The matter of terminology

My previous post was blessed with a number of thoughtful comments made by folks whose opinions I deeply respect.  Our discussion revolved around the meaning of “stability” in Russia.  I insisted that the current emphasis on “stability” as a political endpoint is misplaced; my interlocutors argued that given the situation in the world, there was nothing wrong with Russian voters longing for “stability.”  As one of the commenters nicely put it, with the “world spiral[ing] into the gaping maw of another global financial collapse, ‘stability’ may be looking pretty good.”

Well, I have nothing against “stability” per se – if understood as an opposite to “chaos,” “anarchy,” or, worse, “violence.”  I largely subscribe to a popular point of view that as the second president of Russia, Vladimir Putin prevented the collapse of the country and, having ushered a decade of “stability,” ensured impressive growth of living standards of ordinary Russians.

Yet, it would appear to me that just a few years ago, Putin and his team didn’t consider “stability” as an end in itself; instead, they used it as a mean to promote prosperity and economic growth.  As soon as some “stability” was achieved, Putin & Co. began pushing for structural economic reforms.  Characteristically, when the United Russia party Chairman Boris Gryzlov – hardly a radical liberal, to say the very least — addressed the 6th congress of the party in Nov. 2005, the title of his speech was “From Stability to Development.”  And it was obviously Dmitry Medvedev who during his first presidential term has completely parted with the slogan “stability” and replaced it with another: “modernization.“

“We can’t risk the stability of our society and undermine the security of our citizens for the sake of abstract theories…We’ve had this in the past.  It’s the reforms for the people, not people for the reforms.  At the same time, those who are completely satisfied with the status quo – those who don’t want changes and are afraid of them — will be disappointed.  There are going to be reforms.  Sure, they will be gradual, measured and stepwise – yet, imminent and steady.”  Dmitry Medvedev (“Russia, forward!” Sep. 2009)

What then has happened between September 2009 and November 2011 that forced Russian political elites to reverse the course and return to “stability” as the major ideological platform?  Has the need to modernize Russian economy and political system evaporated?  Nope.  Has Medvedev’s presidency been a total disaster for the country?  Nope.  Has Russia’s economic and security situations deteriorated to the extent that its very survival is at stake?  Nope. Then what?

The only plausible reason that I see for the sudden switch to “stability” is Putin’s decision to return to presidency.  Unwilling to pick up the flag of “modernization” – otherwise, he would have to explain to the Russian people the real reason of why Medvedev isn’t running for the second term – Putin was looking for something familiar, recognizable and proven to work.  Bingo!  Here comes “stability:” worked before, will work again.

Sure, there are many folks in Russia supporting “stability.”  There are retired people and state employees for whom “stability” means constantly increasing pensions and salaries.  Then there are low-ranked government bureaucrats who viewed Medvedev’s “modernization” as a threat to their ability to milk the state.  Then there are those in the top echelons of power who would replace Medvedev’s “modernization” with anything – and “stability” would certainly do, why not?

And for those who believed that “modernization” was indeed the beginning of long-needed reforms – and who now feel betrayed by Medvedev – there is always an argument that things are getting worse.  Hence we have Putin speaking of “Russia entering a period of dangerous volatility.”  Hence we have Medvedev himself talking about imminent threats to Russia’s security.

And then, there is always a threat of terrorism coming from the North Caucasus.  Should a terrorist attack strike Russia before the next year’s presidential election – God forbid! – count me as the first proponent of “stability.”

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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34 Responses to The matter of terminology

  1. Alex says:

    “..Has Russia’s economic and security situations deteriorated to the extent that its very survival is at stake? Nope.”
    Hi, Eugene
    Maybe, the more precise answer would be “not yet”..Because the stability of a heavily oil-export dependent economy, with ~75% of the “industry” effectively overseas-owned (with what still has left of Soviet technological potential soon to be wiped out by the “capitalism” and, perhaps, WTO membership), depends more on the stability of the world outside of the country than on the country’s internal politics.


    • Thanks Alex,

      Well, my point exactly. A bunker mentality — and all the current talk about “stability” is nothing more than a return to one — is not a way to solve the country’s problems. Sure, when the Army has issues with buying equipment from domestic producers (because of their law quality), sooner or later you get a security problem. However, ratcheting up anti-western rhetoric is a bizarre way to address the technological backwardness. If you ask me.


