Russia After Four Years of Putin
academician Nodari Simonia, director of the Institute of the World
Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of
Putin’s achievements during his four years as president should
be viewed in light of what he inherited from previous leaders.
Although his predecessors are proud of their legacy, their efforts
(except for Yevgeny Primakov’s short premiership) were destructive.
Indeed, the old system was obsolete and had come to an impasse.
I wrote books about this in 1975 and 1991. But the question is:
why was it necessary to destroy not only the system but also the
productive forces, thereby reducing Russia’s economic potential
by half and confining 40% of the population to poverty? The pseudo-liberals
did create something, though. Their main achievement was bureaucratic
capitalism, or oligarchic capitalism, as it is referred to in
Russia. Russian capitalism, which is comparable to the type of
capitalism in Indonesia under Sukarno, was the worst in the world.
During Sukarno’s rule, corruption infected nearly every sphere
of human activity and developed into a lifestyle. The parasitic
nature of Indonesian capitalism lay in the fact that oligarchs
did nothing but pump natural resources and transfer the profits
offshore. In Russia, the gap between a small group of people increasing
their wealth by similar business practices and the huge number
of "ordinary" people was growing. The country was confidently
sliding into the Latin American development model.
One of Vladimir
Putin’s achievements was preventing the country from falling into
this abyss. From the very beginning of his term, the president
tried to find a compromise with the oligarchs on their new relationship
with the government. He suggested that they continue to increase
their businesses, pay taxes and stop dictating to the authorities
the privileges and laws they wished to follow. This approach was
ineffective. However, when Vladimir Putin began acting and punished
the most defiant oligarch, Russian "Liberals" and their
Western colleagues complained that democracy was ending and Russia
was returning to its Soviet past. As a scientist who spent many
years studying the history of social development of Western and
Eastern countries, I share the president’s indignation when he
said: was there any democracy at all?
can there be an end to something that has never existed?
unversed in politics or a superficial historian or a politician
could say that the domination of oligarchs in the economy is compatible
rule was authoritarian. But his authoritarianism was weak and
demoralised society. Only an interested party or an ignorant person
could mistake the anarchy in state structures and Russia’s foreign
policy for democracy. During the decade of Yeltsin’s rule, the
middle class remained small and undeveloped and, together with
small and medium-sized business, suffered from the pressure of
the oligarchs and officials, and organised crime. In other words,
there was no social basis for democracy.
I think many
of those – in Russia and abroad – who are not interested in a
strong Russia know exactly what I mean and simply pursue double
standards. They made no warnings, however, about democracy ending
when many top managers of the largest U.S. energy corporation,
Enron, were convicted of fraud, or when Italy faced a similar
scandal around the dairy giant, Parmalat. Then why was the arrest
of the Yukos corporation supposed to do away with (non-existing)
democracy in Russia? Some people have said there must be some
political motivation, but refused to elaborate. Indeed, there
is a political aspect to the problem. Khodorkovsky was ambitious
enough to attempt to bring back a political system in which oligarchs
could dictate the authorities what laws to adopt and order them
to leave loopholes to "optimise taxes" (as they termed
simple tax evasion).
attempts to give a civilised shape to the Russian bureaucratic
capitalism are his main achievement. However, he had to tackle
other pressing issues which were the government’s and other agencies’
competence. Vladimir Putin came to power without his own team
and had to form one while in office. That is why he moved forward
cautiously and slowly, especially considering that the amount
of work ahead of him was and still is quite large. One of his
main concerns is to preserve and consolidate the current stability
historical achievement is averting the centrifugal trends in the
Russian Federation that threatened the country’s integrity. Russia’s
basic institutions are no longer shattered, and painstaking efforts
are being made in the administrative reform. New laws to reduce
abuse on the part of officials and their clients are being adopted.
The shameful period of many-months’ wage and pension arrears –
the most typical feature of the Russian "democratic period"
– has almost come to an end. The State Duma has adopted three
packages of anti-bureaucratic draft laws at the president’s request
over the objections and opposition of many ministries. But officials
of all ranks have managed to find loopholes in these laws too,
and therefore the position of small and medium-sized business
has remained the same. Nonetheless, the president and his administration
are drafting new laws to change the situation.
are Vladimir Putin’s efforts to strengthen the country’s defence
capacity and security. Under Yeltsin, the defence sector collapsed,
scientific research and developments were suspended, and highly
trained personnel was lost. This all took place under the slogan
of "conversion". The Internet, which marked the beginning
of the new post-industrial era in the human history, emerged and
was at first only used in the U.S. defence sector only. The remains
of the Russian defence industry were preserved thanks to Soviet
weapons sales. Sometimes, Russia even delivered weapons (such
as Su-27 and Su-35) that the Russian army could not afford to
China, India and other Asian countries. The situation is now changing.
In 2003, Russia’s Air Force was supplied with updated fighters
and in 2004, it will be provided with a Tu-160 strategic bomber.
The Missile Force is being consolidated too.
of Vladimir Putin would be incomplete without due consideration
for his foreign policy achievements. In the past two years, I
could see how respectful the world leaders became to the Russian
president. The indulgent and therefore humiliating attitude typical
of Yeltsin’s rule is gone. Russia’s foreign policy is no longer
one-sided. The upset balance in Russia’s relations with the West
and the East has been restored, slowly but surely, thanks to the
energy and efforts of President Putin. The earlier debates about
Russia’s orientation (pro-US, pro-EU or pro-Chinese) in its development
are becoming apparently pointless. The president has made it clear
to everybody – Russia’s foreign policy is go