13.04.2004
Union of the Sword and
the Plowshare
№2 2004 April/June

The article by Russian journalist and TV commentator Mikhail
Leontyev was published in Russian in Izvestia daily, Feb. 25/2004,
and caused heated debates in the press (see the article by political analyst Lilia Shevtsova in
this issue).


How is it possible to unite the ultra-leftist, non-conformists,
liberal “Westerners,” the ardent followers of the Communist idea,
and the Chechen-loving champions of human rights? It may seem
impossible, but it is the membership of a new radical opposition
group that waves just one slogan: “Russia without Putin!” From the
viewpoint of realistic prospects, this slogan reeks of utopia.
However, it has a clear meaning, which is easy to understand at
least in the genre of anti-utopian writings.

THE FIRST TERM

What great misdemeanors has the incumbent president committed to
arouse such enmity among the radicals? First, he has pushed them to
the side of the road of Russian politics. His first term in office
was entirely devoted to laying out the elementary prerequisites for
implementing his presidential task: the restoration and
modernization of Russia. This is the essence of Russian politics
today, and it is important to remember that when Putin was first
elected president there were no such policy prerequisites.

What was Russia’s condition prior to the election of Putin?
State institutions were on the point of collapse. This degradation
had touched every part of government, including its only legitimate
institution – the presidency. It would be unfair to suggest,
however, that Boris Yeltsin was responsible for this deterioration.
Russia’s catastrophic condition was the result of a systemic Soviet
crisis: it was the Communists, not the pro-democratic reformers,
who had destroyed the Soviet Union. Rats, flies and other creatures
that thrive on rotting remnants arrived en masse only after the
country’s body had already fallen to pieces. Yeltsin displayed much
more aptitude than the more humanistic Russian elite in dealing
with the situation. His objective role was “presiding over a slide
into the abyss.” A realistic and positive program was unthinkable
until the nation came to realize the scope of the catastrophe,
stopped awaiting miracles from the market economy and humanitarian
aid, and hit the bottom of that abyss.

The President’s first term in office began with a gradual and
very cautious rehabilitation of the Russian state that started with
its basic elements, without which it is impossible to make real
advances. The first such step – whatever apprehensions this may
have caused the radicals – was regaining control in the law
enforcement agencies, and the repressive machine. Note: at that
time we could only think of “controllability,” not “efficiency.”
The very existence of a state is implausible if the repressive
machinery is corrupted and manipulated by financial or criminal
groups and clans, including several from abroad. In a genuine
hierarchic system, orders from the top must be taken as directives
for action rather than a topic for bargaining. This is the major
prerequisite for rebuilding the state as a major player in domestic
politics.

Furthermore, it was important to regenerate Russia’s vital
interests in the territories around its borders. Without the
neighboring countries located in the so-called post-Soviet space,
Russia cannot be viewed as an economically and, moreover,
politically self-sufficient sovereign state.

The latter means restoring the Russian state as a player in
international politics, as well as maintaining its sovereignty. It
should be noted that only a handful of contemporary countries enjoy
genuine sovereignty; the others either lack the chances of becoming
truly sovereign or delegate a part of their powers – more or less
voluntarily – to some great power. Except for a few international
outcasts, several countries have real sovereignty – the U.S.,
China, India and Russia. Germany, Britain or Japan, for example,
cannot be categorized as truly sovereign nations.

For Russia, maintaining its role in international politics is
vital not only in civilizational and cultural terms – it is
important for its very survival. In comparison with Mexico or the
Czech Republic, for example, Russia cannot exist as a part of some
integrated project. If it forfeits its sovereignty, it will be torn
apart economically, politically, and physically by new and old
international players competing for influence on its territory.
Imagining Russia as a quiet and comfortable satellite nation
developing in some “normal way” amongst a variety of other liberal
satellites, which are in turn under the patronage of great
democratic powers, is either pure self deception or propagandist
intrigue.

Four years is less than a second in historical terms, and
gathering stones is a much more difficult activity than casting
them. What has been accomplished over the past four years falls
disappointingly short of our expectations, yet we have avoided
gross errors at the same time; we did not lose any contests to
anyone, nor quarrel. To rebuild the country, Russian policymakers
had to act cautiously, and occasionally clandestinely. Today, the
country has reached a level of its rehabilitation when it can
afford to act openly. It is precisely that openness that infuriates
and baffles the Russian catastrophe-phobic elite, who grew out of
an ailing, despised and crumbling country. This group of
individuals has swelled in wealth and influence by selling out what
was left of the country.

