Понятно, что я не со всем согласен, но автор достоин уважения.
Russia’s Managed Democracy
Under lowering skies, a thin line of mourners stretched silently outside the funeral hall. Barring the entrance, hulking riot police kept them waiting until assorted dignitaries – Anatoly Chubais, Nato envoys, an impotent ombudsman – had paid their respects. Eventually they were let in to view the corpse of the murdered woman, her forehead wrapped in the white ribbon of the Orthodox rite, her body, slight enough anyway, diminished by the flower-encrusted bier. Around the edges of the mortuary chamber, garlands from the media that attacked her while she was alive stood thick alongside wreaths from her children and friends, the satisfied leaf to leaf with the bereaved. Filing past them and out into the cemetery beyond, virtually no one spoke. Some were in tears. People dispersed in the drizzle as quietly as they came.
The authorities had gone to some lengths to divert Anna Politkovskaya’s funeral from the obvious venue of the Vagankovskoe, where Sakharov is buried, to a dreary precinct on the outskirts that few Muscovites can locate on a map. But how necessary was the precaution? The number of mourners who got to the Troekurovskoe was not large, perhaps a thousand or so, and the mood of the occasion was more sadness than anger. A middle-aged woman, bringing groceries home from the supermarket, shot at point-blank range in an elevator, Politkovskaya was killed for her courage in reporting the continuing butchery in Chechnya. An attempt to poison her had narrowly failed two years earlier. She had another article in press on the atrocities of the Kadyrov clan that now runs the country for the Kremlin, as she was eliminated. She lived and died a fighter. But of any powerful protest at her death, it is difficult to speak. She was buried with resignation, not fury or revolt.
In Ukraine, the discovery of the decapitated body of a journalist who had investigated official corruption, Georgi Gongadze, was sufficient outrage to shake the regime, which was brought down soon afterwards. Politkovskaya was a figure of another magnitude. A better historical comparison might be with the murder of Matteotti by Mussolini in 1924. In Russian circumstances, her moral stature as an opponent of arbitrary power was scarcely less than that of the Socialist deputy. But there the resemblance ends. The Matteotti Affair caused an outcry that nearly toppled Mussolini. Politkovskaya was killed with scarcely a ripple in public opinion. Her death, the official media explained, was either an unfathomable mystery, or the work of enemies of the government vainly attempting to discredit it. The president remarked she was a nobody whose death was the only news value in her life.
It is tempting, but would be a mistake, to see in that casual dismissal no more than the ordinary arrogance of power. All governments deny their crimes, and most are understanding of each other’s lies about them. Bush and Blair, with still more blood on their hands – in all probability, that of over half a million Iraqis – observe these precepts as automatically as Putin. But there is a difference that sets Putin apart from his fellow rulers in the G8, indeed from virtually any government in the world. On the evidence of comparative opinion polls, he is the most popular national leader alive today. Since he came to power six years ago, he has enjoyed the continuous support of over 70 per cent of his people, a record no other contemporary politician begins to approach. For comparison, Chirac now has an approval rating of 38 per cent, Bush of 36 per cent, Blair of 30 per cent.
Such eminence may seem perverse, but it is not unintelligible. Putin’s authority derives, in the first place, from the contrast with the ruler who made him. From a Western standpoint, Yeltsin’s regime was by no means a failure. By ramming through a more sweeping privatisation of industry than any carried out in Eastern Europe, and maintaining a façade of competitive elections, it laid the foundations of a Russian capitalism for the new century. However sodden or buffoonish Yeltsin’s personal conduct, these were solid achievements that secured him unstinting support from the United States, where Clinton, stewing in indignities of his own, was the appropriate leader for mentoring him. As Strobe Talbott characteristically put it, ‘Clinton and Yeltsin bonded. Big time.’ In the eyes of most Russians, on the other hand, Yeltsin’s administration set loose a wave of corruption and criminality; stumbled chaotically from one political crisis to another; presided over an unprecedented decline in living standards and collapse of life expectancy; humiliated the country by obeisance to foreign powers; destroyed the currency and ended in bankruptcy. By 1998, according to official statistics, GDP had fallen over a decade by some 45 per cent; the mortality rate had increased by 50 per cent; government revenues had nearly halved; the crime rate had doubled. It is no surprise that as this misrule drew to a close, Yeltsin’s support among the population was in single figures.
