Streetwise Professor

April 21, 2012

Low Expectations

Filed under: History,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 10:05 pm

Alexy Navalny achieved prominence by revealing corruption at Russian oil pipeline operator Transneft. He doggedly pursued other cases of corruption.  He is among the most well-known Russian bloggers, and is the most widely known of the leaders of the opposition.

Although Navalny is widely viewed as a liberal, he has made inroads with nationalists in Russia; he participated in a somewhat notorious nationalist march. He was expelled from Yabloko in 2007 for his nationalist activities.

Recently Navalny entered into the debate over the NATO transport hub at Ulyanovsk-Lenin’s birthplace.  Communists are up in arms about the operation and are attacking the government. Rogozin the Ridiculous pushed back, claiming that the allegations that there will be a NATO “base” there are a provocation: “I don’t think that the transit of NATO toilet paper through Russia can be considered the betrayal of the fatherland.”

Navalny has associated himself with the nationalist critics, although his remarks were apparently oblique and ironic:

We need to find the [Russian] politicians who take orders from the global cabal and beg for scraps at NATO’s offices. Channel One is silent. NTV doesn’t film [GV link] ‘The Anatomy of the Military Base.’ Clearly, the American spies have already infiltrated quite deeply.

Another noted liberal (by Russian standards), Vladislav Naganov, was far more inflammatory in his criticism:

These scum fool Russian citizens as a service to another country. They’re all traitors to the Motherland, unashamedly masked as patriots actively battling the United States and NATO — all in order to cover their tracks and promote themselves.

. . . .

Putin’s] seat as President of Russia was exchanged for the NATO base in Ulyanovsk, disguised by anti-Western hysterics in the media, and agreed upon [in advance] with the Americans.

So, the ostensible liberals in the opposition movement are making common cause with the most rabidly anti-American and revanchist nationalist elements.  Hardly encouraging. Perhaps it is a cynical political ploy, based on the enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend principle. But perhaps it represents more than a political calculation, and reflects some points of ideological contact. Either way, it demonstrates that any hopes that the opposition will be even passably liberal are faint indeed. Perhaps the “liberals” are not that liberal.  Or even if they are, they realize that they are so weak that they have to make common cause with the most illiberal elements in Russia in order to have any chance of success.

This illustrates a couple of points.

First, Russian politics are hopelessly reliant on personalities.  There is an institutional deficit in Russia, especially outside the state. The opposition is unduly dependent on individual personalities like Navalny, and these individual personalities tend to be extremely flawed.

Second, nationalism is a dominant component of the Russian mindset, even among those who are opposed to the current government.   The example that comes to mind is the Whites in the Civil War, particularly in 1919-1920.  The Whites insisted on maintaining as much of the Russian Empire as possible.  For instance, they begrudgingly conceded the existence of an independent Poland, but wanted it limited to a rump like the Napoleon-created Grand Duchy of Warsaw.  The Poles had much bigger ambitions, including a Poland that incorporated large portions of Ukraine and the Baltic states (essentially recreating the Polish-Lithuanian Empire.)  The Whites refused to make any concessions to the Poles on these territorial issues.  The Reds, being much more cynical and flexible, were more accommodating to the Poles, figuring they would deal with the Poles once the Whites were out of the way.

At a critical juncture of the war, when the Whites were advancing inexorably north, the Reds raced all their forces south to meet them.  This left the Red rear wide open to the Polish forces under Pilsudski.  But Pilsudski deliberately held back, because he feared a White victor more than a Red one, due to the inveterate nationalism of the former.  The Reds prevailed: the Whites’ choice of nation and empire doomed them to defeat.

It is this decided nationalist/imperial tendency that makes what Yeltsin did so remarkable.  And it explains why many Russians revile Yeltsin so vehemently, considering him a traitor.

So one must have low expectations about the prospects for the opposition’s political success.  One must also have low expectations about the prospects for any fundamental changes in Russian foreign policy, or attitudes towards minorities in Russia on the off chance that they do succeed.

