"You have accused the state department of a double standard about Russia and China. Aren't you guilty of the same about Vladimir Putin? You have used tortured arguments to defend his anti-democratic measures while at the same time praising democracy to the sky! Please explain the contradiction if you can.
Alena in New York"
I don't know what part of my argument is tortured. I observed that Putin has gathered and wielded enormous power in the process of trying to create a nation out Russian territories that were run like duchies.
However, I have egg on my face about lecturing the Russians about duchies. This is since Hurricane Katrina turned up that Louisiana has been run like a duchy, right down to making their own foreign policy under the direction of a French Canadian organization started by a Canadian with close connections to North Korea's government.
If you missed my post on the topic that man is Maurice Strong, who didn't recall a million dollar check made out to him as part of a UN Oil-for-Food deal.
However, I think (I hope) that Louisiana is an exception to the rule among American states, which agree to act as if they're part of a union. In Russia, the exception has been the rule.
So Putin is operating on the principle that before you can have a democratic nation, first there has to be a nation. Many Russians agree with him, which is how he was able to gather so much power.
As to whether the agreement is actually a majority -- taking a shot in the dark, I'd say most Russians want to have their cake and eat it too. They want independence from a centralized government but at the same time they want a centralized government to pick up the pieces.
So what does that make Russians? It makes them normal. Look at Tamil Nadu state in India. Look at Louisiana. Look all around the world, and you will find regions that can't stand the thought of a centralized government until they need one. So then it's decision time. By atavistic tradition, usually backed by military force, you can't keep changing your mind about your decision on the days it suits.
It's also dealing from the bottom of the deck if your idea of establishing democracy includes a program of balkanization. "Yo, we're all democrats here in these 20 square miles of our nation."
And how long do they think they'll remain democratic, when everyone around them with their own 20 square miles says the same thing? That situation is ripe for a strongman and slick operators. And where does it end?
"Yo, we're all democrats here in New Orleans."
Then who ran screaming to the federal government after Katrina struck?
President Putin knows that promises are not enough. By the time he leaves office he must deliver a central government and consolidated union of states that do not run roughshod over democracy.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but he has always seen himself as preparing the ground for a democratic nation -- groundwork that was not done by Boris Yeltsin and his American and West European backers.
The Russian people have the hard job of both supporting Putin's efforts and protesting when he makes too many compromises with the old order. So far, they're doing a pretty good job of threading the needle. They're not helped by State's efforts to discredit Putin and make his successor more malleable to their balmy theories about defending American interests in Central Asia.