maandag, juli 23, 2007

Alexander Dugin, the Issue of Post-Soviet Fascism, and Russian Political Discourse Today by Andreas Umland in Ukrayinska Pravda, 23 juli 2007.

The past two years witnessed a welcome sensitization of the Russian public towards skinhead attacks and ultra-nationalist propaganda. In view of escalating violent attacks and other actions against foreigners, the debate on Russian fascism is currently experiencing a new high in the Russian media. There was a similar debate in the mid-1990s, when the confrontation between President Boris Yeltsin and the “intransigent opposition,” a state of near-civil war in Moscow, the ascent of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the appearance of neo-Nazi parties, and the first Chechen war, gave rise to the notion of a “Weimar Russia.” Even though this construct has made only rare appearances in commentaries in recent months, the current media debate is also marked by alarmism.

It is to be welcomed that the increasing right-wing extremist tendencies within the Russian party landscape and youth culture, which had been largely ignored for many years, are now at least partially acknowledged by the Russian public, and countermeasures are being debated. Even the Russian judiciary which has been known for its pro-nationalist bias is beginning to submit to the pressure of public opinion (or the presidential administration), and now applies the Russian penal code’s section on xenophobic crimes more frequently than was the case during the 1990s. Other promising developments include the sharp reactions of state officials to a xenophobic campaign advertisement aired by the Rodina (Motherland) alliance ahead of elections for the Moscow municipal parliament and the measures against the often deadly skinhead attacks on immigrants and visiting students. Official statements on such issues occasionally refer to the “anti-fascist” heritage of the Soviet Union and to the Russian people’s alleged special deep-rooted aversion against fascism.

Despite such encouraging signs, the Kremlin-controlled mass media have kept an altogether ambivalent stance toward right-wing extremist tendencies. Although manifest anti-Semitism and violent racism are now heavily criticized and visibly stigmatized, other xenophobic patterns remain present, or are even increasing, in foreign news reporting and political commentaries. In addition to the traditional anti-Western, anti-Baltic, anti-Gypsy, and anti-Polish reflexes, this is increasingly true for prejudices against Ukrainians and Caucasians, recently, especially, against Georgians. Unquestionably, though, it is the US that holds first place among the “enemies of Russia,” as projected by the Russian state media. The increasingly primitive and profound anti-Americanism seen, for example, in prime time political television shows like Odnako (“However”, hosted by Mikhail Leontiev), Real’naya politika (“Real Politics”, hosted by Gleb Pavlovsky), or Post Scriptum (hosted by Alexei Pushkov) is raised to the level of a Manichean world-view, where the US is made responsible for the majority of mishaps and failures in recent Russian, and indeed world history, and where US society mutates into the negative Other of Russian civilization. It is curious that Germany – the country that has caused Russia the most harm in recent history – is often excepted from this paranoid perception of the external world and stylized as a collective friend of Russia, probably not least because of Putin’s personal preferences (a distorted view that has, however, been stoked by the unorthodox approach to Russia of former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder).

Finally, despite the increasing censure of certain right-wing extremist tendencies, the representatives of ultra-nationalist political groups regarded as close to President Putin have been excepted from the Kremlin’s campaigns to discredit the radically nationalist camp. This is true, for instance, with regard to Zhirinovsky’s so-called Liberal Democratic Party, although many statements made by Zhirinovsky and his entourage equally stir xenophobic hatred among the population (for example, his notorious pamphlet “The Last Leap toward the South”). Last year, Putin personally awarded the Order of Merit for the Fatherland to Zhirinovsky – a man who in September 1995 had physically attacked a female MP, Yevgenia Tishkovskaya, in the State Duma in front of TV cameras.

Besides such tendencies in the broader public, there are similarly contradictory developments in the discourse of the elites and political pundits. On the one hand, the political leadership is promoting integration of Russia into Western organizations such as the G8 and the WTO. On the other hand, the political discourse of experts, as well as intellectual life in general, are characterized by the spread of an anti-Western consensus often described as “Eurasian.” Its essence is the assertion that Russia is “different” from, or indeed, by its nature, the opposite of the US. The Russian book market is experiencing a glut of vituperative political lampoons whose main features include pathological anti-Americanism, absurd conspiracy theories, apocalyptic visions of the future, and bizarre fantasies of national rebirth. Among the more or less widely read authors of such concoctions are Sergei Kurginyan, Igor Shafarevich, Oleg Platonov, and Maxim Kalashnikov (a.k.a. Vladimir Kucherenko).

Probably the best-known writer and commentator of this kind is Aleksandr Dugin (b. 1962), who holds a doctorate in political science (from an obscure Russian provincial institute) and is the founder, chief ideologue, and chairman of the so-called International “Eurasian Movement.” This Movement’s Supreme Council boasts among its members the Russian Federation’s Culture Minister Aleksandr Sokolov, Vice Speaker of the Federation Council, Aleksandr Torshin, Presidential Advisor Aslambek Aslakhanov, several diplomats and scholars as well as other illustrious personages, including some marginal Western intellectuals and CIS politicians.

Among the latter are Nataliya Vitrenko, the well-known head of the so-called Progessive Socialist Party of Ukraine, and Dmitro Korchinsky, formerly leader of the Ukrainian fascist party UNA-UNSO and now chairman of the Bratstvo (Brotherhood) Party. Dugin’s name was recently mentioned in Ukrainian mass media in connection with the scandal that arose when Ukrainian Presidential Advisor Mykola Zhulinsky was barred from entering Russia during a private trip to St. Petersburg this summer. This was interpreted as a retaliation for Ukraine’s refusal to permit Dugin entering Ukraine shortly before. In June 2006, Dugin had been declared persona non grata in Ukraine until 2011 for violating Ukrainian law, and was thus deported back to Russia after he had arrived by plane at Simferopol airport in early June 2007 in order to attend the festival “The Great Russian Word” organized by the Russian Community of the Crimea. In spite of this conflict with the Ukrainian authorities, the youth organization of Dugin’s Movement, the Eurasian Union of Youth, has an active branch in Ukraine, and is particularly visible in Sumy, Kyiv and the Crimea.

Dugin’s increasing celebrity in the CIS is remarkable considering that the chief “neo-Eurasian” is not only among the most influential, but also one of the most brazen of Russia’s ultra-nationalist publicists. While authors such as Kurginyan or Shafarevich are satisfied to promote a renaissance of classical Russian anti-Western sentiments in their pamphlets and subtly draw on Western sources, Dugin admits openly that his main ideas are based on non-Russian anti-democratic concepts such as European integral Traditionalism (e.g. René Guénon, Julius Evola, Claudio Mutti, etc.), Western geopolitics (e.g. Alfred Mahan, Halford Mackinder, Karl Haushofer), the German “conservative revolution” (e.g. Carl Schmitt, Ernst Jünger, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck), and the francophone New Right (e.g. Alain de Benoist, Robert Steuckers, Jean Thiriart).

Furthermore, during the 1990s, Dugin repeatedly hinted at his sympathy for selected aspects of Italian Fascism and National Socialism, such as the SS and its Ahnenerbe (“Ancestral Heritage”) Institute, and has described the Third Reich as the most consistent incarnation of the “Third Way” that he explicitly advocates. In the chapter “Fascism – Boundless and Red” of the online version of his 1997 book Tampliery Proletariata (The Templar Knights of the Proletariat), he expressed the hope that the inconsistent application of originally correct ideas by Hitler, Mussolini, etc. would, eventually, be followed in post-Soviet Russia by the emergence of a “fascist fascism”. In Dugin’s apocalyptic worldview, global history consists of a centuries-old confrontation between hierarchically organized “Eurasian” continental powers and liberal “Atlantic” naval powers. Today, this confrontation is carried out between Russia and the US as the main representatives of the two antagonistic types of civilization, and its final battle is approaching (Dugin uses the German word Endkampf, which has Nazi connotations, without a Russian translation).

One might expect Dugin, and other extremely right-wing pundits offering similar pro-fascist statements, to be subjected to the same public stigmatization as neo-Nazi parties and skinhead groups are currently experiencing in Russia. However, this has not been the case so far. On the contrary, Dugin and others of his ilk, such as the well-known editor-in-chief of Russia’s leading ultranationalist weekly Zavtra (“Tomorrow”), Aleksandr Prochanov, are popular guests in prime-time political television shows such as Vremena (“Times”, hosted by Vladimir Pozner), Tem vremenem (“In the Meantime”, hosted by Aleksandr Archangelsky), Voskresnyi vecher’ (“Sunday Evening”), or K Bar’eru (“To the Barricade”, hosted by Vladimir Solovyov), and are even invited to popular talk shows like Pust’ govoryat (“Let Them Speak”, hosted by Andrei Malakhov).

The fact that Dugin has so far been “spared” by the Kremlin-controlled media and his political opponents is not only due to his recent posing as a “radical centrist” and fanatical supporter of Putin as well as his ability to win sympathies of prominent members of the Russian legislative and executive braches. He has also managed to avoid the charge of promoting fascism by adapting his writings and public image to the distorted conception of fascism inherited from Soviet propaganda. In the post-Soviet discourse, the term “fascism” is equated with German National Socialism and its external trappings, such as the swastika or Roman salute. Occasionally, the propagandistic usage of the term “fascism” goes so far as to include all ideas regarded as “anti-Russian”, and, paradoxically, becomes thus a rhetorical instrument in xenophobic agitation campaigns of Russian ultra-nationalists.

The example of Dugin illustrates that, as a result of the idiosyncratic conception of generic fascism in post-Soviet Russia, it is sufficient to rhetorically dissociate oneself from the worst crimes of Nazi Germany and to refrain from blatant copying of Nazi symbols in order to avoid public stigmatization as a “fascist”. This approach would, at least, explain why, on the one hand, obviously neo-Nazi groups such as the Russkoe Natsional’no Edinstvo (Russian National Unity) of Aleksandr Barkashov or skinhead gangs are being vocally suppressed by the executive and judiciary, while on the other hand ultra-nationalist writers who, in terms of their rhetoric, are no less radical are not only tolerated, but have unhindered access to public platforms and state-controlled media, and are, sometimes, allocated an active role in PR projects of the Kremlin’s political technologists.

Another factor in favor of Dugin and similar publicists is the return of the Russian leadership to quasi-Orwellian forms of organizing public discourse. Kremlin-controlled political reporting in the mass media has become a succession of national-patriotic happenings in which international developments of any kind – whether a Russia-China summit or Russian athletes’ performance at the Olympics, the “Orange Revolution” or foreign success of a Russian fantasy movie – are exaggerated into either collective triumphs or shared humiliations of the Russian nation under its faithful leadership. The attendant superficiality and emotionality of public debates, which occasionally degenerate into bizarre shouting matches between participants of political television shows, replace serious analysis. Political commentaries are fixated on the “here and now” which, in the case of Dugin, may have contributed to that his well-known neo-fascist stance during the 1990s has been “forgotten”. The mantra-like disparagement of the West that accompanies the agitational realignment of foreign news reporting increases the playing field for the propagation of anti-Western slogans which also furthers the spread of extremist ideas proposed by Dugin and theorists with similar leanings.

Will the newfound sensitivity towards nationalist tendencies lead to a sustained return to tolerant and liberal aspects of Russia’s political tradition? Or is this new tendency no more than the latest episode in the Putin administration’s fluctuating media campaigns? One can identify two contrary trends – one ideological, the other pragmatic – whose collision has restored a certain measure of controversy to the generally dull public discourse in Russia. On the one hand, the dualist worldview introduced by the Kremlin in the past few years – the simple, but honest Russians struggling for independence against a devious, soulless, imperialist West – fulfils an important role in legitimating the “tough” course of the resurging Russia under its new president. However, the officially approved paranoia also opens the floodgates for radical conclusions. Since the US model of society is presented as the antithesis of Russian civilization, one should not be surprised when youth gangs of violent thugs try to prevent an “Americanization” of Russian society in their way. The damage caused by such reactions to the international image of Russia is, in turn, incompatible with the equally strong tendency towards establishing the country as a respected partner of the Western countries and as becoming a part of the “civilized world” (the preferred Russian term for the economically advanced democratic states). Besides, the leadership of the Kremlin appears to be considering large-scale immigration as a way of replenishing the rapidly dwindling population of the Russian Federation, which would create new, potentially explosive, tensions. Finally, the fanatical anti-Americanism and pro-Iranian positions of Dugin and others are in contradiction to a number of security policies of the Kremlin and its efforts to join the international coalition against terrorism as a full member. Due to these and other challenges in the coming years, the particulars of the – at least partial – handover of power from Putin to his successor in 2008 will gain additional importance.

Ukrayinksa Pravda

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zaterdag, mei 05, 2007

'Eurasia and Europe should Cooperate against America' interview met Alexandr Dugin

According to Russian strategist Alexandr Dugin, geopolitics as a philosophy of location is one of the most fundamental instruments that the postmodern age has developed against the historicism of modernity.

Dugin has attempted to make the global status of Russia meaningful among generations, in the framework of geopolitics that he defines as mankind's mutual dealing with location.

Russia had taken the stage as an empire due to its historical and cultural accumulation and its geostrategic position on the world stage. In his opinion, the only way to maintain the claim of the Russian Empire, that stands between civilizations, as an Asian and a European force, is to reinvigorate Eurasian geopolitics. Eurasianism is an indispensable strategy not only for Russia but also for the ascension of Atlantic-oriented, Eurasian forces against the Western alliance. In this interview, Dugin stresses his prospects on regional forces, Turkey in particular, precautions to be taken against the East and West, and the future in general.

The European Union (EU) completed its fifth enlargement process on May 1, 2004. In contrast to the previous ones, the main components of this enlargement consisted of the relatively poor Eastern and Central European countries. This enlargement extended the European geography from Helsinki to Valetta, Lisbon to Budapest. How do you evaluate the expansion of the EU into Russia's territory?

In general, I could say that I am on the side of a greater Europe. It could be a kind European Union possibly turning into a geopolitical pool, or a power balancing the American hegemony. An independent, powerful and united European Union is a unique opportunity to create a multi-polar world. However, there are two major powers within the EU: One is the Euro-Atlantic countries -- England, Portugal, Spain and some Eastern countries. In this group, England and the United States are the active powers. This group is against Russia and Eurasia, and its strategy is to cause continuous tension between the European West and the Eurasian East. The EU has two identities. One, as I have already said, is Euro-Atlantic and the second is the Berlin-Paris continental EU identity. The latter is independent from the Atlantic countries, powerful and democratic and tries to establish a European empire as an ally of both the United States and Eurasia. There is a secret disagreement between these two groups. The Eastern Europeans, the most recent members, have strengthened the Atlantic wing. But these countries, for some historical reasons, have stood up against Russia. Hence, we as Eurasians, the great and democratic European supporters,, view the most recent members in the Union standing up against Russia as a step against Eurasia itself. Therefore, in general, it is nice to see that these members are under the effect of the EU. It is already impossible to be a member.

How do you evaluate the situation of Russia, caught between the Greater Middle East Project and Europe? As a creator who established Eurasianism in thought, is it possible for Eurasianism to be an alternative to the great powers on top of the power hierarchy in the international system?

The United States aims to create a mono-polar world it can easily dominate and dictate its own geopolitical agenda. Since it has difficulty in doing this, crises have been experienced in the international system. As an alternative to this, we advocate a new multi-polar world, that is based on cooperation with Europe, Eurasia and the Pacific. We believe it is necessary that Eurasia, Europe and Russia play fundamental roles in this process.

What is the Russian viewpoint or that of the Eurasians on the Greater Middle East Project?

This is a ploy by the U.S. ultra-imperialist New Conservatives (neo-Cons), "the think-tanks" close to the Cheney-Bush circle. The plan is to wipe out Islam from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the other countries and to form regions directly controlled by the U.S. Turkey's role in this anti-Arab and anti-Islam play is to mediate as Bush mentioned in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit in Istanbul. But America does have the instruments to make this dream materialize. Apart from the Middle East, I am worried about our entering a larger conflict zone. It appears that the future of the world order will shape up according to the initiatives in this area.

What kind of message was Putin trying to deliver to the United States by not attending the NATO Summit in Istanbul?

The fate of NATO also resembles that of the EU. It has been divided into two groups; the pro-Atlantic and the pro-European. The summit in Istanbul organized under the headline, "Enforcement of the pro-transatlantic domination plans," also witnessed a diversity in opinion that manifested itself in the verbal quarrel between [Jacques] Chirac and [George W.] Bush. [Russian President Vladimir] Putin recognizes and supports the continental identity of NATO and seeks cooperation; but he cannot be enthused over NATO, that has a pro-transatlantic role, and will never be.

U.S. forces have been staging military maneuvers in the Caspian Sea. Can you evaluate their interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq by considering the effects on Russia? How will Russia probably react to this?

We need to take into consideration the U.S. tools in forming a mono-polar world. Just as Great Britain performed in the "Great Play" against the Soviets years ago, America now plans to control the Caucasus, Central Asia and other strategic areas, that are of importance to their aims. U.S. bases set up in Central Asia and at other similar points after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, have been established in strategic areas in Eurasia under the canopy of the fight against international terrorism. The strategists in Russia are being temped to perceive this as a challenge to Russia's national benefits. The other problem is that Russia is not strong enough to deal with America. If so, what should be done? To embark upon a diplomatic resistance against the United States by utilizing its diplomatic efficiency in Afghanistan, Arab countries and Central Asia is the best solution. Yet, Russia and Eurasia cannot display any efficiency without the support of European countries. They are supposed to develop alternative visions mutually.

You talked about the fight against international terrorism a few minutes ago. Do you believe that such a threat exists?

International terrorism is a kind of excuse that U.S. strategists are making so as to fill the counter- power vacuum that surfaced after the Soviet Empire became history. They needed a new enemy image in order to create a new world order. This is not a vehicle being used for massive propaganda; but at the same time, a strategic component of the United States to demonstrate its military might at any place in the world. Hence, the U.S. has has the opportunity to prove its military superiority, using the so-called fight against international terrorism as an excuse. Of course, there is terrorism and terrorists; however, this is not the kind of global enemy that America claims, in its bid to consolidate its global domination. To emphasize a point, we do not mean that we support or ignore terrorism. Please, note the distortions made by the United States.

Then, can we conclude that America is trying to use international terrorism because communism has been taken out of the scene?

Now the circumstances have changed a little. The communist world was a whole and it was concrete, while international terrorism is a global phenomenon. The United States has accepted the role of the world's policeman. Yet, what it does is mask the new American strategy based on imperial domination.

We often hear Putin talking about the threat of international terrorism, using almost the same jargon as Bush. How would you comment on this?

This is a political game and what is to be said has to be said. The United States and Russia seem to use the same jargon but what they talk about is different from each other. When America discusses international terrorism, we understand that it indeed tries to conceal the plans relevant to global domination, while Russia talks about the enemies fighting to disrupt stability in Eurasia and going beyond their limits. Russian military strategists perceive the U.S.-led NATO as commanding independent countries and bringing some radical groups to the fore.

How would Turkey contact Russia if the Turks played a role in the Greater Middle East Project? Would there be any tension in the region if Turkey cooperated with the United States?

Yes, there would, because Turkey has a double identity, a capacity to identify its regional strategies and position and an opportunity to deal with both Eurasia and Europe. In this way, Turkey is able to play a positive role independent of the Atlantic; but if it becomes a tool in the U.S. Greater Middle East Project, then Turkey would run the risk of having no agreement with both Russia and Europe. America plans to use Turkey not only against the Arab-Muslim Middle Eastern countries but also against Europe. A pro-American Turkey cannot solve any problem in the region, ideologically or strategically. Moreover, such an attempt will strain relations with Russia, Europe as well as with Islamic countries. As Turkey has an active role, it needs to shape its diplomatic relations in a Eurasian sense. As long as it follows the Greater Middle East policy through the path that America has modified, Turkey will be recognized as a second Israel. Turkey is expected to exert more intellectual and cultural efforts.

Already, the Turkish government - more often than not - has disclosed that it does not view the issue of being an American model affirmatively, and approaches the matter from the perspective of cooperation.

The United States is at the peak of its power, hence, European countries and Russia are not able to resist American policies as Turkey does. For the time being, there is nothing that can be done other than accepting the American projects. For this reason, Putin did not go against the U.S. bases in Central Asia. I can see that Turkey has partially accepted America's proposal, because, this is a realpolitik choice. However, it is certain that Turkey does not consist of the government alone. We know that Turkey has a complex social structure and the power of the army, political parties and religious inclination can easily be perceived. The Turkish public protested against the NATO Summit and adopted a position like the Eurasians. This is because the Turkish government could not explicitly recognize the strategy as Putin did. That is why the government's pragmatist steps should be viewed with understanding.

What is Russia's attitude towards Chechnya? Is it possible for Russia to change its policy towards this country?

Moscow has triumphed militarily in Chechnya but not politically. We could not explain to them why they had to remain within the borders of Russia and make them feel that they had a place within those borders. To solve the problem by military means rather than by political means was the greatest mistake of the Putin government. We propose a "Eurasian solution" on the Chechnya issue. Russia needs to offer Chechens the "Eurasian Plan for Chechnya." Chechens are active, brave and proud people. Chechen separatists are also supposed to be integrated into the Eurasia vision we mentioned before. Russia should better respect its good enemies and make them integrate into the Eurasia vision for a better future. Otherwise, much more chaos will be experienced.

Do you think that relations between Russia and Turkey change fast? Because, the Russian attitude towards us on the Cyprus issue six months ago was very severe. The Russian foreign minister, the day before, signed the conclusion report in which Mehmet Ali Talat used the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus prime minister's status at the Islamic Development Organization meeting. The chief adviser in the Prime Ministry, Ahmet Davutoglu, had mentioned in one of his speeches, an official meeting that Putin will embark upon in six months' time. If it comes true, a Russian president will visit Turkey for the first time in 30 years. Do you think this relation is a kind of marriage of convenience?

Russia's strategy of perceiving Turkey as an enemy changed after the Cold War ended. Turkey used to be America's ally in this double-polar world. But we are now in a mono-polar world and Turkey has many more alternatives than before. As a matter of fact, Turkey and Russia are located in a triangle as being both Eurasian and Western as well as Eastern countries. That is why Ankara and Russia strive to perceive each other as regional partners. Russia has changed its perspective ever since Turkey discovered the Eurasian dimension. I believe that Ahmet Davutoglu (a member of the Independent Industrialists and Businessmen Association) is aware of the Eurasia potential. There are some groups studying the Eurasian vision in Turkey. Hitherto, Russia totally used to support the Greek side on the Cyprus issue. But now the parameters have changed. The importance the Turkish Cypriots give to their independence is already well known; yet, Turkey, like other countries, is aware that its characteristics are being threatened by the wind of globalization in this mono-polar world where America is the sole leader. The same applies to Russia. Then, wouldn't it be abnormal for the two countries to strive in seeking a new alliance that would not mean a kind of colonialism or expansionism; but a kind of cooperation awakening democracy and finding specific solutions to the problems of the multi-polar world.

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dinsdag, april 10, 2007

600 Vow to Fight ‘Orange Pest’ in St. Petersburg Times, 10 april 2007.

MOSCOW — About 600 young people gathered under imperial black banners on Triumfalnaya Ploshchad on Sunday as their leaders pledged support to President Vladimir Putin and vowed to fight an “orange revolution” in Russia.

The Eurasian Youth Union, a nationalist group whose chief ideologist, Alexander Dugin, has close ties to the Kremlin, had planned a march along Tverskaya Ulitsa, but city authorities only sanctioned the two-hour rally near Mayakovskaya metro station.

“We are supporters of the regime. We support Putin because he created the prerequisites for the rebirth of the nation,” Dugin told the rally. “We want guarantees that Putin will stay for a third term or secure the continuity of his course.”

The Eurasian Youth Union is seen as a Kremlin-backed project to divert youth political activism from the banned, oppositional National Bolsheviks, who demand that Putin resign. When the group was created last year, its leaders pledged to fight Western attempts to influence Russian politics.

“Russia should be strong and not crawling under the West,” Dmitry Zakharov, a rally participant, said Sunday.

Other participants said they had come to oppose the “orange pest,” referring to Western-backed opposition groups. Such groups played an important role in Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004.

“National Bolsheviks want to monopolize street protests and the notion of civil society for themselves, and we want to show everybody today that we, too, are a part of civil society,” said Pavel Kanishchev, waving a black flag decorated with eight yellow arrows symbolizing Russia’s imperial expansion.

The rally began with a public prayer by an Orthodox priest, followed by a monarchic hymn sung by a bearded baritone wearing black garb.

Several participants who declined to give their names said they were not politically active and had come to Moscow because they had been offered a free bus ride.

“There are many people like us here, mostly students from vocational schools in Kovrov, Vladimir and other towns,” said a teenage girl with blue hair and a pierced nose. “I can’t wait for the boring stuff to end and go for a walk.”

St. Petersburg Times

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AN IMPERIAL EASTER in Kommersant, 10 april 2007.

About 700 members of the Eurasian Youth Union gathered in central Moscow on Sunday to hold the Imperial March, an Orthodox Christian demonstration, to promote the return of the Russian empire. Speaking at the demonstration, Aleksandr Dugin, the organization's spiritual leader, said participants were prepared to "fight for the sake of immortality" and called the United States the "kingdom of the anti-Christ." As in other protests, the city dispatched a large force of police and riot troops, though no arrests were reported.

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donderdag, april 05, 2007

Eurasia Vol. I n°2 : La Révolution conservatrice russe, 12/2006.

Semestriel de géopolitique de l'association "Les Nôtres"
Sommaire 12/2006 :
- Eurasia : Présentation
- Dossier Alexandre Douguine : La Révolution conservatrice russe
- Varia : Jean Claude Manifacier : Le Déracinement du Monde
- Texte retrouvé : Ernst von Salomon : Apprendre à mourir
- Eurasia : Lectures eurasiennes

Présentation d’Eurasia : Depuis une quinzaine d’années, une nouvelle idéologie politique a surgi dans la Russie post-soviétique. Bien qu’encore peu connue en Occident, cette doctrine s’est fortement développée et enrichie, se diffusant surtout parmi les élites russes mais aussi celles de "l’étranger proche" (principalement les républiques musulmanes anciennement soviétiques) et même en Europe, en Turquie, en Iran, etc. Cette nouvelle idéologie s’appelle l’eurasisme, et elle est inséparable de la figure de son fondateur, le philosophe et géopoliticien russe, Alexandre Douguine.

Le premier eurasisme fut fondé en 1920 par des intellectuels russes de l’émigration (N. Trubetskoy, P. Savitsky, N. Alexeiev, etc.). Ceux-ci affirmaient que l’identité russe était née d’une fusion originale entre les éléments slave et turco-musulman, que la Russie constituait un "troisième continent" situé entre l’Occident (dénoncé comme matérialiste et décadent) et l’Asie. Le livre-manifeste du mouvement était d’ailleurs intitulé Tournant vers l’Orient (Petr Savitsky, 1921). Les eurasistes se démarquaient des nationalistes classiques et des slavophiles. Sans être communistes, ils n’étaient pas opposés à l’expérience soviétique, qu’ils regardaient comme la continuation de l’idée impériale russe.

Dans le contexte strictement russe, l’eurasisme est une sorte de troisième voie située entre l’orientation pro-occidentale ultralibérale et la nostalgie du passé communiste, tout en évitant les excès démagogiques du populisme extrémiste et du nationalisme étroit. Douguine définit lui-même son mouvement comme un "centre radical" et comme "le premier parti géopolitique". Avec Douguine, l’eurasisme n’est plus une simple idéologie politique, c’est un système de pensée et une vision du monde.

En avril 2001, Alexandre Douguine a créé le Mouvement social politique pan-russe Eurasia, qui a donné naissance, en novembre 2003, à Moscou, au Mouvement international eurasien, conçu comme une ONG et représenté dans vingt-deux pays.

En avril 2001, Alexandre Douguine a créé le Mouvement social politique pan-russe Eurasia, qui a donné naissance, en novembre 2003, à Moscou, au Mouvement international eurasien, conçu comme une ONG et représenté dans vingt-deux pays.

Alexandre Douguine a trouvé des relais en France depuis le début des années 1990. Il est venu à de multiples reprises dans notre pays où il a participé à de nombreux colloques. Ses principaux écrits ont été traduits dans notre langue et diffusés sous la forme de livres et d’articles. Certains sont même accessibles sur la toile.