  2. Dear Eugene,

    I think this is altogether too pessimistic. Reading what Medvedev and Putin have both been saying I genuinely do not think that there is or ever has been the great difference between the two that many see. I think both men are agreed that the country needs to advance and both see that advance as incremental. I do not think that there is much difference between the two even on the question of pace. Both men however prize stability and if there has been rather more emphasis on that of late that to my mind is simply a reflection of the fact that we are in an election season when the existing government needs to tell people why they should stick with it – thus the emphasis on stability rather than change. For various reasons (probably because he is the fresher face) Medvedev has come to symbolise in the minds of some people “change” whilst Putin probably because he has been around for longer has come to symbolise “stability”, However to my mind these are more questions of appearance or perception than of substance.

    Let me leave you with an encouraging thought. Surely if Putin does embody “stability” he is better situated in the more hands off position of President where he can hold things together should things go wrong whilst to the extent that Medvedev embodies “change” he is better situated in the more hands on position of Prime Minister where he can push for change harder. Bear in mind also what I previously said in response to your earlier post, which is that Medvedev will be in a much stronger position than any other Prime Minister Putin has ever had to work with.

    • Dear Alexander,

      You’re right: I feel very pessimistic about current state of affairs in Russia. The reason is this: if the timid, half-step reforms that Medvedev has been trying to introduce during his first term in office were too radical for the conservative wing of the Russian political establishment — which eventually cost Medvedev the second term — then what kind of reforms at all are acceptable in contemporary Russia?

      Now, we’re just a few days away from the (almost meaningless) Duma elections, and soon the presidential campaign starts in earnest. Putin’s electoral program is said to be released in January. Let’s read it and see what kind of reform he’s going to promote. Let’s see what he says during the presidential campaign debates — in the unlikely case that he takes part in them. Let’s finally see whom he appoints as his next Prime Minister (I’m still not sure for 100% that Medvedev will get the job), deputy prime ministers, the chief of presidential administration, etc. Whether it’s Russia, the U.S. or Zanzibar — it’s politicians’ actions, not words, that matter.

      I hate being ungrateful for your gift of “an encouraging thought”:), but I’d like to argue that the arrangement you advocate is working only in parliamentary republics: a monarch or a largely symbolic president embodying “stability” and constantly-rotating prime ministers representing “change.” But Russia is a very strong presidential republic, where the role of the president is paramount. If the president has no appetite for “change,” there will be “stability” at all levels of government.

      Best Regards,

      • Dear Eugene,

        I gather that Putin has today confirmed that Medvedev will be the Prime Minister.

        As for which of us is in the end right, time will tell. Do not however underestimate the amount of change that has already happened. I cannot think of another country that has seen more change than Russia in the last 25 years. Nor do I think that change is coming to a stop. There has been huge institutional and administrative change over the years of both Putin’s and Medvedev’s Presidency most of which goes unreported and whilst Russia does still have a Presidential system both the Parliament and the Prime Minister (especially the latter) are much stronger than they were in the Yeltsin era or at the start of Putin’s Presidency. Nor by the way do I think that the forthcoming elections both those to the parliament and for the Presidency are meaningless.

        • Dear Alexander,

          Please see below the excerpt from what Putin said yesterday when meeting with “supporters.” The full link is here:

          In the fragment below, he mentions Medvedev’s future premiership indeed. However, I’d like you to read what Putin has said about “modernization: not even a word about political reforms. I’d agree that kindergartens are important though:)

          “Concerning modernisation

          Modernisation must cover all aspects of life; this is not a matter of modernising industry or the economy. Modernisation is a policy that needs to alter the mindset of society and the way we approach everything that we do. It’s also about budget modernisation, an area in which we should focus more on efficient budget spending (I have the housing and utilities sector in mind, among others) along with other approaches. In order to accomplish this, we are developing government programmes; we will discontinue targeted financing and transfer all of its funds to the government programmes. These programmes will cover industry, agriculture and the government, which I hope… I would like to emphasise that if voters trust us with forming the government, if they vote for United Russia and your humble servant as its presidential candidate, then Mr Medvedev will certainly become prime minister, just as he has said many times. With regard to direct government involvement, this is a matter that concerns agriculture, industry and scientific research. We need to base our life on different principles. As for the economy, the idea has been brought up many times that we need to move away from our dependency on oil and gas and adopt innovative economic models. In order to accomplish this, we need to promote science and education. Perhaps the first steps in this direction need to be taken as early as kindergarten.

