My new article for Warscapes, “The Gendarme of Eurasia.” Here’s the opening excerpt:
In 1830, in response to the crowning of Louis-Philippe as king of France after revolution deposed Charles X, Russia’s Nicholas I wrote, “However, our allies, without agreeing beforehand with us on a step so important, so decisive, hastened…to crown insurrection and usurpation—a fatal, incomprehensible step to which must be attributed the series of misfortunes which has not since ceased plaguing Europe.” These words could have easily been spoken by Vladimir Putin about Kyiv. Shave off the literary flourish and exchange “allies” for “partners” and “Europe” for “Eurasia,” Nicholas I’s trepidation about revolution in nineteenth century Europe speaks to Putin’s alarm about the destabilizing nature of revolution in the twenty-first century. Putin’s pushback against his Western “partners’” fancy for revolution was on full display in his speech (here in English) before members of the Russian government. The speech wove together romantic, even volkish, Russian nationalism, anti-Westernism and Russian exceptionalism, and anti-revolution. A Gendarme of Eurasia has risen! But do the verbal epaulets of a gendarme make a different Putin? A Putin 3.0? I say rather than a new Putin, we’re seeing a crystallization of positions that have been apparent since he returned to the presidency in 2012.
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By Sean — 6 years ago
Some of you may know that I’ve started writing op-eds on Russia for Al-Jazeera English. Here’s an snippet of my latest on the Russian elections:
In mid-November, the Russian site Slon.ru noted that political brands have a life cycle of five stages – “rise”, “peak”, “stabilisation”, “fall”, and “political death”. As brands, Russia’s political tandem, Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, and the ruling party United Russia, are no less immune to this cycle. Their popularity peaked in 2008-2009, was stable throughout 2010, and began to fall rapidly in the second half of 2011. In this sense Russia’s ruling elite are little different than, say, a pop song or a breakfast cereal. The more you consume them, the more disgusting they become, until their mere mention evokes the dry heaves.
As returns from Sunday’s polls show, more and more of the Russian electorate are getting nauseous with the political establishment, and Putin in particular. Technically, Sunday’s elections were about determining the Russian Duma (parliament) for the next five years. But, in reality, they were a popularity vote for Putin: the man, the politician, and the system he created. And if there is any doubt that “Putinism” is on a downward swing, just take a look at Sunday’s polls compared to the last election in 2007. In 2007, United Russia received 64.3 per cent of the vote, giving it a supermajority of 315 seats. On Sunday, United Russia got 49.5 per cent and is slated to get 238 seats. That’s a drop of 14 per cent and a loss of 77 seats. One should also note that United Russia got walloped in regional parliaments. In three regions, Krasnoyarsk, Primorye, and Sverdlovsk, the Party of Power didn’t even break 38 per cent. Considering that this is the first election since 2003 that United Russia’s power shrank, this election is a turning point.
The whole article is here.Post Views: 41
By Sean — 10 years ago
Here’s a surprise. The Russian Duma overwhelmingly approved Putin as Prime Minister. Okay, it’s not that surprising. The Communists did hold to their word to vote against him. Out of the possible 450 votes, Putin got 392, all 56 Communist reps voted against him. Two Duma members weren’t present to cast their ballots. But Zyuganov speech where he criticized much of Putin’s presidential tenure didn’t sway anyone else. If you want to read a thorough analysis of Putin becoming PM, then I advise that you turn to Lyndon’s analysis on Scraps of Moscow.
But how the diarchy, tandemocarcy, or whatever you want to call it, sees itself might lie in Medvedev’s coronation, ahem, I mean, inauguration. Russia Profile‘s Andrei Zolotov articulates something that I felt while watching it: the ceremony’s Tsarist flavor. Zolotov writes:
The tsarist allusion was all too natural throughout the ceremony – and it correctly reflects the nature of the Russian regime, which combines the elements of democracy with a strong monarchist tradition. After all, it was in the throne hall of the royal Grand Kremlin Palace, which was reconstructed in the 1990s, that the inauguration was taking place, with the throne draped behind the backdrop in the colors of the Russian flag. Or maybe it was removed for the occasion – the glamorous television broadcast did not show it. But in any case, it stands empty, although carefully reconstructed after Soviet-era demolition – a telling sign of the often untold mourning of the monarchy lost.
The role of the Orthodox Church in the inauguration of the head of the secular state requires special attention. During President Boris Yeltsin’s inauguration in 1996, which took place in the Soviet –era Kremlin Palace of Congresses, Patriarch Alexy II of the Russian Orthodox Church was on the stage, along with the heads of the Constitutional Court and the chambers of parliament, and he gave a blessing to the president and made a short speech at the end of the ceremony.
Dmitry and Svetlana Medvedev with Patriarch Alexy II and other Russian Orthodox Church officials after the private prayer service in the Kremlin’s Annunciation Cathedral on Wednesday. On the left – Archpriest Vladimir Volgin, apparent pastor to the Medvedev family. As of Putin’s first inauguration in 2000, the authorities began to treat the separation of church and state more carefully. On Wednesday, just as in 2000 and 2004, the patriarch stood first among the guests in St. Andrew’s hall, but not on the podium where Valery Zorkin, the chairman of the Constitutional Court dressed in a mantel and hat, played the role of the high priest of the law. But immediately after the inauguration ceremony per se, he served a private prayer service for the new president in the Annunciation Cathedral – the ancient private chapel of the Russian tsars. Apart from some prominent bishops, according to a group photograph released by the Moscow Patriarchate, the ceremony was attended by a prominent Moscow Archrpriest Vladimir Volgin, thus confirming the rumors that he is the pastor to Medvedev family.
Just for a comparison, here’s a snippet of how Count von Moltkle described Alexander II’s coronation in 1855.
At nine o’clock the doors of the imperial rooms were opened; the flock of the chamberlains set itself in motion; the empress-mother appeared, supported by her two youngest sons. She wore a close crown entirely of diamonds, an ermine mantle of gold material, the train of which was borne by six chamberlains, and which was fastened by a magnificent diamond chain. The slight figure, the cameo profile, the majestic carriage of the illustrious woman, the joyful seriousness of her features, called forth the unconscious admiration of every one. On the previous evening she had assembled all her children and blessed them. She was followed by the hereditary grand duke, the grand dukes and grand duchesses, Prince Frederic William, Prince Frederic of the Netherlands, Alexander of Hesse, and the other royal princes, then their suites, and after us the ladies. The procession passed through the halls of Alexander, Vladimir, and George, which together make a length of about five hundred feet. On the left paraded the Palace Grenadiers, the Chevalier Guards, the Cuirassiers, with shining breastplates, deputations from the other cavalry and infantry regiments—all with standards and flags and bright arms. To the right were all the officers.
. . .
Then the regalia were brought in by the highest military and civil officials—the imperial banner with the double-eagle of Byzantium, the great seal (a great steel plate without any other ornament), the sword of the Empire, the coronation robes of both Their Majesties, the imperial globe with a cross belt of great diamonds (Severin served it upon a drap-d’or cushion), the scepter with the well-known great Lazaref diamond—which stands second in size only to the Kohinoor (mountain of light), the Prince Regent, and perhaps one or two others—and, finally, the two crowns. The large one of the emperor is formed by a bow from front to back of diamonds, and trimmed with a row of very great pearls. The bow has a cross in which is a ruby of inestimable value. This stone is an inch long, about half an inch wide, and a quarter of an inch thick, but irregular and not cut. From the band around the head rise on either side two covers which fasten on to the bow, so that one sees nothing of the velvet cap that is inside. The band and the sides are entirely of diamonds, of considerable size and the finest water. It glitters with every color in the sun. The empress’s crown is similar, but smaller, and it did not seem easy to keep it on the top of her head, where it was fastened with diamond hairpins.
Now the cross was carried from the church toward the approaching emperor, and the Metropolitan of Moscow sprinkled his path with holy water. Their Majesties bowed three times toward the gate of the sanctuary, and then took their seats upon the throne; the high church dignitaries filled the space from the throne to the middle door of the ikonostase; and the choir struck up the psalm “Misericordiam.” I have already written you of the affecting beauty of the Russian church songs, executed by male voices without instrumental accompaniment. They are very old, and have been collected from the East, and differ widely from the poor hymns of the Protestant and from the opera-music of the Catholic Church. The singers are extraordinarily trained, and one hears almost incredible bass voices, which echo with imposing strength from the firm walls and domes of this limited space.
Since Peter I incorporated the patriarchal power, the metropolitan is the highest priest of this great empire, at this time the handsome but already decrepit old Philaretes, who crowned the Emperor Nicholas I. It is of great importance for a high priest to have a strong bass voice: the voice of the old metropolitan could scarcely be heard, when he requested the emperor to say the creed. As soon as this was done, the emperor was invested with the coronation mantle, consisting of the richest gold brocade lined with ermine. He bowed his head, and remained in this position while the metropolitan laid his hands on his head and gave two long benedictions. Then the emperor called for the crown, placed it himself upon his head, took the scepter in his right hand, the imperial globe in his left, and seated himself upon the throne. Thereupon the empress stood before him and knelt down. The emperor takes the crown from his head and touches the empress with it, after which she is also invested with mantle and crown, and seats herself on the throne to the left of her spouse.
It was beautiful to see the intense interest with which the stately old empress-mother followed all the ceremonies. Meanwhile her youngest son was always at her side, supported her, wrapped the ermine about her that she might not take cold. The wife of a North American diplomat fainted near me, the Grand Duchess Helene fell into the grand duke’s arms, but the old mother of the emperor remained steady. Then she arose and firmly ascended the steps of the throne, the glittering crown upon her head and her gold brocaded mantle trailing behind her. Before all the world she embraced her first-born son and blessed him. The emperor kissed her hands. Then followed the grand dukes and princes with low bows; the emperor embraced them. Meanwhile the Domine salve fac imperatorem was sung, all the church-bells were ringing, and hundreds of cannon made the windows tremble. All present bowed low three times. Then the monarch divests himself of the imperial robes, descends from the throne, and kneels to pray. After he has risen, all present kneel or bow their heads to pray for the welfare of the new emperor.
No mortal man has such power in his hands as the absolute monarch of the tenth part of all the inhabitants of the earth, whose scepter reaches over four quarters of the globe, and who rules over Christians and Jews, Mussulmans, and pagans. Why should one not pray to God heartily to enlighten the man whose will is law to sixty millions of people, whose word commands from the Chinese wall to the Weichsel, from the Arctic Ocean to Mount Ararat; for whose call a half-million soldiers wait, and who has just given peace to Europe? May he be successful in the innumerable conquests still to be made in the interior of this great empire, and may he always remain a strong supporter of lawful regulations!
Von Moltke’s hope that Alexander “remain a strong supporter of lawful regulations” has quite a familiar echo in the present.Post Views: 48
By Sean — 4 years agoPost Views: 80