Lancé par une équipe en contact avec Alexandre Douguine depuis près de quinze ans, Eurasia s’est donné comme ambition de présenter au public francophone, à un rythme semestriel, les idées du géopoliticien russe et des autres idéologues de l’Eurasie, ainsi que de tous ceux qui ont rêvé à un Imperium grand-européen (Thiriart, Niekisch, Yockey, etc.).


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Ukraine on the brink of breakup door Expert in Vremya Novostei, 4 april 2007.

Watching the new political crisis in Ukraine unravel, Russian politicians and political experts are reminded of October 1993 and the Russia's use of force to dissolve the Supreme Council. Some experts believe that the neighboring country is on the brink of splitting up.

Alexander Dugin, leader of the International Eurasian Movement, "Civil war is underway in Ukraine, and it may lead to its splitting into at least two states. A compromise between Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and President Viktor Yushchenko (and, consequently, between the East and West of the country) is exhausted. It is not certain whether eastern Ukraine will be ours, although, of course, it is more oriented towards Russia. Unfortunately, in recent years we have missed many changes in Ukraine and in other post-Soviet countries too."

Sergei Karaganov, chairman of the presidium of the Council for Foreign and Security Policy, "This was so predictable. This crisis has deep roots that have their origin in the heart of Ukraine's political system. Moreover, this crisis will be repeated over and over. The reason is that the Orange Revolution, on the one hand, brought about legitimate results (both political and moral), but on the other, it created a political system that was always susceptible to such crises. Any politician working in such a system will inevitably be pushed towards a crisis. I hope that Ukrainians, given their national character, will not end up shooting at each other, although we, their neighbors, did shoot in 1993."

Valery Fyodorov, CEO of the VTsIOM pollster, "The deepening in the crisis could have been foreseen. As for the outlook, the next parliamentary election, if it does take place, will not significantly change the balance of power. If there are any further changes, they will probably be toward further polarization of political power. However, the internal balance in each of the conflicting camps could alter. Viktor Yushchenko's bloc could finally cede its position in the Orange camp, while Yanukovych's position may weaken slightly among the white-and-blue, because being the prime minister, he had to make several unpopular decisions over the past year."

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On March 24, the authorities in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod brutally broke up an anti-government rally using riot police.

The Nizhny Novgorod rally was the third “March of the Discontents” organized by Other Russia, a coalition of opposition parties and groups have united into the “Other Russia” movement to protest the increasing power of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Other Russia’s leaders include Eduard Limonov, head of the leftist National-Bolshevik Party; former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, now leader of the United Civic Front; and former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov, now leader of the People’s Democratic Party. The first rally was held in Moscow last December, and the second one took place in St. Petersburg in March. Each time the Kremlin ordered local authorities to ban the demonstration, while the opposition insisted on the constitutional right to have rallies wherever they wanted. The uncompromising stances of both sides led to street clashes between demonstrators and the police during all three rallies.

The Kremlin’s nervous reaction suggests that the Russian authorities fear a united front consisting of left-wing and liberal opposition forces. The opposition demands free elections, an end to the continued growth of payments for housing and utilities, and clamors for higher wages and pensions. This cocktail of demands could easily attract half of the Russian population if the opposition had access to major mass media sources like federal TV channels. The latest Levada Center poll shows that the popularity of Kasyanov, a possible candidate for the presidency in 2008, doubled in March -- from 3% to 6% -- despite an almost total media blackout. Few, if any, Russians listed Kasyanov as a potential candidate less than four months ago.

The Kremlin understands that the police alone are not enough to dampen the opposition. Therefore, it seeks a counter-ideology to discredit the anti-Putin forces in the eyes of the population.

On March 20, Alexander Dugin, leader of the International Eurasian Movement, held a press conference to announce that the movement would hold an "Imperial March" in Moscow on April 8. This idea was supported by Mikhail Leontiyev, a pro-Putin TV anchorman famous for blaming the United States for the massacre in Beslan, and by two Russian radical nationalist writers, Alexander Prokhanov and Maxim Kalashnikov.

Dugin said that the Imperial March was a reaction to the next March of Discontents, planned for April 14 in Moscow. "The Russian public dreams of marching towards the great state while the orange scum [a reference to the Orange Revolution in Ukraine] wants to take this opportunity away from us.” Using a derisive nickname based on rumors that Kasyanov demanded a cut to ratify any contract with the Russian government, Dugin continued: "Misha Two Percent and Kasparov, an insane chess player, hit our sorest point – Vladimir Putin" (Vek, March 21). At the same time, Mikhail Leontiyev called the Other Russia leaders "scamps who receive money from abroad and who pay fools to take part in demonstrations and complain" (Novy Region, March 20).

But according to Ludmila Alekseeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, "In fact, there are not too many people who can be inspired by the ideas of the Imperial March in Russia, but this demonstration could attract several thousand people only if it has secret support from the authorities" (Interfax, March 20).

The Imperial March is not the only effort to counter the March of Discontents. On March 25, the pro-Kremlin Nashi Movement organized a political show in Moscow called "The President’s Liaison." That day about 15,000 activists, bussed to the Russian capital from all over the country, spread around the city asking passersby to complete a questionnaire. If a person agreed with the content of the questionnaire, a Nashi activist gave him a cell phone SIMM card that could be used to send messages to Putin. One of the questions in the questionnaire was whether the respondent agreed that moving away from Putin’s cause meant "dark times" for Russia and the seizure of power by puppets of the West and extremists.

Another question asked: "Can you exclude the possibility of a coup or foreign intervention initiated by Mikhail Kasyanov under the pretext of bringing NATO troops into Russia to guard nuclear facilities and oil and gas pipelines?" Those who filled out the questionnaire were also required to choose between "mighty Russia and a colony of the West" (Ekho Moskvy, March 25).

Officials have also tried to depict the opposition as agents of the United States. When the police broke up the Nizhny Novgorod rally, Sergei Popov, deputy head of Nizhny Novgorod region, said that the protest had been "sponsored by the United States and some European countries” (Interfax, March 24).

The ideological standoff of the opposition and the authorities has much deeper roots than just a struggle for votes before the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia. The opposition and the Kremlin offer two competing visions of the future. One of them offers democracy and improved living conditions for ordinary people while the other calls for a new Soviet-style empire. Which path the Russian public chooses will be revealed very soon.

Eurasia Daily Monitor

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dinsdag, maart 20, 2007

Next in Moscow: The Imperial March in Kommersant Moscow, 20 maart 2007.

Alexander Dugin's “Orthodox Christian national patriotic” Eurasian Movement issued a statement yesterday on its intentions of holding a march in Moscow on April 8 to be called the Imperial March. The march is to protest the opposition Other Russia's March of Those Who Disagree, the next one of which is scheduled for April 14. According to Pavel Zarifullin, leader of the Eurasian Youth Union and one of the organizers of the march, 1500 participants are expected including writers Alexander Prokhanov and Maxim Kalashnikov, television host Mikhail Leontyev, members of the National Bolshevik Front (a breakaway group from Eduard Limonov's organization), the Ukrainian party Russian Bloc and the Ukrainian Labor Conference.
“Among the people, there is great disappointment with the Orange, but the Orange are now raising their heads, as the recent March of Those Who Disagree in St. Petersburg showed,” Zarifullin said. “We need an imperial project that supports Putin. We don't want a Maidan in this country.”
Zarifullin made it clear that he considers pro-Kremlin groups such as Our, the Youth Guardian of a United Russia, Young Russia and the Local allies.
“We are also fighting the Orange revolutions,” Youth Guardian organizer for the Central Federal District Alexey Shaposhnikov said, “but they can be fought differently.”
“They, of course, will receive a permit to march,” observed Yulia Malysheva, leader of Mikhail Kasyanov's People's Democratic Union of Youth. “They are a completely Kremlin project, Putin-Jugend. I hope they have the brains not to dress up like Santa Claus this time,” she added, referring to an action by government supporters the day after the first March of Those Who Disagree.
National Bolshevik leader Eduard Limonov asked rhetorically “Who needs them? They are corrupt and disgraceful. Three strange men with beards will show up and march together.”

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woensdag, maart 14, 2007

“We are in a geopolitical stalemate.” – Aleksandr Dugin in The Georgian Times, 14 maart 2007.

A week ago Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II, paid a five-day visit to Moscow. The Georgian delegation of high dignitaries took a direct flight to Russia, inspiring hopes in many people that the visit could become a starting point for a long-awaited détente between Georgia and Russia.

However, Russian political circles do not share this optimism—at least, Aleksandr Dugin doesn’t. Dugin, a Russian scholar and founder of the Russian school of geopolitics often known as “Eurasianism,” explained his pessimism to The Georgian Times.

Q: Georgian-Russian relations seem to be improving. How realistic is this impression?

A: Unfortunately, Georgian-Russian relations have been deadlocked. I cannot imagine how the situation can improve in any way. This is not a conflict between people or presidents—this is a conflict between geopolitical choices. This makes the situation between us rather complicated. Brotherly Orthodox Georgian and Russian people find themselves in a situation where the conflict boils down to differences in geopolitical principles.

Q: Do you think the recent meeting between Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II and Patriarch of Russia Alexy II will defuse tensions in any way?

A: Frankly speaking, I do not think it will. No one doubts the friendship of our nations and their spiritual proximity. The Russian Orthodox Church sometimes even runs counter to our geopolitical interests, as it does not support the calls of Tskhinvali region [South Ossetia – Ed.] Orthodox Church for separation from the Georgian patriarchy.

The Church does everything it can on a spiritual level. But there are things that the Church is unable to deal with. This is a geopolitical confrontation. As long as Georgia takes a pro-Atlantic, pro-American position, nothing can change the situation, neither a visit by your Patriarch nor Moscow Patriarchy’s support of Georgia.

He [the Russian Patriarch –Ed.] supports Georgia on every issue, including that of Abkhazia. I think everything is perfect at the church level, but that cannot change anything in geopolitics, and our conflict stems from geopolitics.

Q: The US wants to station its anti-missile radars in Poland and may position defense elements in the Caucasus as well. Georgia in this sense is the most probable home for a radar station. What should Georgia expect from Russia if this is the case?

A: I think we are on the brink of a serious conflict between Russia and the US. This is going to be an open Cold War. If the US deploys its defense system in Georgia, than we will view Georgia as an absolute foe. Then no visits will take place whatsoever and nothing will be able to regulate our relations.

Then situation will change on religious level as well, and Abkhazia will become an eparchy of the Russian Orthodox Church. Then relations with Georgia will turn into a kind of war and Russia will start deporting all Georgians.

Q: Relations with Russia would not have hit such lows and Tbilisi would not have begun eyeing the US if not for the conflict zones and Moscow’s support of their separatism. Let us just consider the recent ‘elections’ in Abkhazia. No one but Russia recognized them. Cannot Russia take steps that would improve our relations?

A: I think none of the parties can do anything that would improve the situation. I am not saying that it is the fault of Russia or Georgia. But Tbilisi’s decision to choose the US as its partner means the severance of relations between Russia and Georgia. You cannot ask anything from Tbilisi because of this choice.

But why did it happen? Perhaps Russia, too, should be to blame, but this is already a reality. We could have just confined our relations to endless accusations, or we could have made consensus, etc., until Saakashvili made a very sharp, clear orientation in favor of the US.

What else can we talk about, or who are we to talk to after this fact? Despite its great wishes, Russia cannot do anything. What is happening now is the law of geopolitics. It makes no sense to talk about who is wrong and who is right, what mistakes Russia has made or what we should have done. We are in a geopolitical stalemate.

Bron: The Georgian Times

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zaterdag, februari 10, 2007


In an article that caused quite a stir, famous Russian geopolitician Alexandre Dugin maintained, “Chechnya is at the center of contemporary Russian statehood” [1]. This thought-provoking statement deserves a closer look at Dugin’s opinion of the Chechen question and his analyses of the processes underway in the North Caucasus.

Dugin is not without influence in certain Russian military and political circles. He was a member of the parliamentary commission investigating the Beslan tragedy, and since 2005, has collaborated on the writing of a work undertaken at the Russian Academy of Sciences entitled, Atlas of Geopolitical Problems of South Russia. A key objective of the book is to explain the connections between the territorialization of ethnic groups and the economic realities of the North-Caucasus (e.g. the pipelines) [2].

In numerous media appearances, such as the one in March 2005 at Vladikavkaz, Dugin has challenged the Kremlin on the Chechen question and called for the development of a comprehensive Russian geopolitical strategy for Chechnya, Ossetia, Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria [3]. For him, the second war in Chechnya reveals three parallel phenomena.

First, he maintains that the Caucasus is at the heart of U.S. strategies to destroy Russia. According to him, Washington requires the Caucasian States to pursue anti-Russian policies so that they can carry out their project for a “Greater Middle East.” Since September 11, 2001, he claims, the policies of the United States and its Muslim allies have no longer been to support Sunni fundamentalists but instead, to organize “colored revolutions” in order to convert the States of the Near Abroad into intermediaries who carry western political influence to Russia’s doorstep. He alleges that whereas Azerbaijan is still undecided between Washington and Moscow and Armenia remains pro-Russian for the moment, Saakashvili’s Georgia, in seeking direct confrontation with Russia, is pursuing policies that originated in Washington. The upshot is that if it is to win over the Trans-Caucasus completely, the United States has every interest in supporting anti-Russian groups in the North Caucasus, including Chechen separatists. This analysis of the general geopolitical situation has prompted Dugin to adopt a more definitive position on the question of Islam in Russia.

