So yesterday’s big news was that Reuters dropped a bomb exposing Putin’s daughter Ekaterina and her business dealings. Several hours after the story, the Kremlin and the source who identified Putin’s daughter went into full-on brick-shitting mode, with presidential spokesman Peskov claiming he was unable to confirm the identity of his boss’ own daughter and the source denying what he said to Reuters. Only problem for them is that Reuters is sticking to its story, which it confirmed with other sources, and they have the man who’s denying his statement on tape. I guess now he’ll have to claim his account was hacked or that Putin’s daughter actually resigned from being his daughter several months before she got into business.
I’m skipping over a lot of the details here because the reader can investigate on their own, but mainly because there’s a more important point to make here. From time to time I have to remind people, remind myself even, that all this talk about the “Russian world,” the “New Cold War,” “Western vs. Eastern values,” and the ideology of modern Russia doesn’t matter. All that is a smokescreen. What matters in Russia is money and the luxury it buys. In that sense, Russia isn’t really that different from other capitalist countries, but there are some key differences.
In other, functioning capitalist countries, the ruling class is largely in the private sector. They lobby government for favors and get them on a reliable basis. Yet one advantage in these societies is that they don’t necessarily stop you from getting into the ruling class and doing your own lobbying. Zuckerberg started a social network that blew up and catapulted him into the highest ranks of the capitalist class. By comparison, Russia’s Pavel Durov created a social network that actually beat Facebook in an open market, and as a reward by the “patriots” in charge of Russia, he was continually harassed and essentially ran out of his home country. What was his crime? Durov didn’t owe his riches to Putin, or more accurately loyalty to Putin, and thus he was a threat. Herein lies the difference.
Americans and other Westerners ought not fall for rags-to-riches stories which are often half-truths and at best, exceptions that don’t prove the rule. But one thing is for sure- strike it rich in “the West” and nobody cares. Welcome to the party. In Russia, you need to either be a friend of Putin or otherwise demonstrate your loyalty to him, almost like a quasi-feudal system.
But again you keep coming back to the central point, which is why this system exists, and at the end of the day it’s all about living in mind-blowing luxury and not being held accountable. The “patriots” in charge of Russia actually hate Russia and the Russian people. They see them as mindless, stupid cattle who need a “strong” leader. In reality, this takes on the form of a system designed to keep them in line while a shrinking few use the authority of the state to gobble up more of Russia’s wealth.
One must never lose site of this, in spite of Russian or even Western propaganda. It’s not about Russia versus the West, it’s not about Ukraine, the Baltics, or restoring the Soviet Union or even Russian empire. If Putin and his cronies could somehow ensure their perpetual rule by selling off half of Siberia to the United States, believe me they’d do it.
I really shouldn’t have to remind people about this. When I arrived here in 2006, conspicuous consumerism and hedonism were the norm, even glorified. Ironically, I had more access to this world as an English teacher than I ever did as a journalist. You learn about the elite sending their kids abroad because you’re helping them do it. You get taken by a private driver to massive compounds in Rublevka and other refuges of the wealthy. You get to take a piss in the guest bathroom which is equipped with toilets sporting gold-leaf laminated seats and wash your hands with water that flows from the mouths of bronze swans. This is why I roll my eyes when Russian “patriots” use terms like “we” and “ours.” There’s no goddamned “we.” When the shit hits the fan, the golden toilet crew are going to be hopping on private jets with all the cash they can carry, bound for the decadent, decaying West. Meanwhile the majority of Russians will be left holding the bag that is their crumbling country. It won’t happen tomorrow, it probably won’t happen next year, it may take even five to ten years, but it’s going to happen sooner or later due to the internal contradictions of the system and its vulnerabilities.
Should people study the ideology that supposedly guides the Kremlin? Sure. Study it from an academic historical point of view. Study it to identify it as it crops up in right-wing movements far from Russia’s borders. But always take it with a shaker of salt. At the end of the day the Kremlin’s ideology is far less Slavophilia than it is simply a love of BMWs, vacation houses in the south of France, and all the wondrous luxuries of the decadent, decaying West.