Foreign Policy

In Post-Soviet Russia, Putin Votes for You

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Some unsettling news from Russia, via the UK Guardian:

Russia's next parliament is likely to have no genuine opposition after a court in Moscow yesterday banned a leading liberal party from standing in elections.

Russia's supreme court announced that it had liquidated the small Republican party, claiming that it had violated electoral law by having too few members. The party is one of very few left in Russia that criticises President Vladimir Putin.

The move against Russia's opposition came as pro-democracy activists prepared for the latest in a series of anti-government rallies that have infuriated Russia's hardline authorities.

…….

Russia's tiny opposition is represented in the current Duma by four or five MPs. Pro-Kremlin parties predominate among the 447 deputies. The small opposition Republican party, banned yesterday, was formed by defectors from the Soviet Communist party. It emerged in 1990 on the wave of liberalism encouraged by then-Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The Republican party has one MP, Vladimir Ryzhkov; its other attempts to win seats have repeatedly failed. But it has played a solid role in the liberal opposition. The liberal Yabloko party also has two MPs. Two other anti-Putin MPs sit as independents. In theory, the opposition includes Russia's Communist party and the far-right Liberal Democratic party. In reality, they rarely if ever voice opposition to the Kremlin, observers point out.

Signs of the death of democracy in post-Soviet Russia, or just a very, very, very united populace? Discuss.

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  1. My hypothesis is that Putin’s pissed he didn’t get to loot enough stuff with the collapse of the USSR, so he’s trying to put it back together in order to, well, make out like more of a bandit.

  2. Is that headline a bad Yakov Smirnoff joke?

    Anybody else thinking that the day will come when we all regret looking the other way for years on Putin?

  3. Signs of the death of democracy in post-Soviet Russia

    There would have to be a birth, before there could be a death. I guess you could call th 90’s a period of Russian democracy. But then you have to concede that the Russian people want to be ruled by organized crime, like the Italians.

  4. Dave,
    Who was looking the other way? Or are you suggesting we could have sown the seeds of freedom in Asia the same way we have in the Mid East?

  5. Who knows. I am sure that some claim that democracy ended the fall of 1993, but then again, Yeltsin’s referendum on a new constitution was approved by the populace.

  6. Is that headline a bad Yakov Smirnoff joke?

    No. It’s a good Yakof Smirnoff joke.

  7. Yes, Warren. I’m suggesting that we begin a full-scale invasion of Russia tomorrow.

  8. Mike P-

    Is there such a thing?

  9. What a country!

  10. Dave,

    The correlation between how good a Yakov Smirnoff joke is and whether Yakov Smirnoff told it is negative.

  11. Russia slipping back into a dictatorship is about 1000x more scary than Osama and his gang of dusty weirdbeards.

    Hopefully Russia will just enjoy goofing off with all their oil and gas money.

  12. I’m suggesting that we begin a full-scale invasion of Russia tomorrow.

    Oh Dave, you fell victim to the most famous of classic blunders 🙂

  13. Not necessarily. No Russian dictator wants to be vaporized by nukes. Bin Laden and friends will happily go to Allah if that’s the price they pay for nuking you and I.

    Russia’s real problem would be as an indirect threat, where they try to cause as much trouble as possible for us around the world. Because we don’t want a nuclear war, we’d have to confront them inderectly as well. Which means…funding anti-Russian Islamists? Everything old is new again.

  14. Russia slipping back into a dictatorship is about 1000x more scary than Osama and his gang of dusty weirdbeards.

    I can’t agree. Our corrupt government is much better at dealing with other corrupt governments than honest zealots.

  15. I miss the Cold War.

  16. I guess Russia is what you get when nobody engages in “regime change” or “nation building”.

    Amazing, how it got all effed up without Americans to blame.

  17. Warren,

    I dunno, the Poles defeated the Russians, so it isn’t an automatic blunder.

  18. Osama and his gang of dusty weirdbeards

    I saw them open for America at Old Chicago.