Against this background, any new administration would have been hard put not to do better. Putin, however, had the good luck to arrive in power just as oil prices took off. With export earnings from the energy sector suddenly soaring, economic recovery was rapid and continuous. Since 1999, GDP has grown by 6-7 per cent a year. The budget is now in surplus, with a stabilisation fund of some $80 billion set aside for any downturn in oil prices, and the rouble is convertible. Capitalisation of the stock market stands at 80 per cent of GDP. Foreign debt has been paid down. Reserves top $250 billion. In short, the country has been the largest single beneficiary of the world commodities boom of the early 21st century. For ordinary Russians, this has brought a tangible improvement in living standards. Though average real wages remain very low, less than $400 dollars a month, they have doubled under Putin (personal incomes are nearly two times higher because remuneration is often paid in non-wage form, to avoid some taxes). That increase is the most important basis of his support. To relative prosperity, Putin has added stability. Cabinet convulsions, confrontations with the legislature, lapses into presidential stupor, are things of the past. Administration may not be that much more efficient, but order – at least north of the Caucasus – has been restored. Last but not least, the country is no longer ‘under external management’, as the pointed local phrase puts it. The days when the IMF dictated budgets, and the Foreign Ministry acted as little more than an American consulate, are over. Gone are the campaign managers for re-election of the president, jetting in from California. Freed from foreign debt and diplomatic supervision, Russia is an independent state once again.
Prosperity, stability, sovereignty: the national consensus around Putin rests on his satisfaction of these primordial concerns. That there may be less in each than meets the eye matters little, politically speaking, so long as their measure is memories of the abyss under Yeltsin. By that standard the material progress, however relative, is real. But the stratospheric polls reflect something else as well – an image of the ruler. Putin cuts a somewhat colourless, frigid figure in the West. In cultures accustomed to more effusive styles of leadership, the sleek, stoat-shaped head and stone-cold eyes offer little purchase for affective projection. In Russia, however, charisma wears another face. When he came to power, Putin lacked any trace of it. But possession of the presidency has altered him. For Weber, who had the Hebrew prophets in mind, charisma was by definition extra-institutional – it was a kind of magic that could only be personal. He could not foresee postmodern conditions, in which the spectacle is a higher power, capable of dissolving the boundaries between the two.
Once installed in the presidency, Putin has cultivated two attributes that have given him an aura capable of outlasting it. The first is the image of firm, where necessary ruthless authority. Historically, the brutal imposition of order has been more often admired than feared in Russia. Rather than his portrait suffering from the shadow of the KGB, Putin has converted it into a halo of austere discipline. In what remains in many ways a macho society, toughness – prowess in judo and drops into criminal slang are part of Putin’s kit – continues to be valued, and not only by men: polls report that Putin’s most enthusiastic fans are often women. But there is another, less obvious side to his charisma. Part of his chilly magnetism is cultural. He is widely admired for his command of the language. Here, too, contrast is everything. Lenin was the last ruler of the country who could speak an educated Russian. Stalin’s Georgian accent was so thick he rarely risked speaking in public. Khrushchev’s vocabulary was crude and his grammar barbaric. Brezhnev could scarcely put two sentences together. Gorbachev spoke with a provincial southern accent. The less said of Yeltsin’s slurred diction the better. To hear a leader of the country capable once again of expressing himself with clarity, accuracy and fluency, in a more or less correct idiom, comes as music to many Russians.
In a strange way Putin’s prestige is thus also intellectual. For all his occasional crudities, at least in his mouth the national tongue is no longer obviously humiliated. This is not just a matter of cases and tenses, or pronunciation. Putin has developed into what by today’s undemanding standards is an articulate politician, who can field questions from viewers on television for hours as confidently and lucidly as he lectures journalists in interviews, or addresses partners at summit meetings, where he has excelled at sardonic repartee. The intelligence is limited and cynical, above the level of his Anglo-American counterparts, but without much greater ambition. It has been enough, however, to give Putin half of his brittle lustre in Russia. There, an apparent union of fist and mind has captured the popular imaginary.
