Putin made some interesting comments at a recent conference in Yalta. From the Moscow Times:
“We must calmly and effectively build up our country with dignity, not fence it off from the outside world,” Putin was cited by Reuters as saying. “We need to consolidate and mobilize: not for war or any kind of confrontation, [but] for hard work in the name of Russia.”
Now there’s a part of me that wants to gloat over this obviously conciliatory statement, which hints that Putin may have either had a moment of clarity or that he spoke with someone who isn’t a native of Fantasy Land, and one way or the other he came to the realization of how screwed Russia is on her present course. I hate that it’s come to this, where you go from cheering on Russia as some kind of counter-weight to the West, and then years later you actually get some kind of Schadenfreude out of watching her humiliate herself. It’s like some weak, but oblivious person constantly going around bragging about how tough he is, constantly messing with people he knows are weaker than him, but then one day he says the wrong thing in front of the wrong person. Watching Russia warn the West that sanctions would hurt them more, as if Western leaders hadn’t already made calculations on that question, was basically the equivalent of the little braggart fruitlessly trying to talk his way out of a beating.
Another part of you, not quite so base and vindictive, wants to say, “I told you so!” Calmly and effectively building up Russia with dignity was precisely what Russia needed to be doing. You build the country up by protecting individual rights, punishing corruption, creating solid institutions, and unleashing the creative talent of your citizens to build up a diverse economy that is indispensable to other economy heavyweights. See they levied sanctions against Russia because they can. They don’t need Russia to function. That’s been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. So solving this problem means making Russia necessary, much like China.
Of course there’s a third voice in there, the hopeful voice, which tells you that maybe Putin has returned to reality for good, or at least he’s on the path back. Maybe he’s finally stopped listening to pseudo-intellectuals who babble on about “Russia’s historical mission” or the “Russkiy Mir.” That is the voice of self-preservation and reason. The side that wants to see the loudmouth get popped in the face is emotion, spite. The voice of reason understands that you depend on that loudmouth or the time being. The voice of reason tells you that this needs to be taken as a good sign. In case the reader might dismiss this as empty words, note that according to the article the speech was neither broadcast, nor was there a transcript of the speech posted on any Kremlin website at the time this story was published. This suggests that the Kremlin wants to keep the speech low-key, away from the eyes and of the same masses who they had been previously whipping up into a nationalist fervor.
There were some ominous signs at the conference, however, such as this:
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the notoriously fire-and-brimstone leader of the LDPR, proposed reviving the Russian Empire, replacing Russia’s flag with the imperial one, introducing a minister of propaganda and renaming the office of president “supreme commander.”
“Elections are worthless, they are a profanation,” Zhirinovsky told the audience of elected lawmakers.
Putin responded by saying that Zhirinovsky’s arguments do not always reflect Russia’s official position, but that he always “gets the party going.”
If you’re not familiar with Zhirinovsky, he is allegedly the third most popular “opposition” candidate behind “Communist” Party of the Russian Federation leader Gennady Zyuganov. So yeah, a guy who supposedly wants to be president of Russia hates elections. Okay. Putin’s humorous quip assures us that he isn’t taking Zhirinovsky’s run-of-the-mill nonsense seriously, but it ignores the elephant in the room. Why do you have an “opposition” candidate who never really opposes the Kremlin, and the only criticism he has seems to be that the Russian government isn’t strong enough? Why is this man such a player in Russian politics? It’s almost as if he has for quite some time been fully aware that he doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of being elected president, and thus doesn’t have to formulate coherent policy ideas. Now why exactly would that be the case? I mean Russia is some kind of democracy right? Putin’s only in power because he was fairly elected, right? All that stuff about Russia not being a democracy is just Western propaganda, right?
I like the manner in which Putin dismissed him, but at this point a much better response would have been “Why are you here? Why do you exist in Russian politics?” Zhirinovsky exists because the system has been designed so that nobody can become a threat to the ruling party’s power. Medvedev is the only other person trusted with the office of the presidency. Remember what happened when another leader of a resource rich country ensured that nobody could possibly oppose him, thus inadvertently creating a succession struggle whose disastrous consequences are still felt today? Yeah that didn’t work out too well.
