The 27th February 2012, I wrote an article with the same title – See here – Reviving this title today, word for word is kind of wonderment. As the moment CNN is announcing Russian humanitarian convoy bypassed Ukrainian checkpoints to reach out to the people in dire basic needs inside Ukraine – thanks God* – I couldn’t resist to bring to your knowledge this op-ed from Eurasia news’ digest I was extremely pleased to receive in my email box as a subscriber of their newsletter. It is kind of refreshing text informing all the aspects of the situation in the region. I highly recommend it to you. At high doses.
A model for the next generation of African Leaders and for the actual ones.,
(*) Apparently, the convoy is not inside Ukraine yet but has changed its road. To be followed. And all of the sunden the Red Cross is waking up, after months of deep coma. They want to control the convoy. Where were them since the beginnng of the atrocities in the Eastern Ukrainian ? They did nothing and now they are standing as controllers or spyers.
It’s difficult to prove that Russia is authoritarian in the normal sense of the word. Russia’s president is legitimately popular. He was freely elected. There are many parties who oppose the Kremlin and hundreds of privately owned newspapers. This is not the normal definition of authoritarianism, which usually does not permit multiple parties. The term itself is vague and could be applied to many leaders of democratic countries, FDR and Woodrow Wilson among them (Wilson banned all criticism of World War I).
What Putin did was re-centralize government agencies that had collapsed in the early 1990s. During World War II, the federal government took over the economy for war production. This is not considered authoritarianism, but a response to an emergency. Abraham Lincoln clamped down on dissent during the Civil War, and yet, due to the extreme stress of the times, this also is not considered authoritarianism. It was a necessary move begun at a time of chaos and collapse – Russia is no different. The Moscow Times wrote in 2012:
President Vladimir Putin remains the country’s most popular politician, and an increasing number of Russians approve of his work as head of state, a poll released Thursday showed. Sixty-seven percent of respondents backed Putin’s decisions and leadership in July, as opposed to 64 percent in June, pollsters from the independent Levada Center told Interfax. Forty-one percent said they trusted Putin, a 4 percent rise over the previous month.
It is far from clear that Russia is authoritarian. What is occurring is that Putin is correcting the course laid by Yeltsin. Privatization of Soviet assets in the early 1990s led to a collapse in the Russian economy, and a default on its debts in 1997. Authors Bernard Black et al, in 1999, wrote about the privatization of the old Soviet economy.
Instead, the Russian economy stumbled along through mid-1998, continuing to shrink slowly by official indicators, then collapsed again, as it had in 1991-1992 prior to privatization. Russia’s mass privatization “voucher auctions” were moderately honest, but gave control to managers. This permitted insiders (managers and controlling shareholders) to engage in extensive ‘self’ or ‘inside’ dealing (transactions by the company, not on arms-length terms, in which the insiders profit directly or indirectly at the company’s expense), which the government did nothing to control. Later privatization “auctions” were a massive giveaway of Russia’s most important companies at bargain prices to a handful of well-connected “kleptocrats,” who continued to behave in the ways that earned them this nickname. Medium-term prospects are grim; the Russian ruble has plunged; the Russian government has defaulted on both its dollar denominated and ruble-denominated debt; most banks are bankrupt; corruption is rampant; tax revenues have collapsed; capital flight is pervasive; and the government (whomever the Prime Minister happens to be at the moment) seems clueless about what to do next (1).
This is why Putin needed to centralize the economy starting in 2000. The state had, to a great extent, ceased to exist. Under Putin’s re-centralization of the government, the economy recovered, and became one of the fastest growing economies in the world (ALJ, 2004). The point is that “authoritarianism”is little more than a needed policy correction. As the Russian economy collapsed by 1995, Russians demanded action. The state was required to take action against organized crime, begin collecting taxes again and reform the armed services. Only a fairly strong state could accomplish this.
When asked about his political view, his cryptic answer was, to paraphrase, a pragmatist with traditional leanings. The reality of Putin’s tenure in the executive offices of Russia has been to deal with a) the slow rot of the Soviet system from at least the death of Brezhnev, and b) the total collapse of Russia, her economy and her people engineered by the United States, Harvard University, Gaidar and Chubais. With such a legacy, ideology, defined as a coherent and detailed plan promising salvation, seems out of place. Putin worked with the terrible cards he was dealt.