    Pro Lib,
    That’s so funny – I just talked to the Cold War. She wanted me to let you know she’s doing fine, you can keep the Osama & His Gang of Dusty Weirdbeards LPs and she doesn’t hate you anymore. She’s moved on. She with some guy in North Korea now and she’s really happy.
    Just between you and me, I still think she’s nuts. You really dodged the bullet there.

  19. highnumber,

    You jest, but it is common knowledge that the only reason we beat the U.S.S.R. is that we managed to completely hide the fact that Eastern European women are, in fact, quite attractive. If we fight Cold War II, the cat is out of the bag, and we’re screwed. Not to mention that all of those Russian brides are actually KGB II sleepers.

  20. Warren,

    And of course the Germans defeated the Russians in WWI and the Mongols during Batu Khan’s romp defeated the Russians in ~1240, holding the Rus’ in a sort of vassalage for ~250 years.

    And yes, I get the joke. 🙂

  21. PL,

    How did that happen, anyway? Growing up I was sure I new what Eastern European looked like, but once the Berlin Wall fell it was an amazing revelation how hot they actually are.

  22. new=knew, of course.

  23. Osama and his gang of dusty weirdbeards

    I saw them open for America at Old Chicago.

    Yeah, I remember that concert. That was before their big hit music video on MTV, “She’s Got Ankles.”

  24. Grotius,

    I don’t know about WWI. Russia self-destructed, and I’m dubious whether Germany could’ve actually accomplished militarily what it did in its worse-than-Versailles drubbing of Russia at Brest-Litovsk.

  25. You know, I’m starting to suspect that President Bush might not be a very good judge of character.

  26. Don’t worry, it’s not like Russia’s a global superpower with vast natural resoures headed by a ruthless megalomaniac straight out of one of the less-realistic Bond films, right?

    Wait, really?

    This will not end well

  27. joe, you mean you think Bush shouldn’t consider Putin for Attorney General?

  28. joe,

    That’s Putin the cart before the horse.

  29. I don’t know about WWI. Russia self-destructed, and I’m dubious whether Germany could’ve actually accomplished militarily what it did in its worse-than-Versailles drubbing of Russia at Brest-Litovsk.

    After a few initial victories, WWI was a disaster for the Russian military. In effect, Brest-Litovsk ratified the reality on the ground.

  30. Back to seriousness for a moment–

    Supposing Putin goes into full on “you can pry this office from my cold dead hands” dictator mode and starts funding and arming anybody and their brother who wants to hurt the USA, what do we do?

  31. Pro Libertate,

    Russia self-destructed…

    Well, that’s how a lot of wars are won.

    …and I’m dubious whether Germany could’ve actually accomplished militarily what it did in its worse-than-Versailles drubbing of Russia at Brest-Litovsk.

    In a war that pitted Germany v. Russia in 1914 exclusively Russia wouldn’t have stayed in the war very long given that Germany defeated Russia with 1917 with the bulk of its resources tied down in the west. Of course, this is an educated guess.

  32. Signs of the death of democracy in post-Soviet Russia, or just a very, very, very united populace?

    Some of both, I suspect. By Russian standards, Putin is a bit of a softy. And Russians are appreciably better off than ten years ago, even if it’s solely due to oil/gas profits rather than actual productivity gains.

    If/when the oil profits tumble, that’s when things could get really interesting. Before then, I wouldn’t look for the Russians to jeopardize their profits too much.

  33. ChrisO,

    Good job–now you’re on Putin’s “list”.

    Dave,

    I think we should go to great lengths to stay reasonably friendly with the Russians. We don’t have to get cozy with them, but it would be best to keep things nice-like. Putin is bad, and the authoritarian loving isn’t going away, apparently, but I think it’s premature to give up on a freer Russia. They’ve got lots of tradition to overcome, after all.

    Grotius,

    Maybe Germany would’ve zapped Russia. I just meant that the Revolution had its roots in things besides the war. A Russia under stronger rule might’ve fared better. Who knows? Germany can’t stop itself from engaging in two-front wars, lately, so it’s hard to tell.

  34. I guess it’s time for me to come clean. I slept with the Cold War. I’d met her at a Stopped Clock concert. The sex was great, but she kept leaving me crazy messages on my machine, so we only did it twice.

