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Find More Articles By Walberg

An optimistic view eastwards by our friend Eric Walberg. Russians do not think that the high theatre called "elections" is worth the trouble. I am not sure this is correct attitude: if the Russian people were given a choice between, say, Ivanov and Medvedev, at least, it would be more fun. We (and I mean everybody I know) have no clue of Mr Medvedev's agenda. I do not believe Mr Putin will continue as a Prime Minister, either. So the near future of Russia is not really as clear as Eric seems to think.
The cakes are not for eating
The elections of new presidents in Serbia and Russia are giving the West a bad case of indigestion, diagnoses Eric Walberg
The post-Soviet New World Order project is continuing to suffer setbacks, with two new old thorns — Serbian Democratic Party’s Boris Tadic on 3 February, who was narrowly re-elected, beating the Radical Party’s Tomislav Nikolic, and Dmitri Medvedev, the United Russia candidate, who leads his opponents in the presidential election scheduled for 2 March with a healthy 75 per cent popularity rating.
It could be far worse in Serbia, as Tadic, though opposed to Kosovan independence, is the best of a bad lot, being a big fan of the European Union. A victory for Nikolic, deputy prime minister under the socialist Slobodan Milosevic, would have seen a Russian military base on Kosovo’s border and Serbia rejecting all ties with the EU.
Tadic, who was instrumental in overthrowing Milosevic, wants both to keep Kosovo and to join the EU, a clear case of wanting to have his cake and eat it. Kosovan nationalists will probably have already declared independence by the time you read this, setting off an interminable, anguished campaign by Serbs and Russians to scuttle this totally illegal move (what right do the US/EU have to give away another country’s territory?). Serbs clearly hope he will be able to square the circle, but — sorry — he can’t, and we can only hope that Nikolic and Russia will be able to give him some backbone. The current prime minister and fellow “Democrat”, Vojislav Kostunica, refused to endorse Tadic in this photo-finish election, an ominous sign in light of the dilemma the latter now faces, since the EU has already indicated it will immediately recognise a Republic of Kosovo when it is declared.
Meanwhile, Russia is about to elect a successor to President Vladimir Putin. Barring a nuclear war or a repeat of 1917, the likely winner is Dmitri Medvedev, currently first deputy prime minister. A retiring, bookish lawyer, he was Putin’s chief of staff, has been chairman of the board of Gazprom since 2000 and currently oversees Russia’s national infrastructure programmes.
In a slightly odd game of musical chairs, he has promised to appoint President Putin as his prime minister, much to the frustration of the Western powers. Reuters warned in horror that the Putin-Medvedev duo could run Russia until 2033. Sergei Mironov, a Kremlin loyalist and the speaker of the Russian parliament’s upper house, said Putin could become president again after a Medvedev term, serve two (maybe by then seven-year) terms himself, and then hand over power once more to Medvedev. A most unlikely scenario, but one which delights sensationalist Western media pundits.
An earlier prime minister under Putin, Mikhail Kasyanov, and world chess champion Gary Kasparov, touted by the Western media as the real alternatives to Putin, failed to make the ballot, and have loudly proclaimed to anyone who will listen that Putin has used thuggery and all kinds of nasty tricks to make sure they can’t save Russia from dictatorship. Kasyanov accused Putin of strangling democracy and said his campaign was the victim of “an orgy of lawlessness” by authorities. He claimed his activists were intimidated into signing false confessions that their signatures were faked. In fact, both Western darlings are widely disliked in Russia, and it is highly unlikely that state-funded orgies were necessary to make sure either campaign floundered.
Medvedev’s closest rival is Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov with 13 per cent of the popular vote, followed by quasi-fascist Vladimir Zhirinovsky with 12 per cent, and Democratic Party leader Andrei Bogdanov, with less than one per cent. They are dismissed by the New York Times as “window dressing” though Zyuganov probably beat Yeltsin in 1996, but was prevented from taking office in one of the many “cliff hanger” elections where the socialist/liberal always seems to lose by a whisker (viz Al Gore in 2000 and Mexican socialist Lopez Obrador in 2006). One can only marvel at the Western media’s gross misrepresentation of the facts, and the Russians’ equanimity in the face of their hysteria. Oh yes, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has threatened to boycott the elections once again, presumably in an attempt to spice up this tired leftover dish.
The transition to a Medvedev presidency should be smooth, with his focus on fighting corruption and environmental problems. “Russia is a country of legal nihilism. Corruption in the official structures has a huge scale and the fight against it should become a national programme,” said Medvedev. The government is drafting a strategy for social and economic development up to 2020 to rebuild Russia’s infrastructure and improve water quality and waste recycling. He also said Russia has no need to apologise for its ties to what he called “problem countries”, clearly a reference to Iran. He said dealing with such nations is part of Russia’s international responsibilities.
“We need decades of stable development that our country has been deprived of,” a clear jab at Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev (who recently sharply criticised Putin) and the late Russian president Boris Yeltsin, who is now seen as having destroyed a mighty world power and handed Russia’s riches over to a tiny pro-Western elite.
Yes, the West managed to grind up both Russia and Serbia in the 1990s, and tried to cook tasty morsels from their remains, but once these treats cooled, it found it was unable to feast on them. They both got caught in its craw.
Eric Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly. You can reach him at www.geocities. com/walberg2002/

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