Back when I started to blog about Russia in 2006-2007, I often pointed out that Russia under Putin was an archaic “natural state” rather than a modern one. The idea of the natural state was set out in work by North, Wallis and Weingast. In essence, it is a state with a distributed and diffuse potential for violence that is prone to break down into internecine conflict between armed factions. The only way this is avoided is to bribe the various factions with rents and privileges granted by the state (to give them a stake in maintaining the status quo rather than grasping for total control), and to keep them in an unsteady equipoise by pitting each against the other.
An article in the Moscow Times provides a very good description that brings home that point. This description of Putin’s version of the natural state cannot be bettered:
Putin’s staffing policies are based on the principle of “loyalty in return for corruption.” Bureaucrats in the government, law enforcement and military are practically granted the right to steal and forbidden just one thing: criticism of the president.
The greatest enabler of Putin’s natural state is Germany, and most notably its appalling foreign minister, Steinmeier.
This piece by Dustin Duhez lays out in detail the intellectual underpinnings of Steinmeir’s beliefs and strategy. It is a very disturbing, but worthwhile read. In a nutshell: Steinmeier’s overriding objective is to maintain strong relations (especially commercial relations) with Russia, and is willing to sacrifice everyone between the Oder and the Don to do so. In other words, he is willing to sell eastern Europe down the river: the Don River, specifically.
Keep this in mind when watching Merkel’s visit to Kiev. At best she is equivocal and conflicted. At worst she is objectively pro-Putin.
Neither of these articles should be missed. One gives a good analysis of what makes Putinism tick. The other shows how the most powerful state in Europe works overtime to keep it oiled and wound.