          Speaking of kindergarten, with regard to preschool I prefer to talk in terms of upbringing rather than education. Some modern psychologists say that children should not be taught subjects in kindergarten; instead, they should be properly raised and prepared for school. This is a different area, let’s leave it to specialists. In short, the spirit of innovation and modernisation should permeate our entire society. It should become a new phase in the development of our nation and our state. There is a great deal that needs to be done by presidential institutions, but the Russian government has an equally important share of work to do. Please rest assured that we will be able to divide
          these powers in full accordance with the Russian Constitution.


          • Dear Eugene,

            This is where I think we come to the kernel of the issue. What exactly do you have in mind when you speak of modernisation of the political system? I have often heard political modernisation discussed but it is never clear to me precisely what people who propose it have in mind.

            PS: Apologies if you have already discussed this before. I have come knew to your blog. If you have discussed it before could you give me a link to the relevant post? .

            • Dear Alexander,

              No, I don’t think there was a particular post where this issue was tackled in depth. Obviously, I’ll be touching upon the subject as we go, but let me give you just a few examples of things to think about — especially in the light of the elections on Sunday.

              1. Reversing the recent extensions of the Duma and presidential terms.
              2. Limiting presidency to two terms, period.
              3. Forbidding the use of the so-called “locomotives” at the top of political party Duma election lists.
              4. Lowering the Duma election threshold to 5%, better 3%.
              5. Repealing the law allowing only political parties nominate candidates for the presidential and Duma elections.
              6. And finally, the whole set of issues regarding political parties and the way they are registered, beginning with a dramatic reduction of the membership threshold.

              Anticipating future questions: yes, with everything above implemented, UR would still keep a majority in the Duma, but not the constitutional and perhaps not even a simple. And yes, Putin would still be elected president, but perhaps not in the first round. At the same time, the whole political system would be more competitive, transparent — and, ultimately, more legitimate.


              • marknesop says:

                “Lowering the Duma election threshold to 5%, better 3%.”

                I have to ask – what purpose would that serve? If you can’t command better than 5% support, who are you representing, if you get in? I could be wrong, but it seems to me that would merely grow the government without realizing any corresponding efficiency.

                It might well be good for Russia if Putin and United Russia had to do a little coalition-building in order to get anything done, but some western examples show that when a minority wants something the other party will never grant, it’s the voters who suffer when the process grinds to a standstill.

                • Dear Eugene,

                  A very interesting and helpful list!

                  I notice by the way that it does not include direct election of governors. This is the change that is most often brought up. I may as well say that I think the change from direct election of governors to their appointment with approval by local parliaments was a step forward.

                  I believe that the decision to move from a 7% threshold to a 5% threshold has already been taken though not in time for this election.

                  Overall these are good and worthwhile reforms and I for one would be happy to support them. However (and here I think Mark and I agree) they are hardly revolutionary. Indeed I suspect that many of them (except possibly the reversal of the extension of the Presidential and parliamentary terms) will happen and even happen quite soon. I doubt that any of them would result in any very drastic change to the political situation in the country or in the overall orientation of its politics. I doubt for example that making it easier to register parties or lowering the election threshold would result in a parliament very different from the one that we are going to have now. Contrary to what some think I think that the parliament does reflect with reasonable accuracy the relative balance of political forces in the country and whilst you may not fully go along with me on this judging from your comments I do not think you would strongly disagree either.

