October 30, 2007
by Andrei A. Piontkovsky
Testimony of Andrei Piontkovsky
Visiting Fellow, Hudson Institute
U.S House of Representatives, Committee on Foreign Affairs
Russia and the West on the Eve of 2008
The nature of the conflict over Putin's successor has not changed in the slightest in the past two years. The Successor-2008 problem is quite different from the Successor-2000 problem.
In 2000 the successor had to be marketed to an electorate 100 million strong. We all remember what a huge firework display was required, involving Basaev's raid on Dagestan and the blowing up of apartment blocks in Moscow.
In 2008 there will be no need to market the successor to anyone. The electorate has been satisfactorily dealt with and will now swallow anything. In any case, nobody is going to ask its opinion.
All that is required is for Putin to reach agreement with the inner circle of his entourage, five or ten of the boyz of the Petersburg Brigade. This is where the problems begin.
The conflict is already spilling out of Churchill's "riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma", as the terrible truth becomes evident to Putin's cronies that He really does want to get out:. In The Brigade, however, a certain equilibrium has been established and "The Chief" cannot simply give orders or make arrangements there, let alone appoint successors. He needs to negotiate the terms of his departure, if he can, with his business partners.
Most see his longing to get out as easily explicable in a still youthful and no doubt wealthy man: he does very much want for the next twenty years or so to be a kind of another Roman Abramovich. As a certain Russian billionaire irrefutably remarked, we Russians should, after all, be allowed to compensate ourselves for decades of tragedy and deprivation. This feeling is undoubtedly present in the psyche of the boy from the Petersburg communal apartment, but it is not by any means dominant.
Putin understands very well the pitiless laws of the system he has built up step by step over the past seven years. If he takes that final step of agreeing to a third term, he is accepting a life sentence. He will move into a new existential realm; he will enter that world of shadows from whose bourne no traveller returns. The darkness at noon of the Kremlin will engulf him forever. Not only will he never become a Roma, or Vova, Abramovich, he will never become anyone or anything again.
When Joseph Stalin lost, if he did, the argument on the agrarian question to Nikolai Bukharin in 1929, he could still, if he had so wished, have gone to work at the Institute of Red Professors teaching a course on "Marxism and the National Question" to students in the Workers' Faculty. Alternatively, he could have gone home to Georgia, cultivated a vineyard and made his own wine. So many things he could have done.
Only a few years passed before, as the ruler of one-sixth of the Earth, resigning his position would have been tantamount to standing up against the nearest wall in front of a firing squad. He had another twenty long years of that before his beloved comrades-in-arms found him where he had been lying unconscious on the floor in a pool of his own urine for twenty-four hours.
But let us return to our present-day hero. The more doggedly he tries to get out, the more they hate him; and the more desperately he wants to break free and never let these people hold sway over his life and destiny. Unfortunately, beyond the confines of his immediate entourage he has nobody. Beyond there is a scorched earth of his own making in which tens of thousands of "Our People", his "Nashi", are marching in T-shirts bearing his portrait.
His latest actions and statements(appointment of Mr.Zubkov as a Prime-Minister and his intention to become Prime-Minister himself) reveal beyond any doubt that he has taken a fatal decision-
he is staying as a de-facto President for life.
The attitude of the Russian political class to Europe, and to the West in general, over the latest three-four centuries has always been contradictory, hypersensitive, and extremely emotional. The best Russian political text on the subject remains even today Alexander Blok's 1918 poem, Scythians, with its famous lines about Russia: 'She stares, she stares at you with hatred and with love' and 'We will turn our Asiatic snout towards you'.
Just as 300 years ago, and 200, and twenty, we know perfectly well that we cannot do without Western technology and investments, and that autarky and an Iron Curtain spell economic and geopolitical disaster for Russia. We understand that Russian culture is an integral part of European culture.
And yet, the West seems to irritate us by the very fact of its existence. We see it as a psychological, informational, spiritual challenge. We are constantly trying to convince ourselves that the West is inherently hostile and malevolent towards Russia, because this flatters our vanity and helps to excuse our shortcomings and failures.
If you take any mainstream Rssian publication and read the last hundred articles dealing with foreign policy matters, ninety-eight will be full of bitterness, complaints, irritation, poison and hostility towards the West. This despite the fact that most of the authors of those articles like to spend as much time as possible in Western capitals and Western resorts, keep their money in Western banks, and send their children to study in Western schools and universities.
As in the famous poem a passionate declaration of love for Europe turns, at the slightest doubt as to whether it is reciprocated, into a threatening, 'And if you won't, there's nothing we can lose, and we can answer you with treachery!'
What have '5,000 bayonets deployed in Bulgaria', three aeroplanes in Lithuania, Kosovo or the Jew-baiter of Iran to do with anything? The whole lot of them are mere opportunities for the manic-depressive Russian elite to check and re-check its endless love-hate relationship with the West. That existential Russian question, 'But do you respect me?' is in reality addressed, not to our latest drinking partner, but to the starry firmament in the West.
Last week that question was asked again at the Munich Conference on Security Policy in the latest spiritual striptease show put on by the latest Russian Patient. It doesn't matter what his name is: Ivanov, Petrov, Sidorov, Yeltsin, Primakov, Putin...
For some reason it is considered statesmanlike and patriotic to pout your lips and enumerate before various Western audiences the same old list of "grievances" about the unipolar world, the ABM treaty, the expansion of NATO, the creeping up of NATO, our encirclement by NATO.
