Constantine Pleshakov teaches at the Five-College Consortium in Massachusetts. In 2012, The Princeton Review named him one of the 300 best college professors in the United States. He’s the author of many books, including There Is No Freedom Without Bread!: 1989 and the Civil War That Brought Down Communism, Stalin’s Folly: The Tragic First Ten Days of World War II on the Eastern Front and with Vladislav Zubok, Inside the Kremlin’s Cold War: From Stalin to Khrushchev. His newest book is The Crimean Nexus: Putin’s War and the Clash of Civilizations published by Yale University Press.
Sparklehorse, “Piano Fire,” It’s a Wonderful Life, 2001.
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By Sean — 10 years ago
“Regime change” may be an American term, as Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin explained to reporters, but it sounds like Russia is going to force their own version. “Sometimes there are cases,” Churkin explained, “when leaders become obstacles to a people’s way out of a situation. In those situations, some leaders make the brave decision in regards to their political future.” Cynical? Maybe. Opportunistic? Certainly. Don’t count on the Russians to pass up a good opportunity to get rid of their Georgian irritant. As Kommersant notes, “Moscow considers the removal of Saakashvili a matter of principle.”
The Russians are claiming that they want a cease fire with Georgia but there just isn’t anyone to talk to. After all, as Chunkin stressed, “What decent person will talk to him now?” Clearly not the decent Russians, who have essentially cut Georgia into two. Russian forces have taken Gori and other strategic towns and are said to be converging on Tbilisi, which Saakashvilli vows his troops will defend to the death. The real question is whether Saak will go down with his ship.
How quickly the South Ossetian War has become more about Russia and the United States, East and West, George Bush and Vladimir Putin, than about the poor South Ossetians caught in the middle. Today was just another example of the sheer cynical chest beating of it all. You had the American dyarchy standing up condemning Russia’s war machine. “Russia has invaded a sovereign neighboring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people. Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century,” Bush said. Cheney declared that Russia’s actions “must not go unanswered.” Presidential Candidates McCain and Obama, always ready to look Presidential, also weighed in. McCain called for NATO intervention and reminded Russia that to be part of the civilized world means to respect its values. Obama condemned Russia’s military push saying that “There is no possible justification for these attacks.” I don’t know. When you think of it, Russia is kind of showing a bit of restraint, as horrific as that might sound. They could have easily turned Georgia into a parking lot.
The dyarchy in Russia was of course not without rebuttal. Putin lashed out at the US for its backing of Georgia and especially for airlifting some 2000 Georgian troops out of Iraq. “The very scale of this cynicism is astonishing,” he said, “the attempt to turn white into black, black into white and to adeptly portray victims of aggression as aggressors and place the responsibility for the consequences of the aggression on the victims.” Dmitri Medvedev even has his own Hitler moment by comparing Western support of Georgia with appeasing Hitler in 1938. He then went on to accuse Georgia of trying to commit genocide in South Ossetia. “The form this aggression took is nothing less than genocide because Georgia committed heaviest crimes — civilians were torched, sawed to pieces and rolled over by tanks,” he said. You see, fascism really is the gift that keeps on giving.
And what about the people caught in the middle? South Ossetians are finally beginning to bury their dead. Hundreds of volunteers are flooding into the war zone from neighboring Chechnya, Dagestan, North Ossetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria. Murat Dryaev was one such volunteer. He met his demise before he was able to put his hand on a rifle. As Tom Parfitt writes in the Guardian:
Murat Dryaev, 29, a construction worker, left for the war on Thursday and was brought home in a coffin two days later. He lived with his parents at the end of a stony track in Novy Batakayur, a village 10 miles from the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz. Yesterday his relatives sat in vigil around his open coffin, adorned with roses and his photograph.
“He went to defend his sister and her children who live in South Ossetia,” said his wife, Ira, weeping over her husband’s pallid face. “But he never reached the place where they hand out weapons.”