The combination of an oil and gas bonanza with a persona of clear-headed power has been enough to demarcate Putin, in public opinion, decisively from what came before and to assure him mastery of the political scene. The actual regime over which he presides, however, although it has involved important changes, shows less of a break with Yeltsin’s time than might appear. The economy that Yeltsin left behind was in the grip of a tiny group of profiteers, who had seized the country’s major assets in a racket – so-called loans for shares – devised by one of its beneficiaries, Vladimir Potanin, and imposed by Chubais, operating as the neo-liberal Rasputin at Yeltsin’s court. The president and his extended ‘Family’ (relatives, aides, hangers-on) naturally took their own share of the loot. It is doubtful whether the upshot had any equivalent in the entire history of capitalism. The leading seven oligarchs to emerge from these years – Berezovsky, Gusinsky, Potanin, Abramovich, Fridman, Khodorkovsky, Aven – ended up controlling a vast slice of national wealth, most of the media and much of the Duma. Putin was picked by the Family to ensure these arrangements did not come under scrutiny afterwards. His first act in office was to grant Yeltsin immunity from prosecution, and he has generally looked after his immediate entourage. (Chubais got Russia’s electricity grid as a parting gift.)
But if he wanted a stronger government than Yeltsin’s, he could not afford to leave the oligarchs in undisturbed possession of their powers. After warning them that they could keep their riches only if they stayed out of politics, he moved to curb them. The three most ambitious magnates – Gusinsky, Berezovsky and Khodorkovsky – were broken: two fleeing into exile, the third dispatched to a labour camp. A fourth, Abramovich, though still persona grata in the Kremlin, has opted for residence abroad. Putin has taken back under state control parts of the oil industry, and created out of the country’s gas monopoly a giant conglomerate with a current market capitalisation of $200 billion. The public sector’s share of GDP has risen only modestly, by about 5 per cent. But for the time being, the booty capitalism of the 1990s has come to a halt. In regaining control of some stretches of the commanding heights of the economy, the state has strengthened its leverage. The balance of power has shifted away from extraordinary accumulations of private plunder towards more traditional forms of bureaucratic management.
These changes are a focus of some anxiety in the Western business press, where fears are often expressed of an ominous statism that threatens the liberalisation of the 1990s. In reality, markets are in no danger. The Russian state has been strengthened as an economic agent, but not with any socialising intent, simply as a quarry of political power. In other respects, Putin has taken the same underlying programme as his predecessor several steps further. Land has finally been privatised, a threshold Yeltsin’s regime was unable to cross. Moscow boasts more billionaires than New York, yet a flat income tax of 13 per cent has been introduced, at Yegor Gaidar’s urging. A highly regressive ‘unified social tax’ falls on those who can least afford it. Welfare benefits have been monetised and slashed. Key economic ministries remain in the hands of committed marketeers. Neo-liberalism is safe enough in Russia today. The president has made this clear to all who are interested. On a visit to Germany in October, brushing aside questions about the death of Politkovskaya, he told his hosts: ‘We do not understand the nervousness of the press about Russia investing abroad. Where does this hysteria come from? It’s not the Red Army that wants to come to Germany. It’s just the same capitalists as you.’
