In the past, Russia has been likened to an African nation with Atlantic magazine’s famous “Zaire with permafrost” moniker. The analogy is a compelling one, more so with each day that passes. Now, leading Russian dissident Andrei Illarionov (pictured), made available in English through the efforts of LR’s illustrious and industrious original translator (of “Spare Organs” and “Commissars of the Internet” fame), declares Russia to be on the road to Zimbabwe status. The world is lucky to have a pair of hard-working translators making this material, which might otherwise never see the light of day in English, made available to the non-Russian-speaking world (that is, virtually everybody on the planet). Following is Der Spiegel’s recent interview with Illarionov:
16 April 2007
In Russia a new model has been formed for the government, economic and socio-political order – the Power Model (silovaya model’). It is a model distinct from any seen in our country before, including at the beginning of this century or in the 70 years of Communist power. While much as been said and written about the separate elements of this system, its treatment as a whole has been lacking.
What are the basic characteristics of the Power Model? In this model, the entire body of state power has been taken over by a group called the “siloviki”, which includes not only the “siloviki” themselves [TN: generally understood to be current and former intelligence officers], but also intelligence service collaborators, members of the Corporation of Intelligence Service Collaborators (Korporatsiya Sotrudniki Spets–Sluzhb) – the KSSS. [TN: A play on the initials of the late Communist Party of the Soviet Union, or KPSS.]
As in any corporation, members of the KSSS have both individual and group interests. For example, on issues surrounding the ownership of one or another asset seized by the Corporation, ferocious arguments take place between its members. But the intensity of conflict within the Corporation is much weaker than between the Corporation and the rest of society.
Because the Corporation preserves the traditions, hierarchies, skills and habits of the intelligence services, its members show a certain degree of obedience, loyalty to one another, and discipline. There are both formal and informal means of enforcing these norms. There is, for example, something like an “omerta” [TN: Mafia term for a code of silence]. Violators of the code of conduct are subject to the harshest forms of punishment, including the highest form.
Members of the Corporation exude a sense of being the “masters of the country” and superior to other citizens who are not members of the Corporation. Members of the Corporation are given instruments conferring power over others – membership “perks”, such as the right to carry and use weapons.
The Corporation has seized key government agencies – the Tax Service, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Parliament, and the government-controlled mass media – which are now used to advance the interests of KSSS members. Through these agencies, every significant resource of the country – security/intelligence, political, economic, informational and financial – is being monopolized in the hands of Corporation members.
The legal order, previously much in doubt, is now being destroyed completely and replaced by new “rules of the game”, the main one being “selective enforcement of the law.” KSSS members have been placed above the law. The ideology of KSSS is “Nashism” (“ours-ism”), the selective application of rights.
In economics, the efforts of the KSSS are focused on strengthening and advancing quasi-governmental monopolies (governmental in form, privatized in essence, but not formally under the control of any governmental agency), the main purpose of which is the privatization of profits and the nationalization of losses. A strong government-private partnership gathers revenues in order to force nominally private businesses to fulfill the demands of the Corporation. Members of the KSSS exercise control over the primary financial flows. The highest reward conferred by the Corporation is appointment of members to positions on the boards of directors of government- and quasi-government-owned companies. This principle holds for all members of the Corporation, whether they are citizens of Russia or former Chancellors of a foreign country.
The traditions, habits and modus operandi characteristic of the intelligence services are being spread by the Corporation to all levels of Russian society. Secrecy and informational asymmetry are being imposed on the entire country.
The ideology of the KSSS is the ideology of the fortress, under siege by outside enemies and undermined by traitors and apostates from within. The primary means used by the KSSS for resolving governmental and social problems is force, unrestrained by the rules of law, tradition or morals, and completely absent of any experience, ability or desire to reach solutions by negotiating between competing interests. The relative success of the KSSS is also in large part dependent upon personal bonds with several leaders of countries in the West and East.
Initial results from the implementation of the Power Model in Russia indicate an inexorably deepening catastrophe. The key indicator of the effectiveness of any government is the security of its citizens. The number of serious crimes against persons – murder, robbery, assault, rape – per 100,000 residents in Russia is today over twice as high as it was in 1998, a year when the country suffered its most devastating financial crisis ever, accompanied by a significant depression and decline in the standard of living, but when the Siloviki were not in power.
In rate of economic growth between the periods 1999-2000 and 2004-2006, Russia fell from third to 13th place among the countries of the former USSR. And this despite the price of oil increasing by five times over the same period.
The Power Model of governance is not capable of securing the same tempo of growth as observed in other countries of the former USSR, including those that have neither oil nor gas. The Power Model does not strengthen the government – it destroys the very institutions of government and society. And the Power Model does not strengthen the diplomatic position of Russia – it leads to her isolation.
The change in the external world’s attitude Russia can be summed up by the following comparative progression. At the beginning of the 1990’s, the prevailing view of Russia was as a “large Poland”, albeit somewhat poorer and less developed. In order to follow the Polish path and approach the standard of living of developed countries, it was expected that Russia would require 10-15 years more than Poland.
Toward the end of the 1990’s, this view had to undergo some revision. It became clear that Russia was not Poland. It would be more accurate to compare it to Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia or Bosnia. And hence the building of quality institutions would take not 10-15 years, but more like 20-30.