Dryaev and his group of volunteers were hit by Georgian artillery fire. It is not known how many others died.
“His three-year-old daughter still thinks he’s coming home,” said his sister, Larisa. The dead man’s mother, Teresa, sat at the head of the coffin. “She’s been speechless, like a living corpse,” said Larisa. “She begged him not to go but she couldn’t stop him.”
The volunteer factor, though currently small, will certainly be a nagging problem once the smoke clears.
I think its about time for Georgia and the world to face it. South Ossetia is now Russia’s and it was Saakashvilli that gave it to them.
Estimates of refuges from South Ossetia are about 30,000 many of which were taken into North Ossetia by Russian buses. Other Russian supplied aid–food, medicine, mobile hospitals, search teams, and water–is said to be pouring into South Ossetia.
As for the Georgians, the number of civilian casualties as a result of Russia’s armor assault and aerial bombing is unknown. Two days ago Georgia reported about 130 dead, 37 of which were civilians. Suffice to say that they most certainly are mounting. The UNHCR is beginning to send humanitarian relief to Georgia where an estimated 100,000 people have been displaced. About 56,000 people are said to have fled Gori alone.
Let’s all hope that the dick swinging will end tomorrow and some kind of cease fire will be brokered.Post Views: 526
By Sean — 11 years ago
The new issue of the New Left Review has two articles on Russia worth reading. The first, “Russia Redux?” by Vladimir Popov, examines the macroeconomic trends Russia has experienced since Putin became president. Though “there is more stability in Russia today than during the rocky 1990s,” Popov argues, compared to other post-Soviet republics “Russia’s performance is not that impressive.” Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and, to some extent, Armenia all “reached or exceeded their pre-recession (1989) levels of output by 2006, whereas Russian GDP was still only at 85 per cent of the 1989 level.” Further he states the reason for Russia lax growth rate is due to the ruble’s overvalue and economy’s sandy foundations:
The reason for the 2001–06 deceleration in growth was the overvaluation of the real exchange rate—the typical Dutch disease that Russia has developed once again. It first arose in 1995–98, leading to the currency crisis of August 1998, and it now seems that history is repeating itself. Optimists argue that, unlike in 1998, Russia currently has large foreign exchange reserves (over $250 billion), but pessimists point out that if oil prices drop and capital starts to flee at a rate of $5 billion a week, as it did in July–August 1998, these reserves would be depleted very quickly. A future devaluation could take the form of either a currency crisis or a ‘soft landing’, but there is little doubt that it will eventually take place.
Besides, current growth is not based on solid foundations: wages and incomes in recent years have been growing systematically faster than productivity, so that the share of consumption in gdp has increased at the expense of investment. As a result, whereas Russian personal and public consumption has already exceeded the pre-recession level, investment is still below 40 per cent of what it was in the last year of existence of the USSR. Russian gross savings are large—over 30 per cent of GDP—but they have been funnelled away via the outflow of private capital and the accumulation of foreign exchange reserves; gross investment therefore amounts to less than 20 per cent of GDP.
In regard to where Russia is headed, Popov prognosis is that Russia’s future depends on how it chooses to reconcile one of its longest running historical conundrums:
Russia now needs more than anything to strengthen law and order and to restore the institutional capacity of the state. Democracy is also needed, but only later, when the rule of law has been established. There is, of course, a danger that the leadership will use political centralization to line everyone up along the ‘vertical of power’ and eliminate opposition in order to live in serene comfort at the citizens’ expense—and perhaps also to embark on the occasional escapade. This has happened in Russia before. But one must choose the lesser of two evils. Strengthening law and order is only possible under a centralized system. Without centralization, there is no chance at all of it happening; unbounded chaos and lawlessness would rule. This seems to be the choice facing Russia today.
