Do not condemn Putin out of hand / Comment & analysis / Comment – Do not condemn Putin out of hand

(Comments by Tom Barnett) – Lieven makes about the best case you can for Putin’s renationalization of much of Russia’s energy sector.

First, as he points out, Yeltsin engaged in his share of authoritarianism, with almost no criticism from the West, plus he let that gangster-style capitalism bloom unrestricted in its class warfare.

By contrast, all reputable opinion polls still show Vladimir Putin enjoys the support of a large majority of Russians. This too is understandable, given the way in which the economy has grown and living standards improved under his presidency. And if much of this progress can be attributed to high oil prices, it is also true that greatly improved revenue-raising capability means that at last the Russian state can once again divert a reasonable proportion of these profits into improving state wages and services. To achieve this, it was necessary to restore state power and radically reduce that of the oligarchs, and it is dishonest to suggest that given Russian realities, the process of cutting down the Yeltsin-era elites could ever have been pretty.

How’s that for realism?

Lieven then goes on to note the single-party/state-heavy route has worked well for plenty of countries in their development, citing South Korea, Taiwan, China, Turkey, and even France! Fair enough. I would add Japan and Singapore, but the point is made.

Here’s the most interesting stuff:

The new Russian elite of Mr. Putin’s conception is supposed to be dynamic and capable of competing in the free market, but also to be deeply patriotic: it should be committed to the interests of the state and deferential to the wishes of the state, especially in foreign affairs. The elite will move freely between the state and the market sectors, and in the process will be handsomely rewarded, but it will keep its money within Russia, not spend it on British football clubs or French chateaux. Its members will never lobby for foreign support against their own government. In society as a whole, there will be open public debate on a range of issues, but on others it will be strictly limited. Similarly, elements of democracy will remain but be heavily managed. This will not be a personal or dynastic dictatorship such as Azerbeijan but a collective regime of this elite, with leading members succeeding each other and rotating in power. If proved correct, the rumour that Mr. Putin, after stepping down as president in 2008, will take over Gazprom or another great corporation would be very significant in this regard.

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