Кто виноват?: Russia as cheap Chinese gas station by mattsteinglass
June 24, 2009, 12:31 pm
Filed under: democracy, Russia

Leon Aron has a great article in Foreign Policy on rising Russian discontent with the Putin model of governance.

Looking around Russia now, Putin’s new critics see only the ruins of unfulfilled promises and wasted wealth. Like Nemtsov and Milov, they rue the missed opportunity for a modern and transparent state and for a diversified, entrepreneur-driven economy, the foundation for which could have been laid under the more favorable market conditions of the early 2000s. “In all the years of the fantastic, unearned money, which gushed from the oil pipe as if from a broken bathroom spigot, we did not move a finger to diversify our economy,” Nikolai Svanidze, professor of the Moscow University for the Humanities and a member of the Public Chamber, the Kremlin’s top advisory body, wrote in March in the key opposition Web journal, Ezhednevnyi zhurnal. Simply put, Svanidze added, Russia has not learned how to make anything that would enjoy demand in the global market: “As in the 10th century, we still cannot offer the world anything that is not gifted to us by Mother Nature: no electronics, no clothes, no food, or cars, or medications, not even children’s toys.” Instead of emerging as a world economic power, Svanidze concluded, Russia appears to be headed in the direction of becoming “a cheap Chinese gas station.”

This anxiety and sense of failure does seem widespread among the Russian intelligentsia. If you look up “stability of autocracy” on Google Scholar, for instance, you’ll find a lot of great papers by Russian political scientists, like this one on how the resource curse enables dictators to remain in power by using corruption to buy off potential opposition. But, Aron says, the collapse of oil revenues and the economic crisis it provoked in Russia last year showed that a system of total corruption and impunity mitigated by buy-offs of potential opposition is unsustainable. There are two options for the regime: “abandon the current, softer authoritarianism, which generally favors bribery and intimidation over jailing and killing, and replace it with a full-bore, hard dictatorship; or radically expand its political base by opening a dialogue with the opposition, liberalizing politics, and reducing the state’s control of the economy.”

Here’s the thing: from the outside, it appears extremely unlikely that the latter option could happen. As Aron notes, “The allure of a reactionary stabilization is strengthened by the fact that many key components of such a regime have been introduced in the past eight years and are by now well-entrenched.” In contrast, it’s hard to imagine what significant, powerful, wealthy players would fight for a re-liberalization of Russia’s political and economic systems.

The Soviet system collapsed in 1991 in large measure because the Communist economy meant that economic failures redounded upon the political leadership and the political system. That was the extreme weakness of the pure Communist economy, and it generated the support for liberalization (perhaps never a popular majority support, even then) that drove the halting, often botched reforms of the Yeltsin era. The Russian economy today is once again effectively controlled by people who are inside the state structure, but it’s officially capitalist and not doctrinally invested in a theory of total state economic control. That makes it hard to identify economic failure with political failure in the tight way it was under Communism. The message that drove the liberalization of the ’90s was simple and clear: end state ownership of the means of production. Sell the SOE’s off; create a private business class. It was, as it turned out, a flawed formula, but it was a clear one that led to clear political action. The message today, a message of ending corruption, instituting the rule of law, creating transparency, etc., is much harder to encapsulate and has a much vaguer constituency. It’s hard to see how it can win a struggle against entrenched powers whose interest in continuing corruption and Kremlin centralization is clear and strong.


4 Comments so far
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Today I am completely out of my element and wouldn’t even begin to try to comment. But I will say that in my electronic travels I’ve become friends with a Russian artist from Georgia. Her name is Tinatin. She’s been painting as a way to cope with the great change in her country. Says she knows many people doing the same. Her work is lovely and if you have a second, check out her art and manifesto at:

Peace All…

Comment by Forrester McLeod

The fact of the matter is that from an economic standpoint, Russia can continue on this path for quite a while because of their huge reserves of oil and natural gas. This fact combined with the fact that Western countries are too politically dysfunctional to become energy independent virtually guarantees high prices for those two critical natural resources. This “Cap and Trade” baloney isn’t going to get us anywhere near energy independence. And yes, if the West tries pushes too hard with their global “Western Values Are Superior Campaign”, then Russia will simply sell energy to Asia and blow off the West – to the West’s detriment.

As for allowing hooks (read: “openness”) into the Russian system so that Western elites can impose their values (by paying off Russian nascent “Civil Society”), maybe Russia will allow it, maybe not. But last I checked Putin had an approval rating of something like 80%, which is higher than Obama’s. This goes to show that the only kind of democracy acceptable to the West is the Western kind.

Comment by Frank

If by “the Western kind” of democracy, you mean a democracy in which journalists who accurately report human rights abuses are not shot in the head by thugs hired by the regime — i.e. a democracy that also guarantees freedom of expression, association, and conscience, rather than one of lawless mob rule — then yes, that is the only kind of democracy acceptable to the West, as well as to Japanese, South Koreans, Taiwanese, South Africans, Ghanaians…etc. The fact that a country’s leader has majority approval is not the sole criterion for judging a regime; Stalin almost certainly had majority approval in the late 1940s.

Comment by mattsteinglass

They export quite a lot of porn and their hackers are a blight on the web. I’m not sure if anyone would buy anything they sell.

Comment by Jay Severin Has A Small Pen1s

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