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Garry Kasparov on Putin:

Russian opposition leader and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov argues that Vladimir Putin's days are numbered. Kasparov may be right that elite and public anger at the economic crisis and Putin's poor handling of it might lead to the collapse of his regime. I am less optimistic than Kasparov, however, about the likelihood that a post-Putin Russian government will be better than the current one. Kasparov seems to assume that Putin's fall will open the door for pro-western liberal democrats like Kasparov himself. I hope he is right, but I fear that ultranationalists and possibly the communists are in a stronger position to inherit Putin's mantle. They have greater influence in powerful institutions such as the military and secret police, and may well also have greater support from Russian public opinion. As I noted in earlier posts in this series, Russian opinion has been heavily influenced by years of nationalistic and anti-Western propaganda sponsored by Putin even as liberal democratic oppositionists were largely banned from the electronic media.

Cornellian (mail):
Kasparov was a fantastic chess player, possibly the best in history and certainly in the top 5, but he's lousy at politics.
3.6.2009 2:07am
Splunge:
I seem to recall reading a proof in Phys. Rev. A that the existence of a pro-western liberal government in Russia violates the principle of conservation of energy.

That doesn't mean it's impossible, of course. There are such things as quantum fluctuations. But until we have a good theory of the vacuum, we won't know how probable such an event is.
3.6.2009 2:39am
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Ilya seems basically right about this to me, but I would put it differently. I don't think Russian support for Putin-style governance is the result of propaganda. I think it is the result of the absolute incompetence and corruption of the Yeltsin regime as well as Yeltsin's apparent willingness to simply give up Russia's traditional sphere of influence and status as a great world power.

If Russian democrats hadn't sold the country off to the oligarchs, overprivatized, and kissed up to the west, they might still be popular, propaganda or no propaganda. Instead, Yeltsin gave democracy a very bad name.

What Russian democrats need to do is find someone who is willing to kick ass and take names when it comes to taking on the oligarchs and elites and standing up to US imperialism, while still opening up the Russian economic and political systems for greater freedoms. Until then, expect more Putin-style governance.
3.6.2009 2:41am
Ilya Somin:
If Russian democrats hadn't sold the country off to the oligarchs, overprivatized, and kissed up to the west, they might still be popular, propaganda or no propaganda. Instead, Yeltsin gave democracy a very bad name.

If by "Russian democrats," you mean the government of the Yeltsin era, it's important to note that they privatized a lot less than economically more successful nations of Eastern Europe and that they waged a brutal war in Chechnya and opposed the West on Kosovo and Bosnia. Yes, they could have privatized less (which would simply have perpetuated the flaws of the Soviet economy even more than actually occurred) and confronted the West more. But it is not true that they either overprivatized or just rolled over for whatever the US wanted.

Yeltsin's apparent willingness to simply give up Russia's traditional sphere of influence and status as a great world power.

Under Yeltsin, was still one of the 5-6 most powerful nations in the world and wielded great influence over its neighbors. Russia also intervened militarily in Georgia and Moldova, among other former Soviet republics, and generally had a lot of leverage with them. Of course, Yeltsin didn't bully Russia's neighbors as much as Putin. But it's hard to see how such bullying of weak neighbors makes Russia's people better off or enhances its status in the world. To the contrary, such policies have merely alienated those neighbors and led them to seek admission into NATO.
3.6.2009 2:52am
Splunge:
What Russian democrats need to do is find someone who is willing to kick ass and take names...

You think they should appoint some kind of czar, maybe?
3.6.2009 2:57am
A. Zarkov (mail):
"I seem to recall reading a proof in Phys. Rev. A that the existence of a pro-western liberal government in Russia violates the principle of conservation of energy."

The don't think conservation laws apply there. It's more a case of something like the Pauli Exclusion Principle.
3.6.2009 6:31am
Splunge:
Governments are fermions, Zark? Huh.

