I’m still in Ryazan so this is going to be short. I’m sure all of you have heard about Anna Politovskaya murder in her apartment building lift yesterday. I saw it on NTV news last night, where it is a major headline. Video camera’s caught images of the alleged assailant. NTV didn’t beat around the bush and called it a political murder. No doubt. A short while ago, I caught a news report on the radio that said the same thing. We can all guess why she was murdered given her coverage of Chechnya. The question now is who. More to follow in the coming days after I return to Moscow and a decent internet connection.
I also haven’t be able to follow the comments section. So apologies for my silence.
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By Sean — 11 years agoThe Soviet Union, the U.S. and Russia: Opportunities Lost
An interview with Stephen F. Cohen, Professor of Russian and Slavic Studies at New York University and author of several books, including Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia.
Washington Profile: There have been several prominent theories proposed as to why the Soviet Union collapsed. In your extensive research on the subject, what is the conclusion that you have reached?
Stephen Cohen: It is fresh in my mind because I just published a little book in Moscow in Russian on this question. I call this book:
“Why did the Soviet Union end?” The publisher called it: “Vopros voprosov, pochemu ne stalo Sovetskogo Soyuza.” I don’t use the word collapse because I think that prejudges an explanation. If you say collapse, it implies an analogy with the end of tsarism in 1917, because we always say tsarism collapsed. And it suggests that the system collapsed because of some internal and irreparable, inevitable factors or defects. So I simply ask, ‘Why did it end?’ And as I went through the literature, I was astonished to discover that there are somewhere, depending on how you define them, six to10 rather different explanations of why the Soviet Union ended. You find this many in both the Western scholarly literature and the Russian serious literature, scholarly or journalistic. I go through, in this little book of mine, each of the six which I believe to be the most prominent. In order to explain the end of the Soviet Union, as historians will be trying to do not only on this fifteenth anniversary, but probably for the next 100 or 200 years, you need to take into account three factors.
The participating factor was Gorbachev’s political and economic reforms that began in 1985 and reached their peak at about 1990 in a form of a rather extensive democratization of the former Communist system. Essentially by 1990 Gorbachev had dismantled the communist political system, what used to be called the totalitarian system (I didn’t use that word, but we know what we mean by it). He had loosened state control of the economy. That made possible other factors to come into play. Some people, for example, say the Soviet Union ended because of nationalism or the Soviet Union ended because of popular unrest. But none of these factors would have come into play, probably not even today, had it not been for Gorbachev’s reforms. Then came the second factor, and that was the emergence of Boris Yeltsin by about 1989, 1990. Now you had something rather unusual in history, but not unusual in Russian history where leaders have played special roles: you had a conflict between two Russian leaders, Gorbachev and Yeltsin, between two men of extraordinary political will. I define it as Gorbachev’s extraordinary will to reform and Yeltsin’s extraordinary will for power. This conflict created the possibility that Yeltsin could go to Belovezh Forest on December 8 and abolish the Soviet Union in order to be rid completely of Gorbachev, and to beat him completely by abolishing his presidency and his country. But then that leaves a third question and a third factor. Yeltsin didn’t control an army, he didn’t even have a political party. How would he be able to abolish what was still a nuclear super power of what was still nearly 350 million people, in the face of the Soviet elite, particularly the state nomenklatura, not necessarily the party, that had based its position on this state. Why did they permit Yeltsin to do this? And here I think would be the third factor, that, the high nomenklatura that might have stopped Yeltsin had been too busy privatizing the wealth of the state to care about defending it. The struggle over property actually did not begin until after the end of the Soviet Union, but early on in the late 1980s. But by 1990 and 1991, main members of the high elite, ministerial elite, even the army elite, certainly the party elite, were seizing state property for themselves, so while they were stripping the state’s assets, they had no interest in defending it, so they simply stepped aside and allowed the political struggle between Yeltsin and Gorbachev to unfold, and it unfolded in the end of the Soviet Union.
WP: If those circumstances hadn’t come together the way they did, and the Soviet Union had remained in tact, what, in your view, would “the post-Soviet space” have looked like today?
