Staunton, October 18 -- Not knowing “what is to be done,” the most common Russian question, many in both Russia and the West now ask “who is to blame? (the second most); and they fasten on Vladimir Putin. But that explanation is correct only in part because it fails to consider the forces which made his rise possible, Vladislav Inozemtsev says.
Indeed, “Putin’s coming to power and his establishment of an authoritarian corporate system of power was not in the slightest degree an accident. The sources of Putinism lie in the economic, domestic and foreign policies of the new Russia from its very beginning – and the democrats of today have only themselves to blame” (snob.ru/selected/entry/115098).
That sweeping judgment of this distinguished Moscow commentator becomes even more devastating if one recalls, as Inozemtsev doesn’t do at least on this occasion, that the Russian democrats of today were pushed in that direction by Western advisors who almost universally saw the violations of democracy he lists as necessary to prevent the return of communism.
“The Russia which Putin has in fact transformed into his personal property wasn’t “taken away’ by him from democratic authorities,” the commentator argues. Instead, Putin was ushered into the Kremlin by “the father of the new Russia, Boris Yeltsin” and worked in the directions originally pushed by liberals like Chubais and by violations of democracy as in 1993 and 1996.
At the time, most of today’s democrats supported those policies, and consequently, Inozemtsev says, “one should not forget that [they] in the 1990s themselves created a situation in which their continuance in power became truly impossible” and the rise of someone like Putin almost inevitable.
The democrats of today in the 1990s launched economic reforms which drove half of Russians into poverty, they backed use of military force against an elected parliament, they organized the country’s finances so that the default of 1998 was inevitable, and they failed to back the “most competent” post-1991 prime minister Yevgeny Primakov.
The democrat’s economic policies were based on a kind of privatization which concentrated wealth, failed to encourage development, and left the government at risk of being dictated to by the new oligarchs. As a result, the country did not build new factories but became increasingly depend on exporting oil and gas.
Moreover, the democrats of the 1990s behaved “not all that democratically,” Inozemtsev continues. “Having won in free elections already in Soviet times, they did everything possible to preserve their positions in power,” including supporting the attack on the Supreme Soviet in October 1993 and the blatant falsification of elections in 1996, thus discrediting democracy.
Further, Inozemtsev says, despite much talks, the democrats never did away with “the ‘imperial’ foundation” of the Russian state. “Although the USSR had fallen apart, the Russian Federation de facto and without qualification acknowledged the independence only of the Baltic countries.”
For most of the others and from the beginning, Moscow chose, while the democrats were dominant, a policy of “’administered instability.’” If that had not been the case and if Moscow had not engaged in supporting the worst kind of authoritarian and nationalist regime of Milosevich in Yugoslavia, neither the events of Georgia in 2008 or those in Ukraine now would have been thinkable.
Finally, Inozemtsev says, “one must also stress that the idea of integration with the West … which in the last years of Mikhail Gorbachev’s administration had in fact been raised to the rank of a state ideology, in the new Russia very quickly ‘wilted.’” Russia didn’t seek to join the EU or NATO but rather demanded to be accepted as some kind of equal of each.
Between 1991 and 1993, Russia has a chance to form “a responsible political class, oriented on European values and practices with a division of powers and the separation of the bureaucracy from the oligarchs.” But between 1993 and 1997, that ended as the oligarchs and the Kremlin decided they could use any means to consolidate their power.
And after that, things only got worse – and they did so before Putin was appointed to the presidency. As a result, Inozemtsev argues, he only had to use the levers he inherited and exploit the anger of the population against the democrats to build the system that he has.
Consequently, the Moscow analyst continues, while he is quite ready to criticize Putin on various grounds, he does not agree with “the efforts of many Russian analysts to call him a criminal or to assert that he broke the vector of development of present-day Russia.” Not at all, he simply extended it.
Just as there was a direct line from the system Stalin created back to Lenin, so too, Inozemtsev insists, “there is an insuperable connection” between the era of Putin and that of Yeltsin. Those who fail to see that and who having been the democrats of the 1990s present themselves as the opposition today are deceiving no one except themselves.
A new Russia in the future, he argues, “will be built without those who ran it in the 1990s or in the 2000s.” That is going to take decades, but a major reason that is so is that the methods introduced in the 1990s and expanded upon in the 2000s are not as antithetical as many like to think but instead share much in common with the Russian past.