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24 Comments »

  1. Preservation of Russia in its current borders is, in my view, the utmost concern of the Russian political elite. Next to Canada (3.45 people per sq. km.) it is the next most under-populated country (8.07 people per sk.km.), I guess. If you would consider Russia beyond Ural, I think the picture would be even far more devastating. The population of Russia on the south (Caucasus) and beyond Ural is very diverse. Two of the most major threats to Russia are Caucasus and China. Much like in California, today Chinese can just walk into the territory of Russia – and they do. Especially beyond Ural Russia is experiencing a major shortage of labor force. There are more demographic problems in the country and the readers of this forum know it well.

    From a few speeches Putin gave recently, I could observe that almost as a pattern he ended his speeches by saying that “Russia is home to many nations and of many nations, but the crux of it consists of Russians.” I think it highlights their fears. So, seems that the elites are concerned about identity of the country and think that they need a unifying idea. So, they try to resurrect ideologies which once worked – reevaluation of Stalinism being one of them – not because they love Stalin, I think, but they think it symbolizes unity and might.

    These are just a couple of observations, I think, demonstrating how vulnerable Russia is.
    The Russian empire was threatened similarly in the period or the aftermath of the World War I. I view the differences between the Whites and the Reds not in terms of whether to preserve the empire or not, but how to preserve it.

    I think other than the shear ideological despise of the USA by the ruling hardliners of Russia, there is also fear that the western liberalism with the decentralization of power will lead to the disintegration of the country. Whether centralization of power will help to prevent her disintegration or not – can be argued. But that there is a threat, I think thinking people of all ideological varieties realize.

    But putting aside terms like Empire, or Federation, etc., the most important question I think is who would benefit from the hypothetical disintegration of Russia. I don’t think USA. Nor I think Western, Central or Eastern Europe. Nor will Georgia or Armenia.

    The possible beneficiaries will be Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and China. Not a good perspective …

    As a disclaimer, I am not rationalizing totalitarianism or ideological “hardlinership.” I am all for liberalization and democratization of the institutions of power and economics in Russia. I am just attempting to explain how the rulers of Russia rationalize their ruling paradigms as I see it.

    Comment by MJ — April 22, 2012 @ 6:54 am

  2. “So, the ostensible liberals in the opposition movement are making common cause with the most rabidly anti-American and revanchist nationalist elements.”

    Sounds to me like Putin is about the best Russian politician, from the perspective of US interests, that we are going to get.

    Will the Putin-haters here moderate their vituperation of him?

    I doubt it.

    After all, Putin put the fraud Khodorkovsky in jail, and that crime against plutocracy cannot go unpunished!

    Comment by wanderer — April 22, 2012 @ 8:43 am

  3. Yeah, why would anyone think Georgia could possibly benefit from ending Russian occupation of 20% of its territory or from removal of the constant threat of further invasion?

    Comment by Ivan — April 22, 2012 @ 8:49 am

  4. The Streetwise Professor vituperated Putin long before August 2008.

    Comment by wanderer — April 22, 2012 @ 9:02 am

  5. Wanderer – that is because after some initially good economic and even political reforms, he turned into a tyrannical pedophilic disaster, whose politics have weakened the Russian State as an effective force for internal change, and thus made her less able to deal with the real demographic, economic and social ills that beset her people.

    Comment by sotos — April 22, 2012 @ 10:21 am

  6. “Yeah, why would anyone think Georgia could possibly benefit from ending Russian occupation of 20% of its territory or from removal of the constant threat of further invasion?”

    If this has anything to do with anything I have said, what I have said must’ve been misunderstood.

