be there is a general misinterpretation of basic issues regarding Russia. Listen, there is no corruption in Russia. Western analysts completely misunderstand political decision-making in Moscow. Corruption is when there is a normally functioning government machine, and some groups of people break the law and sell out their official position to make money for themselves. In Russia it is completely different."

But if Russian officials aren't corrupt, then who is?

"In the Soviet Union," Kalashnikov explained, "there was strict discipline in the nomenklatura [ruling elite], keeping it effective in its own way. In Russia today there is something different at work. We call it 'solidarity within a criminal organization.' To join the ruling elite means to become part of criminal businesses. This kind of relationship is stronger, and the discipline more severe, than during Soviet times. For example, I had an advisory position in the Moscow city government. I was offered the directorship of a company. They were interested in having me in their organization. They said, if you accept it is final. You will be involved in embezzlement and the stealing of resources, and you will become one of ours, and there is no way out. This was quite clear to me. It is a one-way ticket. So it is not corruption, but a criminal organization based on joint activity, joint interest, and absolute incompatibility with what you in the West may understand as normal business, and normal politics. That is the tragedy of Russia today, that it is run by real gangsters, becoming another sort of threat for the rest of the world. It is not corruption, but a criminal organization that has taken a huge country with all of its weapons. Now the question may arise, how did it happen?"

In Kalashnikov's thinking we must distinguish between garden variety corruption, in which self-seeking individuals collude against the system to misappropriate funds, and officially organized criminal schemes in which everyone at an administrative level participates. In fact, they are obligated to participate as a condition of their office; and, one might say, as a guarantee of their future obedience, since the official criminal can be punished for his actions the instant he breaks rank with the system. This is what we should have come to expect from Soviet reforms and Soviet reformers. Given the criminal nature of the old system, the new post-Soviet system could not function otherwise. If Communism was a system that deprived ordinary people of opportunity and freedom, the new system does the same thing through a more efficient mechanism.

Kalashnikov went on to explain: "The initiator of all this was Gorbachev. He offered autonomy for factories and government enterprises. They started to manage these resources ... to squeeze money out of them for themselves. On the other hand, consider the desperate situation of the majority of Russians, where we find that 20-25 percent live below sustenance. The gap between rich Russians and the poor is much bigger than in America or any other country I can think of. And there is no labor market, no labor unions as in the West. So there is no way to sell your work at the proper price."

The opportunity to exploit an employee, to drive a hard bargain, is virtually unlimited, as long as the exploiting class observes its principle of "solidarity within a criminal organization." This is not really corruption, but a system of national control (which is, incidentally, non-democratic). "The experts miss all of this entirely," noted Kalashnikov. "There were these Westerners who tried to share their expertise with the Russians on helping labor, and they opened an office. But this office was closed down by the Russian authorities, because the authorities understand that any attempt to establish normal labor unions would undermine the position of the Russian elites. So it is impossible to have something like Solidarity as in Poland, because it would be a challenge to the political order. It would be considered a sort of political opposition. So there have been numerous attempts to launch labor unions, but all such attempts fail. Being an independent labor organizer in Russia today is extremely dangerous. What we have is the nomenklatura cemented by criminal businesses of all kinds, along with nuclear arms."

According to Kalashnikov, talk about various bodies in Russia doing this or that is nonsense. It is all a deception. There is one class, working as one vast criminal enterprise, holding down the entire society. "And being so rich," added Kalashnikov, "and having no serious challenges within the country, they are still well aware that the only way to place the stolen wealth properly would be to deposit this wealth in Western banks, in Europe, in Cyprus, in Switzerland, and elsewhere; because they know the source of this wealth is questionable. They understand that this money could be taken away from them at any time. So they are eager to launder this money in the West. For this purpose, they need close cooperation with Western banks and institutions to legalize their money. That's what they need, therefore, they naturally cultivate closer links with Western governments and businesses. They also realize that the Western banking authorities will be tempted to look deeper into the origin of all this money. So, in order to make the West more cooperative, the Russian nomenklatura needs to be properly armed, and be aggressive at the proper level. They always put the West on the horns of a dilemma. Will it be confrontation or cooperation? If cooperation, then you abolish visa requirements for elite Russians, you abolish certain legal obstacles when it comes to investing Russian money in the West. Let us cooperate, they propose. If not, you may have some trouble in military terms. So, Russia may become unpredictable and aggressive. It is a soft blackmailing of you."

There is another side of this blackmail which Kalashnikov didn't mention. When Western politicians and businessmen get tangled up with Russia's mafia elite, they enter into a partnership from which they cannot easily extricate themselves. Western bankers who have laundered Russian money are now part of the Russian mafia's scheme. They have purchased the infamous one-way ticket. They cannot go back. They cannot get out. It is too late. Now they must follow along, and the Russian criminal machine colonizes the unsuspecting Western capitalist. The ultimate exploitation of this process may not be far to find. As the criminal system advances, the leaders of the West must keep silent; for they were the first to advocate "engagement" with the Russians. How can they publicly admit that they have been drawn in, swindled, and tainted?

Kalashnikov mentioned the diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks, where NATO documents outlined strong measures for protecting the Baltic States from Russia. He acknowledged that Russia's overall position was weakened by these leaks, and NATO's position was strengthened. "The leaks," he said, "make absolutely clear that NATO is NATO, with no second-rate membership [for the threatened Baltic countries]. The Estonian people, when I was there, expressed concern regarding the American position. Of course, officially, everything was okay. But what about the ultimate will-power of the Americans? Now the Estonian concerns will be mitigated. They reacted very positively to the WikiLeaks, thanks to Julian Assange."

I asked Kalashnikov what he thought of Assange, the Australian-born publisher of WikiLeaks. "My feeling," he answered, "is that Assange is not fully aware of what he is doing. He is not aware of the substance and meaning of the information he is spreading. They represent him as a proponent of certain information, but if you are trying to make some revelations, you should yourself be aware of what you are doing, and what sort of facts you are bringing out. My impression is that Julian Assange and the people around him don't really know what it is about."

According to Kalashnikov, many experts on Russia also don't "really know what it is about." Certainly, the subject is a labyrinth in which an explorer can easily become lost. However we characterize Russia, none of the familiar categories apply. This is because a confusion of terms and names took hold in Russia immediately following the Bolshevik Revolution. The Communist system initiated a corruption of language on a scale hitherto unknown, so that common meanings became confused. Basic words, used to describe commonly observed objects, were corrupted to the point that such words acquired a nonsensical association in the popular mind. It should be remembered that what used to be called the Communist system was always a criminal system, devoted to the overthrow of private property. The nomenklatura were the administrators of this process after 1917, and they continue administering this theft, as an ongoing project, up to the present day. Will such people keep an arms reduction agreement with America?

Not a chance.

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