                  May I suggest what I think would be a real change that might make a real positive difference? One of the malign legacies of the political crisis of 1993 is that Russia has been landed with a constitution that has created an absurdly over powerful Presidency, basically to suit the needs of Boris Yeltsin. This was a gigantic step backwards given that the entire direction of Russian constitutional and poitical development extending back to the Nineteenth Century was towards the creation of a parliamentary state with a strong parliament and a government accountable to the parliament. Even during the Soviet period the government was notionally accountable to the parliament, which in theory appointed it. Yeltsin’s creation of a Tsar like Presidency has drained political life out of the parliament, which is why Russians tend to be indifferent to it. In the absence of a strong parliament political parties are weakened and it is this far more in my opinion than any repressive acts on the part of the authorities, which stifles political debate.

                  It would be impossible in any realistic timeframe to abolish the directly elected Presidency and to convert Russia into a parliamentary state. There is also a case for saying that in a country like Russia the Presidency does serve a useful integrative function. The priority however should still be to work to strengthen the parliament and the Prime Minister relative to the President and to establish the principle that the Prime Minister and the government are accountable to the parliament to which they should report and through which they should govern. If you take this approach then you will recognise that political evolution in Russia has indeed been in that direction with two successive Prime MInisters, Putin and Medvedev, who are far stronger relative to the President than any Prime Minister of the Yeltsin or early Putin period, and both depending to a very great extent on a parliamentary majority for their power.

                • Mark,

                  There are about 100 million voters in Russia, so 5% is 5 million people, which is pretty much the whole population of St. Petersburg. Or, say, of the neighboring Finland, where, by the way, for the total of 5.6 million citizens, there are 8 parliamentary parties and also 6 parties not represented in the parliament.


                  • Dear Alexander,

                    I totally agree that my suggestions are hardly revolutionary — and that’s the exact reason I’m talking about them. Yet, they would make it more difficult for the current political system to reproduce itself without any input from the outside. It is not the current composition of the Duma that troubles me — indeed, as you say, it does reflect the public mood FOR THE MOMENT — but rather the current Duma’s ability to issue the laws that preserve its current composition.

                    I have some misgivings about the electability of governors. As you may know, only 22 or so of the Russian regions are net revenue donors; the rest are taking the bulk of their money from Moscow. Why then the regions should be allowed to elect their governors who’d be spending money coming from Moscow? It’s only natural that Moscow appoints its own man to spend federal money. Along this line, sometime ago, I proposed that any region that for the 3 years in a row balances its own budget, gets the right to elect its own governor. And guess what? The Kremlin ignored me:)


                    • Dear Eugene,

                      The direct election of governors is a big issue. Let us discuss more fully later. All I would say at the moment is that by becoming appointed instead of elected officials governors have seen their power and status significantly reduced, which to my mind is an entirely good thing. I suspect that in time like French prefects they will become functionaries concentrating on administrative matters rather than political leaders. This should allow local politics to develop properly around elected councils and regional assemblies, which for all sorts of reasons I think is healthier and better.

                      For the rest I support the changes you propose (except the reduction of the Duma threshold from 5% to 3%, which I do things takes things too far). The difference between us is that I am more optimistic than you that these changes will happen. I also think you overestimate both the importance of these changes in effecting change and the effect of the existing arrangements in inhibiting change.

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  3. marknesop says:

    Great post, Zhenya! I mostly agree with Alex; however, my question is – why do stability and modernization have to be mutually exclusive? Can Russia not have modernization and reform while being kept stable, economically and politically? After all, it’s generally acknowledged that a good deal of reform and modernization, much of it economic, took place during the “decade of Putin”. Is there some reason to imagine he will concentrate only on stability to the point it becomes inertia, and Russia will not move the yardsticks at all?

    Stability is alluring, if for no other reason because the rest of the world is so unstable. But now is a little early for Putin to start laying out his entire agenda – he sort of needs to get elected first. I realize he’s very likely to win, but it’d look just a little cocky to start saying “When I’m President, this is what I’ll do (even though every American presidential candidate does exactly that; anything less is interpreted as a lack of confidence).

    Perhaps Putin is speaking also of regional stability – a powerful attraction from a country that aims to be one of the poles of a multipolar world. The west is already pushing hard with typical derision and ridicule for the idea of a Eurasian Union, and screeching that Putin wants to recreate the Soviet Union. But if you were a country whose leaders just stepped offstage to the sucking sound of the nation’s pockets being drained – like Greece or Italy – how would stability sound to you?

