WEIMAR RUSSIA AND THE ABYSSPundita
had an excellent post on Russia
that I encourage you to look at that continues to elaborate on her DSSK theme. This post led me to read through her file cabinet on Russia and Ukraine
– more specifically, on American foreign policy toward those states. Pundita’s observations have a good deal of congruency with my views and with those of Soviet specialists like Tom Nichols
who has excoriated the last decade of State department bumbling in the states of the former Soviet Union. For those hoping for a reprise of the Orange Revolution in Moscow, Pundita offered this caveat:"America is now out there on the cutting edge, advocating democracy as a cure for the world's most deeply entrenched social ills. So the Democracy Stage Show Kit should be deployed with great caution and only when all other avenues have been exhausted. Whatever we gain at the moment from slapdash use of the kit is lost when disillusionment with faux democracy sets in.."
I am admittedly, an enthusiastic advocate of exporting democracy. And I have looked with dismay at the creeping authoritarianism in Russia under Vladmir Putin but before we contemplate giving his illiberal but semi- democratic regime a bump into modernity, we need to consider that right now Russia is teetering on the edge of an abyss. We need to pull them back to the Western camp, not shove them toward the precipice
That Russia stands peering over the edge is mostly the fault of the Russians themselves but if they topple in we cannot avoid having to deal with the resultant, very dangerous, mess. America needs Russia in the New Core and not as a member of the Gap. Russia as an embittered, revanchist, hypernationalist, rogue state or a disintegrating, strife-torn, " Yugo-Eurasia" would be a first class disaster for American national security. We need to put Putin and Russia in a a larger historical and cultural context if we are to understand how to help the Russians move in the direction of liberty and prosperity. First some hard truths:
First, few nations in the last three hundred years have suffered greater devastation or steeper decline in a shorter space of time than has Russia. The last century saw the loss of roughly 50 million Russians killed by war and Stalinist terror, only to see the extent of the Kremlin’s influence pushed back to the borders of Old Muscovy. For purposes of comparison, it would be like the United States suddenly reverting to the territory it held after the Lousiana Purchase. The potential for political extremism here is rife.
Putin is popular with ordinary Russians and the elite – both the corrupt oligarchs and the democratically-minded liberal intelligentsia – are not. Russians have always preferred a tough Vozhd – a " supreme leader" – who will " put shoes " on the petty tyrants who make their lives miserable. Back in 1843, the Marquis de Custine wrote in his Empire of the Czar: "There is a class of persons which corresponds to the citizen class among us, though without possessing the firmness of character derived from an independent position, and the experience obtained by means of liberty of thought and cultivation of mind: This is the class of subaltern employees or secondary nobility. The ideas of these men are generally turned toward innovations, whilst their acts are the most despotic that are committed in a despotism: this is the class which, in spite of the emperor, governs the empire" Little has changed. Russians favor the Tsar over the Boyar because the Tsar is far away.
Russia has little of value to sell the world except Soviet weaponry, nuclear technology, natural gas, oil and its good behavior. The higher the oil prices remain the stronger the position Putin will be in to push through desperately needed reforms.
The democratic alternative to Putin in the Duma is weak, divided and unpopular. The undemocratic alternative in the Duma is divided and unpopular but far from weak. In the provinces too, they are watching to see if Putin can clamp down on Chechnya. If he cannot, expect Russia to start unravelling as ethnic groups that few Americans have ever heard of go into revolt. This is one reason among many that Putin has reasserted Moscow’s administrative control over the governorships.
Putin has centralized military and intelligence agency powers directly in his own hands like no Russian leader since Joseph Stalin. Putin however, is no Stalin nor does he have the extent of control over the levers of coercion that Stalin had. The system is simply too corrupt to be reliable and for all the emphasis on Putin's KGB background, his actions indicate he trusts the SVR and FSB less than the Army.
I mention these things not because a democratic, free market, Westernized, Russia as a solid member of the Core is impossible but that we are confined to work within these realities to achieve it.