A Pretty Good Article

I know there are readers out there who are highly anticipating the follow up to the last post, “Something for Everyone.” The problem is that my timetable is highly variable and as of late doesn’t permit me to put the kind of time into it as would be necessary.  That’s just not the kind of article you bang out in ninety minutes.  I wanted to give you, the readers, at least something for the first half of this week, so I found this rather balanced article.

I see only one major problem with it.  The premise of the article is that Putin is done for politically because he has caused damage to the base of oligarchs whom he serves.  The problem is that oligarchical control in Russia is a bit different than it was in the past. Putin still has the ability to smack down a few of these billionaires if they get to unruly, as in supporting some kind of opposition movement as in the author’s hypothesis. There’s another layer to Putin’s base which, while being neither extremely rich nor famous, can neutralize a certain number of rebellious oligarchs before they can become much of a problem. That is why I think if these oligarchs see conflict with Putin coming on the horizon they are most likely to simply leave the country rather than stay and try to oust him by funding some kind of Maidan-style movement.

There is another angle to this one flaw as well, namely that at the moment, there is nobody to replace Putin except maybe Medvedev again, and adorable as Medvedev is, there is always the danger of him being carried away to Isengard by a pack of orcs.  This sounds like a pro-Putin campaign slogan, but it is actually true because he made it so. After so many years in this country it hit me that opposition leaders like Zhirinovsky and Zyuganov don’t really spend time thinking about what they’d do if they managed to get elected president. While this article insinuates that Putin has lost touch with reality, he’s most likely the only powerful person in Russian politics who at least had some connection to reality, and who can be brought back to his senses.  The fact that nobody in Russia can adequately replace Putin in the foreseeable future is a separate question from how he leaves power, and even if he does kick the political con-men “advisers” to the curb and returns to the real world, this fact won’t automatically change.  Do I need to explain why this is a bad thing, seeing that a lack of Putin would lead to a power vacuum which could be filled by someone far worse?  Russia’s “intelligentsia” is jam-packed with fascist, reactionary wannabe tsars who would just love to impose their will on the populace, whom they see as cattle.

Anyway, other than the author’s wishful thinking, I think the article is rather sober and balanced.  Go read it.

5 thoughts on “A Pretty Good Article

  1. Pat

    I think Putin’s support has always been wide, but not especially deep. As one Russian friend put it, if not Putin then whom? That question really needs to be answered before there is a strong chance of him going anywhere. I think the other major point that is missed by this article, but not by Putin himself, is that Russians do not really seem to understand why the USSR fell. The “greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century” wasn’t that the USSR fell, it’s that it fell with 0% input or effort from the Russian people. The vast majority simply “woke up in a different country” This creates two main problems as I see it.

    One, because they don’t see why the USSR ended, Russians don’t have a problem recreating an empire and see it as a good thing. The only way they know how to act around their neighbors and project power is to take over land and people. This is a very expensive and unwieldy prospect. “Soft power” is not a Russian concept. To the West, the ending of the USSR was inevitable because their economy was royally screwed from years of overspending on the military/state security, yet look at their current budgetary priorities and all of the things Putin hasn’t built (Sochi not withstanding) during his years of power. It will look awfully familiar. However, since there has never been an honest dialog within Russian society about the USSR’s collapse, there is no push back to the idea of recreating empire. Thus they give VVP high approval rating when he sets a course to repeat many of their past mistakes. It was unsustainable then and it’s unsustainable now, but damned if you can convince the average Russian of that. It’s a huge flaw in the article’s calculations.

    Two, Russians as a whole didn’t really participate in the collapse of the USSR. It’s something that no one asked if they wanted and just “happened”. Therefore they missed out on one of the most powerful lessons in democracy; that they hold the power. The Ukrainians know this (which is why they stuck to their guns on the Maidan) thanks to the Orange Revolution. They know it’s possible for street protests to check political power. However, most Russians say there is “no point” to protests and feel very disconnected from their government. Their view seems to be that government is something that happens to you; not something that you control, so why bother trying. Until they learn that they have the power, and need to fight to keep it, they really are sheep and VVP isn’t going anywhere even if it gets much worse.

    Thus, while I agree with the article that Putin is actually very weak, I don’t see the forces needed to move him out of the way massing on the horizon. One of two things is more likely to happen. Either a, more military adventurism as a short term boost to popular mood. And/or, the economy will collapse, and because of this the natives will (finally!) start to get restless and there will be a reshuffling of oligarchs at the top so as to keep the population from having the realization that they hold true power. The oligarchs know that if they move swiftly they can pull a repeat of the Yeltsin/Putin swap (talk about castling), pacify the population and go back to business as usual of robbing the country blind. This is not a cheery vision, but I think it’s more realistic than what the author has in mind.

  2. Estragon

    One point in this article I disagree with. According to the author, the Russian population is divided into “[people with] low-income, low and stagnant economic well-being and quality of life, and a thin layer of oligarchs.” This is actually a description of the Russia that Putin found back in 2000. The article ignores the growth of a real Russian middle class, something that didn’t exist in Yeltsin’s time but does exist now. Putin’s high ratings aren’t just based on flim-flam and shirtless photo ops.

    1. Estragon

      I would question that. Some of the major regional cities are notably better off than they used to be. Ordinary Russians are doing things en masse that they never did before, like taking vacations abroad. In my experience, the rising middle class tends to be pro-Putin. It’s the “intelligentsia” (largely a self-described group) that tend to hate him. As for wealth inequality, it’s massive in the US also, but that doesn’t keep most Americans from describing themselves as “middle class.”

      1. Big Bill Haywood Post author

        Many of them are just as worse off as they always were. Where they are not, it helps to look at the issue of regional debt to see why that’s not going to last.

        I don’t think the middle class professionals are pro-Putin. Most of those middle class types I met were workers in banks, international companies, law firms, and IT firms. They were nearly all very anti-government.

        As for wealth inequality, it still far eclipses that of the US. Remember, 110 individuals own 35% of the wealth in Russia.

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