    Comment by MJ — April 22, 2012 @ 10:41 am

  7. SWP is making the assumption that liberalism is coterminous with pro-Western policies.

    He may be forgiven for that, as in practice most Russian liberals do indeed slavishly follow Western diktats on everything, but nonetheless that is not really the case in principle.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — April 22, 2012 @ 12:00 pm

  8. “Wanderer – that is because after some initially good economic and even political reforms, he turned into a tyrannical”

    As demonstrated by his prosecution of the fraud Khodorkovsky. Interesting that to you jailing a tax-evading plutocrat constitutes tyranny.

    “whose politics have weakened the Russian State”

    Really. So having half a trillion bucks in the bank is weaker than being bankrupt.

    “made her less able to deal with the real demographic, economic and social ills that beset her people”

    Twelve years ago, almost a million more Russians died in a year than were born. Its almost even now.

    Putin has been such a disaster!

    And you forgot to add “quadrillionare” to “pedophile”, since there’s as much evidence behind that accusation as there is behind tje rest of your groundless rant.

    Comment by wanderer — April 22, 2012 @ 12:21 pm

  9. Hitler purged the SA – Ernst Rohm – the Night of the Long Knives – that didn’t make him a Liberal. At best the purging of Khodorkovsky was just an internal squabble between the new plutocrats and the security services.

    Comment by sotos — April 22, 2012 @ 12:48 pm

  10. He gave me so much material. And still does. A big part of the reason I wrote about Russia was-and is- that it is a classical liberal dystopian novel brought to life. An illustration of the effects of a lawless highly personalized system with few institutional checks on the predations of the state. Putin epitomizes that. So there you go.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — April 22, 2012 @ 1:31 pm

  11. S/O. Fail again. I’m not making that assumption. Quite the opposite: I’m cautioning against making that assumption. Arguing that in Russia, liberalism is skin deep, but Russian-ness and obsessions with Russian imperial glory are to the bone.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — April 22, 2012 @ 1:33 pm

  12. @ Very thoughtful comment, MJ. I think you are spot on. Re centralization, I think it makes Russia brittle and subject to incredibly disruptive upheavals. Trying so hard to maintain rigid control risks collapse because such a system has no effective way of responding to the normal frictions and shocks that beset any system. Thus, their means contain the very great risk of completely undermining their goals.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — April 22, 2012 @ 1:43 pm

  13. Agree completely as to the issue of centralization an appreciate MJ’s thoughts. I think the insight into the issue of disintegration and that centralization is the natural response. I suppose a parallel could be drawn to the reactions under Nicholas I and Alexander III flowing the Decembrist crisis and the assassination of Alexander II by the Narodniks, respectively, though the Tsarist state had far more legitimacy than this one. The point is that dictatorships, particularly of the plebiscitary type like Putin with his “elections”, are very unstable. Tsarism had history and the Orthodox Church, the Communists had Marx, the cult of history and a rock solid totalitarian party and police structure. The pseudo patriotism and Russian chauvinism of Putin seems shallow compared to these.

    Wanderer – unfortunately the Gebists legitimized the charge of pederasty when they gave the messenger a nice Polonium milk shake, remember?

    Finally why do we call people like Wanderer a Russophile, when they advocate policies and support semi fascist politicians that continue the degradation and suffering of the Russian People?

    Comment by sotos — April 22, 2012 @ 3:41 pm

  14. @sotos-an illustration of the maxim that Russians are their own worst enemies, and yet persist in seeing enemies everywhere. This is the real tragedy of Russia and Russians. Their real tragic flaw.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — April 22, 2012 @ 3:45 pm

  15. “At best the purging of Khodorkovsky was just an internal squabble between the new plutocrats and the security services.”

    That’s what Western myth-makers would like you to believe. The European Court of Human Rights disagree. Khodorkovsky’s mouthpieces went to the ECHR looking for $98 billion on the claim that, as Andrei Illarionov says, the case against Khodorkovsky and Yukos was “purely fabricated” and that Khodorkovsky was singled out for political reasons.