 

“RUSSIA WITHOUT PUTIN.” ANTI-UTOPIA ONE

This liberal option is a way of action for coy opponents to
President Putin and it implies a certain reversal of strategy. It
means forgetting Putin like a nightmare as if he never existed. Or
else, acting by the principle: “Let’s proceed like our predecessors
did.” At first sight, it looks as if we have seen all of this
before. It brings to mind the last years of Yeltsin’s presidency,
with the oligarchs kicking in the doors of the Kremlin offices. It
means the restoration of the oligarchies that lost their hold on
power. Ironically, this is what makes all the difference. The
phrase “Never again!” will become a popular motto for the elite of
the 1990s that has somehow survived to our present times. The
question is how that “Never again!” can be implemented.

At best, this is a return to 1991 – with larger hard currency
reserves, but without the remainders of the Soviet infrastructure,
humanistic-democratic illusions or the legitimacy based on such
illusions in the face of an impoverished and brutalized country.
(Recent public opinion polls show that 51 percent of the Russian
constituency was prepared to vote against all the candidates in the
March presidential election had Putin decided not to participate.
Against this background, it does not take Solomon to figure out
that 95 percent of voters would have definitely voted against the
oligarchies).

In order for the oligarchs to realize their motto of “Putin
never again,” they will require the support of external forces. The
oligarchs will proceed to do what they have done in the past, that
is, transfer Russia’s assets out of the country to the direct
control of the U.S. administration; these activities were performed
quietly, methodically and step by step, lest the populace become
unnecessarily aroused. But the next time they are given the
opportunity, this transfer of assets will occur rapidly and in huge
volumes. In the political sphere, such moves will mean a rapid
(and, most  likely, direct) return to the pro-Western
diplomacy of former Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev. As for the
economy, it will be left intact – there will always be enough of
the “right” people around to manage it. An oligarchic restoration
means a brief period of joyful plundering of the country, with all
of the inevitable consequences such as heightened tensions,
conflicts and the decay of the remaining state. But there is no
external resource or helping hand that would support the
treacherous elite in upholding power and order in a country like
Russia. Nor is there an external force that would need it very
much. Therefore, such a scenario will simply pave the way to
Russia’s dismemberment.

Abstract utopias aside, a look at the real capabilities of this
opposition suggests that an economic and political destabilization
is its only instrument for affecting the strong position of the
pro-Putin majority. The situation in Chechnya provides the only
‘fast-action’ possibility amongst the possible external and
internal factors which could destabilize the Putin regime. As a
tool of destabilization, Chechnya does not have anything to do with
Chechen separatism, Islam or the Chechen people per se. It is
related only to the struggle for power in Russia. These true
motives give the “democratic” opposition, uniting under the slogan
of “Russia without Putin,” a bloody and barbarous taint that is
already easily discernable.

Interestingly, the attempts to pool a radical and democratic
anti-Putin opposition have brought the Russian liberals to the
margins of the political spectrum. Compared with this group, even
the boisterous Soviet-era dissident Valeria Novodvorskaya resembles
a serious politician with a profound ideology. Take, for example,
the Election 2008 committee headed by Garry Kasparov, the
international chess grand master. His fame probably does much to
conceal the fact that, notwithstanding his remarkable abilities in
abstract thinking, a chess master is essentially a sportsman, which
makes his talent more comparable to a soccer player than an
intellectual. In any case, an individual who ardently propagates
the strange pseudo-historic theory of Anatoly Fomenko, which is
based on a combination of wild guessing and obscure mathematics,
can hardly aspire to the role of Russia’s savior. And giving the
buffoon figure Ivan Rybkin a role in the whole scene could have
raised a good laugh had he not been associated with the sinister
web of Chechen terror.

“RUSSIA WITHOUT PUTIN.” ANTI-UTOPIA TWO

The second option represents the stance of the leftists, and
seems to be even more utopian than the liberal one. Essentially, it
calls for a radical overturn of power in the orthodox
national-communist style. This leftist opposition exploits a range
of complaints lodged against Putin: economic liberalism,
surrendering positions to the U.S., integration with the West, and,
generally, the “selling out of the homeland.” Nationalist populism
in its bare form is a difficult thing to describe, largely due to
its unpredictability. What is definite is that any significant
departure from Putin’s policy of balancing on the edge in our
relations with foreign partners (primarily the Americans) will bury
all hope for maintaining Russia’s genuine sovereignty. Russia has
not yet fully recovered, and its opportunities for pursuing an
independent policy will be undermined by a different approach. The
liberal option provides us with a pro-Western foreign policy that
is styled after Kozyrev, while the second version presupposes a
style much more abrupt than that of Yevgeny Primakov. What will
transpire is something close to the style of Vladimir Zhirinovsky,
when the country will become an outcast, and its relations with the
outside world will fold up. Such an event is totally alien to the
idea of Russia’s survival.

Simultaneously, such processes will occur inside the country as
well. If someone successfully secures the victory of such a party,
this will translate into a victory of revenge. And it will be a
revenge that is quick and total. This is when the nationalist
populists will have the chance to secure a certain level of
legitimacy and support of the population. Fundamentally, this
movement will by no means be Communism but, rather, Fascism in one
form or another. All of this will be happening against the backdrop
of individual revenge and individual terror on the part of the
feebly controlled law enforcement agencies. It should be noted
that, unlike Communism, Fascism has never rejected private property
– it has always opposed the postulation of its inviolability. This
new model of Fascism will be different from the old ones – it will
have an incomparably greater share of criminality in it. Extremist
criminality, in fact.

A CIVILIZED REVENGE

Russians have a huge desire to see a renaissance of their
country, a restoration of its role, power, and national dignity. As
underlined by all sociological studies – regardless of the
differences in the assessments – these sentiments all point to the
same fact: it is a demand for revenge. Putin as a political
phenomenon was born out of that feeling of humiliated national
dignity and the craving for a revenge. The challenge of his
political course and his second term in office is that he must meet
the revengeful aspirations of the public in a civilized,
non-cataclysmic way. It means the rehabilitation and modernization
of Russia in normal, civilized conditions that correspond with the
outside world. Above all, it means maintaining adequate relations
with the world’s power centers (in terms of tactics and strategy),
no matter what attitude those centers may have toward Russia’s
renaissance. Demagogical proclamations about a “national-socialist
threat,” propelled by momentary objectives, ignore the fact that
should Russia miss its chance to gain revenge in a civilized way,
it will eventually be acquired by brutal methods.

In other words, the second option will be made possible not as a
result of political games, but rather as a result of failure, i.e.
if Putin’s modernization drive is disrupted or if it turns into
another fly-by-night phase of a national catastrophe following the
liberal option. Such a failure may lead to an oligarchic
restoration followed by a criminal-fascist reaction that will end
with Russia’s disintegration and eventual disappearance. Such is
the full spectrum of the practical manifestations of the “Russia
without Putin” slogan.

HOPING FOR A HELPING HAND FROM ABROAD

Russia is facing the colossal task of rebuilding its might
amidst the overwhelming reluctance of key international players who
would like to prevent such a scenario from happening. The President
has no room for error, and that is the sole explanation for his
being seemingly over-cautious. Surprisingly, this approach was
enough to win over the hearts of the majority of Russians who plan
to continue living in this country. On the other hand, it was
enough for forming a systemic opposition – albeit on the fringes –
to this wish of the politically immature masses of people. It is
also quite natural that oppositionists of variegated colors are
scheming beyond the borders of Russia.

Narrowly oriented and stubbornly entrenched demand has brought
to life a phenomenon labeled “the united anti-Putin opposition.”
Although its representatives come from different backgrounds, they
do not have questions or claims against each other. In fact, they
have just one claim, and it is directed against Putin: the claim
argues against the presidency of Vladimir Putin. Since it is
difficult to articulate any real sense to this claim, the radical
opposition is being increasingly “Rybkinized,” that is, making
buffoons of themselves. This association resembles the “Union of
the Sword and the Plowshare” and the promise to provide it with a
Parabellum [as described by the Soviet satirists Ilya Ilf and
Yevgeny Petrov in their satire novel The Golden Calf in 1927. Its
protagonist, a witty swindler, pools money from the surviving
Russian nobility for their “early liberation from the hateful
Soviet regime.” He promises one of them a Parabellum gun. – Ed.]
The present situation would seem humorous if not for one thing: the
Parabellum may exist in the form of some TNT planted by the
Chechens, while the “milieu” from abroad will readily extend a
helping hand, as soon as such an opportunity makes itself
available.

We have not removed ourselves enough from a potential disaster,
nor do we have any room to commit errors. We have no justifiable
right to lose the battle.