For a Kinder, Gentler Society
From Anatol Lieven, Carnegie Endowment, Washington D.C.:
May I briefly summarise the dominant Western opinions on the Russian state and the "oligarchs" in recent years (often expressed by one and the same people)?

1) The oligarchs have been a critically important force in undermining democracy, frustrating true economic reform, looting the state, crippling revenue collection and discouraging foreign investment. Reducing their role is a priority for any truly reformist Russian government. Any actual move against by the state against an oligarch will however be immediately denounced as heralding a return to authoritarianism-totalitarianism-Stalinism, even when this move is made through the courts and in cases where a very strong presumption of guilt exists.

2) The oligarchs have seized control of most of the mass media, often by illegal means, and used them to further their own interests both against the state and in battles with each other. The media generally reflects the interests of this class. Russian journalists have unfortunately been effectively bought up en masse. This is called pluralism and a free press.

3) Putin's move against the oligarchs is in fact a move of the oligarchical clique of Berezovsky against his rivals, and is therefore to be denounced as a dishonest sham and a sign of Putin's weakness. The move is obviously against Berezovsky as well. It is therefore to be denounced as an assault on the free market and heralding a return to authoritarianism-totalitarianism-Stalinism etc etc

4) Russia desperately needs to establish respect for the rule of law and honest standards in public life. The first step should be to declare an amnesty for all the thefts which have taken place over the past ten years.

5) Russia is a society in steep decline, wrecked by 70 years of communism, with a very weak civil society and deeply corrupted public institutions. Creating democracy and economic reform in these circumstances is extremely difficult. Russia must immediately show complete adherence to Western-style democratic behaviour. If a Western ally fails to meet these standards, this will be described as "growing pains on the path to democracy and the free market". If Russia fails, it will be denounced as a return to authoritarianism-a police state-totalitarianism etc etc

6) Some of the most strikingly successful examples of capitalist economic growth over the past half century have been conducted by authoritarian regimes with a strong element of state support and planning (often in alliance with and subsidised by the USA). It is now generally acknowledged that in the case of South Korea, Taiwan, and elsewhere, this growth created a modern middle class, which in turn eventually demanded democracy and is now providing a stable foundation for democracy. Without such a middle class, democracy (as in Peru and elsewhere) is liable to prove an empty and deeply unstable shell. Any suggestion that this model might be appropriate to Russia will be dismissed out of hand as simultaneously: a) impossible b) quite possible, but a return to totalitarianism-a police state-authoritarianism-the Tsarist era-the Stalin era-the era of Nicholas II-the era of Ivan the Terrible-Uncle Tom Cobbley and All.

7) Let's all hope that when our heads stop spinning round they end up pointing in the right direction.