"Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko will also be tarred
as anti-Russian, and Moscow will pull out all the stops to prevent him
from winning the election. All of this loving attention will backfire,
however, and Yushchenko will win"
By Andrei Piontkovsky, independent political analyst
contributed this comment to The Moscow Times
Moscow Times, Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2004. Page 10
In 2004, Russia's newest political ideology -- Putinism -- will flourish,
reaching new heights of success.
Putinism is the final, highest stage of Russia's brand of criminal,
bureaucratic capitalism -- the natural, logical mutation of the Yeltsin
model of the 1990s. It is capitalism run by police and pencil pushers with
the father of the nation in charge. It's the replacement of Yeltsin-era
oligarchs with new "patriotic" ex-security service operatives, and more
broadly with that huge collective oligarch -- the bureaucracy -- with its
armed detachments, the so-called power agencies.
The ideology of Putinism and the model of governance it has produced are
most striking for their aesthetic and intellectual indigence. But that's not
the worst thing. The real problem is the utter ineffectiveness of Putinism.
Rather than correct the defects of Russian capitalism -- the merger and
criminalization of money and power, institutionalized corruption -- it only
This kind of model is incapable of ensuring stable growth. It will not allow
Russia to overcome its terrible social stratification or to achieve the
breakthrough needed before a postindustrial society can emerge here. This
model of peripheral capitalism dooms Russia to economic degradation,
marginalization and ultimately to collapse. It cannot drag on for decades
like the Stalin or Brezhnev models.
But 2004, as I said, will see the wretched triumph of Putinism. Continued
high oil prices will allow the regime to maintain the illusion of relative
economic prosperity. And this spring Russia will have a new prime minister,
Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin.
At the casting call for this role, Kudrin demonstrated his personal loyalty
more zealously than the rest, as well as the greatest readiness to disown
his former patrons. On top of that, his image as a liberal technocrat fits
perfectly with the myth that the regime is proceeding with the course of
Under Prime Minister Kudrin, GDP will grow at a reasonable pace (6 to 7
percent). Gold and hard-currency reserves will increase, inflation will
remain moderate and the strength of the ruble will continue to grow. The
strength of the ruble, coupled with a fall in oil prices, will produce a
serious economic crisis -- but in 2005.
Vladimir Putin's resounding victory at the polls in March will wrap up the
sweep operation of the Russian political landscape launched by his
administration, leaving Russia with a single politician. The current
hypocritical system of "managed democracy" will give way naturally to an
openly authoritarian regime.
In fact, this operation was substantially completed in 2003. The symbol of
the new political era and the result of a decade of liberal reform in Russia
was the historic standing ovation given to Putin at the 13th congress of the
Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs -- a gathering that
resembled a remake of the 17th Communist Party Congress, known as the
Congress of Victors. The RSPP brings together Russia's capitalist shock
These were supposed to be the emancipated titans of industry, the flower of
10 years of reform. Instead, we beheld a room full of slaves quaking in
their boots. The post-Soviet liberal revolution produced not free people but
a new generation of slaves. Unlike the slaves of communism, these new
villeins are bound by the property they have acquired, and are therefore
capable of far greater baseness and submission.
This year will see the further political and spiritual consolidation of Russian society. The leading lights of culture, the political spin doctors and
practitioners of many other of the oldest professions will hold congresses
just like the RSPP, and at each one another Arkady Volsky will throw up his
hands with mock surprise and say rapturously, "I can't stop them, Vladimir
And indeed, there will be no stopping them. The revival of the traditions of
lofty spirituality and sobornost in Russian society will demand that the
people not merely love the anointed president but perform greater feats of
genuine civic spirit. People will walk barefoot for miles and stand for
hours in the freezing cold once more to appear on the president's annual
question-and-answer session on national television, and they will once more
ask about the health of his favorite dog who had the patriotic good sense to
whelp on the eve of the State Duma elections. This must be what Kremlin
court spin doctor Gleb Pavlovsky means by the "mystical link between Putin
and the masses."
Putin's mystical link with the masses in the military will be expressed from
time to time in televised speeches by the rank-and-file about the inevitable
catastrophe awaiting the Americans in Iraq and their shameful flight from
the country. As far as foreign policy is concerned, the year will pass in
expectation of that catastrophe as television news shows report on coalition
casualties with malicious delight.
This will be a tough year for the Americans in Iraq. They will incur further
losses, but they will not leave. The Europeans will disagree with the Bush
administration on many issues, but they will increasingly support U.S.
policy in Iraq, because they realize what is at stake there. Slowly but
surely, the situation in Iraq will improve. It will not be a decisive issue
in the next U.S. presidential campaign: Bush will easily win a second term,
buoyed by an improving economy.
As Russia's "strategic partnership" in the war on international terrorism
collapses, the foreign policy establishment will turn its attention to
strengthening Russia's position in the former Soviet republics. United by
the fever of neo-imperialism, Russian politicians from Dmitry Rogozin to
Anatoly Chubais will make much of building their empires in the sand.
The administration of newly elected Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili
will be labeled anti-Russian, and all the traditional measures will be taken
to destabilize it. Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko will
also be tarred as anti-Russian, and Moscow will pull out all the stops to
prevent him from winning the election. All of this loving attention will
backfire, however, and Yushchenko will win.
Russian politicians will fail to understand that their neo-imperial impulses
can elicit nothing but rejection in the former Soviet republics. Yet all
they need to do is to study their experience of "unification" with Belarus,
whose leader Alexander Lukashenko has led the entire Russian political elite
around by the nose for the last 10 years by exploiting their collective
By the end of 2004, Russia's relations with the United States and the
European Union will be chillier than at any time since the collapse of the
Soviet Union. Officially this will be described as defending Russia's
national interests as the country rises from its knees. The task of catching
up with Portugal within 15 years will be dismissed as contemptible and as a
provocation against a great country. The proud Russian Achilles, having
given up on trying to outstrip the Portuguese turtoise, will
"asymmetrically" throw down the gauntlet.
The man of the year in 2004 will be footballer Vadim Yevseyev. As he leaves
Portugal following an unsuccessful performance by the Russian national team
at the European Championship this summer, Yevseyev will turn to the Western
television cameras and from the depths of his mysterious Russian soul he
will hurl his trademark howl -- "Fuck you!"-- just as he did in Wales.
Yevseyev will be invited to the Kremlin, where he will be awarded the Order
for Services to the Fatherland, Fourth Degree, as the person who most
completely expressed the existential essence of the Orthodox Russian
character and the fundamental principles of Russian domestic and foreign
Andrei Piontkovsky, an independent political analyst, contributed this
comment to The Moscow Times
FOR PERSONAL AND ACADEMIC USE ONLY