11 January 2010

Article: Reading Russia: The Rules of Survival

Is this a computer hack?

The media section of the apparently authentic English-language website of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin contains an article published last year in the "Journal of Democracy" (20 [2], April 2009: pp. 73-7) that calls Russia not only "authoritarian", but democracy in Russia "failed":


It doesn't appear that someone has read the text before putting it up online. The author of the article, "Reading Russia: The Rules of Survival", Ivan Krastev, writes:

"During Putin's time as president from 2000 to 2008, Russian oil and gas companies earned in excess of US$650 billion more from their exports than they had in the previous eight years under Yeltsin. The breakneck pace of economic growth gave Putin a free hand politically, and he used it without compunction to entrench the power of himself and his circle, unhindered by weak and shallowrooted democratic institutions. [...]

"Is the [current] crisis more dangerous for Russia's new authoritarianism or for Europe's new democracies? The early evidence of the Putin government's performance in response to falling oil prices supports the assumption that the regime is ineffective, vulnerable, and unprepared to deal with the challenge. There is no doubt that the crisis has hit Russia extremely hard. [...] The social and political fallout of the crisis is dramatic. We can already detect splits among the ruling elites, with some of the Kremlin's in-house oligarchs bleeding and others cheering. Unemployment is rising, and the specter of mass protest has the authorities gravely worried. [...]

"The crisis has also sharpened the tensions between Moscow and various regional authorities, and many are hard-pressed to imagine how, given the new economic reality, the Kremlin will be able to continue buying the loyalty of vassals such as Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov. [...] The Russian government's early reaction to the crisis resembled a nervous rearranging of deckchairs on the Titanic. [...] The authorities' first impulses were to ban the word 'crisis' from government-controlled media and then to focus all efforts on fighting 'panic' rather than addressing the underlying economic conditions that were causing it. The result was a decline of trust in the mainstream media. [...]

"Putin's regime is in deep crisis, but at least for the moment Putin's majority remains intact and the consensus behind him is unchallenged. Why this should be so, even though a majority of Russians is well aware of the regime's corruption and its failure to modernize Russia, is a question worth asking. [...] What happened in [the crisis of] 1998 was a crisis of Russian capitalism and Russia's mode of faking democracy. While Russia was collapsing, Western democracies were prospering. It was a crisis not of the model, but of the imitation. [...] [T]he current crisis may be eroding the economic base and the material power base of the regime, but is making its ideological base stronger. Sovereignty-not prosperity-is at the heart of Putin's pact with the Russian people. At the moment, Russians blame Putin not for his ambition to build 'fortress Russia,' but for his failure to build it quickly enough. [...]

"Russians fear that genuine democratization will end in chaos and the territorial disintegration of their far-flung state. Putin's Kremlin has founded its legitimacy on the manipulation of this fear. [...] The concept of 'sovereign democracy' that the Kremlin cooked up is a typical 'nonideological ideology.' It lacks charismatic appeal. It summons people to no inspiring project. It does not travel well abroad. But it is not just a public-relations exercise. [...] [The Russian government's] thinking is profoundly shaped by its paranoid interpretation of the 1990s and its determination never again to see Russia 'driven to its knees.'

"The many analysts who think that the Putin regime's authoritarianism causes its aggressive foreign-policy behavior fail to grasp that public support for Putin's assertive foreign policy is in fact crucial to his legitimacy. Russian society at the moment does not think in terms of democracy versus authoritarianism, but rather in terms of sovereignty versus dependence. Putin's problem with democracy is that it did not contribute to Russia's greatness. Putin's Russia is a reminder that democracy-building cannot take the place of state-building, and that a self-defined political community is not an outcome but rather a precondition of successful democratization. [...]

"Putin's regime represents not interests or values but most Russians' basic fears [...] – which largely explains how his corrupt and inefficient KGB regime has managed to maintain public support over the last decade."

This (self-indictment) on a government website!

Should anyone at the Moscow White House catch on to it, the original article can be read free of charge here:


The article's author, Ivan Krastev, is Chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Bulgaria, and Editor-in-Chief of the Bulgarian edition of "Foreign Policy".

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