As Assad Regime Totters, The Kremlin And Beijing Shudder


The forces of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad shell rebel-occupied neighborhoods of Damascus. Four young female members of a punk rock band begin their fifth month in a Moscow jail. Somewhere in China a local party boss meets with disaffected factory workers. In Washington, the full house prepares to vote on the Sergei Magnitsky Act, which calls for visa restrictions for Russian officials for human rights abuses. These disparate events are part of a larger mosaic, which begins in Syria.

Bashar al-Assad, like his father before him, symbolizes unconstrained dictators prepared to do anything, no matter how odious, to stay in power. Unconstrained dictators use their secret police, militias, and armies to arrest, torture, and kill opponents. They raze whole towns. They kill innocent women and children to send a message. They are indifferent to world outrage. If Assad falls, it will not be for lack of brutality and atrocity. He may resort to chemical weapons as a last resort.

Constrained dictators, such as Mubarak, Pinochet, and the Shah, face limits imposed by moral qualms or the international community. Small protests swell, and momentum for regime change builds. Failure to use overwhelming force and efforts to compromise only embolden protesters, and eventually the constrained dictator resigns either to flee the country or to face local justice.

Two other constrained dictatorships, Russia and China, want to keep Assad in power. Both shudder at a fellow totalitarian regime falling to a disorganized opposition. They will abandon him (with great fanfare) only when it is clear that he has lost. China and Russia have their own disaffected minorities, disgruntled workers, and ideological opponents. Their one-party states lack legitimacy, and they know it. They consider themselves under constant threat, fearing the single spark that brings millions to the streets. They must snuff out any spark — a lone barefoot lawyer or an 18 year old girl throwing a rock at security forces – that could conceivably ignite a Tahrir Square.

Russia and China’s one-party dictatorships face different threats. China’s Communist Party (CPC) must firefight grievance demonstrations. Putin, on the other hand, must confront direct challenges to his legitimacy.

China offers jobs, growth, and a rising living standard in return for acceptance of one-party rule. The CPC’s corruption and heavy hand, however, create regional and local grievances. Ethnic minorities resent Han dominance. Farmers demonstrate against land grabs. Factory workers protest unsafe working conditions. The CPC plays cat-and-mouse games of retreat, compromise, and advance. Striking workers are promised higher wages, while their leaders are quietly arrested. They promise to replace Hans with locals. Corrupt officials are replaced with fanfare but by someone just as bad. Scapegoats, who produce tainted baby formula or defective high-speed rail, are jailed or even executed. If the party had known, these bad things would not have happened, so the story goes.

Putin’s first eight years in power offered “stability and prosperity” in return for dismantling democracy and press freedom. With economic recovery and high oil prices, Putin’s popularity anchored his claim to legitimacy. However, the Russian mood soured after 2008 with a declining economy, unsolved murders of prominent journalists, corruption everywhere, and the consensus that Putin had overstayed his welcome.

Putin’s theft of the December parliamentary elections and the disputed March presidential election destroyed the myth of a popular mandate as hundreds of thousands joined demonstrations. Large segments of the Russian political spectrum demand a Russia without Putin, but they have no alternative leaders to follow and the costs of protest are high.

Putin’s reaction has been the exact opposite of Chinese mollification. Instead of the compromise and concession widely predicted by Western pundits, the weakened Putin has cracked down and brutally. Compromise, he fears, will be interpreted as weakness. Putin’s new claim to legitimacy: Without his iron fist, poor Russia will descend into the chaos of radical protest.

Putin’s vicious crackdown has largely escaped notice. Although he harasses prominent protest leaders, Putin’s primary target is ordinary demonstrators. A teenage girl is shown on state TV being hauled off in a choke-hold and threatened with seven years in prison. A missing demonstrator is located after release from a psychiatric prison in a drug-induced stupor. Putin’s demonization of demonstrators appear ridiculous even to the most credulous viewers. His ally, the corrupt Orthodox Church leadership, brands protesters as devil worshipers.