The political system put together since Yeltsin’s departure is a similar mixture of novelty and continuity. It is now de rigueur for Western journalists – even the most ardent boosters of business opportunities in the New Russia, or the humblest spaniels of New Labour, anxious not to smudge Blair’s friendship with Putin (two roles that are not always distinct) – to deplore the muzzling of the media, the neutering of parliament and the decline of political freedoms under Putin. These realities, however, all have their origins under Yeltsin, whose illegalities were much starker. No act of Putin’s compares with the bombardment of the parliament by tanks, or the fraudulent referendum that ensued, imposing the autocratic constitution under which Russia continues to be ruled. Yet because Yeltsin was considered a pliable, even if somewhat disreputable utensil of Western policies, the first action was applauded and the second ignored by virtually every foreign correspondent of the time. Nor was there much criticism of the brazen manipulation of press and television, controlled by the oligarchs, to engineer Yeltsin’s re-election. Still less was any attention paid to what was happening within the machinery of state itself. Far from the demise of the USSR reducing the number of Russian functionaries, the bureaucracy had – few post-Communist facts are more arresting – actually doubled in size by the end of Yeltsin’s stewardship, to some 1.3 million. Not only that. At the topmost levels of the regime, the proportion of officials drawn from the security services or armed forces soared above their modest quotas under the late CPSU: composing a mere 5 per cent under Gorbachev, it has been calculated that they occupied no less than 47 per cent of the highest posts under Yeltsin.
Serviceable though much of this was for any ruler, it remained a ramshackle inheritance. Putin has tightened and centralised it into a more coherent structure of power. In possession of voter confidence, he has not needed to shell deputies or forge plebiscites. But to meet any eventuality, the instruments of coercion and intimidation have been strengthened. The budget of the FSB – the post-Communist successor to the KGB – has trebled, and the number of positions in the federal administration held by personnel brigaded from security backgrounds has continued to rise. Over half of Russia’s key power-holders now come from its repressive apparatuses. In jovial spirit, Putin allowed himself to quip to fellow veterans in the Lubyanka: ‘Comrades, our strategic mission is accomplished – we have seized power.’
Still, these developments are mainly accentuations of what was already there. Institutionally, the more striking innovation has been the integration of the economic and political pillars of Putin’s system of command. In the 1990s, people spoke of the assorted crooks who grabbed control of the country’s raw materials as syroviki, and of officials recruited from the military or secret police as siloviki. Under Putin, the two have fused. The new regime is dominated by a web of Kremlin staffers and ministers with ‘security profiles’, who also head the largest state companies quoted on the stock market. The oligarchs had mixed business and politics flamboyantly enough. But these were raids by freebooters from the first into the second domain. Putin has turned the tables on them. Under his system, a more organic symbiosis between the two has been achieved, this time under the dominance of politics. Today, two deputy prime ministers are chairmen, respectively, of Gazprom and Russian Railways; four deputy chiefs of staff in the Kremlin occupy the same positions in the second largest oil company, a nuclear fuel giant, an energy transport enterprise and Aeroflot. The minister of industry is chairman of the oil pipeline monopoly; the finance minister not only of the diamond monopoly, but of the second largest state bank in the country; the telecoms minister of the biggest mobile phone operator. A uniquely Russian form of cumul des mandats blankets the scene.
Corruption is built into any such connubium between profits and power. By general consent, it is now even more widespread than under Yeltsin, but its character has changed. The comparison with China is revealing. In the PRC, corruption is a scourge detested by the population; no other issue arouses the anger of ordinary citizens to such a degree. The central leadership of the CCP is nervously aware of the danger corruption poses to its authority, and on occasion makes a spectacular example of officials who have stolen too much, without being able to tackle the roots of the problem. In Russia, on the other hand, there appears to be little active indignation at the corruption rife at all levels of society. A common attitude is that an official who takes bribes is better than one who inflicts blows: a change to which Brezhnev’s ‘era of stagnation’, after the end of the terror, habituated people. In this climate, Putin – so far, at least, lacking the personal greed that distracted Yeltsin – can coolly use corruption as an instrument of state policy, operating it as both a system of rewards for those who comply with him, and of blackmail for those who might resist.
