The heart, said Pascal, has its reasons that reason knows not of. The same can be said of today’s politicians on either side of the Atlantic.
Thus Sen. Blumenthal came up with a scheme that can only have its provenance in the heart, not reason. Hence a certain deficit of logic, attractive in a man who speaks from the heart.
“The Syrians could not conduct this war without Russian financing,” Blumenthal said in a letter co-signed by three other senators. “We can freeze their assets. We can stop them from doing business in the United States, prevent their employees from travelling here and, in effect, impose very heavy financial pain on the Russians.”
In other words, the Russians have been naughty. They’ve prevented Sen. Blumenthal and his likeminded colleagues from bombing Syria flat. For this they must be flogged where it hurts: in the pocket.
This is certainly a step in the right direction, but the stride isn’t long enough. After all, as preliminary head counts showed, the motion on bombing Syria flat was going to be defeated in Congress.
That means that most of Sen. Blumenthal’s colleagues are Putin’s accomplices in the crime of preventing Sen. Blumenthal from killing a few more Syrians and then establishing al-Qaeda rule in Syria.
If I understand jurisprudence correctly, this makes them equally culpable. Justice Blumenthal-style therefore demands that their bank accounts be frozen too. Let the Honourable Gentlemen sell their furniture for food, see how they like it.
As it happens, the idea of freezing Russian accounts all over the West is a sound one. It’s only the reasoning behind it that’s risible.
The Russians must be deprived of their ill-gotten wealth because it’s indeed ill-gotten. It’s safe to assume that every sizeable bank account held in the West by Russians represents the proceeds of illicit activity.
The cause of this takes us back to the first years of the post-Soviet state. There were many reasons for the Soviet nomenklatura to consign the Soviet state to posterity.
But the human factor came from the realisation that its wealth was denominated in non-convertible and therefore worthless (what the Russians call ‘wooden’) roubles. That meant that the nomenklatura could just about match the living standard of the Western middle class, but not much higher than that.
The only way to get their hands on those 500-foot Mediterranean yachts was to convert roubles into dollars, breaking the state’s monopoly on hard currency possession. For that to happen, the nature of the state had to change – hence all those perestroikas.
Since the massive conversion of the nomenklatura’s wealth into dollars had to bypass official channels to a large extent, the Party and the KGB intermingled with the crime barons of the shadow economy. This created a new elite, wherein Party apparatchiks, KGB officers and gangsters fused into a cohesive, homogeneous group.
Perhaps the biggest influx of personnel into the new elite, especially its ‘business’ end, came from komsomol, formally a youth extension of the Party that in fact had closer links with the KGB, acting as its breeding ground.
Thus three post-war KGB heads, Shelepin, Semichiastny and Andropov, came up through the ranks of komsomol. The same arrangement existed in Soviet satellites as well. Their equivalents of komsomol were just as tightly attached to their equivalents of the KGB. (This raises interesting questions about Angela Merkel who held a nomenklatura position in East Germany’s Kommunistischer Jugendverband Deutschlands.)
It was from the ranks of komsomol that much of the freshly minted business elite was drawn. If you scratch most post-perestroika ‘oligarchs’, such as Khodorkovsky, Nevzlin, Abramovich, Berezovsky, you’ll uncover a former komsomol apparatchik or at least activist.
The Russians refer to this group as ‘appointed oligarchs’. They were indeed appointed to act as guardians of the new elite’s wealth, of which they were given a leasehold, not a freehold.
Their reward was the means to live the life of Riley off the interest, even abroad if such was their wish. Their obligation was to remember they were the monkeys, not the organ grinders.
When they forget this crucial precondition, their memory is refreshed in ways ranging from assassination to imprisonment. For example, Khodorkovsky, the richest ‘appointed oligarch’ and former komsomol head of a Moscow borough, has been in prison for 10 years.
The top-to-bottom criminalisation of commercial activity in Russia guarantees state control not only of business but also of politics. Since no transaction in Russia can be conducted without some illicit money changing hands – if only by way of paying protection kickbacks – the whole self-employed community is effectively held hostage to the government, indeed to Putin personally.
One step away from the well-trodden path of obedience and sycophancy, and they can be imprisoned on ostensibly criminal, but in fact political, charges.
The European Court of Human Rights will then rule, as it did in Khodorkovsky’s case, that the charges were not politically motivated. True enough, in any civilised country the prosecution would have won a similar criminal case on prima facie evidence alone.
But in Russia the case would not even have been opened had Khodorkovsky not stepped out of political line. The lesson has been learned. Since even bogus democratic politics requires heavy funding, and since no rich man is going to finance opposition parties on pain of imprisonment, no effective opposition to Putin can arise.
Any civilised state would be within its rights to confiscate assets illegally obtained. Sanctions of this sort have traditionally been applied to pariah states, of which Putin’s Russia is certainly one.
This is what Sen. Blumenthal ought to occupy his flaming conscience with – not with Putin’s charitable act of saving Messrs Barack, Dave and François from their own stupidity.