Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Master and Medvedev.

So, it looks like Vladimir Putin will be President of Russia by March 2012 due to a convenient arrangement with Dmitry Medvedev, who succeeded Putin in 2008 though Putin stayed on as Prime Minister. By 2008 Putin had served two terms as Russian President and had to allow someone else to take office for at least a term because of a constitutional technicality. So Medvedev stood for the Presidency and Putin became Prime Minister for 4 years. In return Medvedev will serve as Prime Minister and lead United Russia. This is not a surprise to anyone familiar with the highly cynical and corrupt nature of Russian politics. It has reached the point that there is not even a whiff of shame to be found at such scenes anymore. It was in front of an audience of dutiful bureaucrats that the decision was announced, then came an embrace which the bureaucrats were keen to welcome with applause. Then it was openly stated that Putin and Medvedev had come up with this arrangement several years ago. The obvious had been admitted.

The possibility of 12 years of Vladimir Putin draws the inevitable comparison with Joseph Stalin in the Western media, e.g. if Putin retains power until 2024 he will be Russia's longest serving ruler since Stalin. When faced with a Russian authoritarianism the Western media can only refer us back to the shibboleths of the old Communist Party. Sadly it doesn't go without saying that the rise of Putin cannot be understood without context. The Economist would have you believe that it is Putin who has undermined Russian democracy before it got a chance to flourish; created a "Mafia state" of crony capitalism via the Kremlin and poisoned the benevolent experiment with liberal capitalism. The conclusion being that the West should adopt a tougher policy towards Russia, e.g. to support Ukraine and Georgia. There is no room for a deeper look at the roots of Putinism, because we might find that the post-Communist world is not just an orgy of consumerism where the sky is the limit when it comes to free-choice and rates of growth.

For the journalists at The Economist it was Putin's failure to shirk from liberalisation of the economy which will lead Russia into future crises. According to The Economist these "weaknesses may make Russia unstable and nationalistic, which will make it harder for foreigners to deal with." Even though nationalism has been a strong tendency in Russia for a long time and the economy was plunged into a deep crisis in the 1990s as a result of reforms. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, with the advice and support of the US, Boris Yeltsin initiated economic "shock therapy" - a wave of spending cuts, removal of price-controls, deregulation and a spree of privatisation. It was "creative destruction" as millions were plunged into poverty, prices shot through the roof and ruthless businessmen grabbed as much as they could. The country was effectively looted as the state became increasingly ensnared by the oligarchs that had managed to seize large chunks of Russian industry in the chaos. Ultimately the structural adjustments of the Russian economy provide the pretext and create the conditions for a figure such as Putin to emerge on top.

There is no attempt to even reflect on this point in the pages of The Economist. Of course, what really bugs the squealing pigs at The Economist is that the new Russia has yet to join the World Trade Organisation and that the rampant corruption in the country has a disruptive impact on the market. This is not a fundamental critique of Putinism. Primarily The Economist is displeased with Putin's specific choice of Prime Minister and would prefer it if he had chosen Alexei Kudrin over Medvedev. The reason: Kudrin stands for "fiscal responsibility" which means spending cuts for the plebs. The fact that Kudrin can balance a budget means more to this lot than the fact he's just another crony. Kudrin has an affinity for civil liberties, human rights and political pluralism, so he is much more appealing than Medvedev. But he is even more appealing as a "martyr" to liberal values in a barbarous land, it feeds into the self-serving narrative in the Western media. If Alexei Kudrin was Prime Minister under Putin then he would no doubt walk the same line as Medvedev.

The Economist notes that the swap between Medvedev and Putin "opens a new chapter in Russian history - one that may well end in crisis." The fact that it was a crisis in 1998 which allowed Putin to slither into the Kremlin in the first place. The "new chapter" began with the fall of the Berlin Wall, after which Fukuyama heralded the "End of History" and a pisshead named Boris Yeltsin became the President of the new Russia. The collapse of Communism left a void, it was as if all ideologies had failed and the world had entered a post-political age of managerial governance which fed into a climate of cynical anti-politics. Since then an ultra-nationalist populism has emerged, as well as anti-Communist hysteria and even a conservative nostalgia for the Cold War. In a similar way to Berlusconi in Italy Putin stands as a bulwark to the chaos of the marketplace which is conveniently situated at the apex where ultra-politics and anti-politics collide. The only "alternative" permitted by the Kremlin is the Russian Communist Party, everywhere the politics of Russia is riddled with ultra-rightist and proto-fascist groups such as the National Bolsheviks. All the while the Western media is only capable of liberal day-dreams about the new Russia.

No comments: