Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

"Back to the USSR?": New Trends in Russian Regional Policy

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

"Back to the USSR?": New Trends in Russian Regional Policy

Article excerpt

Before comparing the policies of Vladimir Putin with those of his predecessors, one must remind oneself that Putin is not a new political actor: He is a part of the Yeltsin legacy. Yet Yeltsin's politics were different in various periods. His government began in the time of liberalism, and its main task was to reduce the role of the state in Russian society. Later, his approach was said to be based on the necessity of strengthening the role of the state. In the first stages of Yeltsin's presidency, the foreign policy positions of Russia and the West were noticably similar, right up to the support of Russian leadership for the American action against Saddam Hussein. In the second period Russia took a separate position on the majority of serious international problems: Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Iran. If in the first period bright, famous people surrounded Yeltsin--Gaidar, Chubais, Kozirev, and others--than in the second stage there were darker, less-noted bureaucrats such as Borodin, Korzjakov, Yumashev, and Voloshin.

During this second stage, after 1996, when the former liberal goals were forgotten and the oligarchic, or so-called "family," form of administration of Russia was strengthened, Vladimir Putin was born as an independent political actor. Putin received his first post in the rank of minister and became the head of the Federal Security Forces. Then Yeltsin publicly named him his successor. In the consciousness of the majority of Russians, however, he wasn't perceived as a successor who would continue the antiliberal tendencies of the second stage of Yeltsin's governance. Moreover, some of the Russian intelligentsia--who traditionally place all of their hope for a better future in a new leader, be it tsar or general secretary of the Communist Party, and who wanted to see the new president as a deliverer of Russia from all her woes--contrived several myths about Putin as a liberal and reformer, and those myths in part were shared by the West.

The first myth: Putin wants the reformation of Russia, but the "Yeltsin family" is inhibiting him. This is a typical Russian myth, resembling the traditional Russian fairy tale about the "good tsar" and the "bad boyars." But I was surprised that some of my American colleagues spoke in terms of this myth when they described the modern political situation in Russia. In fact, the Yeltsin family named Putin the guarantor of the family's preservation, and they are still quite satisfied with him.

I use the term "family" not only in the narrow sense (to mean relatives of Yeltsin), but in the wider meaning to include the groups of people and corporations that received most of the profit from the privatization of Soviet property. The Yeltsin family is striving to retain its advantages in three ways: First, they devote all their power to defeating political and economic competitors, especially the Moscow group, led by Mayor Luzhkov, who openly stated that he plans to re-examine the results of privatization. The casualty of the group became Berezovsky, who not long ago played a more important role in the family. But Berezovsky is not the first man in history to become a victim of something he had himself created.

Second, the Yeltsin family group is striving to subordinate the government and retain power by using the mass media, most of all television, to manipulate the consciousness of the population, especially before the elections. Third, they are striving to weaken the political influence of regional leaders, who form the only political group potentially capable of restricting the all-powerful Kremlin in Russia, where until recently no new parties or other institutions of civil society were developed. Decreasing the political weight of the regional leaders also allows those closest to the Kremlin oligarchy to place the regional economies under their control.

The main point is that the Putin regime has not in any way diverged from the goals and values of the Yeltsin family. …

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