    The ECHR gave him 35,000 euro for some proceedural violations, noted that Khodorkovsky’s conviction was firmly grounded in evidence, and concluded that there was no evidence any other Russian oil company was doing the same.

    And thus was eight years of Western myth-making about Putin and Khodorkovsky shot to pieces.

    “Wanderer – unfortunately the Gebists legitimized the charge of pederasty when they gave the messenger a nice Polonium milk shake, remember?”

    Yet another myth. There is no more evidence behind this claim than there was behind Khodorkovsky’s claims to the ECHR.

    “Finally why do we call people like Wanderer a Russophile, when they advocate policies and support semi fascist politicians”

    Still at the myth-making, huh.

    “that continue the degradation and suffering of the Russian People?”

    The Russian people seem to disagree that they are suffering and degraded.

    The only ones who are are blind ideologues like Illarionov.

    Comment by wanderer — April 22, 2012 @ 11:35 pm

  16. 1. The most effective slavery is one where the slaves don’t know they are imprisoned. How’s the alcoholism rate doing?

    2. Of course the people agree – remember the phrase plebiscitary dictatorship? do you understand what that means? In 1943 would Adolph have lost a plebiscite? Doubtful.

    3. Do you understand the Khodorkovsky and Putin can both be sh*ts, one little better than the other? The case may be very real – I don’t doubt that it is, but why did they pick on this one man when almost all the “entrepreneurs” from this period had hired guns, bribed, shot and stole?

    5. Your “thoughts re Polonium shows you are intellectually dishonest: denial is not an argument, and I hope you are too embarrassed, if that is possible, to mention MI5 set ups, etc. given by the Russian mouthpieces. The evidence is clear, and one only goes to such lengths when one is truly angry and hurt – only the truth can really do that: the murder was probably what the Freudians would have called a significant response, showing the truth.

    4. I don’t know the truth of the matter, as you point out a lot of myth making has been going on, but on both sides. Neither do you unless you are deep in someone’s pocket.

    It is time to grow up – the Law of the excluded middle doesn’t apply here – the arguments you make a fallacious because you set up a Manichean choice where that doesn’t need to be one. As long as people see the choice as ONLY light versus dark there is little hope for them. Indeed you are doing the dictators’ dirty work for them by posing the question in this way: this has been done for centuries – read Aristotle the Politics and you will see little has changed: the way to tyranny is to fill the state with spies so that the individual faces the state alone, and to only give the people an alternative that is worse than your own tyranny.

    Comment by sotos — April 23, 2012 @ 6:31 am

  17. “We tried out best, but it turned out as usual.” – Chernomyrdin

    Comment by elmer — April 23, 2012 @ 8:35 am

  18. “1. The most effective slavery is one where the slaves don’t know they are imprisoned”

    There’s visa-free travel between Russia and Israel.  Russians who don’t like it in Russia are free to leave.

    “How’s the alcoholism rate doing?”

    Much better than when Andrei Illarionov had a say in things.

    “2. Of course the people agree – remember the phrase plebiscitary dictatorship? do you understand what that means? In 1943 would Adolph have lost a plebiscite? Doubtful.”

    We don’t know because they never held one.  I’ll just note that Nazi Germnany wasn’t the sort of place that allowed visa-free travel to Israel.

    “3. Do you understand the Khodorkovsky and Putin can both be sh*ts, one little better than the other? The case may be very real – I don’t doubt that it is, but why did they pick on this one man when almost all the “entrepreneurs” from this period had hired guns, bribed, shot and stole?”

    He was the only oil oligarch that refused to comply when Putin called a halt to the tax shenanigans of the 1990s.  The ECHR noted that Lukoil stopped dodging their taxes in 2002.  Lukoil chose compliance with tax laws.  Therefore Lukoil still exists.  Yukos chose continued defiance of the tax laws.  Therefore, Yukos no longer exists and Khodorkovsky is in jail.  My guess is that in the early 2000s Putin was more interested in getting tax revenues going forward than in punishing the 1990s.  To punish the scams of the 1990s, he would have had to take on all the oil Oligarchs at once, which would have been a war he would have lost.  Getting compliance with the tax laws going forward OTOH, was doable.  For that, Putin only had to take on one.

