Streetwise Professor

December 12, 2012

Putin’s State of the Nation: Back to the Future

Filed under: History,Russia — The Professor @ 9:44 pm

Vladimir Putin delivered his annual State of the Nation address yesterday.

It can be summarized simply: “Western ideas out of Russia: Russian money out of the West.”

He harkened back to Russian traditions, in line with his recent spasm of nostalgia-marked by calls to revive the Hero of Socialist Labor decoration and Tsarist regimental names.  He lamented Russia’s degraded spirituality, and called for a restoration of Russian spiritual traditions and a rejection of foreign influence.  He lauded democracy, but with peculiarly Russian characteristics: to Putin, democracy is “the power of the Russian people with their traditions” and “absolutely not the realization of standards imposed on us from outside.” Further, he recommended a ban on foreign investments by government officials. He excoriated companies for using offshore tax havens and lamented that nine out of ten large transactions involving Russian companies were executed under foreign, not Russian law.  He pleaded: “We need a whole system of measures to ‘de-offshore’ our economy.”

All a piece with a longstanding historical pattern in Russia, where for centuries tentative reformist movements and wary engagements with the West have inevitably been followed by conservative reaction, authoritarian relapse, and rejection of foreign influence.  These conservative episodes have been sparked by unsettling domestic political ferment and the aging of the leadership.  Like now.

Putin’s speech gives the lie to the numerous commentators who predicted that Putin would have to liberalize politically and wean the economy from energy and state enterprises in order to prevent decline or revolution.  As if this is consistent with an understanding of the nature of Putinism, Russian history, or the way that aging men think and behave.   What were they thinking?

No.  The Russian hamster wheel is making another turn, like it has for centuries.  Few countries are prisoners of their history in the way Russia is.  Putin has announced to the world that he is taking Russia back to the future.

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  1. My complaint isn’t that Putin wants to take Russia “back to the future” (if only!) but the mismatch between deeds and rhetoric with the refusal to prosecute the corrupt Serdyukov. Putin talks the reactionary talk but doesn’t walk its walk. I have a gnawing suspicion that Putin is in fact just your typical thieving (or at least thief enabling) Russian liberal.

    Comment by The Greatest Sublime — December 13, 2012 @ 10:14 pm

  2. Look what we have here, The Mediocre Sovok. A typical nomenklatura old fart, when confronted with evidence of mass murder and such perpetrated by their gang, would say that (secret) trotskyists did it. For the younger generation, it’s Putin-the-secret-liberal.

    Comment by Ivan — December 14, 2012 @ 12:31 am

  3. +++corrupt Serdyukov.+++

    It is so ironic that the corrupt Serdyukov is actually credited with a number of truly important and needed reforms in the Russian military. Didn’t make him many friends among the top brass though.

    Comment by LL — December 14, 2012 @ 4:18 pm

  4. @LL. Which goes to show that corruption allegations are a pretext to attack people who have made enemies for other reasons. Corruption allegations are Sword of Damocles hanging over everyone in Russia. The interesting question is why the hair suspending the sword gets cut, and when.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 14, 2012 @ 4:31 pm

  5. Massive corruption is a huge problem in most of the former sovok republics.

    Putler and Rasha are going to die, to collapse from the weight of the massive corruption.

    There are a few Russians who want reform – but most Russians simply continue to live in denial, as they participate in their underground economy.

    It looks like tsarist times, with a wealthy tsar and wealthy boyars, where petitions to the tsar from a peasant about mistreatment go – unheeded.

    It is the Rashan hamster wheel indeed. Rashans learn nothing.

    Comment by elmer — December 19, 2012 @ 8:52 am

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