Category Archives: book review

Moral Cold War 2.0

Just read a book “Russian turn. Where is Russia going?” of Nikolai Zlobin and Vladimir Solovyov. The book describes the third term of Putin’s presidency, annexation of Crimea and revived confrontation with the West. In part it’s a chronicle of events, analyzed and sorted to support authors theses, first attempts at understanding of still not finished processes.

Zlobin and Solovyov begin with a ruthless criticism of Putin-Medvedev tandem and Russian state-oligarchic capitalism. Their assessments of political leaders and phenomena don’t look entirely correct , I would say overly simplified. Just one example: reporting from Yaroslavl forum in 2011: “it was clear that Medvedev as President plunges into oblivion, … the ghost of political death already hovered over him”. Now it’s December 2014 and Medvedev still not in oblivion, still at the top of political pyramid in Russia.
“How businessman in Russia is doing” – title of 2nd chapter, which gives an idea about prevailing practices in Putin’s Russia. Authors brush picture with wide strokes, not mixing palette colors, so we learn that in country occupying 1/6 of Earth, where hundreds of ethnic groups live with wildly different customs & traditions, “institution of private property has not been established fully”. Who prospers under such regime? Only relations & cronies of 90 governors. Any other option is almost impossible” claim Soloviev and Zlobin. Seriously, in Russia only few hundreds of businessmen working? How about Constitution, laws protecting private property & homes after all? Russian regions include Chechnya, where vendetta custom overrides protection of private property and inviolability of private homes. But generally 99% Russians enjoy private property quite safely. It seems, in pursuit of strong metaphors, Zlobin & Solovyov applied black color too much, just like in propagandist Western media criticized by authors.

[Here Russian and English version of this review start to diverge.]

Such categorical statements not rule but exception in Zlobin/Solovyov book. Imho for curious Westerner who want to learn about Putin’s Russia the book will be eye-opener in many aspects and will shatter many misconceptions about Russia prevalent in Western countries. I hope there is translation of the book into English otherwise its purpose & value will be greatly diminished.

For Russian observers “Russian turn” not that much interesting, it’s just re-statement of personal positions by two prominent journalists & clarification of their activities. For example Zlobin was active in Putin’s meetings with media asking strange questions about leadership & system. After reading this book you’ll understand why he pressed such questions. Solovyov usually holds debates between warring politicians not expressing his own views, so in “Russian turn” he expresses himself (and chapters written by him are obvious) & creates impression of astute & knowledgeable observer.

Authors singled out publicity stunts & show business as main features of Russian political life in last 2 decades: “stunts replaced real politics”. Alleged by pro-Western radical opposition booeing of Putin by spectators at Moscow stadium after boxing match shows oppositioners adopted Surkov doctrine of symbolic acts instead of real ones. Thankfully Surkov no more in Kremlin & new stunts with ancient amphoras & giant pike went out of fashion.

Analysis of internal Russian politics & leading politicians is interesting & worthwhile. Zlobin & Solovyov absolutely right on political linguistics: Kremlin speaks to overwhelming majority of Russians in clear-cut understandable language of family, traditional, patriotic values while pro-Western opposition talking about Maidan, Pussy Riot outrightly rejected by Russians as something “un-Russian”, and opposition lectures on corruption after being in power in lawless corrupt Yeltsin regime discredit them further.
Marginalized, associated with LGBT pro-Western groups even with lavish foreign funding & Lenin-style discipline have no chances. Forecasts of Zlobin & Solovyov can be trusted if nothing extraordinary and unexpected happens.

Yet unexpected happened. “Crimea ours.” Cold war 2.0 in full swing changing all. Zlobin and Solovyov’s view from both sides of new iron curtain is curious. They argue that Obama and Putin do not differ much – both are patriots of their countries, value private property etc. There is no ideological chasm between rivals as in Cold War 1.0. Still there is thin dividing line, at least authors seems they found it.
Both US and Russia in essence are imperial states and as everybody know empires like any other state born, live, prosper and die. Americans systematically and methodically bend policy of destruction of potential rival centers of power, no matter what human rights activists or critics say. Collapse of USSR, Yugoslavia, chaos in Egypt, Libya, Iraq and Syria – all fits perfectly in U.S. long-term strategy. Even the creation of Ukrainian black hole between EU & Russia suits US long term interests.

These subjects deserved more attention in the book imho but Zlobin and Soloviev focus on contradiction of moral values between conservative and traditionalist Putin’s Russia and libertarian, anti-Christian West. They describe Putin’s model of global leadership based on anti-fascism, rejection of rabid nationalism and fight with attempts of revision of results of World War Two. On this basis, Russia is trying to build alliance with China.
Authors don’t believe in possibility of such alliance and skeptical on Russia’s prospects in unfolding new Cold war.

Authors argue that Russia is isolated from the world especially in mass media (they equal it to dominant Western media) hence Zlobin and Solovyov concentrate on issues & problems of fair reporting of Russian position to the world community. For example Russia Today’s efficiency is very low in authors view, everybody around watch & parrot BBC & CNN they claim.

As Russia not match for powerful West & rising East Russia at risk of being torn apart like Ukraine only this time between China & Europe. What is authors receipt? To make Russia more homogenous & liquidate national autonomies. Zlobin and Soloviev practically repeat view of Russian nationalists that ethnic minorities in Russia are prospering, while ethnic Russian – not so much lacking “Russian republics”. I think authors wrongly mix real problems of uncontrolled migration & matryoshka-style construction of Russian Federation.

The facts say otherwise, traditionally Russian regions as Moscow and St. Petersburg are much better funded by Federal authorities than autonomous republics. In terms of living standards, levels of infrastructure almost all republics except oil-rich Tatarstan occupy last positions in Russian Federation. Poverty & underdevelopment force people to migrate to big towns and traditionally Russian regions. On top of that since break up of Soviet Union Russia flooded by millions of labor migrants. As consequence interethnic tensions rising in traditionally Russian regions and cities.

Most important omission of the book – authors don’t give assessments of American and Russian models of political leadership in the new Cold war. If problem is just how to convey to ordinary Americans Russian position on Crimea and Ukraine maybe starting Cold War rivalry wasn’t worthy at all. Maybe better, sooner or later, reach compromise with White House and tolerate US policy of sowing chaos & destruction of potential alternative centers of power.

Solovyov & Zlobin singled out disagreement on moral issues between the West and Russia as basic contradiction, however analysis not complete. For example, was torture at Guantanamo Bay and secret CIA prisons, deaths of millions of Iraqis, Syrians and others morally justified or not. On Russian side were sacrifices in two Chechen wars, which claimed 200,000 lives in vain or not?

The war in Syria still raging, Chechnya rarely but still suffers from terror attacks, yet it’s already clear that Putin managed to justify sacrifices in North Caucasus by rebuilding destroyed cities & infrastructure, Chechnya under Kadyrov regime healing wounds and reintegrating into Russian Federation, while U.S. imperial policy has brought Middle East and Ukraine on the brink of destruction. After US covert and overt interventions failed states disintegrating, and even after many decades these regions won’t see peace and prosperity.

That’s why Russia’s prospects in the new Cold war don’t look too bad.

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