And behind these sinister threats to Russia’s stability stands none other than Hillary Clinton and her perfidious state department, so says Putin.

Both Putin and the CPC do not tolerate for a second anyone who questions their legitimacy. In both countries, regime opponents are silenced by sophisticated internet filters, threat of job loss or economic ruin, house arrest, beatings, mental torture, denial of education for their children, sporadic interrogations, unexplained disappearances, unsolved assassinations, or prison sentences. Justice officials jokingly threaten them with murder which they themselves will investigate.

In June of 1989, the CPC could still fire on mass demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in the full view of television cameras and survive as a ruling regime. In 2012, any use of Assad-like methods would shatter the myth of an enlightened and benevolent CPC.

Less has changed in Russia. In the late Soviet period, communist authorities used extreme force to quell bread and worker riots. Likewise, Putin’s security forces mercilessly beat protesters in the May 5 Moscow demonstrations. Putin has resurrected the use of psychiatric hospitals for demonstrators. The Soviet KGB conducted pervasive surveillance of regime opponents. Putin’s FSB engages in the same acts on a similar scale. In the Soviet Union, there was absolutely no freedom of press. Under Putin, press freedom has shrunk to a handful of small TV, radio stations and newspapers, most owned by Putin supporters to ensure that they observe limits.

China may win its campaign for legitimacy as long as its rapid economic growth continues and living standards rise. As the CPC selects its new leadership this year, it must decide whether to move forward with new liberalizing reforms or stick with decaying state capitalism. A choice of the status quo carries with its risks of economic slowdown.

Putin cannot abandon his KGB-state patronage model, and he cannot rely forever on Russia’s extractive wealth. His slim claim to legitimacy comes from Russia’s membership in international organizations, the absence of political alternatives, and his constant harping on foreign enemies, chiefly the aggressive United States. His divided and lonely opponents understand that Putin is not legitimate, but they desperately need some form of international ratification of their position.

Russia is poised to gain yet another recognition of its legitimacy – membership in the World Trade Organization. Putin can say: See, we are a respected member of the world community. There is a fly, however, in Putin’s ointment. A Russian trade bill is being submitted to the full house that imposes visa and banking restrictions on Russian officials known to have violated human rights. This codicil – the Sergei Magnitsky Act — places Russia alongside rogues like Iran and Syria – a delegitimizing rebuke of Putin’s human rights record.

The crusading Russian lawyer, Magnitsky, was imprisoned after he alleged corruption and theft against high Russian officials. He died under gruesome circumstances in a Russian prison on November 16, 2009 as his captors denied him medical attention until he signed a confession. Subsequently, Putin refused to prosecute justice officials responsible for his death. Congress’s Sergei Magnitsky Act instructs the state department to deny visas to Russian officials associated with Magnitsky’s death.

U. S. politicians, who favor the Russian “reset” and wish to treat Putin as a normal respected member of the diplomatic community, lobby against the Magnitsky Act. They say it will spoil relations with Putin’s Russia. He will not help us out when we need him. My own argument is that Putin is vested in an Anti-Americanism he cannot abandon. Russia needs his strong hand because it is encircled by foreign enemies. Although only in a small way, the Magnitsky Act tells the disorganized Russian opposition that Putin’s human rights violations delegitimize him in the eyes of the world community. They deserve this small bit of moral support.

Putin has called the loss of the Soviet Empire the greatest tragedy of the twentieth century. The loss of Russian democracy, albeit far from perfect, under Putin will prove to be one of the greatest tragedies of the new century. We should not sit by idly and watch this happen.

Paul Roderick Gregory’s latest book, ”Politics, Murder, and Love in Stalin’s Kremlin: The Story of Nikolai Bukharin and Anna Larina, ” can be found at amazon.com. buy viagra online онлайн займы https://zp-pdl.com/emergency-payday-loans.php https://zp-pdl.com/how-to-get-fast-payday-loan-online.php hairy girl

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