Friday, December 28, 2018

Russia No Longer Guided by Idea of ‘Catching Up’ with the West, Butrin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 28 – For most of the post-Soviet period, Russian governments have been guided by the idea that they must promote economic development in order to “catch up” with the West.  But over the last year, that idea has been almost completely forgotten, leaving Russians without the kind of goal in economic life they were accustomed to, Dmitry Butrin.

            Two things make this disappearance even more striking, the Kommersant commentator says. On the one hand, this idea has not been replaced by another in Russia, leaving a vacuum in which the government seeks to do as well as it can but without the goals that help mobilize the population in the past (

            And on the other, Russia finds that it is not alone in this situation of having given up on one overriding idea without replacing it with another. In almost all countries, Butrin says, governments haven’t been able to come up with clearly defined goals to guide the development of their economies and societies as a whole.

            Instead, they like Russia are just trying to continue at least in the economy without any goals of major change, a situation that for them as for Russia means that people are increasingly unmotivated and even alienated from their respective national leaderships who have failed to provide them with an uplifting idea.

            For the last several decades, Butrin continues, “’catching up with the West,’ in the first instance in terms of levels of consumption, remained the chief idea of development.  The protests of 2011-2012 declared corruption as a problem which was interfering with ‘catch up development.’”

            The Crimean Anschluss in 2014 represented “an attempt at retreating from this idea toward either the restoration of the Russian Empire or the reanimation of the USSR,” he says; but by 2018, all that had “quieted down and disappeared,” along with the idea of catch up development as well.

            “The government of Dmitry Medvedev is not trying to ‘catch up with the West.” And neither his ministers nor Vladimir Putin has been talking about economic growth of a kind that would allow Russia to catch up. Instead, all of them project growth rates into the future at or below rates abroad. 

            According to Butrin, “we will develop as we can;” but there is no satisfactory answer to the question as to what we will develop for.  That was highlighted when Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin launched his urban renewal program. People asked “why” and his only answer was “for comfort,” an answer not good enough for most.
            In Russia as in many other countries, the commentator says, “the single idea which unifies the world in 2018 remained the increasingly abstract hatred to social inequality and stratification.”  But while people in Russia and elsewhere view those things as bad, they do not have an answer as to what should be pursued to overcome them.

            This reflects the ideological vacuum Russia and the world have been living in the past year, a vacuum in which people are not inspired but rather increasingly display unfocused anger.  How long that can continue and how either Russia or any other country can live without a clearer and longer term goal very much remains to be seen.

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