Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Window on Eurasia: ‘Multitude of Parallels’ Between Brezhnev and Putin, United Russia Deputy Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 5 – In a new book entitled ‘Why Brezhnev Didn’t Become Putin,” Aleksandr Khinshtein not only argues that the former Soviet leader should be known not for “stagnation” but for “stability” and that there are “a multitude of parallels” between him and current Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
On Monday, “Komsomolskaya Pravda” published extensive excerpts from Khinshtein’s book, in which he talks about many Soviet and Russian leaders over the last half century, but perhaps the most intriguing segments of those presented concern the similarities the United Russia deputy sees between the two men (
As the newspaper’s Larisa Kaftan puts it, “the further from the Brezhnev era” people go, an era that was “named already during perestroika times as ‘stagnation, the more often [Russians] recall it with sympathy.” But Khinshtein, despite his promise not to write a hagiography, goes further than most.
Brezhnev, Khinshtein says, was “not always the old and infirm” man many remember. “In the first decade of his rule, a large part of his term, he was an energetic, active and quite liberal ruler, although if it was required, he was able to become quite tough.” And he succeeded in establishing a “relatively well-off stability.”
Indeed, the United Russia deputy continues, “the early Brezhnev” in many ways tried to do “what Putin is doing” now. And Khinshtein writes that “it is possible to draw a great multitude of parallels” between the two leaders,” including their interest in the Olympics, reliance on oil and gas, and ruling “the party and state” as “a sovereign democracy.”
“From time to time,” the deputy says, he cannot avoid feeling “a sense of déjà vu.”
On another issue, Khinshtein argues that had Brezhnev lived only a few days longer, he would have handed over his position as head of the party and become the party’s president, something that would have meant that his successor would have been someone other than Yuri Andropov, with all the differences in Soviet history that would have made.
“The Soviet Union,” he writes, “was hardly condemned to death, as the ideologues of liberalism attempt to convince us. Even in the terrible 1990, the situation in the country was at a minimum no worse than in 2007. And that means Brezhnev was not as guilty in the collapse of the empire as were his heirs Gorbachev and Yeltsin.”
Russia has never had too many ruler-builders, but unfortunately it has been “especially rich in revolutionaries” like Kerensky, Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, Gorbachev and Yeltsin. “Only a single Russian ruler in the 20th century, albeit with qualifications can be called a builder, and however strange it may seem, that was Brezhnev.”
“No one intends to canonize Brezhnev,” the United Russia deputy writes. After all, “the late Brezhnev was almost like the late Yeltsin” down to “the smallest details.” But now Russians recognize that his era was not as Gorbachev and Yeltsin described it and said they would prefer to live in it almost as much as in Putin’s.
That brings Khinshtein to his description of Putin himself. “By his mentality,” the Duma deputy says, Putin is part of the Soviet Union experience. (He even admitted as much once, the deputy says, when he said that he could be considered to be “a successful product of the patriotic training of a Soviet man.”)
Putin was “born under Stalin, joined the party under Khrushchev, and was shaped as a personality under Brezhnev.” And it is “very indicative that among the greatest world tragedies Putin names precisely the collapse of the USSR” and says that “the collapse of the soviet empire is a crime.”
According to Khinshtein, “the attitude of an individual toward the death of the Union is a kind of litmus test of any politician.” For liberal-westernizingers, it is “a holiday of democracy. But unlike for them, “for Putin, the Soviet Union was not a prisonhouse of peoples, nor a hated empire, nor a distillation of evil.”
Instead, for the current Russian leader, “the USSR is his motherland in which there is enough of everything, both good and bad.”

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