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Book Review November 27, 2002
Mikey McFaul and the Three Bears
By John Dolan Browse author Email
Page 4 of 5
There are so many lies and half-truths in this claim that it's difficult to know where to begin. First, it is absolutely false that fraud was crucial "especially in 1993"; as McFaul knows very well, fraud was central to the far more important 1996 Presidential elections. McFaul simply hopes to pass this nonsense off on an American audience which doesn't know any better. Then there's the implication that fraud merely "tarnished" the results of these elections. Lying via metaphor is lying nonetheless -- fraud changed the outcome of these elections.

In an attempt to mollify more knowledgeable readers who know something of the scope and effect of electoral fraud in Yeltsin's time, McFaul inserts brief accounts of what really happened in that crucial 1996 election here and there, too far apart for the casual American reader to piece together. Here, formed by connecting two such passages placed forty pages apart, is a more honest version of this triumph of "democracy":

"In...the 'loans for shares' program, a small group of Russian banks gave the government loans in exchange for interim control of shares in a dozen major companies. These loans were never paid back, so the banks kept their shares. ...Boris Berezovsky's Logovaz eventually landed its own oil company, Sibneft, through the loans-for-shares scheme....Cleverly, the oligarchs only gained control of these companies after the 1996 election." (p. 252)

Taking up this story forty pages later, McFaul concedes that in the lead-up to the 1996 election, Yeltsin knew he was in trouble -- and so did his backers, the very oligarchs who had been handed over Russia's entire wealth by Yeltsin's thieves' court. He only rated about 3 percent in the polls. So the oligarchs decided to intervene in the "democratic process":

"Assembled in Davos...arch-rivals Vladimir Gusinsky from Most Bank and Boris Berezovsky from Logovaz decided to bury their differences for the duration of the campaign and work together to reelect Boris Yeltsin. Because Gusinsky owned NTV television (Channel 4) and Berezovsky controlled ORT (Channel 1), this strategic alliance was crucial....Berezovsky and his business colleagues [!] met with the president and pledged to finance his campaign...." (p. 293)

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how "democracy" came to Russia. At least, that's how McFaul sees this shameful tale, the stripping of a rich land by a band of vultures. One can only wonder what sort of model of democracy McFaul has absorbed...Oh, that's right, he lives in the United States and spends his life sucking up to the Bush administration -- so of course government by oil oligarchs, sustained by massive petrodollar infusion, tax evasion, shareholder fraud and crude vote rigging is the very essence of "democracy" in his mind. No wonder he finds the recent history of Russia such fertile ground for his notorious "optimism": every day in every way, Russia looks more and more like Texas -- and now, D.C.

For McFaul, Yeltsin's great achievement is the fact that he left power voluntarily, rather than staging a coup to stay in charge. It's astonishing to see McFaul repeating endlessly his hymn to Yeltsin as champion of democracy simply for not calling out the tanks...again. McFaul makes Yeltsin sound like Thomas More on the scaffold for bowing out "peacefully and constitutionally" -- even while conceding that Yeltsin probably COULD NOT have stayed in power even if he had staged a coup:

"We may never know what Yeltsin would have done had he lost the 1996 election. Many believe he would not have vacated the Kremlin peacefully....[but changes] in the balance of power limited Yeltsin's ability to hold on to power by other means [i.e. a military coup]. This power distribution may have encouraged Yeltsin to leave office peacefully and constitutionally, as he did on December 31, 1999."

Apparently the reader is supposed to be misty-eyed at the thought that this bloated, moribund embezzler limped away from the throne to play with his ill-got millions, handing over power to a spy who didn't even pretend to play with democracy, rather than ordering tanks into the street. This was, for me, the most utterly bizarre aspect of this strange volume. Have I lived away from America too long? Do we now so revere oil oligarchs and their frontmen that we are required to canonize them for failing to stage a coup?

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