  35. Pro Libertate,

    Germany can’t stop itself from engaging in two-front wars, lately, so it’s hard to tell.

    In WWI it was the German leadership’s paranoia over fighting a two-front war against a strong France and Russia that weighed heavily on their minds and helped push them into a two front war. It would be funny if so many graves heaps of bones didn’t line the frontiers of France and what was Russia at the time.

  36. “joe, you mean you think Bush shouldn’t consider Putin for Attorney General?”

    There’s a scary thought. Somebody like Putin would be liable to authorize torture of prisoners, government spying, and the use of prosecutorial power to advance the interests of the ruling party.

    “And Russians are appreciably better off than ten years ago, even if it’s solely due to oil/gas profits rather than actual productivity gains.”

    Really? I might be working off old data, but I recall reading the Russian per capita income and life expectancy were both significantly lower than before the USSR collapsed.

  37. I’m curious how a ruling against one party that no one’s ever heard of marks the official 5,245th death of democracy in Russia*. Sure there are plenty of troubling things there, but it doesn’t mark the (yet another) end of some democratic golden age in Russia, nor is it that large compared to other events (like the NGO restrictions or the creation of an agency to monitor the media). It’s definitely no sign of Cold War II (also do to the knowledge that Russian chicks are hot and that so many Russians are getting rich from Western companies).

    Anyway, Putin’s popularity is generally rated at 70-80%, so it’s clear the populace is at least pretty fairly united on that. After the chaos and drunkenness of the Yeltsin years Putin seems stable and sober. Russians like a strong stable leader, and even some of the “liberal” Russians I’ve known have complained that Putin isn’t strong enough or act enough in Russia’s interest. Still, Russians love to bitch about things (as do all people) and that won’t stop. There are still a number of independent newspapers out there (contrary to reports, the LAST one has not been shut down, nor will that be the last one that’s shut down next week, and so on), and I’ve never seen such large, endlessly crowded bookstores as I have there, so it’s not like people are deprived of information. The liberal parties also haven’t helped themselves, by generally coming off as intellectual and elitist and playing into charges that they’re funded/orchastrated by the west. Russians just have their habits, many of them bad.

    Also, how has Russia had “genuine opposition” in the Duma since the first elections after Putin got the presidency and learned how to beat the Communists? The Communists themselves have been a sometimes-opposition, the Lib-Dems are just xenophobic sycophants, but the pro-Western liberals that the Western media love so much have been too few in number to even come close to mattering. Ryzhkov’s constituency is known as the most “liberal” in Russia, but I always thought he was an independent (since his party would probably be too small to count in those things). Besides, the former Rodina party (called Just Russia now) has set itself up as the new “loyal opposition” (read: love Putin hate United Russia for some vaguely-defined reasons).

    *Counts only period since Putin’s assent as Prez, as all of Yeltsin’s election-throwing and other transgressions against democracy were actually to save it.

  38. Larry Edelstein,

    Once you’ve slept with the Cold War, you might never come clean. I hope you wore protection.

  39. jf,

    Clearly, the CIA was very good at fooling us about the women on the other side of the Iron Curtain. I dated a Romanian a while back and queried her on this very topic. She said they all look like Barbara Bach in The Spy Who Loved Me. Apparently, she was right.

    It’s my opinion that the CIA’s field agents intentionally prolonged the Cold War in order to limit access to the Natashas of the world.

    Grotius,

    Germany will win when it finally learns to ignore France. Except when Napoleon is calling the shots, that is.

  40. That’s Putin the cart before the horse.

    Which reminds me of the terrible bungle at the French philosopher’s funeral when they put Descartes before the hearse.

  41. joe,

    Regarding the economic data, yes GDP is lower now than pre-1991. However, losing huge chucks of productive territory does that, plus the economic chaos of the 1990’s which hit its apex in 1998 didn’t help. Incomes have risen steadily since then though. I never visited the country until 2005, but it was a far different place than I heard/read about from the 1990’s (at least Moscow and St Petersburg, other places are still better off, but not to such a degree).

  42. D.A. Ridgely,

    That’s sum joke. I’m laughing my axis off.