Cohen: Well, it would have depended on a central question. Gorbachev set into process a Soviet reformation. He called it perestroika, but putting it into the context of history, and not just Russian history, we would call it an attempted reformation. Had that reformation continued, with or without Gorbachev, because by 1989-1990 it no longer required Gorbachev’s leadership; his historic role was to put it into motion? After all, there was a moment in the struggle between Gorbachev and Yeltsin in 1990 and 1991 when Yeltsin’s intent had not been to abolish the Soviet Union, but to become president of the Soviet Union and displace Gorbachev. The question is, would there have continued to be a reforming Soviet Union, or would something like the failed putsch of August 1991 happened again and stopped the reformation? If the Soviet Union had continued to reform, it would have meant the reform of the Union Treaty, and therefore the Soviet Union certainly would have been smaller. Three Baltic countries would have certainly gone, it’s possible that Georgia would have gone. It’s not clear about Ukraine because that was a very unusual situation, driven more by elite politics then public opinion. But if a reforming Soviet Union had continued to exist, I think the outcome would have been a smaller Soviet Union, maybe eight, nine, 10 republics, but still the bulk of Soviet territory, people, and resources. In so far as, say, the Central Asian republics had remained under the political influence of Moscow, they would have had to continue to democratize. The democratization of Central Asia ended with the end of the Soviet Union. The only reason they began democratization in the Central Asian republics was because they were compelled to do so by Moscow’s leadership. Once free of that, they reverted to authoritarianism.
In the economy you would have gotten some unstable but functioning mix of a state economy and a private economy, something like what Putin is probably trying to recreate today. You would have had a Soviet Union, I see no reason why you wouldn’t have, but it would have been a different Soviet Union. On the other hand, had the reformation been ended, and it only could have been ended by force, and you can’t rule that out, then you would have had a very nasty looking dictatorship. Remember, when the coup makers sought to overthrow Gorbachev in August of 1991 and imposed martial law in Moscow by bringing troops into the center of Moscow, almost all of the republic leaders, who until then had been acting as though they were sovereign or independent, immediately either fell silent or collaborated with the coup makers. In other words, they were afraid of Moscow. It is only when Moscow under Yeltsin said, “We no longer want you, clear your own way, we are no longer going to subsidize you,” they went away, ran away. But had that not happened, had Moscow not driven them away, or really, disowned them, because remember, the Soviet Union was abolished by the three Slavic republics. The others would have still been there, certainly Kazakhstan would have been there; Nazarbaev wanted to preserve the Union. The others were afraid of Moscow, they would have stayed. So it all depends on whether this reformation would have continued, and had it done so, I think the Soviet Union would not have looked bad today. Had it not done so, it would have been pretty terrible.
WP: With the war in Iraq and the focus on anti-terrorism, Russia is by far not the main foreign policy concern for the United States. How would you characterize the U.S. “Russia policy”? What are its goals and what have been its results?
Cohen: I think American policy toward Russia today actually began in the 1990s, particularly during the Clinton administration. My view is that not all, but a large part of the negative content of American-Russian relations today — and that relationship is very, very negative, as bad as it has been in many years — is the result, primarily but not only, of the Clinton administration’s decision to treat Russia as a defeated nation in the Cold War. When the Cold War ended — it was officially said to have ended in Malta in December 1989– the first President Bush and Gorbachev announced that the Cold War was over. In announcing that the Cold War was over, both said there are no winners, there are no losers. We have agreed in the Cold War, and in that sense, we are both winners. That tone changed after December 1991, when the Soviet Union ended and the first President Bush began to say, not as a matter of policy but more as a matter of getting himself reelected, that the United States had won the Cold War, but it didn’t have much consequence then. The Clinton administration embraced this view and drew an analogy between the defeat of Russia in the Cold War and the defeat of Germany and Japan in WWII, that we were the victor nation, they were the defeated nation, and therefore they should be supplicant and subordinate to the United States. That was a terrible mistake, and some of us warned against it at the time. What we said was, that’s not what happened, without Gorbachev the Cold War would not have ended, so Russia deserves as much credit as the United States, and secondly, Russia is weak now, and you can get away with using and abusing Russia, as we did when it was ruled by Yeltsin, but, we warned, that’s not going to last. And if you treat Russia like this now, you are going to regret it. Because when Russia rises to its knees, it’s going to be resentful about how it was treated. And that’s what’s happened. Because the Clinton administration did two things: first, it tried to control Russia’s post-communist transition by telling Russia what to do and not to do. To a degree, we were sending legions of advisors there to write their legislation. Americans were sitting in Russian ministries, writing legislation about privatization, textbooks, all sorts of intimate matters involving a nation that no foreign nation has any right to meddle with. There was bound to be a backlash against this, particularly when economic and social catastrophe came upon Russia in the 1990s.