The scale of the slush funds now available to the Kremlin has made it easy, in turn, to convert television stations and newspapers into mouthpieces of the regime. The fate of NTV and Izvestiya, the one created by Gusinsky, the other controlled by Potanin, is emblematic. Both are now dependencies of Gazprom. ORT, once Berezovsky’s TV channel, is currently run by a factotum from the FSB. With such changes, Putin’s control of the media is becoming more and more comprehensive. What is left over, that ownership does not ensure, self-censorship increasingly neuters. The Gleichschaltung of parliament and political parties is, if anything, even more impressive. The presidential party, United Russia, and its assorted allies, with no more specific programme than unconditional support for Putin, command some 70 per cent of the seats in the Duma, enough to rewrite the constitution if that were required. But a one-party state is not in the offing. On the contrary, mindful of the rules of any self-respecting democracy, the Kremlin’s political technicians are now putting together an opposition party designed to clear the bedraggled remnants of Communism – liberalism has already been expunged – from the political scene, and provide a decorative pendant to the governing party in the next parliament.
In sum, the methodical construction of a personalised authoritarian regime with a strong domestic base is well under way. Part of its appeal has come from its recovery of external sovereignty. But here the gap between image and reality is wider than it is on the domestic front. Putin came to power on the crest of a colonial war. In March 1999, the West launched its attack on Yugoslavia. Planning for the reconquest of Chechnya began that same month, under Yeltsin. In early August, Putin – then head of the FSB – was made prime minister. In the last week of September, invoking hostile incursions into Dagestan, Russia launched an aerial blitz on Chechnya explicitly modelled on Nato’s six-week bombardment of Yugoslavia. Up to a quarter of the population was driven out of the country, before an invasion had even begun. After enormous destruction from the air, the Russian army advanced on Grozny, which was besieged in early December. For nearly two months Chechen resistance held out against a hail of fuel-air explosives and tactical missiles that left the city a more completely burnt-out ruin than Stalingrad had ever been. At the height of the fighting, on New Year’s Eve, Yeltsin handed over his office to Putin. New presidential elections were set for late March. By the end of February, the Russian high command felt able to announce that ‘the counter-terrorism operation is over.’ Putin flew down to celebrate victory. Clinton hailed the ‘liberation of Grozny’. Blair sped to St Petersburg to embrace the liberator. Two weeks later, Putin was elected by a landslide.
Such was the baptism of the present regime, at which holy water was sprinkled by the West. Bush added his unction the following year, after looking into the Russian president’s soul. In return for this goodwill Putin was under some obligation, which persisted. The occupation of the country did not end national resistance: Chechnya became the corner of hell it has remained to this day. But no matter how atrocious the actions of Russian troops and their local collaborators, Western chancelleries have tactfully looked away. After 9/11, Chechnya was declared another front in the war on terror, and in the common cause Putin opened Russian airspace for B52s to bomb Afghanistan, accepted American bases in Central Asia, and primed the Northern Alliance for Kabul. So eager was Moscow to please Washington that in the emotion of the moment, it even abandoned its listening post in Cuba, of scant relevance to Enduring Freedom in West Asia. But it soon became clear there would be little reward for such gestures. In December 2001, the Bush administration scrapped the ABM Treaty. Russian friends were sidelined in the puppet government installed in Afghanistan. Jackson-Vanik trade restrictions were not repealed.
In this climate, it was asking too much for Russia to underwrite the war on Iraq. Still, the US was not to be antagonised. Left to his own devices, Putin would have preferred to say the bare minimum about it. But once France and Germany came out against the impending invasion, it was not easy for him to sidle quietly off-stage. On a visit to Paris, Chirac cornered him into a joint communiqué opposing the war – though the French alone threatened a veto in the Security Council. Once back home, Putin took care to phone Bush with expressions of sympathy for his difficult decision, and made no fuss about the occupation. Yet by the end of his first term in office, the terms of Russia’s relationship with the West had changed. A fortnight after Putin was re-elected in mid-March 2004, Nato expanded to Russia’s doorstep, with the accession of the Baltic states. But even if Washington had given Moscow little or nothing, Russia was no longer a supplicant. Oil prices, little more than $18 a barrel when Putin came to power, were now over $40, and rising rapidly towards their current level at $60 plus – netting Russia a windfall of $37 billion in extra revenues in 2005 alone. More autonomy was now affordable. The upshot so far has remained quite limited: clumsy attempts to check further Western entrenchment along Russia’s southern marches, by browbeating Ukraine and Georgia; refusal to derogate control of pipelines to Europe; revision of offshore concessions in Sakhalin. But Russia’s shadow as an energy giant is lengthening. It is now the world’s largest producer of gas and, after Saudi Arabia, the second largest exporter of oil. As Europe becomes more dependent on its energy, the country’s leverage is bound to grow. No diplomatic revolution is in prospect. But Russia has ceased to be a ward of the West.