Dugin’s second point is that traditional Islam in the Eurasian space is threatened by the spread of “Wahhabism.” Following the “Islamic Threat or Threat against Islam?” conference that his party, Evrazia, organized, Dugin and his close associates began repudiating fundamentalist movements, presenting them as a threat to traditional Islam. Dugin also compares what he believes are the inherently peaceful traditions in Sufi, Shiite and Orthodox Islam to Catholicism, Protestantism and Sunni Islamism, which he accuses of seeking conflict between civilizations. Creating such divisions has allowed him to propose the creation of a “strategic Russo-Muslim partnership” with traditional, non-politicized Islam and explains why he distinguishes Iran from the rest of the Muslim world. The presentation of Shiite Iran in his geopolitical theories is that of a model and an ally in the resistance against the United States, while the Sunni Muslim world is portrayed as having sold out to “Atlanticist” powers. He sees the so-called “clash of civilizations" as being no more than an invention of the West, one that is contrary to the dialogue of civilizations that would exist between Eurasian peoples. Analyzing the situation has thus enabled Dugin to present the “war on terror” as a product of Atlanticism, Muslim fundamentalism itself having been financed by the West in its fight against the Soviet Union. Such an analysis of Islam is also supported by Talgat Tadjuddin, the supreme mufti of the Muslim Central Spiritual Board of Russia.

The third aspect of the Chechen question for Dugin concerns the relationship between the center and the periphery. Beginning in the second half of the 1990s, and notably in his book The Foundations of Geopolitics (1997), he has called for a reorganization of the national republics in order to create unified national structures. The Kremlin is currently in the process of carrying out this reordering but Dugin wants the process to be taken much further. He believes that it is necessary to recentralize the Federation in order to avoid any attempts of nationalist separation. However, in doing so, he urges minorities to cultivate their own cultural (linguistic, religious, folkloric, etc.) differences. Such proposals have won Dugin the support of Kozh-Akhmed Nukhaev, regarded by many as one of the Chechen mafia leaders in Moscow, but who is also a traditionalist Islamist thinker of originality. Nukhaev is an advocate for the constitution of a Chechen Republic where local religious and cultural traditions would be made official and would have a status of semi-independence from Russia.

Just after Akhmad Kadyrov’s assassination in May 2004, Dugin published an article entitled, “The Chechen Path to Russian Statehood,” in which he argues that it is impossible to normalize Chechnya by force [4]. For him, Chechnya reveals the gaping holes in Putin’s policies, which are based on the assumption that it is possible to enforce Moscow’s domination through technological and military means, while forgoing any consideration of the content of Russian statehood. Dugin urges Putin to engage in a new round of negotiations with the Chechen political elites and to rethink Russia’s values as a state and the type of relations it wishes to have with its republics. He proposes giving Chechnya substantial autonomy and advises against a unified political regime, which would be contrary to what he calls the “clannish tradition” of the region. Instead, he espouses giving support to Ramzan Kadyrov’s government, so that it might succeed in integrating combatants and be perceived by the Chechen population as representative of its interests. Russia, Dugin argues, must propose to the peoples of the Caucasus "a Eurasian model of development that makes it possible to refuse accelerated modernism and the standards of present-day Russia, and enables the specificities of traditional society to be conserved” [5]. As such, he urges for cooperation with the representatives of traditional Islam and principally with the Sufi brotherhoods. The hope here is to spread an image of Russia as a state that defends the “traditional societies” of the Caucasus against Americanization and globalization.

By objecting to the Kremlin-led policy while simultaneously calling for a strengthening of Russian power and state recentralization, Dugin has proposed an original solution to the Chechen question. His proposals are likely to find support both among those close to Ramzan Kadyrov and in the institutions representing Chechen Islam, which extol the virtues of "re-traditionalizing" society and calls on Moscow to respect its traditions (e.g. the reestablishment of Sharia tribunals for certain juridical questions) but does not demand political independence for the republic.

It is difficult to determine the real influence that Dugin’s ideas have on the Kremlin. His Center for Geopolitical Expertise claims to be working for the Presidential Administration, the government, the Federation Council and the Duma. Dugin may have also written analytical briefs and contributed to the development of Russia’s national security doctrine. He appears to have ties to Kremlin “strategist” and Presidential Administration Advisor Gleb Pavlovski. Therefore, it is possible that his stance on Chechnya has been adopted by certain individuals within the Kremlin. Indeed, his convictions on how the federal structure should be reorganized correspond to the changes being implemented by Putin (e.g. reducing the autonomy given to national republics by merging them into larger regional unities; reaffirming Chechen society’s right to religious and cultural but not to political autonomy). However, Dugin is not the only one to have considered these questions. Yevgeny Primakov, for example, has expressed a desire for rapprochement with Asian countries, and, in particular, with the India-China-Iran triangle. This desire itself harks back to former Soviet traditions still present, for example, in Russian Orientalist milieus. So although Dugin holds views on this subject similar to those expressed by Primakov, the latter is inspired by a “great power” Soviet culture, not by Dugin. It is therefore probable that the “polit-technologs” of the Presidential Administration are also inspired by such Soviet traditions internal to Party and State apparatuses and not simply by Dugin himself.


1. A. Dugin. “O skitaniakh vetchnyx i o Chechne,”, July 21, 2006, online at
4. A. Dugin. "The Chechen Path to Russian Statehood," Russia in Global Affairs, vol. 2, No. 3, 2004, pp. 89-92.
5. A. Dugin. “Geopolitika kak effektivnyi metod sovremennoi rossiiskoi politicheskoi teorii i praktiki,”

Bron: Chechnya Weekly

zondag, januari 28, 2007

Russia’s Managed Democracy door Perry Anderson on, 25 januari 2007.

Under lowering skies, a thin line of mourners stretched silently outside the funeral hall. Barring the entrance, hulking riot police kept them waiting until assorted dignitaries – Anatoly Chubais, Nato envoys, an impotent ombudsman – had paid their respects. Eventually they were let in to view the corpse of the murdered woman, her forehead wrapped in the white ribbon of the Orthodox rite, her body, slight enough anyway, diminished by the flower-encrusted bier. Around the edges of the mortuary chamber, garlands from the media that attacked her while she was alive stood thick alongside wreaths from her children and friends, the satisfied leaf to leaf with the bereaved. Filing past them and out into the cemetery beyond, virtually no one spoke. Some were in tears. People dispersed in the drizzle as quietly as they came.

The authorities had gone to some lengths to divert Anna Politkovskaya’s funeral from the obvious venue of the Vagankovskoe, where Sakharov is buried, to a dreary precinct on the outskirts that few Muscovites can locate on a map. But how necessary was the precaution? The number of mourners who got to the Troekurovskoe was not large, perhaps a thousand or so, and the mood of the occasion was more sadness than anger. A middle-aged woman, bringing groceries home from the supermarket, shot at point-blank range in an elevator, Politkovskaya was killed for her courage in reporting the continuing butchery in Chechnya. An attempt to poison her had narrowly failed two years earlier. She had another article in press on the atrocities of the Kadyrov clan that now runs the country for the Kremlin, as she was eliminated. She lived and died a fighter. But of any powerful protest at her death, it is difficult to speak. She was buried with resignation, not fury or revolt.

In Ukraine, the discovery of the decapitated body of a journalist who had investigated official corruption, Georgi Gongadze, was sufficient outrage to shake the regime, which was brought down soon afterwards. Politkovskaya was a figure of another magnitude. A better historical comparison might be with the murder of Matteotti by Mussolini in 1924. In Russian circumstances, her moral stature as an opponent of arbitrary power was scarcely less than that of the Socialist deputy. But there the resemblance ends. The Matteotti Affair caused an outcry that nearly toppled Mussolini. Politkovskaya was killed with scarcely a ripple in public opinion. Her death, the official media explained, was either an unfathomable mystery, or the work of enemies of the government vainly attempting to discredit it. The president remarked she was a nobody whose death was the only news value in her life.

It is tempting, but would be a mistake, to see in that casual dismissal no more than the ordinary arrogance of power. All governments deny their crimes, and most are understanding of each other’s lies about them. Bush and Blair, with still more blood on their hands – in all probability, that of over half a million Iraqis – observe these precepts as automatically as Putin. But there is a difference that sets Putin apart from his fellow rulers in the G8, indeed from virtually any government in the world. On the evidence of comparative opinion polls, he is the most popular national leader alive today. Since he came to power six years ago, he has enjoyed the continuous support of over 70 per cent of his people, a record no other contemporary politician begins to approach. For comparison, Chirac now has an approval rating of 38 per cent, Bush of 36 per cent, Blair of 30 per cent.

Such eminence may seem perverse, but it is not unintelligible. Putin’s authority derives, in the first place, from the contrast with the ruler who made him. From a Western standpoint, Yeltsin’s regime was by no means a failure. By ramming through a more sweeping privatisation of industry than any carried out in Eastern Europe, and maintaining a façade of competitive elections, it laid the foundations of a Russian capitalism for the new century. However sodden or buffoonish Yeltsin’s personal conduct, these were solid achievements that secured him unstinting support from the United States, where Clinton, stewing in indignities of his own, was the appropriate leader for mentoring him. As Strobe Talbott characteristically put it, ‘Clinton and Yeltsin bonded. Big time.’ In the eyes of most Russians, on the other hand, Yeltsin’s administration set loose a wave of corruption and criminality; stumbled chaotically from one political crisis to another; presided over an unprecedented decline in living standards and collapse of life expectancy; humiliated the country by obeisance to foreign powers; destroyed the currency and ended in bankruptcy. By 1998, according to official statistics, GDP had fallen over a decade by some 45 per cent; the mortality rate had increased by 50 per cent; government revenues had nearly halved; the crime rate had doubled. It is no surprise that as this misrule drew to a close, Yeltsin’s support among the population was in single figures.

Against this background, any new administration would have been hard put not to do better. Putin, however, had the good luck to arrive in power just as oil prices took off. With export earnings from the energy sector suddenly soaring, economic recovery was rapid and continuous. Since 1999, GDP has grown by 6-7 per cent a year. The budget is now in surplus, with a stabilisation fund of some $80 billion set aside for any downturn in oil prices, and the rouble is convertible. Capitalisation of the stock market stands at 80 per cent of GDP. Foreign debt has been paid down. Reserves top $250 billion. In short, the country has been the largest single beneficiary of the world commodities boom of the early 21st century. For ordinary Russians, this has brought a tangible improvement in living standards. Though average real wages remain very low, less than $400 dollars a month, they have doubled under Putin (personal incomes are nearly two times higher because remuneration is often paid in non-wage form, to avoid some taxes). That increase is the most important basis of his support. To relative prosperity, Putin has added stability. Cabinet convulsions, confrontations with the legislature, lapses into presidential stupor, are things of the past. Administration may not be that much more efficient, but order – at least north of the Caucasus – has been restored. Last but not least, the country is no longer ‘under external management’, as the pointed local phrase puts it. The days when the IMF dictated budgets, and the Foreign Ministry acted as little more than an American consulate, are over. Gone are the campaign managers for re-election of the president, jetting in from California. Freed from foreign debt and diplomatic supervision, Russia is an independent state once again.

Prosperity, stability, sovereignty: the national consensus around Putin rests on his satisfaction of these primordial concerns. That there may be less in each than meets the eye matters little, politically speaking, so long as their measure is memories of the abyss under Yeltsin. By that standard the material progress, however relative, is real. But the stratospheric polls reflect something else as well – an image of the ruler. Putin cuts a somewhat colourless, frigid figure in the West. In cultures accustomed to more effusive styles of leadership, the sleek, stoat-shaped head and stone-cold eyes offer little purchase for affective projection. In Russia, however, charisma wears another face. When he came to power, Putin lacked any trace of it. But possession of the presidency has altered him. For Weber, who had the Hebrew prophets in mind, charisma was by definition extra-institutional – it was a kind of magic that could only be personal. He could not foresee postmodern conditions, in which the spectacle is a higher power, capable of dissolving the boundaries between the two.

Once installed in the presidency, Putin has cultivated two attributes that have given him an aura capable of outlasting it. The first is the image of firm, where necessary ruthless authority. Historically, the brutal imposition of order has been more often admired than feared in Russia. Rather than his portrait suffering from the shadow of the KGB, Putin has converted it into a halo of austere discipline. In what remains in many ways a macho society, toughness – prowess in judo and drops into criminal slang are part of Putin’s kit – continues to be valued, and not only by men: polls report that Putin’s most enthusiastic fans are often women. But there is another, less obvious side to his charisma. Part of his chilly magnetism is cultural. He is widely admired for his command of the language. Here, too, contrast is everything. Lenin was the last ruler of the country who could speak an educated Russian. Stalin’s Georgian accent was so thick he rarely risked speaking in public. Khrushchev’s vocabulary was crude and his grammar barbaric. Brezhnev could scarcely put two sentences together. Gorbachev spoke with a provincial southern accent. The less said of Yeltsin’s slurred diction the better. To hear a leader of the country capable once again of expressing himself with clarity, accuracy and fluency, in a more or less correct idiom, comes as music to many Russians.

In a strange way Putin’s prestige is thus also intellectual. For all his occasional crudities, at least in his mouth the national tongue is no longer obviously humiliated. This is not just a matter of cases and tenses, or pronunciation. Putin has developed into what by today’s undemanding standards is an articulate politician, who can field questions from viewers on television for hours as confidently and lucidly as he lectures journalists in interviews, or addresses partners at summit meetings, where he has excelled at sardonic repartee. The intelligence is limited and cynical, above the level of his Anglo-American counterparts, but without much greater ambition. It has been enough, however, to give Putin half of his brittle lustre in Russia. There, an apparent union of fist and mind has captured the popular imaginary.

The combination of an oil and gas bonanza with a persona of clear-headed power has been enough to demarcate Putin, in public opinion, decisively from what came before and to assure him mastery of the political scene. The actual regime over which he presides, however, although it has involved important changes, shows less of a break with Yeltsin’s time than might appear. The economy that Yeltsin left behind was in the grip of a tiny group of profiteers, who had seized the country’s major assets in a racket – so-called loans for shares – devised by one of its beneficiaries, Vladimir Potanin, and imposed by Chubais, operating as the neo-liberal Rasputin at Yeltsin’s court. The president and his extended ‘Family’ (relatives, aides, hangers-on) naturally took their own share of the loot. It is doubtful whether the upshot had any equivalent in the entire history of capitalism. The leading seven oligarchs to emerge from these years – Berezovsky, Gusinsky, Potanin, Abramovich, Fridman, Khodorkovsky, Aven – ended up controlling a vast slice of national wealth, most of the media and much of the Duma. Putin was picked by the Family to ensure these arrangements did not come under scrutiny afterwards. His first act in office was to grant Yeltsin immunity from prosecution, and he has generally looked after his immediate entourage. (Chubais got Russia’s electricity grid as a parting gift.)