The second thing we did which was equally bad, and this is often forgotten, that in 1990-1991, when Bush asked Gorbachev to permit both a united Germany and a united Germany in NATO, and Gorbachev agreed and that was a historic agreement, Gorbachev was promised, Russia was promised by Bush, and I’ll quote his secretary of state at the time, James Baker, that “NATO will not move one inch to the east.” That was a solemn promise. Now in Russia, it is said that Gorbachev should have gotten it in writing as a treaty. But when it came to the United States, Gorbachev was a little naive. He was smitten with his own ideas of the new thinking, a common European home of human values. He thought that we ascribe to those values, that the United States saw eye to eye to him about that and about how great powers should treat each other. But Clinton during the 1990s violated that solemn promise and began to expand NATO eastward toward Russia, and that continues today. That expansion of NATO and the violation of that promise that has driven the conflicts with Russia over both Ukraine and Georgia, and so long as NATO continues to take those former Soviet republics in, that conflict will continue to exist?After all [NATO is] a military alliance, right to Russia’s borders. NATO is now in Ukraine, bases are in central Asia, Russia sees itself as being encircled, and so long as that is happening, so long as Russia has that view, there will be no good or stable relations between Russia and the West. Now let me say that Yeltsin went along with all this for reasons that don’t have to concern us today; I think they were partly economic and partly psychological; it was partly Yeltsin’s sense that he had done something illegitimate, that he abolished the Soviet Union and he gave the wealth of the state to the oligarchs and he needed somebody who passionately supported him, as Clinton did, because certainly nobody at home of any repute much supported him by the mid 1990s. But once Yeltsin was gone, Putin was clearly a different cat altogether, although he may have been put there by Yeltsin to protect Yeltsin and the oligarchs, but the United States began to realize this in about 2001, 2002, 2003.
There were different episodes, there was the so-called NTV episode, there was the Khodorkovsky affair, there was Ukraine, there were various episodes. But a good deal of the animosity toward Putin grew out of the growing awareness of the American political class that he wasn’t Yeltsin, that he wasn’t going to play the supplicant role that Yeltsin had played. Now once that became a factor, the Russian political elite under Putin didn’t handle it very well. They did a lot of stupid things to make the matter worse. But I think as we were proactive, they were reactive. They were responding to us, to the way we treated them in the 1990s, to the expansion of NATO, and had they been clever people about international affairs, they could have responded in a way that might have changed American foreign policy in some way, but they didn’t. But as Reagan liked to say, now we have two tangoing. And we really are back in a cold war. You can call it whatever you want, but it is a cold war whose frontiers, whose epicenter has moved from Germany to Ukraine and Georgia, and it’s very dangerous. A new arms race is under way. Both sides are building nuclear weapons. If you look at the Litvinenko affair, that’s worse than anything that has happened in the Cold War. I don’t recall anybody ever accusing Brezhnev of killing anybody abroad.Post Views: 186
By Sean — 12 years ago
Note: In an effort to concentrate on other work, posts over the next two weeks will be short and sparse. I hope to merely point out and excerpt news and commentary instead of giving my own comment on it.
Commentary and analysis of the Belarusian elections and their aftermath continues. Aleh Novikau’s opinion, “Contract of the Third Term” on Eurasian Home caught my attention. A columnist for the Minsk paper Nasha Niva, Novikau argues that Lukashenko’s use of repression against protesters might do more to spread the opposition than the Opposition itself. Novikau writes:
By conducting mass police arrests under farfetched pretexts, refusing to give the prisoners’ relatives any information and forbidding them to bring packages, backing up special squad soldiers who beat people up in front of the cameras, the authorities involuntarily aroused the people’s sense of civil dignity. The relatives and friends of victims of the political repressions as well as those just sympathetic began display some initiative, for example to escort all of the patrol wagons coming out of prisons, in order to know where the prisoners are transported.
Gradually, the one-time actions acquired organizational format. Even a local analogue of the Argentine “Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo” – association of mothers whose children “disappeared” under the military dictatorship of the 1970s – has been created. Practically every day in Minsk the flashmober actions take place, such as flower-laying to the Polish embassy to spite the picket of the young adherents of Lukashenka. The next phase of the movement is quick politicization of the masses, which questioned the “efficiency factor” of radical leaders’ preventive arrests. Despite the fact that all of the active opposition leaders are put into prisons, thanks to neophytes, the brands of their organizations are widely represented in the opposition’s actions.
Further he writes,
Now many security officials and judges involved in the repressions clearly see: “They, their families and people close to them have nowhere to retreat”. But the opposition is in the same situation. A student, who has been expelled from a university for his political views, increases the number of oppositionists in Belarus by, at least, five people: his family, relatives and friends. An anonymous author of the leaflet “Resist!” (a new initiative of the grass-roots organizations) believes that speaking to the representatives of the state bureaucracy should be as follows: “Boycott and condemn them! Do not greet them and minimize the contacts with them!”
It is worth noting that even if those regime’s adversaries will have a change of heart towards Lukashenka’s adherents, they will do it not due to Milinkevich’s directions. As the number of civil initiatives is growing, it becomes evident that the “single” opposition and social democrats do not control the new generation of the resistance participants, and in the event of consultations between the opposition and the authorities the problem of powers will be inevitable. For the time being, a new pole of the Belarusian opposition is anonymous, but in the near future we expect declaration of a brotherhood of the camp participants. Because of a good hype in the mass media the camp “fighters” became popular and now they are able to bring into existence a semblance of the Ukrainian party “Pora”.
