Today's date:
Winter 2004

Putin Restores Soviet-Style Power

Boris Berezovsky, one of the famous eight "oligarchs" who rose to wealth and power during the presidency of Boris Yeltsin, today lives in exile in London, where he has been granted political asylum.

London -- What is happening in Russia today -- with the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the seizure of Yukos stock -- can only be understood by looking at what has transpired over the past three and a half years since Russian President Vladimir Putin came to power.

In spring and summer 2000 Putin initiated the first step in his plan to turn Russia away from the decentralization and diversification effected under Boris Yeltsin and back toward the strong central state we knew in Soviet times. In those months he signed a number of decrees dismantling independent centers of power that had been devolved to other branches of government and regions and restoring that power to the center. His aim was the opposite of democracy: to concentrate power in one hand -- his own.

The second step was to destroy the independence of the mass media by bringing it under the influence of the Kremlin and his personal control. In this case, he didn't seize the shares of the media companies like he has done with Yukos; he just nominated his directors to those companies and made sure they dominated. This is when I battled with him myself and was driven from Russia.

The next logical step was to take control of the economy, which he is doing now. In the end, he knows he can't control political power without control over the economy. Since 80 percent of the Russian economy today is private, that means bringing business to heel. Khodorkovsky was the best example to send the message to all businessmen in the private economy. In effect, Putin was saying: If I can do it to him, I can do it to you.

Putin personally had Khodorkovsky arrested. For the small businessman down the line, it will be just the local ex-KGB cop knocking down the door and saying, "This is no longer your shop; it is my shop."

The West needs to recognize, at last, that what Putin is doing is just the opposite of democracy. Moreover, economic growth has dropped in Putin's term from 6 percent to just above 4 percent because he has stopped reforms.

It is up to us Russians to remove Putin from power, and we can do that. We are responsible for our country. But the West should lift the wool from its eyes and recognize that the Russia Putin is building will not be a good neighbor. Western leaders need to stop supporting him and giving him legitimacy for short-term political gain -- such as helping on Iraq or terrorism -- when his long-term goals are not theirs at all. The West supported Stalin, and look what it got them, and what it got us.