But if he wanted a stronger government than Yeltsin’s, he could not afford to leave the oligarchs in undisturbed possession of their powers. After warning them that they could keep their riches only if they stayed out of politics, he moved to curb them. The three most ambitious magnates – Gusinsky, Berezovsky and Khodorkovsky – were broken: two fleeing into exile, the third dispatched to a labour camp. A fourth, Abramovich, though still persona grata in the Kremlin, has opted for residence abroad. Putin has taken back under state control parts of the oil industry, and created out of the country’s gas monopoly a giant conglomerate with a current market capitalisation of $200 billion. The public sector’s share of GDP has risen only modestly, by about 5 per cent. But for the time being, the booty capitalism of the 1990s has come to a halt. In regaining control of some stretches of the commanding heights of the economy, the state has strengthened its leverage. The balance of power has shifted away from extraordinary accumulations of private plunder towards more traditional forms of bureaucratic management.

These changes are a focus of some anxiety in the Western business press, where fears are often expressed of an ominous statism that threatens the liberalisation of the 1990s. In reality, markets are in no danger. The Russian state has been strengthened as an economic agent, but not with any socialising intent, simply as a quarry of political power. In other respects, Putin has taken the same underlying programme as his predecessor several steps further. Land has finally been privatised, a threshold Yeltsin’s regime was unable to cross. Moscow boasts more billionaires than New York, yet a flat income tax of 13 per cent has been introduced, at Yegor Gaidar’s urging. A highly regressive ‘unified social tax’ falls on those who can least afford it. Welfare benefits have been monetised and slashed. Key economic ministries remain in the hands of committed marketeers. Neo-liberalism is safe enough in Russia today. The president has made this clear to all who are interested. On a visit to Germany in October, brushing aside questions about the death of Politkovskaya, he told his hosts: ‘We do not understand the nervousness of the press about Russia investing abroad. Where does this hysteria come from? It’s not the Red Army that wants to come to Germany. It’s just the same capitalists as you.’

The political system put together since Yeltsin’s departure is a similar mixture of novelty and continuity. It is now de rigueur for Western journalists – even the most ardent boosters of business opportunities in the New Russia, or the humblest spaniels of New Labour, anxious not to smudge Blair’s friendship with Putin (two roles that are not always distinct) – to deplore the muzzling of the media, the neutering of parliament and the decline of political freedoms under Putin. These realities, however, all have their origins under Yeltsin, whose illegalities were much starker. No act of Putin’s compares with the bombardment of the parliament by tanks, or the fraudulent referendum that ensued, imposing the autocratic constitution under which Russia continues to be ruled. Yet because Yeltsin was considered a pliable, even if somewhat disreputable utensil of Western policies, the first action was applauded and the second ignored by virtually every foreign correspondent of the time. Nor was there much criticism of the brazen manipulation of press and television, controlled by the oligarchs, to engineer Yeltsin’s re-election. Still less was any attention paid to what was happening within the machinery of state itself. Far from the demise of the USSR reducing the number of Russian functionaries, the bureaucracy had – few post-Communist facts are more arresting – actually doubled in size by the end of Yeltsin’s stewardship, to some 1.3 million. Not only that. At the topmost levels of the regime, the proportion of officials drawn from the security services or armed forces soared above their modest quotas under the late CPSU: composing a mere 5 per cent under Gorbachev, it has been calculated that they occupied no less than 47 per cent of the highest posts under Yeltsin.

Serviceable though much of this was for any ruler, it remained a ramshackle inheritance. Putin has tightened and centralised it into a more coherent structure of power. In possession of voter confidence, he has not needed to shell deputies or forge plebiscites. But to meet any eventuality, the instruments of coercion and intimidation have been strengthened. The budget of the FSB – the post-Communist successor to the KGB – has trebled, and the number of positions in the federal administration held by personnel brigaded from security backgrounds has continued to rise. Over half of Russia’s key power-holders now come from its repressive apparatuses. In jovial spirit, Putin allowed himself to quip to fellow veterans in the Lubyanka: ‘Comrades, our strategic mission is accomplished – we have seized power.’

Still, these developments are mainly accentuations of what was already there. Institutionally, the more striking innovation has been the integration of the economic and political pillars of Putin’s system of command. In the 1990s, people spoke of the assorted crooks who grabbed control of the country’s raw materials as syroviki, and of officials recruited from the military or secret police as siloviki.[1] Under Putin, the two have fused. The new regime is dominated by a web of Kremlin staffers and ministers with ‘security profiles’, who also head the largest state companies quoted on the stock market. The oligarchs had mixed business and politics flamboyantly enough. But these were raids by freebooters from the first into the second domain. Putin has turned the tables on them. Under his system, a more organic symbiosis between the two has been achieved, this time under the dominance of politics. Today, two deputy prime ministers are chairmen, respectively, of Gazprom and Russian Railways; four deputy chiefs of staff in the Kremlin occupy the same positions in the second largest oil company, a nuclear fuel giant, an energy transport enterprise and Aeroflot. The minister of industry is chairman of the oil pipeline monopoly; the finance minister not only of the diamond monopoly, but of the second largest state bank in the country; the telecoms minister of the biggest mobile phone operator. A uniquely Russian form of cumul des mandats blankets the scene.

Corruption is built into any such connubium between profits and power. By general consent, it is now even more widespread than under Yeltsin, but its character has changed. The comparison with China is revealing. In the PRC, corruption is a scourge detested by the population; no other issue arouses the anger of ordinary citizens to such a degree. The central leadership of the CCP is nervously aware of the danger corruption poses to its authority, and on occasion makes a spectacular example of officials who have stolen too much, without being able to tackle the roots of the problem. In Russia, on the other hand, there appears to be little active indignation at the corruption rife at all levels of society. A common attitude is that an official who takes bribes is better than one who inflicts blows: a change to which Brezhnev’s ‘era of stagnation’, after the end of the terror, habituated people. In this climate, Putin – so far, at least, lacking the personal greed that distracted Yeltsin – can coolly use corruption as an instrument of state policy, operating it as both a system of rewards for those who comply with him, and of blackmail for those who might resist.

The scale of the slush funds now available to the Kremlin has made it easy, in turn, to convert television stations and newspapers into mouthpieces of the regime. The fate of NTV and Izvestiya, the one created by Gusinsky, the other controlled by Potanin, is emblematic. Both are now dependencies of Gazprom. ORT, once Berezovsky’s TV channel, is currently run by a factotum from the FSB. With such changes, Putin’s control of the media is becoming more and more comprehensive. What is left over, that ownership does not ensure, self-censorship increasingly neuters. The Gleichschaltung of parliament and political parties is, if anything, even more impressive. The presidential party, United Russia, and its assorted allies, with no more specific programme than unconditional support for Putin, command some 70 per cent of the seats in the Duma, enough to rewrite the constitution if that were required. But a one-party state is not in the offing. On the contrary, mindful of the rules of any self-respecting democracy, the Kremlin’s political technicians are now putting together an opposition party designed to clear the bedraggled remnants of Communism – liberalism has already been expunged – from the political scene, and provide a decorative pendant to the governing party in the next parliament.

In sum, the methodical construction of a personalised authoritarian regime with a strong domestic base is well under way. Part of its appeal has come from its recovery of external sovereignty. But here the gap between image and reality is wider than it is on the domestic front. Putin came to power on the crest of a colonial war. In March 1999, the West launched its attack on Yugoslavia. Planning for the reconquest of Chechnya began that same month, under Yeltsin. In early August, Putin – then head of the FSB – was made prime minister. In the last week of September, invoking hostile incursions into Dagestan, Russia launched an aerial blitz on Chechnya explicitly modelled on Nato’s six-week bombardment of Yugoslavia. Up to a quarter of the population was driven out of the country, before an invasion had even begun. After enormous destruction from the air, the Russian army advanced on Grozny, which was besieged in early December. For nearly two months Chechen resistance held out against a hail of fuel-air explosives and tactical missiles that left the city a more completely burnt-out ruin than Stalingrad had ever been. At the height of the fighting, on New Year’s Eve, Yeltsin handed over his office to Putin. New presidential elections were set for late March. By the end of February, the Russian high command felt able to announce that ‘the counter-terrorism operation is over.’ Putin flew down to celebrate victory. Clinton hailed the ‘liberation of Grozny’. Blair sped to St Petersburg to embrace the liberator. Two weeks later, Putin was elected by a landslide.

Such was the baptism of the present regime, at which holy water was sprinkled by the West. Bush added his unction the following year, after looking into the Russian president’s soul. In return for this goodwill Putin was under some obligation, which persisted. The occupation of the country did not end national resistance: Chechnya became the corner of hell it has remained to this day. But no matter how atrocious the actions of Russian troops and their local collaborators, Western chancelleries have tactfully looked away. After 9/11, Chechnya was declared another front in the war on terror, and in the common cause Putin opened Russian airspace for B52s to bomb Afghanistan, accepted American bases in Central Asia, and primed the Northern Alliance for Kabul. So eager was Moscow to please Washington that in the emotion of the moment, it even abandoned its listening post in Cuba, of scant relevance to Enduring Freedom in West Asia. But it soon became clear there would be little reward for such gestures. In December 2001, the Bush administration scrapped the ABM Treaty. Russian friends were sidelined in the puppet government installed in Afghanistan. Jackson-Vanik trade restrictions were not repealed.

In this climate, it was asking too much for Russia to underwrite the war on Iraq. Still, the US was not to be antagonised. Left to his own devices, Putin would have preferred to say the bare minimum about it. But once France and Germany came out against the impending invasion, it was not easy for him to sidle quietly off-stage. On a visit to Paris, Chirac cornered him into a joint communiqué opposing the war – though the French alone threatened a veto in the Security Council. Once back home, Putin took care to phone Bush with expressions of sympathy for his difficult decision, and made no fuss about the occupation. Yet by the end of his first term in office, the terms of Russia’s relationship with the West had changed. A fortnight after Putin was re-elected in mid-March 2004, Nato expanded to Russia’s doorstep, with the accession of the Baltic states. But even if Washington had given Moscow little or nothing, Russia was no longer a supplicant. Oil prices, little more than $18 a barrel when Putin came to power, were now over $40, and rising rapidly towards their current level at $60 plus – netting Russia a windfall of $37 billion in extra revenues in 2005 alone. More autonomy was now affordable. The upshot so far has remained quite limited: clumsy attempts to check further Western entrenchment along Russia’s southern marches, by browbeating Ukraine and Georgia; refusal to derogate control of pipelines to Europe; revision of offshore concessions in Sakhalin. But Russia’s shadow as an energy giant is lengthening. It is now the world’s largest producer of gas and, after Saudi Arabia, the second largest exporter of oil. As Europe becomes more dependent on its energy, the country’s leverage is bound to grow. No diplomatic revolution is in prospect. But Russia has ceased to be a ward of the West.

How has the change been received there? Reactions to Putin’s regime vary, but they form a certain pattern, falling within a given range. At one end of the spectrum, there is virtually unconditional endorsement of the Russia that is now emerging. The leading exponent of this view, the economist Andrei Shleifer, helped – not coincidentally – to lay the foundations of the new order, working in Moscow as one of the drafters of Yeltsin’s privatisations, and beneficiaries of the proceeds. Project director of the Harvard Institute for International Development, financed by the US government to promote ‘economic reform in support of open markets’ in the former USSR, he was prosecuted by the Justice Department on his return to the US for criminal conduct – cashing in on his insider position for investment purposes. Harvard had to pay $26.5 million, and Shleifer and his wife $3.5 million to settle the charges against him. This was the scandal that led to the downfall of his patron Larry Summers, who as Clinton’s deputy secretary of the Treasury set up the Harvard project, and was then implicated in the pay-out, as president of the university. Shleifer’s central contention, set out in an article written with Daniel Treisman in Foreign Affairs in 2004, is that Russia has become a ‘normal middle-income country’: that is, a society with much the same growing prosperity, degrees of political and economic freedom, levels of corruption and inequality, restrictions on the media and controls on the judiciary, consumer choice and contested elections, as can be found in Mexico or Turkey or the Philippines, or anywhere else with a statistical per capita income of some $8000 a year.

Shleifer concedes that, like most such places, which fall ‘somewhere between textbook democracy and a full-fledged authoritarianism’, Russia may not be a particularly secure or just society. But – and this is what matters – it is par for the course within its global bracket, which given the debris left by Communism is a remarkable achievement. For many Russians, to be congratulated on rising to the company of Turks or Mexicans might leave mixed feelings. But by lowering the standard of relevant comparison, an unequivocally affirmative conclusion can be reached. Russia is a perfectly normal country for its level of development. It is exceptional only in the historical handicaps it has had to overcome to get there, and so unusually admirable.

Few verdicts are quite as upbeat as this. More common is the approach to be found in writers for the Financial Times – another investor in the new Russia, with a joint venture in the media – which has devoted a great deal of attention to the country, consistently talking up its prospects, while expressing dutiful regrets at the shadows or side effects of progress. Inside Putin’s Russia by Andrew Jack, the paper’s Moscow correspondent, illustrates the genre. Decent space is accorded the failings of the regime, and proper anxiety voiced about the future of liberties under it, without dwelling unnecessarily on these – ‘criticising without animosity and making the right allowances for peculiarities of history and culture’, as the FT put it. Chechnya, inevitably, figures prominently among the allowances. Jack explains that it is wrong to blame Putin, himself a ‘prisoner of the Caucasus’, excessively for a situation ‘where Chechnya and Russia have been at war of one sort or another ever since the two cultures first collided three centuries ago’: euphemisms to rank in some universal treasury of colonial apologetics. The results of the conflict may be unfortunate, but it is a sideshow. What matters is the balance sheet of Putin’s ‘liberal authoritarianism’. Here, the touchstone is thoroughly reassuring. In building a society ‘infinitely better for its citizens and foreign partners than the USSR’, Putin has achieved the essential: he has ‘cemented the transition from Communism to capitalism in a way that neither of his predecessors was able to achieve’.

