Staunton, February 15 – Had Vladimir Putin been in power in 1985, he could and would have saved the Soviet Union, Aleksandr Khinshteyn says in a new book, an important conclusion, he suggests, because Russia today faces many of the same challenges that Mikhail Gorbachev faced a generation ago and could end the same way.
In a book entitled The End of Atlantis: Why Putin will Never Become Gorbachev (in Russian, Moscow: 2018), the former Duma deputy who now serves as an advisor to the leadership of the Russian Guard extends his counterfactual history he began with an earlier book, Tale of Lost Time: Why Brezhnev Could Not Become Putin (business-gazeta.ru/article/372809).
Putin liked and recommended that book, Khinshteyn says, adding that he hopes Putin will also see and appreciate his new one. It shows, the author says, that Putin would not have allowed “the majority of cataclysms in our country, including the mass impoverishment of the people, the separatism of the leaders of the union republics, and the disintegration of the USSR.”
As dire as things were in 1985, he continues, they were as nothing compared to the situation Putin inherited 15 years later; and he notes in an introduction that “up to the end of the 1980s even CIA analysts couldn’t predict the destruction of the USSR.” It took Gorbachev five or six years to destroy everything; it took Putin, Khinshteyn says, the same period to save it.
According to the new book, the Soviet Union wasn’t doomed to collapse and “not one of the challenges which stood before Gorbachev was critical or without a solution.” Putin showed that by solving the same problems which faced the Russian Federation in the first few years of the 2000s.
Khinshteyn says that the West played a role in the collapse of the Soviet Union as did the decline in the price of oil and shortcomings in Stalinist nationality policy which created nations that had never existed before; but he argues that Gorbachev and his policies played a much greater role, highlighting the importance of personalities in history.
Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign cost the country dearly; but what was especially significant, Khinshteyn says, was the Soviet president’s failure to take harsh actions or assume responsibility when he did: “Of the 15 cases of the application of force … [Gorbachev] only twice admitted his involvement: the pogrom in Baku and the pogrom in Sumgait.”
In all the others, he sought to evade responsibility; and he visited only one “hot spot” – the earthquake zone around Spitak in Armenia. That approach is a complete contrast with Putin, he says “who never has been afraid to take responsibility, adopt decisions and answer for what his subordinates are doing.”
“’Russia without Putin,’” Khinshteyn says, is “like ‘the USSR without communists.’” And now as in the 1980s, “the creative class is seeking simple answers to complicated questions and again there is the desire among many to seek change.” That could lead to a new perestroika and a new disaster unless Putin and those like him remain in power.
“2024 is not that far off,” Khinshteyn says. “And all the attacks which are being carried out now against the existing power and Putin are about that year. If a weak man, incapable of taking harsh decisions and assuming responsibility comes to power, a man like Gorbachev, then Russia could repeat the fate of the Soviet Union.”