Repression moves from general to specific, that is, it moves from the ideological to the material when it begins to touch people’s personal lives. The crackdown on the protests to squash the “Denim Revolution” in the short term might produce a dialectic that will reproduce opposition in the long term. As Novikau’s astutely states, the repression of one has the potential to increase the opposition to Lukashenko by five. The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci noted in his Prison Notebooks that a balance of force and consent is the most effective way to maintain hegemony. When force trumps consent hegemony begins to slip. Could Lukashenko’s repression against the protesters be a sign of a further imbalance occurring?Post Views: 176
By Sean — 11 years ago
No matter how many times he denies it, people keep asking Vladimir Putin if he will seek a third term. He was asked again during Wednesday’s “Hot Line with President of Russia Vladimir Putin”. A driver named Arkady Kokayev asked, “What will happen to us, to the country after 2008?” In addition to assurances that things will be fine after his term is over Putin said,
As for me personally, as I have said before, even though I like my work, the Constitution does not allow me to run for office three times in a row. But even once I no longer have my presidential powers, I think that without trying to shape the Constitution to fit my personal interests, I will be able to hold on to what is most important and most valuable for any politician, namely, your trust. And building on this trust we will work together with you in order to influence our country’s life, ensure that it follows a consistent path of development and have an impact on what happens in
So there you have it. Another denial that he will seek a third term. Though he maintains that his influence will still be felt.
The “Hot Line” is a fascinating event in and of itself; an event whose importance is too often quickly passed over. The switchboard received over a million calls from citizens asking Putin questions that ranged from the economy,
Russia’s future, , the murder of Anna Politkovskaya and issues regarding everyday life. It is one of the few instances where the mediation between leaders and led is reduced to a point that allows for a measure of unpredictability. Far more unpredictability than journalists’ questions seem to provide. It is one of the few instances when a leader is directly confronted with people’s personal grievances. Georgia
The process is also a long tradition in
. As Dmitry Babich noted on Russia Profile, the event upholds the idea of na?ve monarchism, where the leader appears to be on the side of the people against evil bureaucrats that try to ruin their lives. It maintains the leader as part of the “eternal good,” as Babich calls it. Russia
There are many instances of the “eternal good” in Russian history. When Alexander II emancipated the serfs, thousands of peasants sent petitions were to the Tsar claiming that landlords were defying the Tsar’s will to give them real and complete volia (freedom).
As one N. A. Krylov wrote about cause for the massacre of 55 peasants at Benza, Samara gubernia in 1861,
“Anton [Petrov, an Old Believer who claimed to discover true volia in the emancipation decree] sits in his hut at Bezdna looking at these naughts and smoothly reading out, “Land for the pomeshchik: the hills and the hollows, the ravines and the roads, the sandbanks and the reedbeds, and nor one twig of the forest. If he takes a step over the boundary of his land, drive him back with a kind word, and if he doesn’t obey—cut off his head and you will get a reward from the tsar.” The narod liked this kind of volia, and crowds came in from all sides to hear real volia. . . .Anton preached like this for five days in a row. Then he put abroad rumors that he had received a charter from the Tsar, read the Bible until he attained the power of prophecy, and, mixing the one and the other together preached, “. . . They [the landlords] are going to frighten you with troops, but don’t be afraid, no one dares to kill the orthodox people without the tsar’s order. And if the nobles distribute bribes [to the soldiers] and you are shot at, then get your axes and chop up those who disobey the tsar.” (D. Field, Rebels in the Name of the Tsar, 72)
For the peasantry, the tsar was on their side.
Things were no different in the Soviet period. Party leaders were inundated with letters asking for material and psychological help. Many of the complaints were about injustices perpetrated by Communist bureaucrats. Then, as now, the people turned to the “eternal good” for help even if the Kremlin was occupied by someone as heinous as Stalin. Believe it or not, if Stalin’s handwriting in the corners of letters, passing them to his officials for redress is any indication, sometimes the petitioners even got results to their favor.
One can easily pass this off as PR to keep up the image that the leader cares for the people. And though it is certainly true, I think that explanation is too simple. It also says something about what the “people” expect from their leaders, and how they feel they have a right to have those expectations met.
I wouldn’t call this mentality a sign of “formal” democracy. The fact that citizens feel the only avenue to redress is to appeal directly to the top suggests that the institutions that mediate them are untrustworthy, ineffective or wholly corrupt. But it is a form of “informal” democracy because Russians feel that their leaders have a responsibility to the people and the people have a right to demand redress from their leaders. This mentality may be na?ve monarchism personified, but the last two times Russians lost faith in the “eternal good,” they brought the whole system crashing down.Post Views: 258