Magazine article Russian Life

The Kremlinologist Catechism

Magazine article Russian Life

The Kremlinologist Catechism

Article excerpt

THERE IS A CATECHISM that dominates American discourse on Russia today. Just flip through The Washington Post's editorials, peruse American political science journals* or listen (cringe) to a Joe Biden interview. It goes something like this:

There's only one problem - many of the underlying assumptions of this Catechism are unsupported by any facts, figures or statistics.

A major cornerstone of the Catechism is that electoral manipulation under Putin has become so egregious that the regime has lost the political legitimacy that many Westerners believe only stems from democracy. But opinion polls from the Levada Center strongly belie these concerns. In the 2008 Presidential elections, Medvedev's 71% mandate was exactly the same as the percentage of voters who later recalled casting a ballot for him (and significantly lower than the 80% who intended to vote for him three weeks prior). Obviously, this is not the Soviet-scale fraud of Kremlinologist fantasy.

There are two main rejoinders to this argument. First, doesn't the Kremlin make ample use of its "administrative resources" - unfair media access, illicit campaign financing, etc. - to skew election results to its liking? True. As a "plebiscitary regime," it not only relies on but revels in popular approval. But it is genuine approval for all that -because if it weren't, one would expect most Putinistas to be old, sour-mouthed "sovoks" who are fed news from state TV, right? But that's not the case. Though pro-Kremlin, West-skeptical views are prevalent across all major social groups, they run highest among young, university-educated Muscovites - the very Russians most exposed to the West through the internet and foreign travel.

But that's heresy! Don't these inconvenient results imply that the Kremlin has coopted the polling agencies? Sorry, false cause fallacy. Furthermore, Lev Gudkov, the current director of the Levada Center, writes stuff like this: "Putinism is a system of decentralized use of the institutional instruments of coercion ... hijacked by the powers that be for the fulfillment of their private, clan-group interests." Doesn't exactly sound like a raging, pro-Kremlin fanatic, does he?!

A second major theme of the Catechism is that Russia's plethora of economic and social ills - best manifested in its demographic "free-fall," "death spiral" (insert your own appropriately apocalyptic term here), etc. …

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