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Tony Wood on Putinshchina

Well, I'll hand this to New Left Review. In the same issue in which they print Vladimir Popov arguing that Putin's "sovereign democracy" (read: autocracy) is the lesser of two evils — the other being anarchy and not political science … Read More

By / April 30, 2007

Well, I'll hand this to New Left Review. In the same issue in which they print Vladimir Popov arguing that Putin's "sovereign democracy" (read: autocracy) is the lesser of two evils — the other being anarchy and not political science cliche — the editors also saw fit to include a riposte by Tony Wood on how the status quo in Russia is no great shakes:

Putin enjoys considerable support among the general populace, but this has a shallow, plebiscitary character, and should not be mistaken for a broad social consensus on which the elite as a whole could depend. Indeed, Russia’s rulers have been unable to forge an ideology with any consistent appeal; the recent cultivation of nationalist sentiments has mostly taken the form of post-imperial spasms, rather than a coherent vision that would enable them to exert moral leadership. They instead hold sway over the atomized populace through a combination of electoral approval for Putin himself and various unformalized mechanisms of coercion. These play a more prominent role than Popov’s analysis—where crime, corruption and the informal sector appear as mere by-products of an unstable conjuncture—would suggest. Indeed, they are integral to the functioning of Putin’s Russia, and as such are critical to any understanding of its future course.

Here we have a regime with an ever-increasing ownership of national infrastructure and industry. It uses petro-dollars to fund criminal and brutally waged wars in Chechnya. It negotiates cynical trade deals with Iran, knowing full well what that country's advent as a nuclear power will mean to the Middle East. It assassinates independent journalists and dissidents, operating on foreign soil, who ask searching and uncomfortable questions about Moscow policy. It employs a startling number of ex-spies and military personnel — siloviki — in its upper echelons, not least within its Security Council, where such personnel represent the majority. It controls media and violently squashes all forms of domestic opposition.

Anyone who thought the cold war was over, or that history had come to a foreordained "end," is in a for real treat in the years ahead.

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