Toward the middle of the current decade it became obvious that even a comparison with the Balkan countries would be inaccurate. In both the level of institutional degradation and the direction of movement, it would be more accurate to compare modern Russia with countries such as Venezuela and Iran.
In more recent years, however, it is becoming clear that even comparison with Venezuela and Iran would be incorrect. Russia now appears to be at an even lower level of institutional development, at the level of just a very few African countries. From the point of view of international comparison, we are somewhere between Nigeria and Zimbabwe, quickly approaching specifically Zimbabwe.
The rule of the “siloviki” has not meant an increase in the security of the Russian people. On the contrary, the siloviki in power are increasing the level of danger for our people in the most everyday sense of the word. In today’s Russia there is no more important cause than changing the current socio-political and economic order.
There are possibilities for changing the situation. But they are not lying on the surface. As concerns the KSSS itself, it is not demonstrating any kind of capability for transformation. The dynamic of the past seven years has shown that the rate of degradation in the institutions of the Russian state is increasing. A change in the regime from outside is also unacceptable. There remains only Russian society itself, the Russian people. Before us, before all of Russian society, stands the non-trivial challenge of changing the model by whatever means we have.
[TN: In the discussion forum that accompanied the above article in Yezhednevniy Zhurnal a reader noted that a longer version of this article had appeared on another forum, of the information portal Dom Druzey (House of Friends). That posting, dated April 2nd, in turn credited the home page of the daily Kommersant, but I was unable to locate the article on that website. Interestingly, the longer version, written prior to recent the protest actions in Moscow, did not contain the last paragraph of the above version.]
From the pages of Der Spiegel:
Former Putin Advisor Discusses Brutality Against Russian Opposition
Andrei Illarionov, 45, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Cato Institute and former chief economic advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin, discusses the reasons for the Kremlin’s brutal treatment of the political opposition and the West’s attitudes toward Moscow.
SPIEGEL: We see the same images in the news almost every weekend: The powerful state has its police officers converge with clubs on small groups of protestors. Given his popularity, does President Vladimir Putin really need this?
Illarionov: Those in power deliberately use violence to intimidate. They want to break the people’s will to resist and act independently, and to do so they are constantly raising the level of aggression. Unlike the mass terror under Hitler, Stalin and Mao, we in Russia are currently experiencing a campaign of terror against individuals and groups.
SPIEGEL: Who is conducting it?
Illarionov: Employees of the intelligence agencies. These people now occupy more than 70 percent of all top positions in the state machinery. The destruction of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Yukos oil company, the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the polonium poisoning of former agent Alexander Litvinenko — the goal in each of these cases is to keep society in a state of constant fear. That makes it easier to control the people. This is the only reason the state-controlled media are allowed to report at length on these cases. It contributes to the climate of fear.
SPIEGEL: Who decided to deal with the protestors so harshly, the president or his advisors?
Illarionov: It certainly didn’t happen at the level of Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev alone. It’s hard to imagine that such decisions were made without the knowledge of our country’s top leadership.
SPIEGEL: There is no evidence whatsoever of any threat to the government. The economy is growing by upwards of six percent, and Russians are traveling abroad on vacation and buying cars. Why doesn’t the Kremlin simply accept peaceful demonstrations?
Illarionov: Our rulers act according to a different logic. Putin himself said, and he was probably right, that there are no former intelligence agents. They were specifically trained to hunt down enemies. And if there are none, then they create them.
SPIEGEL: Is Russia a dictatorship?
Illarionov: Russia is certainly no longer a free country. We are moving in the direction of Zimbabwe.
SPIEGEL: Now you’re exaggerating.
Illarionov: No. All our democratic institutions are also being dismantled. We suffer from the Zimbabwean disease. This is why Russia is becoming more isolated diplomatically, and why economic growth is slowing. In a comparison with the 15 former Soviet republics, Russia is now third to last when it comes to economic growth.
SPIEGEL: Western companies value the stability Putin has brought to the country. Should they stop investing in Russia?
Illarionov: That’s their decision. They’ll have to evaluate the political risk themselves.
SPIEGEL: Boris Gryzlov, the president of the Russian parliament, has praised the police, with their grandmother-beating tactics, for having “done everything right.” He is scheduled to meet with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and the leaders of Germany’s major political parties in Berlin on Monday and Tuesday.
Illarionov: It is not my place to make recommendations to German members of parliament. If Gryzlov is justifying violence against the opposition, then he is approving what our criminal code refers to as banditry. It was not the demonstrators but the police officers that behaved like bandits. The police, with the blessing of those in power, acted like a terrorist group.
SPIEGEL: You served under Putin as liaison to the G8 for five years. Should the West exclude Russia from the group of key industrialized nations for its abuses of democracy?
Illarionov: One cannot overestimate the options the West has available with which it can apply pressure on Russia.
SPIEGEL: Will Putin enter a third term next March, despite the fact that it would not be sanctioned under the constitution?
Illarionov: Putin has often said that he will not do this. But there are people around him who are urging him to do so. They are taking many steps to ensure that he will feel compelled to stay.