A note from the translator: This, I think, ranks amongst the best of the many reviews of the state of the nation address made by Pooty’s Teddy to the Federal Assembly. It’s written in the rather histrionic, hysterical style that Russian journalists like to adopt occasionally. To the Western reader, this may appear overly self-conscious, like a novice writer for a provincial paper, but here it’s a accepted style.
Translated from the Russian by Dave Essel
Medvedev’s first state of the nation address has been interpreted in many ways.
The simplest – don’t worry your head about it! It’s a ritual, a farrago of words… Words were in order and words were spoken. “Freedom (bureaucracy) is better than slavery (the population). We’ve heard it before and we’ll hear it again…. (Incidentally, why do we actually need all the “phonemes about freedom”? The West couldn’t care; inside the country, they are as unpopular with the natives as they are with the inhabitants of the Kremlin; and no one would want a liberal, even if one was being given away for free. And the same goes in reverse: the liberals don’t want these speeches which they don’t believe or trust in the slightest. So why give the address? Is it something he just enjoys?)
Nonetheless, whatever you may think of Medvedev and his speech, objective facts remain: they can’t be abolished. Russia has come up against a challenge. And its leaders simply MUST do something about it. As everyone knows, a failure to respond is also a response.
We all know what the challenges are: the world crisis and Obama. Isn’t it funny that our patriots were right: both the challenges come from “over there”! So what’s the response?
There are two responses, in fact: the president will rule for 6 years and Iskander rockets will be installed in Kaliningrad.
The responses are somewhat asymmetrical to the challenges – but hey, that’s what they came up with… Evidently they “had no further answers to provide at this time”.
The Economic Challenge
The crisis has brought a very banal fact to light: Russia is a raw-materials appendage to the economies of China and Europe. Downslide there – all lost here. This, however, seriously shatters the fairy-tale world of ORT state television. Lobs a cobblestone right into the TV screen…
For 8 years we have been told about growth, stability, correct economic decisions, and –most importantly – about the sacred Rising from our Knees. Strange as it may be, some believed this. Indeed, some people, both outside and inside the Kremlin, actually believed this. Then comes a real-life demonstration that our pipeline is not a magic wand (“let’s see them try to manage without our gas!”) but just a steel pipe; that Russia’s leaders are not all-powerful “wizards of the Vertical” but, beyond the confines of the Vertical, just as powerless in the face of the crisis as some pathetic Gordon Brown. How horrible.
In essence, the economic decisions taken by Russia’s leader have been no worse and no better, no cleverer and no more stupid, than those of other world leaders. Pump liquidity into the banks, support social security and – simply wait for the storm to blow over in the West and a new wave of petrodollars comes to lift us tup again. (I am deliberately omitting any mention of the corruption element in this process since it is of no import to this argument.) This is actually normal behaviour and there’s not much else to be done. It is, however,very far removed from the brutalist picture of the Master of Fate in whom the people had put their faith in and which He Himself seems to have thought was true.
We need some strong moves – but there aren’t any… No-one anywhere in the world has any. But then elsewhere they never made out that they did (or were expected to have them). The obverse of the coin of overestimation…
So what is our response to the crisis? Well, it’s the USA’s fault, that’s beyond argument; the infection came from there and the dollar’s toxic. That oil prices rose was thanks to us; that they fell is their fault.
So what are we going to do?
Russia’s proposals do not stand out for their originality. Sell oil and gas for roubles. The point of this is not very clear: to make the rouble’s value rise so that no-one wants to buy them? Immaterial in any event when the main question is how to set about achieving this…
Increase the powers of the international financial institutions in order to avoid being trapped by “the USA’s egoistic policies”… That begs the question: are we Russians ready to subordinate OUR egoism to these “international institutions”? Or are we devoid of egoism? What do we have it its place, then?
Reduce our economy’s dependence on oil… We’ve been hearing that for 16 years. And furthermore, what are we actually going to export in place of raw materials? Our own manufactured goods? Excellent thought. Of course, some trifling questions arise: who’s making anything and who’s going to buy anything we make – in the outside world and in Russia itself?..
All in all then, no fateful economic solutions here. As I have previously emphasised, neither here NOR anywhere else in the world. But our habit of recent years of successfully resolving everything in brutal leaps (with an anti-American sideways glance) is playing a cruel trick on us in this case: now we want to put our foot into the stirrup but the horse has moved away. Not nice.
Medvedev’s speech contains no response of any sort to the challenge of the economic crisis.
The Obama Challenge
The Obama challenge is not commensurate with the crisis but looms large nonetheless.
The clear and simple picture of American imperialism has “gone dark”. “Obama in a pith helmet”… Can’t draw that… How can one caricature…
Yes, we truly have a right muddle here. They did it on purpose to confuse us and lead us astray.
The phrase “black American imperialist” invites rejection. And just look at the reaction. In Kenya, they’re celebrating the election of this African American and Chavez has already rushed to congratulate him, almost to the point of giving him a hug!… At this rate, we’ll soon be the “white imperialists”… And how do we get an anti-American front going then!
And another nasty thing: electing Obama has demonstrated America’s STYLE. Open to change, a flexible élite – in a word: democracy.
Be all that as it may, Russia has responded to the Obama challenge.
First: rockets in Kaliningrad.
Second: a 6-year term for the president. Half as much longer than the American president’s! Why half as much again? Well, for democracy, of course, in which the people have faith. Clearly our people trust their president to rule them for 50% percent longer.
You have changes of the élite. We have stability and consistency.
To each his own.