    I don’t mean Greece or Italy are hot prospects for a union with Russia, of course; but Russian satellites that have been struggling with independence haven’t been doing so well economically. Stability might sound just right to their ears. How about Ukraine? Achieving stability in a union with Ukraine would not only be a remarkable achievement, it’d take enough of the rainy-day fund to stop the economic freefall that there’d be precious little left over for reforms.

    Maybe Putin is more farseeing than you think. Best regards,


    • Thanks Mark,

      There is absolutely no reason why stability and modernization can’t coexist. Moreover, as I argued above (obviously not persuasively enough:)), the stability is the major prerequisite for modernization — and that’s exactly how Putin and his team dealt with both just a few years ago.

      But things have changed over the past 5-6 years. The state capitalism — the political arrangement that Russia has now, IMHO — provides ruling elites with such a level of political and economic power that they see no reason for change. Moreover, the whole idea of modernization — calling for at least a modicum of economic and political competition — threatens their monopoly for power. That’s why Russia, as I see it, is not conducive for any change at the top — and an attempt by Medvedev to challenge the status quo has cost him his job . It’s stability WITHOUT modernization, I’m afraid.

      Basically, I like the idea of a Eurasian Union. My only problem with it is that some potential members of it (Belarus and Kyrgyzstan come to mind first) show enthusiasm for any union with Russia only in tough economic times. However, as soon as a prospect of getting money elsewhere emerges, their love for unification with Russia precipitously diminishes. Not a my idea of a “value-based” union.


      • marknesop says:

        “The state capitalism — the political arrangement that Russia has now, IMHO — provides ruling elites with such a level of political and economic power that they see no reason for change. Moreover, the whole idea of modernization — calling for at least a modicum of economic and political competition — threatens their monopoly for power.”

        Unfortunately, the Constitutional Republic model is illustrative of what happens when the ruling elite have, effectively, no power at all. Stimulus packages that are too small to have an immediate effect. Constant deal-making with the opposition, in which egos have to be stroked and the executive invariably comes away with far less than it wanted. A disproportinately powerful opposition which , when welded by party discipline, can and does act against the country’s interests for partisan gain. Such non-partisan entities as the Congressional Budget Office are broadly in agreement that Obama’s job-creation and economic ideas would, if permitted to take effect, have an immediate and salutory effect on the American economy – but he can’t implement them, because the opposition won’t let him unless he agrees to more tax cuts for the wealthy.

        Picture how a system that vested sufficient power in Zyuganov that he could hobble Putin’s reform efforts if he chose, could force Putin to make deals favourable to the KPRF in exchange for consensus, and could catapult officials of a party that regularly enjoys national voter support down in the ‘teens to equal-footing status with the ruling party would affect governance. If that seems farfetched, look at current gridlock in Washington.

        It’s only Russia’s semiauthoritarian governing model that prevents the yapping pack of opposition from hobbling the leader until he can’t do anything. Granted, you have to vest a lot of trust in the leader, but you can still vote him out if he’s not making the grade.

        • Mark,

          When I’m talking about “ruling elites,” I mean the top of the country’s political class that takes part in decision making. For most democratic countries, this includes both members of the governing party AND the opposition. In Russia, unfortunately, it only the governing party that takes (some) part in decision making; the opposition is routinely shut down. So as far as contemporary Russia is concerned, your line “the ruling elite have, effectively, no power at all” sounds a bit oxymoron.

          We all like to smile and wink when listening to the classic Churchill’s “democracy is the worst form of government” — how cute! Yet, Churchill was right on money: the opposition, by definition, represents opposing point of view — whether you like it or not. Consequently, I’m puzzled with you assertion that “a disproportionately powerful opposition…can and does act against the country’s interests for partisan gain.” Who is there to define what the “country’s interests” are? The majority? You may love Obama and hate Republicans, but it’s difficult to ignore the fact that the Republicans represent a large faction of Americans — even as stupid as daring to disagree with Obama. The gridlock in Washington is not because of a gridlock in Washington; it’s because of a gridlock in PUBLIC opinion. The Tea Party guys might be idiots, but they are REAL Americans too. However unfortunately.