Of course, since property rights remain insecure and justice is arbitrary, there continue to be grounds for concern. Delicately, Jack ventures the thought that, despite his achievements, ‘Putin’s commitment to democracy and market reform is questionable.’ A robuster brand of optimism was expressed by the late Martin Malia. Author of The Soviet Tragedy – a passionate requisitory of Bolshevism from the liberal right, ideologically parallel to François Furet’s Past of an Illusion (the two were close friends), but intellectually everything it is not, a work of brilliant historical imagination – Malia, after championing Yeltsin, did not balk at his successor. There was no chance, he explained, that Putin could revert to a traditional authoritarianism in today’s Russia, since the path to modernisation no longer lay through military-bureaucratic power of a Petrine, let alone Stalinist stamp. It required instead high levels of education and foreign investment, if Russia was to compete in the relevant contemporary arena, not battlefields but globalised markets. There was little cause to be exercised by Putin’s style of political manipulation, which was much like that of Bismarck or Giolitti in their time. Fears of renewed repression were misplaced. The international community no longer tolerated gross violation of human rights, as Bosnia and Kosovo had shown. The conflict in Chechnya was an exception, for there the ‘national honour’ rather than Russia’s ‘territorial integrity’ was at stake. But now that the deed was done, there would be no need to repeat it. ‘As the Chechnya war recedes into the past, the pressure on Russia to observe the new higher norms of international and civic morality will prevent Putin from doing anything extreme.’

Malia offered this absolution in April 2000. Seven years of torture and killing later, the norms – after Grozny, Baghdad – have staled, and the past has not passed. It would be wrong to say that no authorised opinion in the West did better than this. Among journalists, the Washington Post correspondents Peter Baker and Susan Glasser have produced a hard-hitting survey of the new Russia, Kremlin Rising, that puts the palliators of the Financial Times to shame.[2] Among historians, Richard Pipes, at one with Malia in hostility to Communism, but in temperament and outlook the all but complete opposite, has struck a characteristically dissonant note. Whereas Malia believed it was essentially the First World War that blew Russia off course from a normal Western development, which it could now rejoin, Pipes has always held that the roots of Soviet tyranny lay in age-old autocratic traditions of Russian political culture, a view he has recently reiterated in an elegant monograph, Russian Conservatism and Its Critics.[3]

In this vision, Putin’s regime occupies a natural place. Russians, the argument goes, lacking social or national cohesion, an understanding of property or wish for responsibility, cynical about democracy, wary of one another and fearful of outsiders, continue to value order over freedom. For them anarchy is the worst evil, authoritarian rule the condition of a peaceable life. Putin is popular, Pipes has explained in Foreign Affairs, ‘precisely because he has reinstated Russia’s traditional model of government: an autocratic state in which citizens are relieved of their responsibilities for politics and in which imaginary foreign enemies are invoked to forge an artificial unity’. Such bleak thoughts, at the other end of the spectrum from Shleifer’s good cheer, are less well received in Western chancelleries. There, constructive relations with Moscow, intact throughout the wars in Chechnya, are proof against minor embarrassments like the assassination of a critic or a defector. A billionaire property developer is worth a UN tribunal; who cares about a stray journalist or émigré? Noting with relief that in the Litvinenko investigation, witnesses are inaccessible and extradition unthinkable, the Economist has confided to its readers that ‘such frustrations may not be all bad,’ since ‘British diplomats’ biggest worry is not that Scotland Yard will be flummoxed, but that it might succeed.’

Too much has been invested in the triumph over Communism for any deeper doubts about the destiny of Russia. Either blemishes are normal and superable at this stage of development. Or they are the regrettable but unavoidable costs of capitalist progress. Or they are indurated vices of the longue durée. That the West itself might be implicated in whatever is amiss can be excluded. The US ambassador to Moscow in the late 1980s, Jack Matlock, has explained why: ‘Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev, in effect, co-operated on a scenario, a plan of reforming the economy, which was defined initially by the United States. The plan was devised by the United States, but with the idea that it should not be contrary to the national interests of a peaceful Soviet Union.’ Gorbachev ‘adopted the US agenda, which had been defined in Washington, without attribution, of course, as his own plan’. Adult supervision – the term once employed by another US envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad of Kabul and Baghdad, to describe his country’s relations with the world at large – was even closer under Yeltsin. By these lights, if anything goes wrong, the progenitors are certainly not to blame. See Iraq today.

At Politkovskaya’s funeral, the three principal forces behind Yeltsin’s regime were all on hand. Two of them, hypocrisies obliging: the West, in the persons of the American, British and German ambassadors; and the oligarchs par personne interposée, in the figure of Chubais, to most Russians more odious, as their procurer, than the oligarchs themselves. The third, in authentic grief, waiting outside: the tattered conscience of the liberal intelligentsia. In 1991, of all domestic groups it was mainly this stratum that helped Yeltsin to power, confident that in doing so it was at last bringing political liberty to Russia. Clustered around the presidency in the early 1990s, when it occupied many policy-making positions, it supplied the crucial democratic legitimation of Yeltsin’s rule to the end. Not since 1917 had intellectuals played such a central role in the government of the country.

Fifteen years later, what has become of this intelligentsia? Economically speaking, much of it has fallen victim to what it took to be the foundation of the freedom to come, as the market has scythed through its institutional supports. In the Soviet system, universities and academies were decently financed; publishing houses, film studios, orchestras all received substantial state funding. These privileges came at the cost of censorship and a good deal of padding. But the tension bred by ideological controls also kept alive the spirit of opposition that had defined the Russian intelligentsia since the 19th century – and for long periods been its virtual raison d’être.

With the arrival of neo-liberalism, this universe abruptly collapsed. By 1997, budgets for higher education had been slashed to one-twelfth of their late Soviet level. The number of scientists fell by nearly two-thirds. Russia currently spends just 3.7 per cent of GDP on education – less than Paraguay. University salaries became derisory. Just five years ago, university professors got $100 a month, forcing them to moonlight to make ends meet. Schoolteachers fared still worse: even today, average wages in education are only two-thirds of the national rate. According to the Ministry of Education itself, only 10 to 20 per cent of Russian institutions of higher learning have preserved Soviet standards of quality. The state now provides less than a third of their funding. Bribes to pass examinations are commonplace. In the press and publishing worlds, which had seen an explosion of growth in the years of perestroika, circulation and sales shrank remorselessly after 1991, as paper costs soared and readers lost interest in public affairs. Argumenty i Fakty, under Gorbachev the country’s largest mass-circulation weekly, sold 32 million copies in 1989. It is now down to around three million.

For a time, even with shrinking sales, the better newspapers provided a lively variety of reportage and commentary, in which many good journalists won their spurs. But as factional struggles broke out in Yeltsin’s court, and the grip of different oligarchs on the media tightened, corruption of every kind spread through the press, from back-handers and kompromat to abject propaganda for the regime. In this atmosphere, a race to the bottom followed, in which the crudest tabloids, devoted to sensations and celebrities, predictably won out. Meanwhile, the print media as a whole were losing importance to television. Initially a dynamic force in awakening and mobilising public opinion – it played a key role in the overthrow of the old order in August 1991 – Russian TV started with a high level of professional skills and public ambitions. But it too sank rapidly under the tide of commercialisation, its most-watched programmes descending to levels of crassness and inanity rivalling deepest America. Among the educated, so despised has the medium become that Russia must be the only country in the world today where one can be regularly told, with a look of contempt at the question, as if it went without saying, that the speaker has no television set in the house.

All this was demoralising enough for an intelligentsia that, whatever its internal disputes, had always taken its role as Kulturträger for granted. But with the starving of the universities, the decline of the press and the infantilisation of television, came a further alteration. For the first time in its history, money became the general arbiter of intellectual worth. To be needy was now to be a failure, evidence of an inability to adapt creatively to the demands of competition. Pushed by economic hardship, pulled by temptations of success, many who were formed as scholars or artists went into business ventures of one kind or another, often of dubious legality. Some of the oligarchs started out like this. The spectacle of this migration into a universe of shady banking and trading, ‘political technology’ (campaign-running and election-fixing) and public asset-stripping, in turn affected those left behind. Others, who had specialist scientific skills, got better jobs abroad. In these conditions, as the common values that once held it together corroded, the sense of collective identity that distinguished the traditional intelligentsia has been steadily weakened.

The result is a cultural scene more fragmented, and disconnected, than at any time within memory. The collapse of the centralised book and periodical distribution system that existed in Soviet times has created difficulties for independent publishers, leaving the field outside Moscow and St Petersburg to four or five big commercial houses which own their own outlets in the provinces, publishing mostly trash while angling for textbook contracts from the government. The most significant literary enterprise is Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie, started in 1992 and now Russia’s leading literary journal, whose small book publishing arm produces about 75 titles a year, concentrated in the humanities. Founded and managed by Irina Prokhorova, sister of the magnate who is Potanin’s partner in Norilsk Nickel, it also runs a cultural-political journal, Neprikosnovenny Zapas (‘Emergency Supplies’), that offers a forum for intellectual debate, and has just launched – a sign of the times – a lavish journal of fashion theory. The most coherent attempt to create something like the equivalent of the Silver Age milieu at the turn of the last century, the NLO project can be regarded as a modest oasis of reflection in an increasingly philistine scene. But by the same token it remains an enclave, liberal in temperament, but detached from politics proper. To its left, a scattering of tiny, no doubt mostly transient publishing houses has sprung up, and twigs of a radical counter-culture can be seen. In the very centre of New Russian ostentation in Moscow, hidden upstairs in a side street just behind the gross parade of luxury stores on the Tverskaya, the shabby Phalanster bookshop lives up to its Fourierist overtones: posters of Chávez, translations of Che, biographies of Bakunin, at last – just out – the Russian edition of Deutscher’s masterpiece, his Trotsky trilogy, all this amid every other kind of serious literature.

Outside, the Tverskaya with its boutiques and chain stores sets the tone. The culture of capitalist restoration looks back, logically enough, to the object-universe of late tsarism, whose garish emblems are everywhere. Moscow retains its autumnal beauty, even if as elsewhere – Weimar or Prague – too much new paint tends to coarsen older buildings rather than reviving them. But now it is enveloped in a smog of kitsch, like ancient regalia buried within a greasy wrapper. The city has become a world capital of bad taste, in which even the postmodern can seem a caricature of itself. All this physical trumpery reflects the dominant landscape of the imaginary. Within a few years, Russia has spawned a mass culture fixated on postiche versions of the dynastic past. The country’s most successful author, Boris Akunin, writes detective novels set in the last third of the 19th century. Among other stirring deeds, his upright hero Erast Fandorin thwarts a plot to hold the coronation of Nicholas II to ransom.

More than 15 million copies of the Fandorin series have been sold since 1998, and box-office hits have duly followed. The Councillor of State, in which Fandorin rescues the throne, stars Russia’s favourite actor/film-maker Nikita Mikhalkov, an ardent monarchist who plays Alexander III in his own patriotic blockbuster, The Barber of Siberia. Mikhalkov is a middlebrow figure, but higher up the scale, Alexander Sokurov, the country’s leading art-film director, reproduces much the same sensibility in his film Russian Ark, in which a prancing, gibbering Marquis de Custine leads a motley company of historical figures, in a 360° continuous camera movement round the Hermitage, that concludes with a final maudlin tableau of the Romanov court on the tragic eve of its fall, worthy of the Sissi series. (In The Sun, yet more striking camerawork, and even sicklier schmaltz, give us the quiet dignity and humanity of Hirohito, as he converses with an understanding MacArthur.)

This dominant vein of Russian poshlost today covers the gamut from pulp to middle-market to aestheticising forms, but it is the first of these that is most revealing of mutations in the culture at large. For, characteristically, a phenomenon like the Fandorin series is not the product of a Russian Grisham or King. Boris Akunin is the pseudonym of a trained philologist and translator of classical Japanese, Grigory Chkartashvili, inspired – he avows – by Griboedov, Lermontov, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky; his hero combines traits of Chatsky, Pechorin, Andrei Bolkonski and Prince Myshkin, with a touch of James Bond for good measure. Coquetting in the manner of a latter-day Propp, he has set out to illustrate the 16 possible sub-genres of crime fiction, and 16 character types to be found in it. Hugely successful pulp, marketed as serious fiction and produced by writers from an elite background, would be an anomaly in the West, if we except a single bestseller, never repeated, from Umberto Eco, though there is a close parallel in the astronomic sales and standing of China’s leading practitioner of martial arts fiction, Jin Yong, holder of various honorary positions at universities in the PRC. In Russia, it is a pattern: high-end intellectuals hitting the jackpot in low-end literature – Akunin is not alone – are one of the kinks of the encounter between the intelligentsia and the market.

The poverty of all this retro-tsarist culture reflects the impossibility of any meaningful repossession of the world of the Romanovs. The old order incubated a rough-hewn capitalism, but itself remained patrimonial to the end, dominated not by merchants or industrialists, but nobles and landowners. No living memory connects with this past: it is too different, and too remote, from the present to serve as more than vicarious pap. The Soviet past, on the other hand, remains all too immediate, and so in another way unmanageable. With few exceptions, the intelligentsia repudiates it en bloc. The population, on the other hand, is deeply divided: between those who regret the fall of the USSR, those who welcomed it, and those – perhaps the majority – whose feelings are mixed or ambivalent. The Soviet Union was not the Third Reich, and there is little sign of any Vergangenheitsbewältigung along German lines. In the culture at large, the tensions in social memory have produced a patchy amnesia.

Such tensions have certainly not silenced the arts. Fiction aiming at more than entertainment has never avoided the Soviet experience. Since the 1990s, however, representations of it have tended to become volatilised in the blender of de-realisations that typifies much current literature. Russian fiction has always had strong strains of the fantastic, the grotesque, the supernatural and the utopian, in a line that includes not only Gogol and Bulgakov – presently the two most fashionable masters – but such diverse figures as Chernyshevsky, Leskov, Bely, Zamiatin, Nabokov, Platonov and others. What is new in the current versions of this tradition is their cocktail of heterogeneous genres and tropes of an alternative reality, which seeks to maximise provocation and dépaysement. But such formal ingenuity, however startling, tends to leave its objects curiously untouched. The same techniques can dispose of Communist and post-Communist realities alike, as a single continuum. In Viktor Pelevin’s most lyrical work, The Clay Machine-Gun, the Cheka of the Civil War, the bombardment of the White House and the contemporary Russian mafia dance and merge in the same phantasmagoria. At its best, such literature is splendidly acrobatic. But, satirical and playful, most of it is too lightweight to impinge on deeper structures of feeling about the past.

