Dead-End Russia

Fraser Cameron of the EU Russia Centre, writing in the New York Times:

President Dmitri Medvedev has publicly stated that Russia needs to change course if it does not want to end up as a third-world country. Igor Shuvalov, the first deputy prime minister, recently told investors that although Russia had suffered its worse recession in a decade, it would be transformed into a “new country” by 2020 through innovation and investment in “human capital.” He said the investment climate would be significantly improved within a year through a reduction of red tape and a clean-up of the court system.

The problem is that we’ve heard this before. When Vladimir Putin moved into the Kremlin a decade ago he promised to ensure the rule of law and to tackle corruption. But under his watch there has been no progress toward an independent judiciary, and the corrupt bureaucracy has been allowed to expand.

It was under Mr. Putin that assets were taken from Yukos, Shell and BP. It was under Mr. Putin that a growing number of journalists such as Anna Politkovskaya were killed with impunity. It is little wonder, therefore, that investors are skeptical about new pledges to tackle rampant corruption or diversify the economy away from a raw-materials base.

As the oil price rose during Mr. Putin’s term, he was able to ensure pensions and wages were paid on time. But he completely failed to encourage investment in new industries, technologies or infrastructure.

Now Russia is facing crunch time. The funds that were accumulated during the good years are about to run out. Top companies like Gazprom are close to bankruptcy and face huge problems due to the lack of investment in the energy sector. State-controlled conglomerates and banks have been propped up by the state but small and medium enterprises, essential for future growth, have been neglected.

Much of Russia’ infrastructure is crumbling. There are hundreds of monocities — company towns dependent on one enterprise — without a future. There is a massive rich-poor gap and an even bigger gap between the regions. There has been a growing number of protests, from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok, over social and economic conditions. Even the elite do not believe in the future of Russia. They do not keep their money in the country and they send their children abroad to be educated.

A recent report by the Institute of Contemporary Development, an influential think-tank close to Mr. Medvedev, called for a number of reforms. To encourage political competition, it said there should be a return to the system of electing governors and senators, practices abolished by Mr. Putin when he was president. The report also called for greater freedom in the media (the state controls 93 percent of all media outlets) to help expose corruption and encourage political debate.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the report found zero resonance in the media. The ruling United Russia party, controlled by Mr. Putin, saw no need for change either. The Duma is a rubber stamp for the executive and most deputies are more interested in enriching themselves than controlling the government.

Some observers think that the United States and the European Union could press Russia to change its ways. President Obama, however, has set his hopes on securing Moscow’s assistance in dealing with his twin foreign policy challenges, Iran and Afghanistan. But there is no evidence that Moscow is ready, able or willing to deliver on either issue.

At the E.U.-Russia summit in Stockholm last November, José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, promised to help Russia with its modernization agenda. But negotiations between the E.U. and Russia for a new partnership agreement are making glacial progress. Russia cannot make up its mind whether to join the World Trade Organization. Russia’s distorted world view also makes it difficult to move to a win-win scenario in energy.

Thinking in Russia’s elites is still dominated by a win-lose mentality, especially when it comes to pipelines and Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia. Both Mr. Putin and Mr. Medvedev talk of Russia’s right to have a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. There is no understanding that a ring of stable, prosperous and democratic neighbors would actually be in the long-term interests of Russia.

But maybe they do comprehend that such a development would lead many more in Russia to question Putin-Medvedev policies. Speculation about splits in the tandem is just that — speculation. Mr. Medvedev owes his position 100 percent to Mr. Putin. It suits both to play the “good cop, bad cop” role from time to time, but in reality there are no fundamental differences between the two.

The prospects for change in Russia, therefore, are bleak. But public opinion is becoming increasingly resentful of government inaction and the situation could become explosive in the near future. The outside world can only influence developments at the margins. Still, we should not weaken our support for the liberal, democratic forces seeking to change the system. Their fight is ours.

17 responses to “Dead-End Russia

  1. A dead end Russia is the best we can hope for. The sooner the better.

  2. …and they will do that job themselves, without any help from abroad.

    Hitler was an idiot, he attacked Russia. This only made Stalin stronger and the people united against the enemy.

    Just let them alone and they will finish off themselves.

    • Actually it was because of Hitler’s racism and Germany’s overall madness, not just the attack.

      Still, over 1 million Soviet citiziens fought on the German side.

      Also some say the attack actually thwarted the Soviet plans of conquering whole world.

  3. Hitler attacked Russia to secure “living space” for Germans. What exists on those vast steppes that any sane person person could possibly want. It gives me the shivers just to think about living out there.

  4. The Germans would of made far better and productive use of that vast land mass than the Russians. The German people are better cultured and more civilized than Russian people.

    I often wonder what Russia would of been if the Teutonic Knights had succeeded in their Northern Crusade against ‘Rus (1242).

    Alexander Nevsky despite being voted the “Greatest Russian” a few years ago just beating Russian “greats” such as Lenin & Stalin. Nevsky choose war against a Western Catholic Order, but choose shamelessly subservience to and collaboration with the Mongol/Tatar invaders, thereby condemning Russia to 300 years of Mongol/Tatar rule and forever separating Russia from Catholic Western Europe.