I do have a bone to pick with some statements found in the article, however, particularly this:
According to Makarkin, the reason that some of the most rabble-rousing Duma deputies were allowed to speak at the event was to demonstrate that Putin is Russia’s “sole European” — a reference to the aphorism of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, who referred to the Russian government as the country’s sole European — and someone who has enough authority and is shrewd enough to control Russia’s nationalist zeal.
Of course, we can’t understand anything about Russia by using other parallels. Every example, every analogy, must come from Russia and Russian history, in this case Pushkin. But more problematic is the implication that there’s this innate Russian nationalist zeal. We’re always told that Russians are fiercely patriotic and nationalist, and yet we’re taught to close our eyes to the fact that the government, schools, and media are constantly ramming this patriotic crap down everyone’s throat and they have been since 90’s. In America we see all the surrounding circumstances behind our flirtation with jingoism. We see influences like Fox news, the effects of 9/11, and so on. We rationalize. But Russians? No they’re just inherently nationalistic and traditional, whatever the latter is supposed to mean.
Next the article goes on to say something even more ominous:
Putin’s speech demonstrated that Russia’s policy would be “soft Sovietization under the banners of imperial Russia,” according to Svyatenkov. In Crimea, Putin is attempting to blend policies of national and religious reconciliation with patriotism, and has adopted the role of the ultimate arbiter of this process, according to the analyst.
Putin echoed these sentiments in his speech, saying: “Crimea can play a unique role in uniting Russia, it can become a source of historical reconciliation of Red and White forces, so that we may heal the wounds that were inflicted on our people by the dramatic schism of the 20th century.”
This kind of thing drives me up the wall. There is no ‘Sovietization.’ What this would literally mean is the creation of worker councils and giving them power. Do you see that happening anywhere in Russia? Do you see full nationalization of anything, keeping in mind that this isn’t necessarily socialism by definition? Do you see the government adopting, at least a superficial internationalist identity which condemns chauvinism? Does it at least pay lip service to women’s rights? Is it at least officially secular? No, no, no, no, and no. There is nothing “Soviet” about post-Soviet Russia. They use the flags and symbols the way a kid born in the 90’s wears an 80’s cartoon t-shirt. It’s like a brand logo. They steal the accomplishments of the Soviet Union because post-Soviet Russia really has no global-scale accomplishments. Of course liberal and pro-capitalist academics have a vested interest in keep the world afraid of the USSR and more importantly socialism, thus as Putin blatantly and obviously resurrects the Russian empire in front of their faces, they will call it a “new Soviet Union.”
The Russian Empire was far worse than the Soviet Union, especially for Russian people. It kept the masses ignorant and impoverished, and few children managed to reach the age of five. We don’t count those deaths as “killed by capitalism” or “killed by Tsarism” because it is problematic for capitalism. The Soviet Union was rooted in ideals like real equality, social justice, and human liberation. It was born in the end of a bloody, pointless war in which rich industrialists and monarchs sent millions of men into meat grinders for profit and imperial glory. That war, both in the East and the West, was stopped by organized, class-conscious workers in Petrograd, Kiel and Wilhelmshaven. You can talk all you want about how the Soviet Union did not live up to those lofty ideals, but you know the USSR didn’t exactly grow up in the best environment now did it? From the very seizure of power by the Bolsheviks the country was under siege and attack from every corner- White forces, intervention armies, religious fanatics, blockades. Nothing was spared the world’s second socialist experiment, the first having been drowned in blood after roughly two months. Perhaps the USSR would have been very different had it not been treated that way. Perhaps it would have been better if the Great powers Britain and France had treated the new socialist state with a more neutral or even friendly stance. You know, like they did for Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy?
My point here is that while the hacks continue to cluck about a “new Soviet Union,” Russia’s politics are dominated by far right wing ideology, and yes, a great deal of it being by definition fascist. For all the horrible things that actually happened under socialism, the Russians are still here, the Ukrainians are still here, the Crimean Tatars still exist. Fascism and far right nationalism is the ideology which leads to extermination. The most destructive fascist states were those with a dream of lost empires. Westerners and so-called liberals, by blaming socialism and coddling reactionary, romantic views of the Russian empire and Tsarism, are complicit in the rehabilitation and glorification of that empire. And if this process continues, one day they will know the difference between the Soviet Union and the Russian empire, as will the Russian people themselves. Both will have much to regret.