Scholarship is another story. There, the tensions in public feeling often seem to have had the effect of sealing off the Soviet experience as a radioactive area for serious reflection or research. In the universities, scholars prefer to concentrate on epochs prior to the Revolution. The situation of Russia’s leading authority on the Stalinist period, Oleg Khlevniuk, is expressive. A young party historian reduced to penury with the collapse of the USSR, he was rescued almost accidentally from having to try his luck in business by a research contract from the Birmingham Centre for Russian and East European Studies. Fifteen years later, he still depends essentially on Western grants. The History of the Gulag was published by Yale, and has been translated into several other Western languages. Incredibly, there is no Russian edition of it.

From the opposite background, Nikita Petrov was a youthful dissident and early organiser of Memorial, the glasnost-era civic organisation. Later, picked as a radical democrat for the commission set up by Yeltsin to supply evidence for the outlawing of the CPSU as a criminal organisation, he was given access to secret police archives, of which he made good scholarly use. His latest book is a biography of Khrushchev’s KGB chief, Ivan Serov. Today, Memorial is a shadow of its former self: no longer a political movement, but a residual institution funded from the West, amid general indifference to its work among the Russian population. As for research, since the mid-1990s sensitive archives have been essentially closed – only about twenty pages a day are available from Stalin’s personal files, for the thirty years of his power, a fraction of what any modern ruler generates – and mid-level bureaucrats obstruct any inquiries likely to affront the new nationalism. But in fact, Petrov remarks, there is now little interest in critical study of the Soviet past – revelations of its crimes no longer have any impact. His major work on Yezhov, written with the Dutch scholar Marc Jansen – an astonishing portrait of the man and his time – has never found a publisher in Russia. Can translation costs be the only reason? In his view, the popular mood is now one of incurious nostalgia for Stalinism. In 1991 Petrov could not have imagined such a political reversal would be possible.

Economically, culturally, psychologically, the Russian intelligentsia has been pulled apart by the changes of the last fifteen years. The term itself is now repudiated by those for whom it smacks too much of a common identity and a revolutionary past: contemporary intellectuals should shun the suspect traditional term intelligent in favour of the neologism intellektual, of healthier American origin, to denote the new independent-minded individual, distinct from the collective herd of old. Such dissociations themselves have a long history, going back at least to the denunciations of the radical intelligentsia by Vekhi, the famous symposium of writers on the rebound from the 1905 Revolution, who might now be called neo-conservative, but were then nearly all liberals. Today, vigorous questioning of the self-images of the contemporary intelligentsia can be found across the spectrum, but attacks on its historical role again occur mainly in liberal journals – the debate in the autumn in Neprikosnovenny Zapas is an example. But their context has altered. The events of 1991, not those of 1905-7, constituted the first revolution liberals could call their own. Politically, how then does Russian liberalism stand today?

Hostility – often, in private, verbally extreme hostility – to Putin’s regime is widespread. But of public opposition there is little. The reason is not only fear, though that exists. It is also the knowledge, which can only be half-repressed, that the liberal intelligentsia is compromised by its own part in bringing to being what it now so dislikes. By clinging to Yeltsin long after the illegality and corruption of his rule was plain, in the name of defence against a toothless Communism, it destroyed its credibility in the eyes of much of the population, only to find that Yeltsin had landed it with Putin. Now, with a mixture of bad conscience and bad faith, it struggles to form a coherent story of the change.

Why, people in these circles often complain, do the Western media portray the 1990s as a time of chaos, crime and corruption – negative stereotypes of every kind – when in fact it was the freest and best period in the history of the country, yet treat Russia today as a democracy, when ‘we live under fascism’? True, certain intellectuals have also taken to denigrating the 1990s, but that is out of resentment at having lost the privileged living they enjoyed under the Soviet system, when they got comfortable salaries and flats and had to do nothing, whereas now they have to find some genuine work in the market. What then of the personal and institutional continuities between the Yeltsin and Putin regimes? Oh, those. Our mistake was to have been naive about the kind of human society the Soviet system had created, which quickly reasserted itself and produced Putin – who, in any case, ‘is not the worst’ it could have thrown up. In other words, whatever has gone wrong in Russia, it was not Yeltsin’s fault, or their own.

It was clear from the very beginning of the August overturn that a test of the new Russian liberalism would be its handling of the nationalities question, where the old – Vekhi and its sequels – had conspicuously failed. During the first Chechen War, it acquitted itself honourably, opposing Russia’s invasion and welcoming its acceptance of defeat. But the second Chechen War broke its moral spine. A few protests continued, but by and large the liberal intelligentsia persuaded itself that Islamic terrorism threatened the motherland itself, and had to be crushed, no matter what the cost in lives. A year later, America’s own war on terror allowed a gratifying solidarity with the West. Today, few express much enthusiasm for the Kadyrov clan in Grozny: most prefer to avoid mention of Chechnya. Leading courtiers of Yeltsin, still flanking or advising Putin, are more outspoken. Gaidar has explained that it is difficult for outsiders to understand ‘what the aggression against Dagestan in 1999 meant for Russia. Dagestan is part of our life, part of our country, part of our reality’ (sic – Russians make up 9 per cent of the population). Thus ‘the issue was no longer the Chechen people’s right to self-determination. It was the question of whether Russian citizens should be protected by their own government.’ Chubais has been blunter: Russia’s goal in the new century, he recently declared, should be a ‘liberal empire’.

Such views are naturally welcome enough in the Kremlin, though these particular voices are something of a liability. Around the regime, however, are more credible forces, recruited from the democrats of 1991, who provide it with critical support from a distinctive position within the liberal tradition. Grouped around the successful weekly Ekspert – a business-oriented cross between Time and the Economist – and in the back-rooms of United Russia, their outlook could be compared to Max Weber’s in the Second Reich. The fall of the USSR was, they believe, the work of a joint revolt by liberal and national (not just Baltic, Ukrainian or Georgian, but also Russian) forces. But under Yeltsin, these two split apart, as more and more Russians with a sense of national pride felt that Yeltsin had become a creature of the Americans, while liberals remained bound to him. Putin’s genius, in this version, has been to reconcile national and liberal opinion once again, and so create the first government in Russian history to enjoy a broad political consensus. The market-fundamentalism and retro-Communism of the 1990s, each now a spent force, are no longer alternatives. In bringing calm and order to the country, Putin has achieved ‘hegemonic stability’.

By their own lights, the intellectuals who articulate this vision – typically from scientific or engineering backgrounds, like many novelists – are clear-eyed about the limitations and risks of the regime, which they discuss without euphemism. Putin’s style is to give concessions to all groups, from oligarchs to the common people, while keeping power in his own hands. He is ‘statist’ in every instinct, despising and distrusting businessmen; though he does not persecute them, he affords no help to small or medium enterprises, so that in practice only the huge raw materials and banking monopolies thrive. Politically, he is a ‘presidential legitimist’, in a Congress of Vienna sense, and so will respect the constitution and step down in 2008 – after choosing his successor. Who might that be? Here, they show some nervousness. For even if Putin does not decide on a third term, he will still be very much at large – only 55, and having amassed huge power, informal as well as formal, in his hands. How would a hand-picked successor cope with him? To this, they have no real answer, beyond joking that Russians don’t bother talking of a third term, but rather of a fourth or a fifth. Their concern focuses on the successor himself. In favour of strong government but not a dictatorship, patriots rather than nationalists, they are fearful of what the future might bring, should a tougher rather than milder heir be chosen, or another major outrage like the seizure of the Moscow theatre or the school in Beslan allow the ‘special services’ to impose an emergency regime in Russia.

Those who have cast their lot with hegemonic stability risk repeating the trajectory of the original liberal intelligentsia under Yeltsin, who kept thinking that their advice and assistance could steer him in the right direction, only to find that he gave them Putin, under whom they tremble. Unable to come to terms with their own responsibilities in backing the attack on the White House and the fake referendum on the constitution, with all that followed, they are now reduced to complaining that a ruinously Sovietised Russian people have proved incapable of accepting the gift of democracy ‘we were striving to bring them’. Today’s national-liberals are more lucid than the democrats of the 1990s, but it is not clear that they have much more real influence at court than their predecessors. If one of the candidates they most fear – the defence minister, Sergei Ivanov, or even the pallid premier, Mikhail Fradkov, for example – were to be put into the Kremlin, they could find themselves in much the same situation as the limpets of Yeltsin. They hope it will be someone more amenable, like Putin’s other favourite, the first deputy premier Dmitri Medvedev, whose task is to give a socially caring face to the regime. But they will have no more say in the choice than other citizens.

Historically, Russian liberalism came in a variety of shades, and it would be wrong to reduce them all today to the pupils of Hayek or Weber. Amid the different adaptations to power of the period, one mind of complete independence stands out. Tall but stooped, almost hunched, with the archetypal bookish look of a scholar, in a square, squinting face lit up with frequent ironic smiles, the historian Dmitry Furman is of White and Red descent. His grandmother, who brought him up and to whom he was always closest, was an aristocrat, his grandfather – the couple were separated – a high Stalinist functionary, who even as a deputy minister lived quite poorly, devoted to his cause and work. Furman explains that he grew up without any Marxist formation, yet no hatred of Communism, regarding it as a new kind of religion, of which there had always been many sorts. After graduating, he did his research on religious conflicts in the Late Roman Empire, and then became a specialist in the history of religions in the Academy of Sciences. He never wrote anything about contemporary events, or had anything to do with them, until perestroika.

When the USSR collapsed, however, he was virtually alone among Russian liberals in regarding the overthrow of Gorbachev as a disaster. For a year afterwards, he worked for the Gorbachev Foundation, and then returned to the Academy of Sciences, where he has since been a researcher at the Institute of Europe, and a prolific essayist on the whole zone covered by the former USSR. He has perhaps the most worked out, systematic view of post-Communist developments of any thinker in Russia today. It goes like this. The country is a ‘managed democracy’: that is, one where elections are held, but the results are known in advance; courts hear cases, but give decisions that coincide with the interests of the authorities; the press is plural, yet with few exceptions dependent on the government. This is, in effect, a system of ‘uncontested power’, increasingly similar to the Soviet state, but without any ideological foundation, which is evolving through a set of stages that parallel those of Russian Communism. The first phase sees the heroic destruction of the old order, a time of Sturm und Drang – Lenin and Yeltsin. The second is a time of consolidation, with the construction of a new, more stable order – Stalin and Putin. The leader of the second phase always enjoys much broader popular support than the leader of the first, because he unites the survivors of the original revolution, still attached to its values, and the anti-revolutionaries, who detested the anarchic atmosphere and the radical changes it brought. Thus Putin today continues Yeltsin’s privatisations and market reforms, but creates order rather than chaos. The successor to Putin in the third stage – comparable to Khrushchev – is unlikely to be as popular as Putin, because the regime, like its predecessors, is already becoming more isolated from the masses. Putin’s high ratings in the polls are entirely a function of his occupancy of the presidency: the rulers of Kazakhstan or Azerbaijan – Nazarbaev or Aliev – can match them, because their systems are so similar.

But the regime in Russia will face a serious problem in 2008, and considerable tension is already being generated. Will Putin step down and hand over the presidency to a successor, or will he change the constitution and stay on? Either course is full of risks. He could easily change the constitution to let him stay in the Kremlin indefinitely, as Nazarbaev has done in Kazakhstan – the parliament will do what he wants, and the West would not complain too much. But this would install something closer to a traditional dictatorship than to a managed democracy, requiring an ideology of some kind, which Putin entirely lacks. So although he is now studying the interwar writings of the theorist Ivan Ilin, then a semi-Fascist émigré in Germany, the best guess is that he will not want to perpetuate himself in power, since this would require too great an ideological upheaval.

Might not nationalism provide such a basis, if it is not already doing so? Furman dismisses the possibility. Russian nationalism is too low-powered to take the place of democracy as a legitimation of Putin’s rule. It is not a fanatical force like the nationalism that sustained Hitler’s regime, rather an impotent resentment that Russia can no longer bully its neighbours as it once did. The current campaign against Georgians is an instance: an expression of the frustration of a former master-people, that has now to treat those who were once its inferiors as equals. The result is a pattern of sudden rages over minor issues, explosions that are then as quickly forgotten – disputes with Ukraine over this or that dam, clamours over Serbia, and so on. These are neurotic, not psychotic symptoms. Such petty rancours are not enough to found a new dictatorship. That is why legitimation by the West remains important to the regime, and is in some degree a restraint on it. Since it has no ideology of its own, and cannot rely on a broken-backed nationalism, it must present itself as a specific kind of democracy that is accepted by the G7 – Russia as a ‘normal country’ that has rejoined Western civilisation.

On the other hand, if Putin doesn’t change the constitution, and steps down from the presidency in 2008, there will also be a big problem for the system, since for the first time in Russian history there would then be two centres of power in the country – the new and the old president. This is a formula for political instability, as the bureaucracy would waver between two masters, not knowing which one to obey. Putin may think he will select a pliable successor, but historically this has never worked: such figures always want to exercise full power themselves. Stalin was picked as the least outstanding figure by the Party after the death of Lenin, for fear of the stronger personality of Trotsky, and he became an all-powerful despot. Khrushchev was selected as a compromise first secretary after Stalin, rather than the more powerful Beria or Malenkov – and promptly ousted them and seized power for himself. So it was too with the mediocre personality of Brezhnev, chosen as least dangerous by his colleagues. The pattern would be likely to recur after 2008.

Asked his view of Pipes’s diagnosis of Russia’s deep political culture – no popular understanding of democracy, or rule of law; tyranny always preferable to anarchy – Furman answers matter-of-factly: yes, it is more or less accurate, but Pipes is wrong to think this is uniquely Russian. It is a very widespread political culture, which you can see throughout the Middle East, in Burma, in Uzbekistan and elsewhere. We should not whitewash or embellish Russian political culture, but we should also not think of it as exceptional. Nor is it correct to imagine that there has been any significant revival of religion in post-Communist Russia. The Orthodox Church has been absorbed as an element of national identity, and officiates at baptisms and funerals. But not weddings – sexual life is completely secular – and rates of regular attendance at church are among the lowest in Europe.

