Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Window on Eurasia: ‘Putin Zigzag’ Fails to Stop Russia’s Decline, Kalashnikov Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 6 – All the problems Russia had in the late 1990s remain unresolved because Vladimir Putin failed to use income from the rise in oil prices to address them, preferring instead to enrich himself and his friends and to pretend that the existence of such wealth, even though kept abroad, was by itself sufficient to pull Russia back from the brink.
But now, a decade after “the miracle” of the rise in oil and gas prices propelled Putin to the stop, Moscow commentator Maksim Kalashnikov says, “the Putin zigzag” in the ongoing decline of Russia is coming to an end, and Russia faces a terrible reckoning, one highlighted by but not limited to technological disasters (
Tragically, however, he continues, “the inadequacy of [Putin’s] regime to deal with the challenges” Russia continues to face is matched by intellectual and political poverty of the country’s opposition groups, a situation that makes any move forward more difficult and the fate of Russia far more difficult to predict.
In 1999, Kalashnikov notes, Russia lay in ruins. Its state budget was “less than the American state of California.” There was a full-scale war in the Caucasus. And Moscow was “paralyzed with fear” as a result of the apartment bombings. Russian and Western analysts were predicting that Russia was rapidly approaching its end as a unified country.
But then “a miracle happened: World prices for oil jumped upward, just as they did after the October 1973 war in the Middle East.” As a result, “the Putin era began,” but neither he nor those around him really changed course: Instead, they went in “a zigzag,” first to the side and then along the former route to the bottom.
As a result of the oil money, it was able to put down the separatists in Chechnya but only in a “superficial” way. And its increased resources led Americans, already at the end of 2006, to begin to talk “about the real danger of the imperial ambitions of the Russian Federation.” But “in reality,” Putin did little or nothing to turn the country away from the abyss.
Now, even new oil revenues will “not save the Russian Federation. “More than that, they have begun to accelerate the disintegration of the country” because of the way in which they have not been used, a trend that was not immediately recognized since “psychologically” Russians have been much more confident than they were in 1999.
However, because the flood of oil and gas earnings was not directed appropriately, Kalashnikov continues, “not a single one of the problems which threatened the final collapse of Russia was overcome.” Russia remains “a poorly developed country,” its economy backward, its people dying off, and its infrastructure decaying.
How did Russia manage to survive so long without these problems being addressed? “Thanks to the great Soviet Union which left ‘the post-Soviet country’ thousands of plans and factories, a developed electrical grid, and an enormous amount of housing.” But today, he says, this inheritance is “exhausting itself.” Living on it in the future is “impossible.”
According to Kalashnikov, Russians have thus become as it were “heroes and actors in a grandiose catastrophe novel,” one in which “civilization is being destroyed and people are being transformed into new barbarians.”
As a result, the Moscow commentator says, Russians are “entering into the last stage of their revolution, the fourth, which no one in the world has yet passed through.” In his vision, there have been “only four Great Revolutions:” the English in the 17th century, the French in 1789, the Russian in 1917, and “the Great Criminal Revolution of the 1990s.”
Each, as Pitirim Sorokin pointed out in his study of the first three, has passed through three stages: one of great hopes, one of destruction and one of reaction and restoration, the last of which is always led by a dictatorship of one kind or another than puts down those who oppose the revolution as such. In the current Russian case, “Putin has embodied that phase.”
But now and for the first time, Kalashnikov continues, Russia is entering the fourth stage because it, unlike the places where the great revolutions of the past took place, is not a largely agrarian and pre-industrial state. Instead, it is a place where most people live in the cities and where agriculture cannot feed the population.
Consequently, the current Russian revolution has entered a fourth stage: “the struggle with infrastructure catastrophes,” where the systems that support life in the cities and the country as a whole are “physically falling apart” because those who have seized power in the earlier stages have no interest in supporting the infrastructure.
Because such a revolutionary stage has not happened before, “no one knows” what may happen, Kalashnikov says. But five things are certain: First, if Russia does not meet its challenges, the country is “kaput.” Second, the existing infrastructure cannot simply be restored; it must be modernized.
Third, this will require “destroying part of the currently ruling elite” because that group has “no taste” for this innovation. Fourth, there are external forces which will try to prevent Russia from such modernization. And fifth, “while fearing the fourth wave of the revolution, [Russians] must by a leap catch up and surpass the rest of the world.”
These challenges are immediate, Kalashnikov continues, because “the collapse and degradation of the Russian Federation under Putin has passed a certain qualitative boundary,” one beyond which even “a generous infusion of money into industry and science” will not solve the problem.
Earlier, in the mid-1990s, that might have been sufficient to address the problems, but not now. Russian enterprises are in a state of collapse. Recent graduates are poorly trained. “And the most important thing is that people are gone.” As a result, there is no one to take up the challenges that the country faces in this or that sector.
If the country is to avoid disaster, Russians at all levels will have to work “from nothing” as people did under Stalin. That means they must “for years forget about yachts and sky slopes and work like the damned up to 18 hours a day. Day and night be in their offices.” And do everything necessary to get the country up and running.
Unfortunately, that is not what the current powers that be want. They only want to get money and continue to rest. That means that they must be pushed out of the way if the country is to prosper again. And the population must recognize that the grandiosity of the government’s current programs is simply a pale return to the approach of the late Brezhnev and Gorbachev.
Once again, instead of addressing real problems, he says, the powers that be in Moscow have simply turned to “public relations schemes,” even as the gap between rich and poor widens, as Russia loses control over Siberia and the Far East, and as the earnings of the country continue to go abroad.
In short, Kalashnikov says, “the state has finally been converted into ‘an East India Company’ for the colonial exploitation of the local population,” although he insists that “Putinism is in truth a ‘people’s power’” with Putin “the leader of the beer-soused and stupid electorate” which does not read or think for itself.
The Putin system, Kalashnikov continues, must be “thrown on the ash heap of history,” but unfortunately the question is how is that to happen. “The degradation of the opposition is obvious” as is the slavish behavior of the business community, the military, and the clerical hierarchy.
“Under these conditions, “a national revolution, the replacement of the regime by force, is impossible. The degraded people will not rise,” because “its passion” on display in the 1990s has disappeared “once and for all.” At the same time, “one must not say that Putin is evil and that Medvedev is our new all, our light and hope.”
Moreover, “one must not count on changes as a result of the collapse of the Russian Federation: that ‘medicine’ is more horrible than the illness,” Kalashnikov insists. But those who care about the country must recognize that “the Putin zigzag has exhausted itself” and that “Russia is again on the path to catastrophe.”

No comments: