Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Putin's Complaint

By Aussiegirl

The following interesting analysis of Putin's policies and present dilemmas caught my eye, even though it is published in a magazine entitled, "The Progressive", which I would ordinarily view with a jaundiced eye -- "progressive" being the new code word for liberal or socialist. However the author makes some interesting points, even if he does seem to belabor the "poor Putin" line, of how ill-used Putin has been by mean old bully George W. Bush, and how helpless and impotent he is as a result of U.S. pressure, and how beleaguered he also is both from abroad and within.

Poor Pootie-Poot -- it almost makes me sympathetic -- but not quite. The problems in Russia run very deep, and even the opposition forces as we see from the article are a strange mix of right-left and former communists. We have yet to see the emergence of a true democrat, dedicated to openness and reform, rather than a typical Kremlin-style reshuffling of the usual suspects at the top of the oligarchy.

March 2005 issue
Putin Stumbles
by Boris Kagarlitsky
The state-run television channels were in hysterics. Every political show included condemnation of American expansionism and calls to protect the country against an enemy that was threatening the very existence of our state. It was not the Soviet Union in the 1950s, Cuba in 1961, or Iraq in early 2003. It was Moscow last December.

Bewildered viewers discovered that next door in Ukraine, a coup was under way, allegedly planned by foreign intelligence agents. The goal of these enemies, the TV reported, was to bring a pro-Western president, Viktor Yushchenko, to power instead of pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovich.

. . . To be sure, Putin shocked everyone with his crude tactics and open meddling. Along with Yanukovich, he became the main victim of the Ukraine crisis. He is losing the last remnants of his political authority, blundering from one crisis to another, appearing impotent both at home and abroad. Locked in a domestic political crisis, Putin now has to talk tough when referring to Washington. This will hardly convince many people at home. Nor will it frighten the White House. Relations are getting spoiled, and it is the Kremlin, not the White House, that will pay the price.

. . .But now, because of Putin's Ukraine blunder, relations with Washington are on the blink. And just as he is floundering in foreign policy, so, too, in domestic policy. The people running the show in Moscow are desperately concerned about an Orange Revolution at home. That's one reason, in fact, that Putin wants to cast a Cold War pall over the entire scene so as to rally support against the old foreign enemy and thereby hang on to power.

It's not working. In mid-January, Putin faced unprecedented nationwide protests against a new law that gutted benefits for veterans, retirees, and people with disabilities. The cuts affected more than thirty-two million people, and were almost universally seen as a betrayal. In more than a dozen cities across the country, Russians poured into the streets, with some people demanding Putin's resignation.

These were not just old people, as some of the press reports made it seem. Activists of the Youth Left Front, as well as those of the National Bolshevik Party, were also involved. While the latter is a strange left-right amalgamation, which is becoming increasingly close to the Russian liberal establishment, the involvement of the Youth Left Front and trade unionists and community groups represents the emergence of a grassroots politics, and with it, a genuine radicalization of Russian society.

The police showed a visible reluctance to disperse the crowds, and when people got arrested, police officers would refuse the orders of their superiors to fill in the forms necessary to make the arrests legal.

Unlike the protests in Ukraine, those in Russia were openly defying neoliberal economic policies. They were aware of the link between free market reforms and the authoritarian approach of Putin. But the events in Ukraine propelled Russian protesters to feel that their own government isn't invincible. The Ukrainian crisis has detonated Russia, which has a lot of explosive material of its own lying around.

Boris Kagarlitsky is a sociologist who lives in Moscow. He is the author of several works, including "Restoration in Russia: Why Capitalism Failed," "The Mirage of Modernization," and, most recently, "Russia Under Yeltsin and Putin."


At 7:58 PM, Blogger Timothy Birdnow said...

Yawp-the Russians have yet to understand what free markets and the Rule of Law mean. Too many of the youth don`t remember just how bad it was in the ``workers paradise``. (My old russian teacher told me that a visit to the grocery store usually took about ten hours, if you could get anything.) The new left in Russia thinks that the mafia-style plutocracy currently in place is capitalism, and that comrad Putin`s thugocracy is the rule of law.

If they could only get a decent taste of what our system has to offer! We would see the Russian people cast off their chains and cry ``freedom`` to the heavens!


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