If the second phase in the cycle of managed democracy is now coming to an end in Russia, what of the third and fourth phases, comparable to the Khrushchev and Brezhnev periods under Communism? The whole cycle, Furman replies, will be much shorter – not seventy, but about thirty years. We are probably at midpoint right now. As for the future: the Russian intelligentsia was briefly in power in 1991, but its ideology was primitive and its outlook naive. So when the democracy it wanted was discarded by Yeltsin, the defeat of democracy was the defeat of this intelligentsia too. Only when Russian intellectuals have produced a self-critical assessment of this experience will it be able to develop new and sounder ideals for the future.

This is an impressively level-headed diagnosis of the country’s condition. Its limitation lies in the unargued premise of the argument. Managed democracy à la russe is tacitly viewed as a transition that, with all its warts, leads towards genuine democracy. Within the very sobriety of the scheme, a hopeful teleology is at work. Only one terminus is possible: the liberty of the moderns embodied in the Western Rechtsstaat. Realist in its judgments about Russia, the model is idealist in its assumptions about the West. Certainly, the two remain very different. But can the differences, and their direction, be captured by Furman’s implied dichotomy? For who imagines the political systems of the West to be ‘unmanaged’ democracies? Their own regressions are not factored into the evolutionary scheme. The idealising side of Furman’s construction exposes itself to the tu quoque retorts with which Putin and his aides now relish silencing criticism by the West.

All of these debates revolve around the nature of the state. Society is less discussed. In the West, the historians of the USSR who challenged the Cold War paradigms of Pipes and Malia – Sheila Fitzpatrick has described their rebellion in these pages – famously focused on the activities and textures of daily life in the Soviet Union, as popular realities often at variance with official myths, though not necessarily undermining them: the outcome from below, rather than the intention from above. Post-Communism offers a vast field for research of this kind, looking at the ways in which ordinary people are surviving in the new institutional wilderness. Two Russian sociologists, both living abroad, have given us striking ethnographic descriptions of some of them. In How Russia Really Works, Alena Ledeneva, who teaches in London, takes us through the dense thicket of ‘informal’ practices – some entirely new, like kompromat, others a mutation of traditional forms, like krugovaya poruka – that have sprung up in politics, professions, business and the media, all of them breaking or circumventing official rules.[4]

For Ledeneva, they are essentially inventive kinds of illegality, developed in response to the increasing role of formal law in a society where legality itself remains perpetually discretionary and manipulated. As such, they at once support and subvert the advance of a more developed rule of law in Russia. Critical though her account of this paradox is, it comes with a wry affection and upbeat conclusion: all these ingenious ways of fixing or bending the rules contribute in their own fashion to an ongoing, positive process of modernisation. The underlying message is: the Russians are coping. Here it is Western modernity rather than democracy that is taken for granted, as the unspoken telos. A darker verdict can be found in Andrew Wilson’s Virtual Politics, a blistering study of the ‘political technology’ of blackmail and bribery, intimidation and fraud, in the electoral scene.[5]

Ledeneva’s study explores the world of those who are doing well out of Russian capitalism. At the very end of her book, she lets drop that informal practices which were ‘often beneficial to ordinary people in allowing them to satisfy their personal needs and to organise their own lives’ in times past – ‘before the reforms’, as she puts it – have now become a system of venality that ‘benefits the official-business classes and harms the majority of the population’. The admission is not allowed to ruffle her sanguine conclusions, or uncritical notions of reform. Georgi Derluguian, working in the United States, is more trenchant. Few sociologists alive today, in any language, have the same ability to move from vivid phenomenological analysis of the smallest transactions of everyday existence to systematic theoretical explanation of the grandest mutations of macro-history.

‘The collapse of the USSR,’ Derluguian argues, ‘marks more than the failure of the Bolshevik experiment. It signalled the end of a thousand years of Russian history during which the state had remained the central engine of social development.’ Three times – under Ivan IV, under Peter I and Catherine, and under Stalin – a military-bureaucratic empire was constructed on the vast, vulnerable plains, to emulate foreign advances and resist external invasions, powering its own expansionism. Each time, it was initially successful, and ultimately shattered, as superior force from abroad – Swedish in the Baltic wars, German in the Great War, American in the Cold War – overwhelmed it. But the last of these defeats has buried this form, since it was inflicted not on the battlefield, but in the marketplace. The USSR fell because the traditional ‘Russian state-building assets’, in Derluguian’s phrase, were abruptly ‘devalued’ by transformation of the world economy. ‘Capitalism in the globalisation mode is antithetical to the mercantilist bureaucratic empires that specialised in maximising military might and geopolitical throw-weight – the very pursuits in which Russian and Soviet rulers were enmeshed for centuries.’

In the ensuing disintegration – an implosion under pressure of the new environment – middle-levels of the nomenklatura seized what booty they could, morphing into private asset-strippers or brokers, or reinstalling themselves at different levels, with different titles, in the reconfigured post-Communist bureaucracy. Derluguian has much to say, both picturesque and painful, about this process as it worked itself out in the centre and on the periphery, where he comes from (with an intimate knowledge of the Caucasus). But he never forgets the losers below, ‘the silent majority of Russians’, who are ‘mostly atomised, middle-aged individuals, beaten-down, unheroic philistines trying to make ends meet as decently as they can’, after twenty years of betrayed expectations.

In such conditions, the distance between the frayed, precarious fabric of private lives – of a people now ‘profoundly tired and resistant to any public mobilising’ – and the global canvas on which the destiny of the state is written, seems enormous. Yet there is one traumatic knot that ties them together. In just five years, from 1990 to 1994, the mortality rate among Russian men soared – in peacetime – by 32 per cent, and their average life-expectancy plummeted to under 58 years, below that of Pakistan. By 2003, the population had fallen by more than five million in a decade, and is currently losing 750,000 lives a year. When Yeltsin took power, the total population of Russia was just under 150 million. By 2050, according to official projections, it will be just over 100 million. So many were not undone by Stalin himself.

Official demographers hasten to point out that high mortality rates were already a feature of the Brezhnev period, while low fertility rates are after all a sign of social advance, in syntony with Western Europe. The combination of a mortmain from the past and an upgrade from the future has been unfortunate, but why blame capitalism? Against these apologetics, Eric Hobsbawm’s judgment that the fall of the USSR led to a ‘human catastrophe’ stands. The starkness of the break in the early 1990s is not to be gainsaid. In the new Russia, as Aids, TB and sky-rocketed rates of suicide are added to the list of traditional killers – alcohol, nicotine and the like – public healthcare has wasted away, on a share of the budget that is no more than 5 per cent: half that of Lebanon. A sense of the sheer desolation of the demographic scene is given by the plight of women – more protected from the catastrophe than men – in contemporary Russia. Virtually half of them are single. In the latest survey, out of every 1000 Russian women, 175 have never been married, 180 are widows and 110 are divorcees, living on their own. Such is the solitude of those who, relatively speaking, are the survivors. There are now 15 per cent more women alive in this society than men.

In power-political terms, a relentless attrition of Russia’s human stock has obvious consequences for its role in the world, the subject of urgent addresses to the nation by Putin. What will remain of the greatness of the past? In the 1970s, foreign diplomats were fond of describing the USSR as ‘Upper Volta with rockets’. From one angle, Russia today looks more like Saudi Arabia with rockets, although against the waxing of its oil revenues must be set the ageing of its missiles. That the country, even if it has now regained a certain independence, has so come down in the world haunts not only its governing class, but many of its writers. The possible spaces of empire – past or future, native or alien – have become one of the leitmotifs not only of its political discussion, but of its literary imagination.

In the leading example of the ‘imperial novel’, now an accepted form, Pavel Krusanov constructs a counterfactual history of the 20th century. His bestseller Ukus Angela (‘Bite of the Angel’ – 200,000 copies) recounts a Russia that has never known a revolution, and instead of contracting in size, expands to absorb the whole of China and the Balkans, under the superhuman command of Ivan Nekitaev (‘Not-Chinese’), a tyrant of Olympian freedom from all morality. Vladimir Sorokin inverts the schema in his latest novel, Den’ Oprichnika (‘The Day of the Oprichnik’). By the year 2027 the monarchy has been restored in a self-enclosed Russia, surrounded by a Great Wall, and run by a reincarnation of Ivan IV’s corps of terrorists, under the thumb of China, whose goods and settlers dominate economic life, and whose language is the preferred idiom of the tsar’s children themselves.

These are fictions. The polyglot intelligence specialist Aleksandr Dugin’s Foundations of Geopolitics draws on Carl Schmitt and Halford Mackinder to counterpose powers of the sea (the Atlantic world centred on the US) to powers of the land, stretching from the Maghreb to China, but centred on Russia, as their natural adversary. Originally, Moscow-Berlin, Moscow-Tokyo and Moscow-Tehran featured as the three main axes in the front against America. Later, a Slavo-Turkish alliance has been conjured up. Borrowing the title of Armin Mohler’s work of 1949, Dugin terms the eventual victory of the powers of the land over those of the sea the ‘conservative revolution’ to come. His colleague Aleksandr Prokhanov, ‘the nightingale of the general staff’, doubles as bestselling novelist, with Gospodin Geksogen, a conspiracy tale of Putin’s ascent to power, and theorist of a new Eurasian imperium, celebrated in his Symphony of the Fifth Empire, just out. These are writers who have dabbled in the murky waters of the far right, but today enjoy a wider political and intellectual entrée. Dugin’s Geopolitics carries an introduction from the head of the strategy department of the general staff. Prokhanov’s Symphony, covered on national television, was launched under the patronage of Nikita Mikhalkov, in the presence of representatives of the ruling United Russia and the neo-liberal Union of Right Forces, Gaidar’s party.

The extravagance of these dreamlands of imperial recovery is an indication not of any feasible ambition, but of a psychology of compensation. The reality is that Russia’s rank in the world has been irreversibly transformed. It was a great power continuously for three centuries: longer – this is often forgotten – than any single country in the West. In square miles, it is still the largest state on earth. But it no longer has a major industrial base. Its economy has revived as an export platform for raw materials, with all the risks of over-reliance on volatile world prices familiar in First and Third World countries alike – over-valuation, inflation, import addiction, sudden implosion. Although it still possesses the only nuclear stockpile anywhere near the American arsenal, its defence industry and armed services are a shadow of the Soviet past. In territory, it has shrunk behind its borders at the end of the 17th century. Its population is smaller than that of Bangladesh. Its gross national income is less than that of Mexico.

More fundamental in the long run for the country’s identity than any of these changes, some of them temporary, may be the drastic alteration in its geopolitical setting. Russia is now wedged between a still expanding European Union, with eight times its GDP and three times its population, and a vastly empowered China, with five times its GDP and ten times its population. Historically speaking, this is a sudden and total change in the relative magnitudes flanking it on either side. Few Russians have yet quite registered the scale of the ridimensionamento of their country. To the west, just when the Russian elites felt they could at last rejoin Europe, where the country properly belonged, after the long Soviet isolation, they suddenly find themselves confronted with a scene in which they cannot be one European power among others (and the largest), as in the 18th or 19th century, but face a vast, quasi-unified EU continental bloc, from which they are formally – and, to all appearances, permanently – excluded. To the east, there is the rising giant of China, overshadowing the recovery of Russia, but still utterly remote to the minds of most Russians. Against all this, Moscow has only the energy card – no small matter, but scarcely a commensurate counter-balance.

These new circumstances are liable to deal a double blow to Russia’s traditional sense of itself. On the one hand, racist assumptions of the superiority of white to yellow peoples remain deeply ingrained in popular attitudes. Long accustomed to regarding themselves as – relatively speaking – civilised and the Chinese as backward, if not barbaric, Russians inevitably find it difficult to adjust to the spectacular reversal of roles today, when China has become an industrial powerhouse towering above its neighbour, and its great urban centres are exemplars of a modernity that makes their Russian counterparts look small and shabby by comparison. The social and economic dynamism of the PRC, brimming with conflict and vitality of every kind, offers a particularly painful contrast, for those willing to look, with the numbed apathy of Russia – and this, liberals might gloomily reflect, without even the deliverance of a true post-Communism. The wound to national pride is potentially acute.

Worse lies to the west. The Asian expanse of Russia, covering three-quarters of its territory, contains only a fifth of its population, falling fast. Eighty out of a hundred Russians live in the quarter of the land that forms part of Europe. Catherine the Great’s famous declaration that ‘Russia is a European country’ was not so obvious at the time, and has often been doubted since, by foreigners and natives alike. But its spirit is deeply rooted in the Russian elites, who have always – despite the urgings of Eurasian enthusiasts – mentally faced west, not east. In many practical ways, post-Communism has restored Russia to the ‘common European home’ that Gorbachev liked to invoke. Travel, sport, crime, emigration, dual residence are letting better-off Russians back into a world they once shared in the Belle Epoque. But at state level, with all its consequences for the national psyche, Russia – in being what cannot be included in the Union – is now formally defined as what is not Europe, in the new, hardening sense of the term. The injustice of this is obvious. Inconvenient though it may be for the ideologues of enlargement to acknowledge, Russia’s contribution to European culture has historically been greater than that of all the new member-states of the EU combined. In the years to come, it would be surprising if the relationship between Brussels and Moscow did not rub.

Few peoples have had to undergo the variety of successive shocks – liberation, depression, expropriation, attrition, demotion – that Russians have endured in the last decade and a half. Even if these, historically considered, are so far only a brief aftermath of the much vaster turbulences of the 20th century, it is no surprise that the masses are ‘profoundly tired and resistant to any public mobilising’. What they will eventually make of the new experiences remains to be seen. For the moment, the people are silent: Pushkin’s closing line applies – ‘narod bezmolvstvuet.’


[1] Russian terms and phrases. Syroviki: those in control of syryo, or raw materials; siloviki: those in command of sila, or force; kompromat: compromising information; krugovaya poruka: literally, ‘circular pledge’, or mutual complicity; poshlost: (roughly) pretentious banality.

[2] Simon and Schuster, 464 pp., £20, September 2005, 978 0 7432 6431 0.

[3] Yale, 256 pp., £17.95, December 2005, 978 0 300 11288 7.

[4] Cornell, 288 pp., £12.95, October 2006, 978 0 8014 7325 4.

[5] Yale, 336 pp., £20, April 2005, 978 0 300 09545 6.

Perry Anderson teaches history at UCLA.