Putin's Russia: What Is Ahead?
Shlapentokh, Dimitry, Contemporary Review
IN the previous article I questioned the applicability of the popular paradigms in explaining Russia. All of these paradigms take for granted that the liberal experiment in Russia failed and that the country's transformation along the lines of the Western model is out of the question. The first paradigm implied that Russia was similar to that of Weimar's Germany and that a new Nazi-type regime would be installed. This was the reason why some of the Western observers had paid such attention to the Russian political groups which, in their appearance and through the use of symbols, aped the German Nazi.
Proponents of the other scenarios implied that Yeltsin's Russia was quite similar to Russia on the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. All of these scenarios had implied the active involvement of the citizens in the process of political change, the social mobilization in the way the process is viewed in the West. Yet none of this happened, as most of the population demonstrated increased passivity and withdrawal. This atomization of Russian society, its inability to be actively mobilized for the common cause suggested that Russia was more Asiatic and/or pre-modern (from the perspective of a social cohesive point-of-view) than modern West European Society.
From this perspective Russia was more distant from the West European model than even in 1917. It was more Oriental ('Chinese') than 'German.' This pre-modern, actually Oriental nature of the Russian culture (the political 'Orientalism' had no connection with the geographical location of nation/civilization as it was designed by Samuel Huntingdon, for modern Japan belonged more to the 'West' rather than to the 'East') implied different scenarios. The first was a further weakening of the state and the final disintegration/semi-disintegration of the country. Another implied a violent backlash in which the state would reassert its position, reinforcing the unity of the state and disciplining the society through an array of tough and often brutish methods. The 'Orientalization' of society does not imply repression alone. It also entails the replacement, at least partially, of cold, ruthless, impartial legal discourse with a firm but paternally supportive discourse. The state would also set itself against the West , seeing it as having brought forth the Western style of capitalism which destroyed Russia.
From this perspective the emerging new state would be more akin to Stalinist Russia with its distinct features of oriental despotism (which was admitted by Karl Wittfogel a long time ago) rather than to Hitler's Germany. It is this scenario which seems to be emerging with the rise of Vladimir Putin. His brutal war in the Caucasus has broader implications than fighting the threat of the Chechen bandits. (It also has deeper implications than simply serving as a ploy to make him President.)
Certainly Putin's campaign proved successful for at the end of March he was elected President without the need to go into damaging second round against his Communist rival. This certainly has strengthened Putin's hand especially in foreign affairs. An early sign of this occurred in the middle of April when he made his first foreign foray since becoming President: a hurried trip to London to meet with Tony Blair. Blair had been the first Western leader to visit Russia to meet with Putin. Both Blair's trip to Russia and Putin's return visit was controversial in Britain mainly because of Russian behaviour to Chechnya. Nevertheless Blair contended it was important for the West to maintain good relations with the new Russian leader.
While in London, Putin put on an impressive performance at a press conference in which he warned the West that they could well come to regret any aid or sympathy they gave to Muslim 'terrorists' in Chechnyn and along Russia's borders. He also managed time to address British business leaders about the need for Capital to build up the Russian economy. …