How has the change been received there? Reactions to Putin’s regime vary, but they form a certain pattern, falling within a given range. At one end of the spectrum, there is virtually unconditional endorsement of the Russia that is now emerging. The leading exponent of this view, the economist Andrei Shleifer, helped – not coincidentally – to lay the foundations of the new order, working in Moscow as one of the drafters of Yeltsin’s privatisations, and beneficiaries of the proceeds. Project director of the Harvard Institute for International Development, financed by the US government to promote ‘economic reform in support of open markets’ in the former USSR, he was prosecuted by the Justice Department on his return to the US for criminal conduct – cashing in on his insider position for investment purposes. Harvard had to pay $26.5 million, and Shleifer and his wife $3.5 million to settle the charges against him. This was the scandal that led to the downfall of his patron Larry Summers, who as Clinton’s deputy secretary of the Treasury set up the Harvard project, and was then implicated in the pay-out, as president of the university. Shleifer’s central contention, set out in an article written with Daniel Treisman in Foreign Affairs in 2004, is that Russia has become a ‘normal middle-income country’: that is, a society with much the same growing prosperity, degrees of political and economic freedom, levels of corruption and inequality, restrictions on the media and controls on the judiciary, consumer choice and contested elections, as can be found in Mexico or Turkey or the Philippines, or anywhere else with a statistical per capita income of some $8000 a year.
Shleifer concedes that, like most such places, which fall ‘somewhere between textbook democracy and a full-fledged authoritarianism’, Russia may not be a particularly secure or just society. But – and this is what matters – it is par for the course within its global bracket, which given the debris left by Communism is a remarkable achievement. For many Russians, to be congratulated on rising to the company of Turks or Mexicans might leave mixed feelings. But by lowering the standard of relevant comparison, an unequivocally affirmative conclusion can be reached. Russia is a perfectly normal country for its level of development. It is exceptional only in the historical handicaps it has had to overcome to get there, and so unusually admirable.
Few verdicts are quite as upbeat as this. More common is the approach to be found in writers for the Financial Times – another investor in the new Russia, with a joint venture in the media – which has devoted a great deal of attention to the country, consistently talking up its prospects, while expressing dutiful regrets at the shadows or side effects of progress. Inside Putin’s Russia by Andrew Jack, the paper’s Moscow correspondent, illustrates the genre. Decent space is accorded the failings of the regime, and proper anxiety voiced about the future of liberties under it, without dwelling unnecessarily on these – ‘criticising without animosity and making the right allowances for peculiarities of history and culture’, as the FT put it. Chechnya, inevitably, figures prominently among the allowances. Jack explains that it is wrong to blame Putin, himself a ‘prisoner of the Caucasus’, excessively for a situation ‘where Chechnya and Russia have been at war of one sort or another ever since the two cultures first collided three centuries ago’: euphemisms to rank in some universal treasury of colonial apologetics. The results of the conflict may be unfortunate, but it is a sideshow. What matters is the balance sheet of Putin’s ‘liberal authoritarianism’. Here, the touchstone is thoroughly reassuring. In building a society ‘infinitely better for its citizens and foreign partners than the USSR’, Putin has achieved the essential: he has ‘cemented the transition from Communism to capitalism in a way that neither of his predecessors was able to achieve’.