But I guess that would explain some things. The low contribution to the heat (or any other) capacity of things made from it, the high internal pressure to expand, the improbability of finding it in anything other than the lowest conceivable state, the importance of spin...
3.6.2009 6:52am
M (mail):
I still think the idea that communists, especially the Communist Party of Russia, have any future at all is too fantastic to believe since they have very little support, are supported by almost no one under 60, and are kept around because they are so ineffective. There is about zero support for return to real communism at all- state control of production, planned production and distribution of consumer goods, state control of distribution, a closed economy, attacks on personal property, no private ownership of land, etc. No one, not even the Communist Party, seriously opposes those things. There is no chance that anything seriously called "communism" will come back. But, it's awfully unlikely that democracy will emerge, too, in particular because the self-proclaimed "democrats", especially those on the right connected with Yeltsin and the Union of Right Forces, (SPS) party, were such amazing criminals. It's not that privatization was done that caused the hate, but that it was done in such a blatantly criminal way, supported by Chubias, Yeltsin, Gaidar, and others.

Medvedev's problem is that he has no independent power-base. He can't count on the law to allow him to out-flank Putin, he needs some powerful group. He was picked exactly because he has no such power base, and I don't see how he can establish one. His only chance of dumping Putin will be if he becomes a stooge to a new master, perhaps if the Siliviki criminals just below Putin decide he can't help him anymore they'll push him out and support Medvedev, but w/o their, or some other group's, backing, it will be trough. My big worry is that he'll try w/o sufficient backing and that there will be a Siklivki backed coup, leading to serious instability and an even greater lack of freedom.
3.6.2009 7:43am
The River Temoc (mail):
If by "Russian democrats," you mean the government of the Yeltsin era, it's important to note that they privatized a lot less than economically more successful nations of Eastern Europe

This is not the conclusion reached by many studies of privatization in the late 1990s, e.g., HOW RUSSIA BECAME A MAKRET ECONOMY by Anders Asland.
3.6.2009 9:29am
pierre:
Ilya, you may want to read Russian media more, to have a better understanding of the current situation there. There is no politics in Russia in the Western sense. The political parties are either government stooges or clowns sponsored by the government (like the Communist Party). The ultranationalists exist, but they are a very marginal group. The country is ruled by the bureaucracy, which has no ideology except self-interest. The people have vanishingly small influence on the government. If Putin becomes unpopular, he will be replaced by another suitable member of the bureaucratic class, that is all.
3.6.2009 11:25am
Silvermine (mail) (www):
Even when I was there for the elections in 1996, there was still an awful lot of love for Stalin. I stayed inside for the big communist holidays, because hoards of people marched through Moscow with big Stalin posters. It's nothing new with Putin's propaganda.

The privatization problem is that they went too fast. They tried to duplicate Poland, but it most assuredly didn't work. Once again, when I was there all the people who had been given deeds to their apartments had no idea what to do with it and generally sold them ultra-cheap to a bank. Plus, there was *still* so much confusion about who owned what... and a horrible mafia problem. I got out of class a dozen or more times because of bomb threats, either from the bank or the mob, who the heck knows.

So they have some wonderful cartels, but not so much of actual private property.
3.6.2009 11:36am
Sagar:
Dilan Esper,

Spot on. If Russian democracy = Yeltsin's rule, no surprise Russians don't support it.

btw,

Does Kasparov have a strong insurance policy against getting killed in an accident or eating something poisonous? Does he live in Russia?
3.6.2009 12:02pm
Stormy Dragon (mail) (www):
It took most western nations hundreds of years to transition from absolute monarchies to democratic republics. I don't know why we keep trying to do it in other countries in a few years and then are suprised when it fails horribly.

In particular, we invaribale make universal sufferage the first step when it really should be one of the last. We'd be much better off focusing on institution building rather than indulging this weird voting fetish we have.
3.6.2009 12:24pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Ilya:

The problem with russian privitization isn't that they did it at all-- obviously some was necessary-- but that they did it in a form designed to give out a lot of freebies to the oligarchs. As a result, yeltsin gave away a lot of the wealth of the country to a few very rich people without regard to the public interest.

Don't you see how doing that might make an ex-communist who threatens to take on the oligarchs popular?