Popov’s article is nicely supplemented by Tony Wood’s “Contours of the Putin Era.” Taking off from Popov’s economic analysis, Wood probes further into how Russian society has faired under Putin in terms of the distribution of wealth, the fissures in the elite, the reorientation of informal practices, and the costs of crime and the Chechen War.
One of the more interesting points Wood makes concerns the character of Russia’s ruling class. He notes that while “the melding of security services and political power is a salient characteristic of Putin’s Russia,” more striking is “the swelling presence of business in the state.”
Business has been a significant source of state cadres. This applies at all levels: a whole section of Putin’s Presidential Administration was drawn from the ranks of Al’fa Bank, while as Table 1 shows, by 2003 some 20 per cent of the government was drawn from business, which provided almost the same proportion of Duma deputies. The representation of business in the upper house of the Russian Federal Assembly was still higher: in 2002, almost a third of Federation Council members came from private enterprises. More than a dozen Russian regions, resource-rich ones prominent among them, are now headed by businessmen from major local companies.
Perhaps Andrei Illarionov charges that the Russian state is “corporatist” is not so far fetched after all.
Wood’s conclusion is an answer to Popov’s notion that Russia must choose between a lesser of two evils:
Popov concludes by emphasizing the need to choose the lesser evil of centralization and potential authoritarianism over the inevitable unravelling and chaos that will accompany any other course. Stability is the prime consideration; democracy can wait until more favourable circumstances develop. The question that immediately arises is: stability for whom? From the foregoing analysis, it should be clear that Russia’s rulers have little interest in the fortunes of the general populace; the current priority is rather to use the country’s natural resources to leverage a greater role in global affairs, and so carve out further opportunities for the internationalization of Russian capital. Entry into the wto will assist in the latter goal, though it will also bring with it a dismantling of the protections that have served Russian industry well, and undermine recent attempts to revive manufacturing in the automobile and aviation sectors. To the dangers Popov lists, then, we should add the exposure to international capitalist pressures and widening of existing inequalities that inevitably accompany WTO accession. These forms of destabilization will, of course, largely bypass the fractions of business and state most actively seeking them.
Finally, there is the matter of the lesser evil. Popov poses the alternatives in stark terms: the status quo or utter disaster. Such logic has long helped to rally critics of various kinds to otherwise unpalatable governments. But it is precisely the immunity from challenge or debate that enables crime, coercion and corruption to flourish; conversely, it is the availability of alternative proposals for future paths of development that constitutes the political health of a nation. Popov’s analysis presents many points from which such a discussion could begin.Post Views: 757
By Sean — 4 years ago
My article in The New Republic, “Is Russia Suffering From Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?”
In Collapse of an Empire, Yegor Gaidar, the Russian economist and 1990s shock therapist, wrote that “the identification of state grandeur with being an empire makes the adaptation to the loss of status of superpower a difficult task for the national consciousness of the former metropolis.” Gaidar likened the loss of the Soviet empire to Germany’s defeat in WWI and warned, like Weimar Germany, Russia could thirst for a strong national leader to right the wrongs of the Soviet collapse. Empire, after all, was “an easy-sell product, like Coca-Cola” to a parched population. Gaidar turned out to be premature though prescient. Only now, with the crisis in Ukraine, is the opportunity for Russian revanchism—and the collective trauma that serves as its foundation—fully revealed.
Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea is a reaction to a trauma experienced by millions of Russians: In his speech to Russia’s Federation Council, Putin called Nikita Khrushchev’s 1954 transfer of Crimea to Ukraine a robbery that made Russians on the peninsula feel “they were handed over like a sack of potatoes.” Crimean Russians simply “could not reconcile themselves to this outrageous historical injustice.” This trauma redoubled when the Soviet Union collapsed. “Millions of people went to bed in one country and awoke in different ones, overnight becoming ethnic minorities in former Union republics, while the Russian nation became one of the biggest, if not the biggest, ethnic group in the world to be divided by borders,” he said.Post Views: 1,243