    If Russians were Catholic the tragedies that have befallen them would NOT have been so numerous and Russia would be a “normal” democratic Western state.

    Alas it wasn’t to be.

  5. Warren wrote about Nazi Germany’s aggression against the Soviet Union:
    [The Germans would of made far better and productive use of that vast land mass than the Russians. The German people are better cultured and more civilized than Russian people. ]

    You can claim that Nazi Germans were “better cultured and more civilized than Russian people” only if you are a neo-Nazis who either denies or approves the Holocaust.

    • Well, you claim Russians to be more cultured than Ukrainians, Caucasians, Western Europeans etc, after Russia comitted crimes that make the Nazi’s pale in comparrison.

      Circassian genocide, gulags, brutal occupation of eastern europe, more gulags, ethnic cleansing in the caucasus, the list goes on….

    • Warren: “The German people are better cultured and more civilized”
      Arthur: “You can claim that Nazi Germans were “better cultured and more civilized”

      Warren: “I often wonder what Russia would of been if the Teutonic Knights had succeeded in their Northern Crusade against ‘Rus (1242).”
      Arthur: “Warren wrote about Nazi Germany’s aggression against the Soviet Union”

      Geez Arthur my main man, maybe try and put away vodka. It’s going to kill you like the others, you know.

  6. Hitler was vile beyond belief and Stalin was, on balance, worse.

    FDR, a democrat, could have thought of something better.

    I am not quite sure how I would have done better considering how difficult the Germans were to fight. It is easy to talk and more difficult to figure out how to get rid of both Hitler and Stalin at the same time.

    • Funny how the Russians still hero worship Stalin, build new monuments and museums in his honour, extol the virtues of his rule in textbooks….

  7. Field Marshal Montgomery said; in any text book on war rule number one should be, “Do not invade Russia” the French and British have already shown how you defeat the Russians in war. The answer is to draw them to you as seen during the Crimean war in the 1850’s,

    Russia may have defeated Georgia in 2008, but they had to use the best troops available to defeat a very small nation, we should bring this little nation into NATO as soon as possible, then lets see if our Russian friends have the nerve to square off against US, British, French, German, and the rest of NATO’s armour,

    The Russians won’t like it … so what! They didn’t want the Baltic countries to join NATO, what did they do?… a big fat nothing,

  8. The Russians have a cute little policy to defeat invasions. They pick up 100% of the food, dogs, cats included and haul it east of the mountains. Starvation and the cold means the invaders loose for sure.

  9. We are a little off subject, but “dead end” does not leave much to talk about.

  10. I live in Russia, us of 145 000 000 persons, us every year ever less, the Pentagon can open the next bottle of champagne. But hardly someone reflected that the quantity passes in quality.
    Russia never attacked another’s territories, helped the countries of all world and what it is possible to tell about the Plan Obama when the American armies in thousand die for hundreds miles of the house, silly killing other people?
    Reflect that will be, if Russia does not become… Probably there will be other country in millions times more awfully Ben Laden!!!
    Only thanks to Russia you can sit now and be engaged in the affairs, thank Russian if they were not, you would be already dead!!!

    • “Russia never attacked another’s territories”

      Good morning!

      Is that what they teach you in schools?

      What about the incomplete list of : Poland, Western Ukraine, Eastern Romania, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan, Georgia?

      “Only thanks to Russia you can sit now and be engaged in the affairs, thank Russian if they were not, you would be already dead!!!”

      I very much doubt it.

      On the other side: I know a lot of people who died because of you, not to mention those who were never born.

      Thank you for making friends with Nazis, conquering Eastern Europe, installing Communism and rounding up people and killing them or sending to the GULag camps to die.

      Those Russians really are something outlandish.

  11. “What about the incomplete list of: Poland, Western Ukraine, Eastern Romania, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan, Georgia?” <- – and you to it learn at school??? If "yes", you have deceived, forgive, such is your education system. Probably you learn not that you were able to argue. And as to Georgia, correctly to speak Grusia who has attacked her still the big question.

    “Only thanks to Russia you can sit now and be engaged in the affairs, thank Russian if they were not, you would be already dead!!!” <- – Somebody remembers the Second World War? Or about Afghanistan when the prepared USA armies of Talibs left from under the control? Certainly Russia here at anything, us more interestingly to blow up Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and all the same how many there lives people.

    By the way, how there affairs with the nuclear program Iran? Already have found the enriched uranium? Is not present?!?!?! It is a pity, yet for what to be hooked, it is necessary to wait with destruction of the next country somewhere there where us it does not concern. Though that stopped you when or, even the United Nations can stop up.

    Shame, shame, shame! <- – My God, here these three words in Russian absolutely different also mean absolutely different, it is very a pity to me that I cannot transfer them to you, too narrow language, please, do not do so that you had a same outlook.

    Next time, when will make comments on these messages try to learn Russian, and to write on it, at least for something you can be praised!

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