          Well, it’s obviously different in Russia where the opposing point of view is never listened to in the parliament. No, I’m not a fan of Zyuganov; rather, I consider him a moron. But there are about 20 million of Russians who trust his party with their representation. And yet, their views are systematically ignored by the “constitutional majority.” And why? Because Putin has no interest in listening to the Duma at all; all he needs is the parliament making “right decisions at the right time.” Which translates into not questioning the decisions made by the executives.

          Why then bother with the Duma at all? Let’s make it simple, as you seem to suggest: have a nation and a nation leader, and if the nation lost trust in its leader, it can vote him out. Direct democracy, pure and simple.


          • marknesop says:

            When I say, “a disproportionately powerful opposition…can and does act against the country’s interests for partisan gain”, I’m talking about the GOP deliberately strangling economic growth so that they can point to a struggling economy in an election year under a Democratic president. There’s ample evidence to suggest they are doing just that, although most press sources give it the kid-gloves treatment; an excellent example is the willingness of the party to let the U.S. default on its debts – for the first time in its history – unless Obama agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts for wealthy Americans.


            In a poll conducted early last month of registered voters in Florida – hardly a squishy liberal state – 49% of voters polled agreed the Republicans are “intentionally hindering efforts to boost the economy so that President Barack Obama will not be reelected”. That’s a 10% advantage over those who disagreed.


            Would an opposition led by Zyuganov twist Putin’s arm behind his back like that, in exchange for concessions favourable to the Communist interests? I’m afraid I don’t know – I haven’t really followed Zyuganov’s career, although your evaluation of him as a moron doesn’t sound promising. I think I’m glad we won’t find out.

            You can’t just have a leader, and the led. That’s a dictatorship, and besides, no one man knows how to run the country and has enough time to do it unassisted. There has to be a lawmaking body to implement checks and balances so the leader doesn’t acquire too much personal power. I am certainly not opposed to an opposition in principle. But it’s hardly Putin’s fault that the potential opposition in Russia consists of nationalist hardliners, abysmal dolts and western lickspittles. I’m still fairly certain that none of the candidates on offer could run Russia as well as Putin – why should voters give them the chance to try if they can’t make their case, just so the west can say, “Okay, now THAT was fair”. Isn’t the foundation of democracy the election by popular vote of the leader the majority feels would do the best job of national leadership? Why should any country deliberately elect a weaker candidate, just so they can say, “Hey, we were fair: we gave him a chance”. Again, I just do not see an opposition figure who would simultaneously satisfy the west that he/she is a reformer while reassuring Russians that he/she has the national interest at heart and will not be browbeaten into policy decisions that are against it. But I’m always willing to have my mind changed – who do you see as the candidate that exemplifies those tenets?

            Also, the USA does not have powerful interests arrayed against it, waiting for the opportunity to exploit a weak leader for the realization of strategic goals. Russia does. Best regards,


            • Mark,

              The best story I read about Zyuganov — without claiming it to be true — is that in 1996, he actually beat Yeltsin in the second round of presidential elections. Yet unwilling to assume the presidency, he let the results be falsified.

              Zyuganov belongs to a modern version of communists who have no problems with the perks of market economy. Referring to him and his ilk, people in Russia often invoke Lenin’s famous slogan (with a funny addition):

              “Peace — to nations; land — to farmers; my Audi — to the door.”


              • marknesop says:

                Wow. I had never heard that. I wonder if it’s true? What would that say about Zyuganov as a leader – that he ran never expecting to win, and didn’t have the fortitude to exploit victory when it was his? What kind of hay might conflicting interests make with that sort of retiring self-effacement?

                That slogan is FUNNY! Warmest regards,


                • Dear Mark,

                  It IS true. Zyuganov would have been simply appalled if he had won. Indeed if he had won and become President the consequences would have been unthinkable. The same by the way is true now. The very last thing either Zyuganov or Zhirinovsky would actually want is to win an election so that they had to form a government and assume responsibility for the country’s government. In that respect whatever else Zyuganov is he is certainly no Leninist. I say this though despite the fact that unlike Eugene I actually have quite a lot of time for Zyuganov and again contrary to Eugene I think that he has played a positive role in Russian politics over the last twenty or so years. Moreover unlike Eugene I happen to think that Zyuganov (like his party) is a very intelligent man and a seriously underestimated politician.

