Gary Kasparov, in a Wall Street Journal article last July, suggested that the West’s failure to come up with a model of post-Soviet Russia’s political system was due to the fact that it was looking in the wrong place. The best model, he suggests, can be found in books by Mario Puzo.

A chap I met who emigrated from the Soviet Union waxed rather emotional and, with the attendant loss of the definite article, explained to me that the West’s view of Putin was bullcrap. I suggested that it was perhaps unwise and heavy handed for Putin to reactivate deterrence patrols on Russia’s borders. His response was that Putin had no choice — NATO has expanded to include countries on Russia’s borders, and with the intended deployment of anti-missile defenses, Russia was threatened. He commented that Polish politicians publically stated that the missile defense system was not, as advertised a defense against Iran, but against Russia (of whom they have more immediate history). He stated that even US military experts have stated that the range and capability of the Iranian missiles make a very implausible threat against Europe. [While this may have been true in the past, it is unlikely to remain true in the near future.]

My comrade also pointed out that when the country was the Soviet Union, extended families lived in Ukraine and Russia, and that they traveled back and forth, but that after the democratization of the Ukraine, political considerations led to the curtailing of travel. His analogy was how would you feel if your grandmother lived in Indiana and a few people decided that Indiana should become an independent democratic country, yet because of political differences, your grandma could no longer visit you at Christmas. His contention was that 80% of the country was against the “revolution” and wanted to remain as part of Russia. Also asserted was that a few people were paying back their Western political masters for financial support of their Orange Revolution. Is this another case of Karl Rove’s evil?

I have read about Russia’s amore propre as being the root cause of Russian woes. A majority of the Russian people admire Putin because they do have bread to eat, and they do have a rising middle class, and there is a nascent rise in nationalism after what could only be called a humiliating surrender to the West. It is, however, reminescent of the same respect that New York Italian immigrants had for their Capo de la Familia. [Let’s see: does democracy feed my family? Are the police going to catch the guy who’s is ripping me off? Should I pay a little protection money to the KGB to insure that my mom-and-pop store survives (the KGB). Putin: “I just want to wet my beak a little”.] From what the average Russian worker endured under the Soviet regime, the current situation must seem infinitely better. And if things go bad, everyone knows that America is out to get Russia, even though no American president ever banged his shoe on the podium at the United Nations and taunted “We will bury you“. None the less, it seemed that the person I talked to was more interested in defending the amore propre than Putin. It’s always interesting to solicit a view from the other side of the window.

So we have a country with a political system which can at best be described, according to Kasparov, as a oligarchy with some feudalism thrown in and a patina of democracy just thick enough to fool the G8. This allows us another interpretation of the missile defense issue. Think of drug distribution in any major city and the turf fights that occur when a competing family attempts to take over that market. The mafia isn’t concerned about “how it looks” to the international community — this is defense of territory and profits. When you read about some Russian action and say to yourself “How can Putin do this? Doesn’t he know how bad it looks?” — you have to reset your mind into the Mario Puzo novels.

To respond to Putin you have to either respond as family (e.g. assassinate a few close associates) or find some international equivalent to Elliot Ness.