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Is Putin Freedom's Champion or Foil for the West?

Drifting Apart Summit Underscores EU Tensions with Russia ... Kremlin boss Vladimir Putin and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso have little affection for one another. Despite flourishing economic ties, Russia and the EU are drifting apart politically -- and neither side knows what to do about it ... The difficult relationship between the two leaders is symptomatic of something even greater. In the run-up to the Russia-EU summit this Friday in Brussels, disputes are simmering over Russia's desire for a visa-waiver for its citizens traveling to Europe, Putin's push to expand Moscow energy giant Gazprom deeper into the EU and a new tariff imposed by the Russians on imported cars. EU officials believe Russia is violating the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO), a body that Moscow only recently joined. In economic terms, Russia, the world's largest country by landmass, and the EU, the strongest economic bloc, are becoming ever more intertwined. Politically, however, they are drifting further apart. As reliant as each partner may be on the other, they do not appear to have joint plans together for the future. – Der Spiegel

Dominant Social Theme: Putin, a champion of liberty, fends off socialism as best he can.

Free-Market Analysis: There is a perception among a certain part of the alternative media that Russia under Vladimir Putin is a great protector of human rights and civic individualism.

This perception goes hand-in-hand with certain ideas about money – namely that the state should create money and industry should be harmonized with the needs of the state so as to produce the greatest amount of prosperity for the people.

This perspective is one that we could call "alternative media National Socialism," and we have written about it quite a bit – despite attacks on our observations from those who find themselves offended. This view is also accompanied by "great man" worship. In fact, Adolf Hitler was seen as a supporter of this approach which supposedly led to the "German Miracle" of pre-war years.

These days, despite the monetary system, Russia is looked upon by certain parts of the Western "alternative media" as the homeland of a certain kind of National Socialism and Putin himself is looked upon as a heroic neo-Hitler, standing up against the Jewish/Bolshevik forces of the West.

The meme, then, is that Putin is a heroic defender of freedom and civil liberties against the leveling ambitions of a "Jewish" power elite that is bent on world conquest. This Der Spiegel article certainly provides us with a viewpoint of Putin and Russia growing estranged from the West for various reasons.

"What happens with Russia is no less than a question of war and peace on our continent," says Frank Schauff, head of the Association of European Businesses in Brussels. Meanwhile, Zbigniew Brezinski, a former US National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, fears that Russia is fatalistically falling back into its old, anti-Western tradition. The massive country to the east is facing pressure on three sides: a growing China to the east, Muslim states in the south and a West that has often rejected Russia in recent years. For its part, given the dual debt crisis in Europe and the United States, Moscow no longer views the West as a model. The opinion within the Kremlin is that democracy is a form of government designed for wealthy states, but even there it leads to constant new economic crises because of frequent and expensive election promises.

Former Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who is in no way anti-European, says he is concerned that many in his county now view "Europe as an industrial museum that is losing the war of innovation." Izvestia, a newspaper considered sympathetic to the Kremlin, swears this is "Europe's twilight." Putin himself has asked his diplomats to draft the outline for a shift towards Asia. He's had enough of being lectured about human rights like some kind of school pupil by Western leaders. In the West, meanwhile, the number of authoritarian laws that Putin has forced through the Duma, Russia's parliament, has strengthened the position of anti-Russia hawks.

The outlines of a new Cold War can be seen waiting in the proverbial wings. We are meant to believe that both China and Russia are joining forces against the West. China is a resurgent capitalist country and Russia is experiencing a strong freedom trend under Putin.

This is one dominant – or perhaps subdominant – social theme. The larger meme is simply that China and Russia are inimical to the West and not to be trusted. It is the old divide and conquer tactic all over again. The West, turning ever more fascist itself, needs overt enemies. But so do Russia and China – countries with strong authoritarian perspectives themselves.

Putin, in fact, is no angel. He runs a kind of state mafia built of KGB cronies and others that have helped him into power and kept him there. He is said to be worth some US$50 billion and his collection of palaces, planes, yachts and other items propels his lifestyle into the company of the world's richest leaders.

But such individuals must inevitably run authoritarian governments – likely no better nor worse than those now being erected in the West. To invest Russian or Chinese regimes with freedom-oriented ideologies is surely to romanticize what's going on.

Putin may indeed pose as a protector of Russian individualism and freedom but more likely he needs an external threat as much as China does – as much as the West does itself. Strong states and strong leaders always need such enemies. Seen from this perspective, Putin needs tensions with the West as much as the Western power elite needs to provide a credible portrait of forces arrayed against it.

Conclusion

George Orwell predicted this in his great book, 1984, and it would seem to be an ever more convincing scenario, from our perspective – three great fascist blocs opposing each other and locked in a perpetual struggle. The idea that Putin intends to be exempt from this brutal ménage a trios is naïve, in our humble view.

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