As for the rockets, I honestly don’t see what all the fuss is about. If Russia intends to start a ROCKET WAR with Europe and the USA, it will manage that somehow with or without Iskanders in Kaliningrad. And if it does NOT intend to have such a war, the Iskanders will just sit on their launchers.
So in the MILITARY sense this PR move with the Iskanders = the importance of the American anti-missile base = the importance of NATO’s eastern expansion = 0.
The USA and Russia have the capability wipe each other off the map several times over. And they don’t need ANYONE’s help for that – not the Ukraine in NATO, not Iskanders in Kaliningrad, not anti-missile bases in the Czech Republic, not Russian planes in Venezuela.
“You’ll die a different death… They will cut your head off!”
“Who will? Enemies, interventionists?”
“No, a Russian woman. A member of the Komsomol…”
“Well, excuse me! That sounds unlikely…”
“I’m sorry, but it will be so… Annushka has already bought the sunflower-seed oil. Not just bought it, but spilt it too.”
Changing Horses With Sunflower Oil Around [TN: cf Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita].
The most important point in the speech was, of course, the proposal to extend the presidential term to 6 years. That is a concrete proposal, a concrete ACTION.
But what is the point of it?
The most popular explanation currently making the rounds is that this is the original scenario that was agreed upon even before Medvedev rose to his current post.
Medvedev changes the constitution, introduces a 6-year term – and leaves. Putin comes back for 12 more years.
It’s a perfectly legitimate explanation.
But let’s look at what is for and against it.
The most obvious argument in its favour is – if that is not the case, why did he introduce the idea? Particularly at THIS juncture?
Medvedev still has 4 years of his term to go. The law cannot be backdated, so a 6-year term will not apply to him. So why, if you are due to stand down in 2012, start talking about it in 2008?! What makes it so important NOW?
Bear in mind that a presidential address, particularly in a time of crisis, has to be TOPICAL. It’s not an occasion to be discussing, say, plans for a space expedition to Mars in 2012…
That means that this idea is TOPICAL.
And in what way or ways can it be?
There are two possibilities.
Either Medvedev wants to give Putin a present four years ahead of time. But Putin’s birthday is not on November 5th.
Or Medvedev is going to leave his post soon.
That’s the logic of it.
The “four year early” gift theory is not very convincing. The time scales aren’t right.
That leaves the second theory – that Medvedev is preparing to relinquish the throne.
But there are counter-arguments. Plenty of them.
First. What pretext can he use for leaving? He’s young, healthy…. “Resigning at his own request dur to the pressure”? Sounds strange! All the more so since he’s only been president for only a little time. Furthermore, to leave like that is hardly an honourable discharge! And Medvedev is hardly likely to agree to a dishonourable discharge – not that Putin would ask him to do so. Say what you will, but Putin knows how to take take care of his own, that’s what he does best. Ingratitude is not one of his sins.
So how do you get out honourably before the end of your term? Especially that fast? I can’t see it…
Second. The law can be changed. Won’t take more than a month. Follow that line of thought and Putin’s re-election will be around spring 2009.
But, yet again, that’s a bit odd!
That’s just when the crisis will have really started to bite. Excuse the poetic style, but that’s when the waters will be at their fullest, when the icy waters will be roiled by panting and sploshing bug-eyed recently redunded managers and people who have just lost the flats on which they can’t keep up their mortgage payments, with businessmen unable to make repayments on their loans, and pensioners who can’t find the cash for what’s left on the store shelves (due to the gradual devaluation of the rouble), and others besides.
That’s no time for an election! When people are drowning, they want life-jackets not election vote sheets!
If they try to hold an election then, people will be sure to say that only a fool pokes a stick into a hornets’ nest. (That’s despite the fact that everyone knows how elections – whether for the president or the Duma – are “done” here.)
Yet that doesn’t matter: it’s no time to open up even the smallest of cracks when discontent and disappointment are on the rise. You don’t want hot air spouting from a million mouths… That would be madness!
That would ring of “working people being in exacerbated need and poverty, of the leadership being unable to run things as before, of the lower estates not wanting things to go on as before.” I’m quoting from memory: we did this at school.
That does not mean that there is no truth in this.
What do régimes die of?
They die when, at a time of economic difficulty and growing discontent, they opened the safety valve a little and – taking a risk – permitted political activity.
One: France, 1879. Convocation des états généraux. And off things went…
Two: Moscow, 1989. We all remember how, when the crisis was reaching its peak, a Congress of Peoples’ Deputies was convened and how that opened the door a crack.
Can’t Putin see this?!
Third: even if such elections have no consequences or effects, what pleasure is there to be gained from becoming president AT THE HEIGHT OF A CRISIS?! And one would not have thought it to be to Putin’s advantage to get elected at just such a time. Let someone else push the door back into place and when things are all over (by 2012, one hopes!) the new president can leap out, clothed all in sparkling white. But to close the breach with one’s own chest is another kettle of fish! Akin to buying shares too early in a bear market… You need to be buying at rock bottom or when things are just about to RISE SHARPLY.
This would mean that Putin is for some reason SURE that the crisis will end in 2009, shortly after his re-election. What a strange thing to be sure about…
So, in view of all the above, I think that Putin will not be rushing to run across the patch of spilt oil in 2009, even though I’m perfectly willing to accept that he finds his state of “incomplete power”somewhat irritating. Irritating it may be, but not enough to make him try a dash across the tramlines of History…
Just as logical as my prediction that war between Russia and Georgia would be self-evidently stupid, that neither one side nor the other needed it, and so there would not be one.
Humans respond to the challenges of History.