The Old Country Behind a New Faсade
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In the book under review, a high-ranking U.S. National Security
Council official, Thomas Graham, analyzes developments in Russia
over the past decade. But the main topic of his study is Russia’s
future, rather than past. Is Russia’s recovery really possible and
will it be able to regain the Big Power status?

The West that was so enthusiastic about democratic reforms in
Russia hoped for its swift transition from a political democracy to
a market economy. Yet the West grossly overestimated the
opportunities that opened up before the new Russia. Graham, an
authoritative expert on Russian affairs, believes that the main
reason for that was the West’s inadequate knowledge of the very
essence of the Russian state. In the scholar’s opinion, Russia has
a specific mentality and political traditions that had for
centuries been making it quite different from the West. After 1991,
no cardinal change has occurred. Only a European faзade has
appeared, with the country remaining as it was. Behind this faзade,
the so-called vlast [power, authority] (p. 6) is still functioning.
Vlast is a specific system of rule in the Russian state that has
been developing for centuries. Graham notes that both the system of
vlast, and society itself, not being European, were not ready for
radical democratic changes. As for Western leaders who were ready
to assist the new Russia, they overlooked the existence of the old
political elite behind the democratic faзade.

The author believes that the formation of Russia as an
independent state was not the result of a well-conceived policy –
that was a kind of historical accident connected with the collapse
of the Soviet Union. Speaking of the causes of the demise of the
USSR that started back in the 1970s, Graham points out some major
drawbacks of the Soviet political and economic establishment and
also the specifics of the concrete historical period. Mikhail
Gorbachev’s attempts to reform the country backfired and only
precipitated disintegration processes. In the meantime, Gorbachev’s
opponents, above all Boris Yeltsin, succeeded in playing up the
“Russian card” (pp. 17-20), demanding full political and economic
autonomy for the RSFSR. Yeltsin’s team, Graham says, did not
actually insist on the breakup of the Soviet Union – they believed
that, remaining part of the Soviet Union, it was impossible to
carry through sweeping reforms to improve the situation in Russia.
Thus, the Soviet Union’s days were numbered and all the attempts to
set up a new entity to replace it failed.

Russia’s “young reformers” believed that the West’s moral and
financial support was a guarantee of success. It is not surprising
therefore that a pro-Western vector fully dominated Russia’s
foreign policy when it became the USSR’s successor. Despite all the
reformers’ rhetoric about the “rebirth of Russia,” in the author’s
view, they were more concerned with retaining their power and
pushing reforms, than with safeguarding the Russian state. Hence
the sharp increase in centrifugal trends inside Russia. But, Graham
holds, Yeltsin managed to bring the processes threatening Russia’s
integrity under control, though serious contradictions still remain
between the Center and the provinces.

Analyzing the 1993 Constitution, the author concludes that it
had resulted in the restoration of one-man rule in Russia. But this
“super-presidency” was ephemeral in Graham’s opinion, which fact is
explained by Boris Yeltsin’s peculiar style of rule and failing
health. The latter resulted in the appearance of a new form of
“dual power” (p. 26) – there emerged powerful political-economic
coalitions struggling for various spheres of influence. All this
was happening against the background of an ever-growing economic
and social crisis. Taking advantage of the instability in Moscow,
the regional elite strove to loosen their dependence on the

Graham calls the period between 1993 and 1999 the crumbling of
the Russian state and the return to “feudalism” (p. 25). He
believes that there were four factors that allowed Russia to retain
its integrity. Those were its geographical position, the absence of
mighty regional centers of power, ethnic homogeneity and
international surroundings. Assessing the performance of Russia’s
first president, Graham assails Yeltsin for numerous mistakes and
failures. At the same time he acknowledges that Yeltsin was faced
with the hard task of preserving Russia on the wreckage of the
Soviet empire.

Vladimir Putin, who became Prime Minister in August 1999, was
dead set, in Graham’s view, to stop the crumbling of the Russia
state, ameliorate the situation at home and prop up Russia’s
foreign policy positions. Right after his inauguration, Putin
launched a resolute offensive at the power centers that opposed the
Kremlin. The objective of that attack on the regional barons,
oligarchs, media and State Duma was to consolidate central
authority. Putin managed to score considerable successes along
these lines of offense, yet, Graham says, the position of the
current Russian president is not as strong as it may seem. The
power struggle still continues “behind the scenes” (p. 51) and the
president is opposed inside the Kremlin (the “family,” secret
services, young reformers), as well as outside (the governors and
oligarchs who have retained their influence). Putin, the author
stresses, has achieved economic growth and political stability –
but to the detriment of democratic principles, in a setting of
curbed press freedoms and human rights infringements. Many
healthcare and education problems also remain unsettled.

In the author’s opinion, Russia has failed to integrate into the
Western world and regain the status of a Great Power. Yet it is
playing an important role in maintaining global security. This is
why Washington has to develop good relations with Moscow. Graham
urges the United States to assist Russia in shaping a market
democracy and create external conditions for Russian economic
recovery, keeping an eye on the observance of human rights and
freedoms there. The author also touches on new positive shifts in
American-Russian relations in the wake of the September 11

More than ten years have passed since the collapse of the Soviet
Union. In Graham’s opinion, the transition period in Russia has
ended by now. Russia stands somewhere in-between a market democracy
and several variants of authoritarian rule – from communist to
fascist. In other words, both the hopes and the fears of the
Russian reformers and the West have materialized. A return to the
Russian traditional political system has occurred and today’s model
has much in common with the czarist regime. Graham believes that
today’s shaky stability in Russia might be threatened by internal
collisions and external interference. For the time being, such
threats are non-existent. This is why the key issue is whether the
country will be able to sustain an economic growth rate needed to
regain the Great Power status. The author calls economic growth the
principal condition for Russia’s rebirth. At the same time, to
really become an influential state, Russia must also settle
problems pertaining to the demographic situation, intellectual
potential and infrastructural development. The country’s future – a
new recession or a slow and gradual recovery – depends on the
solution of these problems. Russia may turn into a threat to the
whole world, but it may equally consolidate international
stability. Whether Russia will achieve steady economic growth rates
and lasting political stability and whether it will regain the lost
positions in the world is a question that remains open for