  43. Doesn’t Yabloko mean ‘balls’ in Russian?

  44. ?????? (Yabloko) = Apple

    It doesn’t make any fucking sense to me either. This could also be why they’re basically irrelevant to Russian politics

  45. I flirted with the Cold War once back in the 70s. It was going great until her fat friend Detente came over and cock-blocked me.

  46. Really? I might be working off old data, but I recall reading the Russian per capita income and life expectancy were both significantly lower than before the USSR collapsed.

    Some James basically already answered your question, joe, but I was comparing today’s Russia economically to *ten years ago*, not to the USSR. I know it seems hard to believe, but the USSR has been defunct for over 15 years. Of course, some Russians have become rather nostalgic for the USSR based on the stats you refer to. Good things tend to stick in the mind better than bad things.

  47. ?????? (Yabloko) = Apple

    Actually, it’s a play on the name of the party’s founder, Grigory Yavlinsky.

  48. Pepe,
    Nixon was a chubby-chaser?

  49. ChrisO,

    I never really thought of that, but that makes a lot of sense. It’s one of those oh-so-Russian (though I guess Germany uses them too) bureaucratic sounding compounds, like MosGorDuma and Komintern. Of course instead of being some sort of government entity, it’s just a sort of indulgent “Blok” apparently united only by him (which could be why they and SPS can never agree on anything.

  50. Yabloko is a play on “Ya Block,” Ya being initial of Yavlinsky, one of the founders.

    And the so-called liberal opposition is only good at one thing (other that bitching to Western press) — making utter fools of themselves and showing how far out of touch with reality they are…

  51. I don’t understand all this obsessing over Russia’s imperfections. Russia is a rather weak country with a shrinking population, and shows no sign of wanting to replay the Cold War. There’s really nothing to worry about.

  52. “Pepe,
    Nixon was a chubby-chaser?”

    Nixon and Carter both.

    It’s just as well I didn’t hook up with the Cold War that night anyway. For awhile there in the 60s she was looking pretty hot, but by the time I met her she was getting kinda old.

  53. I have to agree with Max. Russia going the way of the dictator is a bummer, but not automatically bad for the US. Some of our enemies are their enemies. Yes, there will be disagreements and they’ll pursue their own interests, but I’m not sure what difference it will make geopolitically.

    The problem is not so much Russia going undemocratic, as it couyld be Russia going agressive again. That could be a problem, if it happens. Well, more than is happening already.

  54. Some James,

    Interesting point about the “chunks of produtive territory.” I wonder, how much of the Soviet Empire was an economic advantage, vs. a cost? Cuba seems to have been a money pit, for example.

    And what about the successor states to those “chunks of territory?” Was Russia’s loss Belarus’s (Kazakstan’s, Ukraine’s, Latvia’s…) gain?

  55. Is that headline a bad Yakov Smirnoff joke?

    After hours of mulling it over, I have to agree with Dave. The headline would be a better Yakov Smirnoff joke if it was rephrased to remove the preposition…

    In Post-Soviet Russia, Putin Elects You!

  56. PL,

    I think you have it backwards. I think that CIA operatives prolonged the cold war to maximize their access to hot slavic women.

  57. scandalrag,

    Isn’t that what I said? I meant depriving everyone but themselves of access to Natasha.

  58. Russia may be heading towards a dictatorship or a PRI-era Mexican style “democracy”, which is too bad for Russia. It will probably lead to a steady decline in the relative strength and power of Russia in the manner followed by Spain in the 17th and 18th centuries.

    However, that same decline, together with the demographic catastrophe they are facing – their birthrate is way below replacement rates – will mean that Russia will count for less and less as the 21st century progresses.

    Further, Russia does not have an interest in destabilizing the West and, unlike the old USSR, knows it does not.* Unless someone like Zhirinovsky [sp?] comes to power, Russia will not be a threat to the west in the 21st century.

    *This does not mean that Russia won’t pursue its own advantage when that runs contrary to western interests, but it won’t go out of its way to make trouble, either.

  59. Arensen, Some James,

    How about a fascist – ok, authoritarian state pitalism with weak democratic institutions – government run by a cool pragmatist instead of a James Bond villain?

