July 22, 2006

What do Vlad, Hugo, and Ahmed have in common?

Thanks to Annie, I now have three months worth of a subscription to the Economist. Last week's issue featured a special report on Russia, or rather to be more precise, Putin's Russia. In an attempt to contextualize the G8 summit, the Economist tried to distill the Putin regime. Here's what became clear from their coverage: The rise in the price of oil has given Putin the political capital and economic insulation necessary to do whatever he wants within Russia.Here's an excerpt on the paralell lines of his popularity and oil prices...

It should also be noted that Mr Putin has been lucky, indeed exceptionally so. As sceptics like to point out, his formidable popularity rating, in percentage points, almost matches the price of oil, in dollars per barrel (now about $74). Officials in Yekaterinburg say the city's prosperity does not depend on oil and gas, but they undoubtedly contribute to the local boom. So it is with Russia as a whole."
And here's an excerpt on Vlad's pseudo-philosophy:
As he has grown into his presidency, and as the oil price has soared, Mr Putin's true philosophy has become clearer. He is not, as is often alleged, a neo-Soviet ruler: there is little trace of communism left in the Kremlin. The creed of the ex-KGB officers who make up much of his inner circle is better described as Chekism, which takes its name from the first Soviet secret police, the Cheka. Its basic tenet is that Russia's destiny is to be a great power, a greatness that must be fostered in the face of Western attempts to undermine it. “They understand that Russia is growing now, becoming stronger,” says the Kremlin's Mr Shuvalov of Russia's critics. So they “use any possible chance to criticise”.
And here's some ramifications on Russia's relations with other nations:
The principal arena for the confrontation with the West has been the ex-Soviet states of Russia's “near abroad”, in which Mr Putin has defended what he sees as Russia's interests with ruthless pragmatism. Despicable but friendly regimes in Uzbekistan and Belarus are supported. Wayward ones in Ukraine and Georgia are punished. The manipulation of gas supplies has become a weapon in this contest. But Russia's policy in the Middle East, and its flirtation with China, are also part of the quest for great-power status. Dmitri Trenin, of the Carnegie Moscow Centre, argues that Russia has now left the Western solar system and is busily creating its own.
So to answer the question in the title of this post, namely, what do Putin, Chavez, and Ahmadinejad have in common: all three of these leaders are able to disregard legitimate concerns of the United States, particularly in the realm of political consolidation, with impunity, largely because of their enhanced national oil wealth.James Carville made famous the following quip about the determining factor in American presidential contests: "It's the economy, stupid." In Iranian, Venezuelan, and Russian presidential politics, one might modify the Ragin Cajun's pithy statement by substituting "economy" with the word "oil".