    “5. Your “thoughts re Polonium shows you are intellectually dishonest: denial is not an argument, and I hope you are too embarrassed, if that is possible, to mention MI5 set ups, etc. given by the Russian mouthpieces. The evidence is clear, and one only goes to such lengths when one is truly angry and hurt – only the truth can really do that: the murder was probably what the Freudians would have called a significant response, showing the truth.”

    Would you please tell us what that “clear” evidence is?

    “4. I don’t know the truth of the matter, as you point out a lot of myth making has been going on, but on both sides. Neither do you unless you are deep in someone’s pocket.”

    What we cannnot speak about we must pass over in silence.

    “It is time to grow up – the Law of the excluded middle doesn’t apply here – the arguments you make a fallacious because you set up a Manichean choice where that doesn’t need to be one. As long as people see the choice as ONLY light versus dark there is little hope for them. Indeed you are doing the dictators’ dirty work for them by posing the question in this way: this has been done for centuries – read Aristotle the Politics and you will see little has changed: the way to tyranny is to fill the state with spies so that the individual faces the state alone, and to only give the people an alternative that is worse than your own tyranny.”

    There are lots of alternatives to Putin in Russian politics.  Unfortunately, those whose platform consists of “Putin out yesterday!” don’t seem to get many votes.  Here’s a hint: as long as American Republicans merely fulminated about “that eeevul FDR” they got nowhere. Starting with Eisenhower, they accepted the transformation caused by the New Deal and learned how to win in the new environment.Russia is a different place than it was in the 1990s. Actual Russians like a lot of the differences. Accept it. Deal with it. Figure out the foundations of Putin’s genuine popularity, and then figure out how to trump his aces.

    Comment by wanderer — April 23, 2012 @ 11:35 am

  19. “How’s the alcoholism rate doing?”

    Very well, actually.

    http://darussophiledotcom.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/russia-mortality-from-vices.gif

    No thanks to your/SWP’s likes, of course.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — April 23, 2012 @ 11:49 am

  20. No source given, and that’s the chart for alcohol poisoning, not alcoholism. Get your story straight. As pointed out Putin did a number of very good things when he first came in, among which was not to increase the tax on alcohol with inflation, thus cutting down on home brew. I have no doubt that things are better than at the nadir, the problem is that the change is from catastrophic to merely appalling, and current denial invites regression.

    Comment by sotos — April 23, 2012 @ 12:40 pm

  21. Because alcohol poisonings are in no way correlated to alcoholism, right?

    Here’s your source http://demoscope.ru/weekly/2012/0499/barom03.php

    As I said, all no thanks to – indeed, in spite of – your neocon/libertarian types.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — April 23, 2012 @ 1:10 pm

  22. It can be. but it is also related home brew – particularly from using old automobile radiators as condenser units where mercury and ethyl glycol poison the white lightening. How much of the change is due to alcoholism dropping, or the drop of home brew which occurred when Putin lowered the vodka taxes is unknown. Read the post and think.

    Comment by sotos — April 23, 2012 @ 4:45 pm

  23. You have it ass backwards.

    Vodka was dirt cheap ever since Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign (one of his very few good ideas) ceased and the state vodka monopoly was abolished. Excise taxes on spirits have been going UP on alcohol for the past few years, and will continue doing so until they converge to cheaper Western levels by 2015.

    The people who drink the home brews described above are hopeless cases but aren’t of great statistical significance.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — April 23, 2012 @ 6:32 pm

  24. Will Sublime Oblivion continue to ignore the espionage post along with Mark? Is revealing, no? The cabal of Putin trolls is highly selective.

    Comment by Basilisk — April 23, 2012 @ 8:18 pm

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