                  • zed244Alex says:

                    Could you, post here links to the material which would support/explain your view of Zyuganov, please? I am very intrigued by the perspective to change my long-term opinion about him and his “influence” by whooping 180 dgrs..
                    BTW – I heard this election story about him too.

                    • Dear Zed244Alex,

                      This is a vast subject and I wouldn’t know where to begin with links.

                      Any view of Zyuganov’s role in recent Russian history has to be subjective. Let us just take two examples of where I think he made politically intelligent and proper decisions. I am going to describe them from memory. If you want to research them then feel welcome to do so and obviously if you want to contest my account then feel free:

                      1. In my opinion Zyuganov acted with good sense in the 1996 Presidential election. There were ample reasons to contest the result. He could for example have pointed out that Yeltsin’s physical condition had been concealed from the people and that the run off had taken place whilst information about Yeltsin’s heart attack had been suppressed. He could have pointed out the extent to which the result had been contaminated by the way in which General Lebed’s movement had been secretly funded at least in part by Yeltsin’s campaign. He could also have rightly cited the grotesquely unneven news media coverage and the way in which Yeltsin’s campaign broke the election funding rules and the way in which police officials who tried to enforce the funding rules were fired when they tried to do so. This is even before we come to the question of whether or not the votes were counted properly.

                      Zyuganov in my opinion wisely decided not to contest the result. Had he done so he would have challenged a regime which had shown in 1993 that it was prepared to use force to maintain itself. In the unlikely event that he had been able to call large numbers of his followers out onto the streets he would have risked a violent confrontation in which there was a risk that the army might have split. More likely he would have simply got himself arrested and his party banned. More likely still insufficient numbers of his followers would have answered his call in which case he would have been humiliated and his party would have declined into irrelevance. By not contesting the results he left himself in a strong position, which he used effectively in the political crisis of 1998.

                      2. Zyuganov played an important role in the crisis of 1998 and one for which he is not credited. Following Yeltsin’s dismissal of the Kiriyenko government in the aftermath of the rouble devaluation it was Zyuganov who effectively vetoed Yeltsin’s attempt to reappoint Viktor Chernomydin Prime Minister. Chernomydin was by this point to all intents and purposes Yeltsin’s political fixer and his reappointment would have risked the perpetuation of a regime that had by this time become discredited.

                      Zyuganov’s decision to block Chernomydin’s appointment required considerable personal and political courage. In 1993 Yeltsin had illegally dissolved a parliament in which the parliamentary majority had resisted him and had used force to do so. There was no guarantee in 1998 that he would not do the same again. Indeed I have heard (please do not ask me for a link) that he actively considered the possibility.

                      In the event it was Yeltsin who on this occasion was obliged to back down and accept the Duma’s (which is to say Zyuganov’s and Yavlinsky’s) preferred choice of Prime Minister, who was Yevgeny Primakov. To my mind this was the true moment when the Yeltsin era ended. In the summer of 1999 Yeltsin tried to retrieve his position by dismissing Primakov but his position had by this point become so weakened that the man he ended up appointing was Putin who was shortly to replace him and who took the country in a totally different direction.

                      These are two examples of where Zyuganov in my opinion acted with an intelligence and a courage with which he is never credited. I ought to make it very clear that he is not someone I would personally vote for. However as I hope I have shown you he is not a fool but is someone who is fully capable of making difficult political calculations and acting on them in the greater national interest. I ought to say that I recall that immediately following the March 2000 Presidential election Putin made what was basically the same point when he said that Zyuganov was someone who had contributed to the country’s consolidation after a difficult period in its history.

                  • Alex says:

                    Alexander – thanks. I see your point (mine remains as it was – Russian Communists need a leader with a higher IQ, and the one who will be (much) more willing to take the risks. Someone like Putin, but without old ties – and, certainly, without the palace:).

                    Mark – your summary on Rep conspiracy theory was very interesting – with your permission, I will send it around (with proper attribution).