Of course, since property rights remain insecure and justice is arbitrary, there continue to be grounds for concern. Delicately, Jack ventures the thought that, despite his achievements, ‘Putin’s commitment to democracy and market reform is questionable.’ A robuster brand of optimism was expressed by the late Martin Malia. Author of The Soviet Tragedy – a passionate requisitory of Bolshevism from the liberal right, ideologically parallel to François Furet’s Past of an Illusion (the two were close friends), but intellectually everything it is not, a work of brilliant historical imagination – Malia, after championing Yeltsin, did not balk at his successor. There was no chance, he explained, that Putin could revert to a traditional authoritarianism in today’s Russia, since the path to modernisation no longer lay through military-bureaucratic power of a Petrine, let alone Stalinist stamp. It required instead high levels of education and foreign investment, if Russia was to compete in the relevant contemporary arena, not battlefields but globalised markets. There was little cause to be exercised by Putin’s style of political manipulation, which was much like that of Bismarck or Giolitti in their time. Fears of renewed repression were misplaced. The international community no longer tolerated gross violation of human rights, as Bosnia and Kosovo had shown. The conflict in Chechnya was an exception, for there the ‘national honour’ rather than Russia’s ‘territorial integrity’ was at stake. But now that the deed was done, there would be no need to repeat it. ‘As the Chechnya war recedes into the past, the pressure on Russia to observe the new higher norms of international and civic morality will prevent Putin from doing anything extreme.’
Malia offered this absolution in April 2000. Seven years of torture and killing later, the norms – after Grozny, Baghdad – have staled, and the past has not passed. It would be wrong to say that no authorised opinion in the West did better than this. Among journalists, the Washington Post correspondents Peter Baker and Susan Glasser have produced a hard-hitting survey of the new Russia, Kremlin Rising, that puts the palliators of the Financial Times to shame. Among historians, Richard Pipes, at one with Malia in hostility to Communism, but in temperament and outlook the all but complete opposite, has struck a characteristically dissonant note. Whereas Malia believed it was essentially the First World War that blew Russia off course from a normal Western development, which it could now rejoin, Pipes has always held that the roots of Soviet tyranny lay in age-old autocratic traditions of Russian political culture, a view he has recently reiterated in an elegant monograph, Russian Conservatism and Its Critics.
In this vision, Putin’s regime occupies a natural place. Russians, the argument goes, lacking social or national cohesion, an understanding of property or wish for responsibility, cynical about democracy, wary of one another and fearful of outsiders, continue to value order over freedom. For them anarchy is the worst evil, authoritarian rule the condition of a peaceable life. Putin is popular, Pipes has explained in Foreign Affairs, ‘precisely because he has reinstated Russia’s traditional model of government: an autocratic state in which citizens are relieved of their responsibilities for politics and in which imaginary foreign enemies are invoked to forge an artificial unity’. Such bleak thoughts, at the other end of the spectrum from Shleifer’s good cheer, are less well received in Western chancelleries. There, constructive relations with Moscow, intact throughout the wars in Chechnya, are proof against minor embarrassments like the assassination of a critic or a defector. A billionaire property developer is worth a UN tribunal; who cares about a stray journalist or émigré? Noting with relief that in the Litvinenko investigation, witnesses are inaccessible and extradition unthinkable, the Economist has confided to its readers that ‘such frustrations may not be all bad,’ since ‘British diplomats’ biggest worry is not that Scotland Yard will be flummoxed, but that it might succeed.’
Too much has been invested in the triumph over Communism for any deeper doubts about the destiny of Russia. Either blemishes are normal and superable at this stage of development. Or they are the regrettable but unavoidable costs of capitalist progress. Or they are indurated vices of the longue durée. That the West itself might be implicated in whatever is amiss can be excluded. The US ambassador to Moscow in the late 1980s, Jack Matlock, has explained why: ‘Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev, in effect, co-operated on a scenario, a plan of reforming the economy, which was defined initially by the United States. The plan was devised by the United States, but with the idea that it should not be contrary to the national interests of a peaceful Soviet Union.’ Gorbachev ‘adopted the US agenda, which had been defined in Washington, without attribution, of course, as his own plan’. Adult supervision – the term once employed by another US envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad of Kabul and Baghdad, to describe his country’s relations with the world at large – was even closer under Yeltsin. By these lights, if anything goes wrong, the progenitors are certainly not to blame. See Iraq today.