In the first of our multi-part installment today on Russians blaming Putin for the national collapse in the Russian press, Paul Goble reports:
After first trying to deny that there was a crisis in Russia and then blaming it all on events in the West, the Russian government has taken measures that are exacerbating the situation in ways that threaten to create a revolutionary situation, according to an increasing number of Russian commentators. And while some of these suggestions reflect the apocalypticism characteristic of much Russian political discourse, the arguments they offer and the evidence they provide in support of their views merits attention particularly as that country faces more problems ahead given rising anger among both key elites and the population as a whole about what is going on. One of the most thorough and thoughtful analyses of just how serious the situation may be becoming is offered by Dmitry Tayevsky, an analyst who writes for the Babr.ru portal. He argues that the foundation of the current crisis in Russia reflects “not economic problems but serious administrative miscalculations.”
By attempting to deny that there is a crisis in Russia, he says, Moscow simply created a situation that gave birth to rumors that are having a more negative impact on that country than the truth would have. And then by trying to blame everything on the international financial crisis, the regime acted in ways that may help in the West but that makes the situation in Russia worse. “The massive supply of money to enterprises belonging to those close to the Kremlin was like fighting fire with gasoline,” Tayevsky continues. “Such actions hardly will save the economy,” but they are already generating “massive dissatisfaction among others” who are not receiving such funds and thus are condemned “to economic and some to political death.”
Moscow has relied on oil and gas industries to provide it with super profits, but the operators of the companies involved have not invested money in finding new deposits and now, with oil and gas prices dropping, they are no longer profitable. And, the Irkutsk analyst continues, they are beginning to “eat themselves alive.” One way that Moscow might have gotten out of this situation was to go “along the path of banana republics,” by allowing Western firms to build what Russians were not. But because the Russian marketplace was never attractive – Russian power holders have made sure of that – few in the West were willing to invest.
Some smaller reprocessing and manufacturing companies have emerged but with the banking crisis, they no longer have the liquidity to operate at earlier levels, forcing many of them to stop paying their employees or even letting many or in few cases all of them go – or, still worse from the point of view of social stability, hiring guest workers at even lower wages. “In Russia,” Tayevsky notes, “the Jews and the United States are always the guilty parties,” at least according to the media and the popular mentality. But “in this case,” the guilty are to be found in the government – and “not the government of Chubais and Gaydar … but in the existing Putin-Medvedev regime.”Among their mistakes are “ineffective investment of money the country has received from the sale of raw materials abroad,” the intentional disregard of the development of manufacturing, the corruption of society, and the continuing denial of the existence of problems everyone can see.
What should be done? Individual Russians should certainly avoid panic, but there is clearly a need for extraordinary measures, including the possible formation of a provisional crisis government that could address the current problems rather than continue to engage in public relations stunts. But that is not going to be easy or without risks, Tayevsky concludes with regret, noting that “of course there will not be a crisis in Russia. There will be something immeasurably worse. But decent words for what it will be have not yet been devised at least in the Russian language.” It would be a big mistake to ignore his argument. Others are making a similar case. An article on the Novopol.ru site yesterday says that “the most important thing for the country is to avoid a social explosion,” something that it suggests is becoming ever more difficult as more and more people find themselves at risk.
Other analysts are pointing to rising tensions among various social and ethnic groups. And perhaps most immediately seriously of all, ever more people are reporting rising tensions between the government and the military, the force on which the regime would have to rely . The list of such baleful commentaries could be extended almost at will, and one, intended to highlight how much the Russian people and the Russian state have gained since the August 1998 default perhaps unintentionally highlights just how dangerous the situation is or may soon become.
In an essay posted online today, Valery Tishkov, the head of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and a member of the Social Chamber, describes the last ten years as “the intercrisis decade,” a term that suggests the frightening past that many Russians hoped to escape may be replaced now by something even worse. And he begs people to remember that over this period, there has been “a real improvement in the conditions of the lives of people even if emotionally and psychologically, the people of Russia continue to live in the paradigm of crisis and the rhetoric of complaint.”