    It’s not surprising that the early years following the euthenasia of the decadent republic would see vibrant economic growth. I wonder what will come next.

    Arensen,

    Mexico wasn’t recovering from the national humiliation of a defeat in a major war. It was recovering after a successful revolution. Russia isn’t Mexico; it’s Italy, or Germany, or Spain.

  60. “That’s Putin the cart before the horse.”

    “Which reminds me of the terrible bungle at the French philosopher’s funeral when they put Descartes before the hearse.”

    You know Bach didn’t earn much money off of his music. In fact, he was baroque when he died.

  61. 1. Will libertarianism take hold in Russia? I honestly don’t see it. It has to be depressing for your brethren over there.

    2. Cold War vs. War on Terror: which is more romantic? I like the feel of espionage in Easter Europe. The war on terror is dirty and doesn’t play well to a soundtrack whereas the cold war always sounds good to smooth instrumentals. There is no good sex in the war on terror.

  62. joe

    Not sure what your point is. However, I don’t see the genesis of the present Russian situation as being that different from Mexico’s of the PRI era. The Mexican revolution that brought the PRI to power was similar to the revolution that toppled the USSR. In both cases, a corrupt regime essentially imploded.

    The main part of what I was referring to was the model followed by the later PRI governments in Mexico, where the head of an entrenched, thoroughly corrupt party in power took care of his cronies and designated his successor, who was generally another corrupt kleptocrat. In both countries, a central authority controls (controlled) the media and all the levers of power, while maintaining a token opposition as part of a sham democracy.

    I’m not sure we’re even disagreeing here. ‘Fascist’ or ‘authoritarian’ would descibe both regimes.

    BTW: You are getting my handle wrong again.
    [snarls, sinks fangs into raw flesh, rips dripping chunks of bloody meat from helpless victim]

  63. joe,

    I wonder, how much of the Soviet Empire was an economic advantage, vs. a cost?

    In the 1950s and into the 1960s much of Eastern Europe was ripe for exploitation, however as the USSR’s tutelage of these regions went forward they started to put the USSR in the red and draw on the USSR’s resources, particularly commodities like grain.

    As to the actual constiuent parts of the USSR, it depended on the area in question. Some were probably basket-cases others were important zones of wealth. The Ukraine’s productive agricultural zones likely fall into the latter.

  64. Can we get back to the main point here, please?

    The title is clearly a reference to the episode of the Family Guy in which Peter has a car with a GPS system that talks in the style of Yakov Smirnov. “In Soviet Russia, car drives you!”

    Thank you.

  65. I agree with Max et alia that Russia is a weak country. It’s not going to return to the big bad USSR days for any number of reasons. First of all being that even in its heyday, as we now know, the USSR was actually a surprisingly weak country stretching its resources to the limits in order to keep up with the West, second Russia has lost much of its productive industrial and agricultural lands (the Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltics) and third the demographic situation in Russia is simply catastrophic. Russia has to worry about losing its far eastern territories to China, it can’t really afford to start antagonizing the West.

  66. I don’t think it is automatically a bad thing that democracy has died in Russia. Putin is obviously an authoritarian politically, but what is his economic and social policy?

    If he is a philosopher king working hard to build a society built upon the rule of law and liberty, then it is probably a good thing democracy took a hike: it tends to destroy such goods.

    Of course, from what I’ve heard he is letting his political goals of making himself king get in the way of his philosopher goals.

    Maybe after he has remade the courts and legislatures in his own image he will turn them loose against Russia’s excessive laws, corruption, and illegality.

    Anyone else see this as the possible long term goals of Putin? If so, lets hope he doesn’t die before completion, otherwise his successor could rob the country (more) blind.

  67. Aresen (sorry),

    “The Mexican revolution that brought the PRI to power was similar to the revolution that toppled the USSR.” Yeltsin was a top Communist Party official. Putin was a high ranking KGB agent. That doesn’t look terribly revolutionary to me.

    While there are certainly similarities between the PRI and the Putin block, I can’t help but notices the differences, because the features that set Russian politics apart from Mexico are also the ones that seem to indicate an incipient fascism, which could be quite dangerous for us and for the world as a whole.

