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My take on Russia

by Ben P Tue Jan 10th, 2006 at 02:12:37 AM EST

I've been reading these diaries with a good degree of interest over the past few days.

First off, none of the discussion about Putin's rise take into account the situation Russia found itself in the '90s, after the botched "shock therapy" transition away from Communism. I remember reading at the time numerous stories about the collapse of Russian civil society: soaring drug problems, organized crime, people not being paid wages for months, even years. In this context, I was expecting Russia to collapse, revert to Communism, or to some kind of nasty neo-fascism.

Now certainly, Putin is not an especially enlightened or democratic leader. But none of the three worse case scenarios have emerged because he is clearly a very skilled leader and was able to stabilize Russian society in a way that seemed anything but likely in say, 1998. There is a reason he is very popular within Russia.He is also essentially non-ideological, which strikes me as positive as well. He is a nationalist, but so what? The Russian people have imperial ambitions. But so what? So to do the Americans, the French, the British.

If Westerners want to complain about Putin's rise, they have to be realistic about the nature of the Russian society that enabled his rise - and indeed, their complicity, through their large role in the botched transition from communism - as well as the likely alternatives - none of which strike me as better than Putin, and probably most of them are much, much worse. Both for Russians and for the world more genrally.

Your note has really rung true for me, in two dimensions.  first, it is so easy to forget what the possible paths, or outcomes, might have been.  Now being a few years down the road, we don't put ourselves back at that point in time, and realize that outcomes could have been far different.  Somehow we take what happened as the base case, and then criticize it, because now we can see that perhaps things could have been even better.  But we forget the horrible outcomes that were possible, at an earlier point in time.

Second, I think it's human nature to second guess, now that we have perfect knowledge of what has played out.  Putin, and other world leaders of the past and present, are the guys on the line, who have to make the calls (Truman: the buck stops here).

For me, your note resonated with me on these points.  thank you.

by wchurchill on Tue Jan 10th, 2006 at 02:36:28 AM EST
I think there is an implicit assumption in your thinking. It is the common theme that since Russia has never had a democratic government it is only to be expected that a new dictator will take over.

Given the non-democratic nature of the US neo-cons now in power it would seem natural for them to prefer to deal with a single person rather than have to worry about geo-political agreements being subject to the whims of a democratically elected leader. To what extent the US (and perhaps Europe) have made Putin's rise easier is hard to discover. Simple things like changes in credit policy can have profound effects in a developing country.

To see how the US treats countries where democratic leaders start to think for themselves just look at the history of central and south America in the 19th and 20th Centuries.

What would the government and economy of Russia look like if it had been treated the same as Cuba has since the rise of Castro?

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Tue Jan 10th, 2006 at 04:36:53 PM EST
Not sure if I agree with you.. there are better outcomes but the probabilities can change depending on the transmission of ideological-chain...

But it was good to remember that the outcome could have ben worst...but certain it could be better

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Wed Jan 11th, 2006 at 06:38:08 PM EST

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