  4. Dear Eugene,

    I think Mark has got this right: stability and modernisation are not mutually exclusive. The point Putin and Medvedev are making is that the one is the precondition to the other. I ought to add that I read recently an article by the Goldman Sachs economist who came up with the idea of the BRICS (I forget his name) in which he actually said much the same thing. I would add (and surely this is the point Putin is making) that the experience of the entire political class in Russia is obviously scarred by the experience of the late 1980s when stability was sacrificed in the cause of reform with the consequences that we all know.

    • Dear Alexander,

      Yes, you’re right. It was Jim O’Neill, whom I deeply respect. Sure, there is no reason why the Goldman Sachs can’t work in Russia and make a ton of money in the process. And I also agree that Russia looks much more favorable than some other “bricks” in this construct.

      Yet, in 2011, Russia is said to face about $80 of capital outflow — a second upward correction for the year (first to $50B, then to $70B) — not exactly a sign of economic “stability.”


      • marknesop says:

        Not if you equate capital outflow with capital flight, no. Not all capital outflow is capital flight, and there are any number of reasons for money to leave the country that will legitimately come back as profit. or international goodwill. Capital flight assumes it is all the proceeds of money-laundering and oligarchs escaping with their ill-gotten gains. Is it? $80 Billion? That seems more than a little farfetched.

        Balance of payments and international investment are two examples of legitimate capital outflow. There are lots of others. Capital flight is when the money leaves the country, never comes back and enriches nobody who remains behind in Russia. But the only place there is zero capital outflow is in a country that has no trade links that extend past its own borders.

  5. Alex says:

    ..Eugene may correct me if I understood his latter piece wrong, but it seems in the context, “stability” and “stagnation” are about the same thing. In other words, it does not look like Russia’s economy is going to move anywhere unless there is a (some) radical change in the way this economy is organized (I am not suggesting another socialist revolution – just yet : ) . A purely market-driven enterprise is modernized only when it has a reason to do that – or, more correctly, when it has no other cheaper/easier options.Do these objective conditions (for modernization) currently exist in (currently “stable” ) Russia? Can they possibly exist with (private) profit-maximization being the only goal of the economy? It seems, there are always other (cheaper) ways – even “lawful” ones – eg. . pumping more oil, purchasing everything else overseas – with the rest of the population employed in various services.

    ..and, Eugene – I am totally with you on that anti-western rhetoric is not substitute for an (absent) Russian “national idea”.. but personally, I am seriously afraid that if all other options to resolve the current economical crisis fail, these “anti-Iranian” missiles are going to be used for what they were really built – against Russia. So a response to their deployment was long overdue.


    • Alex,

      Yes, I was reluctant to use the term “stagnation” — already a popular dead horse in Russian media. Yet there was a telling point in one of Putin’s recent interviews. He was asked about whether he was going to continue Medvedev’s reforms. He was pointedly non-committal, saying something like “let’s give them a chance to work and then we’ll see.” So he didn’t even exclude a possibility that some Medvedev’s reforms will be reversed. (Actually, Medvedev himself, when meeting with “siloviki” recently promised to think about toughening the criminal law — exactly the opposite to what he was promoting only a few months ago.) That means that we might be talking about “regress,” not “stagnation.”

      I don’t want to open a discussion over European PRO here, but I believe that these “anti-Iranian” missiles are being built with only one purpose in mind: to make money for the U.S. MIC. As “a response to their deployment” will be paying hefty bills of the Russian MIC.

      • Alex says:

        “Yes” – neither did I want to use the word “regress” 🙂 Nor debate about the missiles (or harmless expansion of NATO). You might be right – at the moment it might be just somebody’s desire to make a buck. But in the final run it will not be important how and why an objectively dangerous situation was created and why the measures to halt its development were not taken. Because then it will be too late..Besides, in a society where the only official moral code is enrichment of one group of people at the expense of others, war is simply a natural extension of the “competition”. Especially, when starting one will look as the easiest way to make even more money for somebody else..


        • Alex,

          I’m not discounting the threat the European PRO may represent to Russia’s national security, and I find it absolutely justified for the Kremlin to take appropriate steps. We can endlessly discuss what “appropriate” would mean, but let me state this: a new arms race is a competition Russia can’t win. It must be looking for other ways of dealing with this threat — and, again, we can endlessly discuss what these “ways” could be.


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