    The nationalism, territorial ambitions, the apparent determination to avenge a wounded national pride…these don’t bode well.

  68. joe

    Granted. I didn’t mean to imply that present day Russia and late-PRI era Mexico were identical politically, just that there were significant similarities in the way the governments functioned.

    However, I don’t think that Russia will have either the economic or military strength (which ultimately derives from economic strength) to be a significant player on the world stage.

    The autocratic government will prove an ever-increasing drag on the economy. Their brightest and best will emigrate. The burgeoning corruption will sap the strength from any growing enterprise.

    The issue of population size is significant as well. As I mentioned, Russia’s birthrate is far below replacement levels. I’m not sure if the population number has actually started to decline, but that is imminent. I would not be surprised if Russia’s population is less than Germany’s by mid-century. [I’ll e-mail you from my nursing home in 2050 to let you know either way. ;)]

    Also, I think Vanya’s point about the [real or perceived] threat from China to their Eastern territories will dampen any serious threat to the west.

  69. Aresen,

    If the pattern holds, Russia will be starting wars before we get a chance to see what happens to their economy in the long term.

    In the past, fascist countries with real or perceived military threats responded by starting wars, not avoiding them. Shoring up central Asian buffers against the Chinese could be the equivalent of invading Poland.

  70. “In the past, fascist countries with real or perceived military threats responded by starting wars, not avoiding them.”

    You mean….they might INVADE IRAQ!?

    ;P

    Seriously, though, Russia simply does not have the military strength at this time to project a significant force any great distance beyond their borders at this time. The Baltic states and Georgia might be at risk, but I don’t think they could credibly threaten anyone else. Even if they tried something there, they’d probably find themselves in another Chechnya. Taking on China would be suicidal.

    However, I do have to concede that such regimes are not always rational. Putin may be a cautious calculator, but there is no guarantee that they won’t wind up with a Zhirnovsky at some point.

    Not very much we can do about it either way, except to make clear that the NATO states would invoke the “Attack on one is an attack on all” rule if Russia attacked.

  71. Don’t worry, it’s not like Russia’s a global superpower

    I don’t think we can consider Russia a global superpower. Its military has shrunk drastically since 1991 (especially the navy and in particular its submarine fleet), and their land-based nuclear capacity can’t be good after about 15 years of very scarce funding. As for the post-Red Army, one word – Chechnya.

    I sure wouldn’t bet on Russia if they got into a tiff with, say, China.

  72. Eric the .5b

    “their land-based nuclear capacity can’t be good after about 15 years of very scarce funding”

    Actually, that is the part that scares me the most. It as never clear that the Soviet nuclear armory was properly designed to “fail-safe” as opposed to “fail-active”. After 15 years of lousy maintenance (which the Russians were never very good at to begin with), I’d hate to think of the state they are in now.

    Add to that the concerns about the security protection around those weapons, it’s enough to keep the NORAD commander at Cheyenne Mountain awake when he/she’s OFF watch.

  73. Aresen:

    If the silos and the missiles aren’t adequately maintained, it doesn’t matter whether they’re fail-active or not – those things won’t get off the ground. At least not intact. Ballistic rockets require a great deal of care.

  74. But yes, ultimately, it’s currently more reasonable to worry about “misplaced” nuclear warheads than a nuclear strike from Russia.

  75. If one of them were to explode in the silo, it could be mistaken for a counter-force strike.

    Hopefully, the NORAD commander has a good link to his Russian counterpart an can make a quick “Whatthefuckisgoingon?” call if a nuclear explosion is detected in Russian territory.

  76. If one of them were to explode in the silo, it could be mistaken for a counter-force strike.

    I don’t follow – once the balloon’s gone up and they’re launching, every Russian in-silo explosion is a blessing. If it’s peacetime, I suspect they have measures and standards – I doubt they’ve made it the last 20 years, much less the last 50, without some random, catastrophic failure.

  77. Sorry, Eric.

    I was referring to a possible accidental explosion due to lousy maintenance or sloppy procedures – like at Chernobyl.

    Should have been clearer in what I said.

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