Tag Archives: brian whitmore

In Russia, even History is Corrupt

Brian Whitmore, writing on The Power Vertical:

A Russian leader gives a four-hour speech filled with empty platitudes about imaginary accomplishments, promises of a bright future, and dire warnings about dangerous foreign influences. The speech was interrupted 53 times by applause.

Sound familiar?

Several months back, I blogged about the striking similarities between Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Each replaced a reformist predecessor who was ultimately seen as bumbling, erratic, and ineffective — Nikita Krushchev in Brezhnev’s case, Boris Yeltsin in Putin’s. Both ushered in an era of stability and relative prosperity thanks to high oil prices. And both perceived a “golden age” that lasted roughly a decade.

But by the late 1970s, the luster began to wear off Brezhnev’s rule as the Soviet economy stagnated, life expectancy plummeted, and social problems like rampant alcoholism, worker absenteeism, and widespread cynicism became endemic.

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Putvedev and its Core Instability

Brian Whitmore, writing on the Power Vertical and translating from Novaya Gazeta:

The turbulence currently rattling Russia’s body politic resembles that which existed in the early perestroika period. There is a consensus that there is a need for change, the elite has split into two opposing camps unable to agree over what needs to be done, and neither side can garner a critical mass of support for their agenda.

That is the central argument of political analyst Kirill Rogov in an interesting piece in “Novaya gazeta.” Rogov argues that the agendas of President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin “are fully formed and divergent” but neither of them is making a compelling case.

Here’s the money quote:

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Whither Putin and Medvedev?

Brian Whitmore, writing on the Power Vertical:

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s comments to French media about his plans for the 2012 presidential elections sent predictable ripples through the Moscow punditocracy.

“We will see, somewhat closer to 2012,” Putin told French journalists ahead of his visit to Paris. “Naturally, I am already thinking about this issue with President Medvedev but have decided not to make much fuss about it, not to let ourselves be distracted by this problem. What we will do in 2012 will depend on the results [of our work].”

Speaking to “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Dmitry Furman of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Europe interpreted Putin’s remarks to mean he was leaning toward keeping the current tandem arrangement in place.

“That they will make some sort of pact and refrain from racing against each other for presidency has been clear from the very beginning… Putin’s words regarding his current job did imply that there was at least a chance that he might remain the premier after 2012,” Furman told the daily.

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Russia’s Potemkin Middle Class

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Veteran Russia correspondent Brian Whitmore, blogging at the Power Vertical:

We pretend to work — and they actually pay us!

For the past decade, Russia’s emerging “middle class” got a pretty good deal. The Kremlin was determined to create a stable and sizable cohort of happy, well-fed, and status-conscious consumers who would provide the regime with bedrock political support — or at least tacit acquiescence. They drove cool cars, sported the latest fashions, played with trendy gadgets, and ate in fancy restaurants. All the things that were reserved for the oligarchic class and their hangers on throughout the 1990s were suddenly available to an emerging bourgeois.  Russia’s magical new middle class had arrived.

And how did this new class earn the income to support their lifestyle? Well, there’s the rub. The whole thing was a mirage, subsidized by the state and Kremlin-connected corporations with the help of a seemingly endless flow of petrodollars.

And now that is all at risk.

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