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>Who Is Our Enemy, This Man Called Putin?

Moscow–From his base as president, and now prime minister, Vladimir Putin likes to think of himself as ruling the world. At least, having something to say about anything that happens in the world because, inevitably, it will someday come to affect Russia and its allies.

Putin has called the demise of the Soviet Union the greatest political catastrophe of the 20th century. He yearns for a return to those superpower days. In a talk he gave in 2007 in Munich, he could not disguise his Cold War nostalgia, asserting that “global security” was ensured by the “strategic potential of two superpowers.”

His bitter complaint today is that there is only one superpower, what he calls “that behemoth that dominates a unipolar world.” He knows that Moscow lacks the economic, military and even demographic means to challenge America as it did in Soviet days. He speaks of the aggrieved have-not countries that Russia might lead in countering American power.

He has been active in stirring up the world. He has a close partnership with China, a country the U.S. deems worthy of further cultivating, both for political and economic reasons. President Bush’s presence at the Olympic Games this week had more purpose than to complain to them about their regressive civil rights record. Bush understands that at the end of the games, for China it will be business as usual, with more people thrown in jail, more reprisals, more leaning on Tibet, and less freedoms than feigned this week. At least one benefit of repression is that terrorists and other malefactors know that if they do something untoward, there is an iron hand to put them down permanently.

So far the Games have been relatively free from violence, bar the one American tourist killed and another injured, but even that was probably not done by terrorists.

Putin has dirty hands, and this war which he perpetrated starting on August 8th is further evidence of his ability to do whatever he wants and apparently get away with it. This is a man who turned Chechnya into a smoldering ruin. A man who won’t let Scotland Yard interrogate the polonium-soaked (radioactive chemical) thugs it suspects of murdering Alexander Litvinenko, yet another Putin opponent who met an untimely and unprosecuted death.

Putin is the spreader of weapons of mass destruction. He frequently oversteps his national borders…in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies he imposes on other nations. Something he calls Bush. Have you noticed–the typical guilty mind is prone to criticize others for the very thing of which they themselves are guilty?

As you read the next paragraph you will discover why, when he had the chance in Georgia, he did not totally destroy or even damage the oil pipeline that junctions near Tbilisi.

As president and now as prime minister over a puppet president, Putin is the man who consolidated dictatorial authority at home and the capitulation of both domestic (Yukov and Gazprom Oil) and foreign companies. The word on the American investment street is that you invest in Russia at your own risk. Putin now has his eyes on moving the three friendly billionaire Russian partners in BP Oil into a commanding position and bumping out the British influence. Less than a month ago he caused the Russian partners to force the partnership’s CEO, Robert Dudley, to skedaddle from Russia. The trio had registered a string of progressively more severe complaints against Dudley, who is now trying to run things from Central Europe after Russian officials refused to renew his visa.

Dudley’s long-distance efforts (which you have to believe won’t be workable for long), along with the departure of James Owen, TNK-BP’s independent CFO who began this week by stepping down from his post amid the worsening struggle between BP and those same three Russian billionaire partners. Owen’s departure, will make it easier for the Russian partners to gain control of TNK-BP. Indeed, oil experts say BP will be squeezed out of the picture before long.

BP’s difficulties in Russia follow the stripping of Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-A) (NYSE: RDS-B) from its position as operator at Sakhalin Island a year and a half ago. Most of Shell’s assets were sold under duress to Russia’s giant natural gas company Gazprom (OTC BB: OGZPY.PK). That’s a fate that could await at least some of the TNK-BP assets. And ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) also has found operating on Sakhalin less than a bed of roses, although it continues to ply its trade there.

All this has giant implications for BP and for other companies — France’s Total (NYSE: TOT) comes quickly to mind — with an eye toward working more in Russia. In BP’s case, its TNK-BP assets constitute about a fourth of its global production and almost a fifth of its reserves. While being forced to sell those assets, at whatever price, might not cripple the company, it’d nevertheless deal it a painful blow.

At the bottom of all of this upheaval is Putin. He probably yields more power, if not moral suasion, in the world than George Bush. He is the man who bullies other countries, who cuts off energy supplies to Ukraine, Georgia, and Belarus in brazen acts of political and economic extortion.

Political observer Charles Krauthammer believes he is a “modest” man in some ways, though he often appears as the Russian godfather. He loves to challenge the status quo, to challenge the dominant power to boost his own. Krauthammer doesn’t think he wants to “bury us” as Kruschev said he would do, only in his 19th-Century crude and elemental way to diminish us.