Wake up, intellectual "heavyweights" of Russia. What world and what century are you living in?
Where now is that mammoth aggressive military machine of NATO you have so long been warning of? It truly has lumbered up to the sacred borders of the former Soviet Union, but not from the direction you expected. Indeed, my fear is that there it will meet its end, defending those borders from the advance of Islamic radicals. When to the ullulating of those fighting against "a unipolar world" NATO finally departs from Afghanistan and from history, the front of the Islamic revolution will cut through the countries of Central Asia. If we look a little further to the East, there too significant events are afoot.
"In September 2006 the Chinese People's Liberation Army conducted a ten-day military training exercise on an unprecedented scale in the Shenyang and Beijing Military Regions, the two most powerful of the seven Chinese MRs. These border Russia, Shenyang confronting the Far East Military Region and Beijing the Siberian Military Region of the armed forces of the Russian Federation. In the course of the exercise, units of the Shenyang MR performed a 1,000 kilometre advance into the territory of the Beijing MR and engaged in a training battle with units of that Region.
The nature of the exercise tells us that it is in preparation for war with Russia and, moreover, that what is being planned is not defense but attack. Against Taiwan this scenario makes no sense. Deep invasive operations are being worked out on dry land, in a region of steppes and mountains . The lie of the land in the region where the exercises were held is similar to that of the Trans-Baikal region, and 1,000 kilometers is precisely the distance from the Russo-Chinese border along the river Argun to Baikal." ( "Greetings from China", Izvestiya, 12 February 2007.)
But who is bothered about all that in our little psychiatric hospital? It is far more fun to go on about the usual grievances: bayonets in Bulgaria, russophobes in Courchevel, calumniators of Russia in Scotland Yard. So, there we have it. In the not too distant future the centuries-old, tortuous psychological relationship between this patient and the West may finally be much simplified. No longer will anybody need to attend psychoanalytical conferences in Munich or turn their special Asiatic snout towards anyone there. Russia's Asiatic streak will be only to clear for all to see.
Many commentators, myself included, have noted that Vladimir Putin is regularly pulling off a striking personal propaganda coup at the G-8 summits. But what about the present state of that institution, and the G-8's future?
The G-8 (formerly the G-7 and G-6) arose in the 1970s after the oil crisis, also caused by events in the Middle East, as a kind of Politburo of the West, a club for the leaders of countries with a shared geopolitical vision of the world, shared values and a shared historical destiny. The club became the antithesis of the Security Council, which was a propaganda platform for rivals and antagonists during the Cold War.
It was a club where it was possible to work out, in a businesslike manner in an intimate circle, a common strategy for the West in world politics, primarily in economic sphere.
Post-Soviet Russia was accepted into this club, despite its relatively modest economic weight, as a geopolitical ally that felt it belonged to the Greater West.
Economically, Russia today is far closer, at least in terms of her energy resources, to enjoying G-8 status. The problem is, however, that (as Russia's leaders proclaim ever more loudly and unambiguously) she no longer considers herself part of the West. Indeed, as in the good old days of the USSR, she sees the West as a rival and a threat. In his this year Victury Day speech Mr.V.Putin even compared USA with the Third Reich.
The upshot is that the G-8 ceases to be a club of like-minded partners, while falling short of being a global economic council, since such giants as India and China are absent from it
This totally undermines the institution's ability to function effectively, and that gives rise to an atmosphere of awkwardness and unease, which developed into the kind of more and more evident mutual irritation.
The solution is not far to seek. Two functions of the G-8, neither of which it is currently performing satisfactorily, need to be separated.
The G-8 should expand to 10 or 12 members (China, India, Brazil...) and become a fully fledged Board of Directors of the global economy. Russia, which has recently taken to calling itself an energy superpower, would be wholly entitled member of this board.
Putin's Russia is insistent at the same time that it is not a part of the West and is still fantasizing about Eurasianism and its own special path. Accordingly, the West needs as a matter of urgency to set up its own mini-Politburo. Whether that should be the old G-7 or a triangle of the USA, the European Community and Japan is not for us to say.
What is indisputable is that today the West faces challenges and threats on an unprecedented scale and urgently needs to come up with a unified strategy to cope with them.
I believe that Russia is, in fact, both geopolitically and in terms of her civilization, a part of the West, and that this is dramatically underlined by the fact that these challenges and threats are targeted also against my country. That is not how today's my country leaders see it. They are persuaded that "behind the backs of Islamic terrorists stand more powerful and dangerous traditional enemies of Russia". The Kremlin propagandists go on 24 hours a day on our state-controlled television about the threat to Russia whipping up anti-Western hysteria.
Given this state of affairs, it is naive and foolish of the West to continue pretending we are all members of the same club and trying to work out a joint strategy with Putin. Today Putin is playing on the other side, and no longer makes any bones about it.
However Putins come and Putins go but Russia remains, and in the long term the West needs an alliance with her, just as Russia needs an alliance with the West.
One of the most important tasks of the Western Politburo, then, will be to find a modus vivendi with an openly non-Western Putinist Russia. While harboring no illusions, the West should try not to allow relations to deteriorate further, to seek out the points of contact which do remain, and to patiently wait.
To wait for the real interests of Russia's national security to be accorded priority over the complexes, myths, and commercial interests of the ruling cliques, as will inevitably happen. Let us hope it does not happen too late, both for the West and for Russia.
Andrei Piontkovsky is a visiting fellow with Hudson Institute.
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