Thursday 15 December 2011

Russia without Putin

In my previous article I said that Russian democracy was a hollow façade, based not on respect for the people but on condescension and contempt. But the Duma elections earlier this month brought a major shift, a bloody nose for the Putin’s United Russia, “a party of crooks and thieves”, a title given to it by Alexi Navalny, a Russian blogger.

The crooks and thieves won but on a greatly reduced majority, with their share of the vote falling to under fifty per cent. This is all the more remarkable because the whole election was rigged, blatantly so. The principle followed here is based on one of Stalin’s maxims, that it is counting rather than voting that matters. But even positive counting and ballot rigging could not stand against an adverse tide; the ballot boxes could not be stuffed fast enough. According to independent monitors, the real figure for United Russia might be as much as fifteen or twenty points lower.

Putin has long been a puzzle to me. He’s a colourless apparatchik, a bureaucrat of little imagination and less charisma, Soviet man at his dullest. But at least he brought stability after the chaos of the Yeltsin years; and for Russians ‘managed democracy’ was far more tolerable than drunken anarchy. Managed democracy and stability is one thing; cronyism, corruption and stagnation quite another.

In my previous piece I said that Russia’s democratic institutions were a joke, that elections were no more real than they were in Soviet days. I now have to amend this view. Russia has spoken with a different voice. Politically speaking the country may be a little like the dull-witted giant of fairy tales, but even giants can be prodded too far.

Putin may long for the Brezhnev years (the former leader is promoted as a positive figure by his government) but things have changed. The present is a foreign country; we do things differently here. We do things differently in the age of instant communication, the age of the internet, the age of Twitter and Facebook. In Russia’s former days heterodox opinions circulated around a small number of people in printed samizdat. Now communication takes the form of an electronic hydra; cut off one dissenting view and dozens more appear. People had enough of United Russia.

The election was never going to bring real democracy; it’s open to question if the Russians even want such a thing, tainted as it is with past miseries, but it acted as a popular referendum on the party of Putin and the way things are being managed in Russia.

Putin has been highly effective in the past, promoting himself as a patriot and re-establishing national self-respect after the nadir of Yeltsin, but he has allowed the weed of corruption to grow to the point were it is a serious danger to Russia’s economic well-being and his own political future.

Russia is a gas giant. It depends on its natural resources. Its prosperity is tied into the price of energy. But so much of the national wealth is being siphoned off in shady deals that the budget will not balance if the price of oil does not remain high, which is unlikely given the world’s present economic woes. With foreign investors already being frightened away by graft, intimidation and a weak system of contract law, guarantees which guarantee nothing, the Potemkin mirage is already beginning to break up.

We’ve been here before, this predictable cycle of Russian history, where unresponsive and sclerotic governments buckle under tectonic pressures, Tsarist days and Soviet days, it’s all much the same. Putin is not yet ready to go the same ways as Nicholas II or Mikhail Gorbachev, but he has received a warning. If I can put the point another way, the Duma elections is his 1905, not his 1917 or his 1991.

He is likely to survive, at least for the present; he his likely to dump United Russia, too horribly tainted as a political vehicle, he is more than likely, given the system, to win the coming presidential election. But the system he stands atop of, the bureaucratic hydra based on a monopoly of power and wealth, a parasitic state, looks vulnerable.

December 2011 may be dress rehearsal for something bigger. “Russia without Putin”, demonstrators shouted on the streets of Moscow after the results were announced, before they were dispersed by the army. It may yet be.


  1. Politics are an illusion of choice for the masses as the globalist agendas remain the same.

  2. It seems somewhat likely that Medvedev will be the fall guy - perhaps even willingly so. (I'm sure he, more so than Putin, makes for an interesting psychological case study)

    I do think that elections are no more real than they were in Soviet days in the North Caucasus - the results from the Islam-dominated ethnic republics there are parently fiction, and no attempt is made to conceal that. Mind you, it is also interesting to note that there seems to have been fairly substantial ballot-stuffing in Moscow City too (and that the Communists - who still represent the only substantive opposition with more than negligiable support - almost came close to equalling United Russia's share of the vote in the - presumably unrigged, or at any rate less blatantly rigged - concurrent regional elections in the region that surrounds Moscow City).

    Interesting times, none the less. I'm not making any predictions.

  3. Hi Ana,

    Great Post. Russia has seen many revolutions and all for greater freedom,for better government, for growth and prosperity, and what do they get. They depose a Tsar, and a laborer becomes a Tsar, and when he goes out comes in a insane autocratic dictator, when he gets out then a crony becomes the caretaker, and when he is out some other loyalist, corrupt manipulator comes in. The whole system is rotten from top down to the bottom. But I think Russians are like polar bears that go for hibernation and when they come out they are all hungry and fierce. Russia is ready for yet another revolution. I am not sure when, but it's coming.

    write something about India.

  4. Anthony, that's a fair point, though whether it's an illusion of choice is another matter.

  5. Thanks, Dominic, and it’s great to see you again. There is one interesting fact that I omitted. In Putin’s own constituency, the place where he cast his own vote, there seems to have been no tampering for obvious reasons. Here the Communists polled ahead of United Russia. You are right about Medvedev, a Potemkin politician if ever there was one.

    Do have a super Christmas. :-)

  6. Yogendra, thank you so much. Yes, I agree; something momentous may be about to happen but, like Dominic above, I'm not going to make any predictions.

    Now here is an amazing coincidence. I have written about India, an article just submitted for publication on BrooWaha about the Maoist Naxalites! I'll give you link as soon as I can.

  7. Looks like Vladimir could be "put out". Heard it first here. (Groan)

  8. Well I have heard both sides as my wife is Russian. My mother-in-­law loves Putin and her best friend hates him. They tell the people that are going to those rallys that they can loose there jobs that there children may not get to go to the University and they smashed a camera my wifes friend had and smashed it. These things happen too here in the USA. We have a president who will not show the long version of his birth certificat­e. We have people afraid of saying what they feel and when they do they loose there jobs. We are promised the world by our politician­s and receive nothing in return while they get a salary increase. We are the same just a different location on the map.

  9. HAD, there is certainly a lot of truth in this. Politics is always a dirty business, although the balance of evidence suggests that it is dirtier in Russia than many other places.