As for kissing up to the west, think NATO expansion, for instance. It was highly unpopular, for reasons that date back to napoleon's time.
3.6.2009 12:29pm
Daryl Herbert (www):
You didn't even mention that Putin is using governmental power in tyrannical ways to suppress the opposition. That's a major factor, too. I think Kasparov could take power under free and fair elections--but we will not see those again in Russia for at least 20 years, probably much longer. Russia is a dictatorship, not a democracy. Good guys don't get elected to power in dictatorships.
3.6.2009 1:28pm
ruralcounsel (mail):
It's more likely that given Kasparov's criticism of Putin, Kasparov's days are numbered.
3.6.2009 1:47pm
Ben P:

Spot on. If Russian democracy = Yeltsin's rule, no surprise Russians don't support it.



An interesting anecdote along these lines. I spent part of the summer after my first year of law school studying in St. Petersburg with a number of American and Russian St. Petersburg State University students.

When conversations over drinks turned political, one common topic was George Bush, but another was Putin. I was suprised to note that the one or two students in the group that I was studying with who were really "anti-putin" were treated in a way not terribly different than liberals get discussed here. One of them would start off on something and the others would roll their eyes and dismiss what he was saying with basically "oh, ignore him, he's just ranting again."
3.6.2009 2:30pm
CJColucci:
Better chess players than I would know, but I was under the impression that end games weren't Kasparov's strong suit. (Not that his end-game play was bad, nobody as good as Kasparov is bad at any phase of the game, but that his comparative advantage over other grandmasters was in openings and the middle game.)
3.6.2009 3:31pm
D.R.M.:
As for kissing up to the west, think NATO expansion, for instance. It was highly unpopular, for reasons that date back to napoleon's time.


What, Yeltsin should have raged and fumed as NATO added Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, emphasizing Russia's impotence? Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were added well into Putin's presidency, and Russian disapproval wasn't able to do anything to stop that, either.

It isn't Yeltsin who ceded Russia's Great Power status, it was reality that stripped it. Maintaining a "traditional sphere of influence" is impossible if you're weak enough you're struggling to maintain dominion over Chechnya. It might be popular to blame it all on Yeltsin, but it's nonsense.
3.6.2009 3:33pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
What, Yeltsin should have raged and fumed as NATO added Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, emphasizing Russia's impotence? Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were added well into Putin's presidency, and Russian disapproval wasn't able to do anything to stop that, either.

Russia has tons of nuclear weapons. The US was scared as hell of loose nukes in the 1990's, and wanted to do a bunch of things in the Balkans, Iraq, and elsewhere that either required Russian cooperation or acquiescence. Plus, US firms were trying to get in on the privatization craze in Russia.

A smart Russian president who was paying attention to his job would have made clear that unless the US recognized the security requirements of a Russian sphere of influence-- which is a necessary buffer against possible attacks from the West which have been a periodic occurrence in history-- none of that stuff was going to happen. Instead, Yeltsin was convinced by the oligarchs and some overzealous free-marketers, as well as US diplomats, that the right course was not to seriously attempt to stop NATO expansion.

It was a huge, huge mistake that will have enormous ramifications for Russia for many years to come.
3.6.2009 5:53pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
By the way, to speak more generally, the proper Russian strategy post-cold war was to get NATO to fold along with the Warsaw Pact. This may seem strange now, but it in fact was one of the options on the table during that period. There was no particular reason why there had to be a NATO after its primary mission had concluded.

What happened instead is that Warren Christopher suckered Yeltsin into a "partnership for peace", which was a theory for keeping and expanding NATO while holding out the eventual carrot (which the US had no intention of actually offering) of NATO membership for Russia, which could benefit Russia in much the same way as containing or eliminating NATO would have. Yeltsin, stupidly, fell for this, and the result was a NATO that moves closer and closer to Russia's doorstep and leaves Russia less and less secure and with less and less influence in a region where it, and not western Europe or the United States, should be the dominant hegemonic power.

As I said, this will go down in Russian history as a truly huge mistake.
3.6.2009 6:08pm
Public_Defender (mail):
Isn't Putin's future really just tied to the price of the oil that finances his power?

So if you love Putin, take that SUV out for a spin. Better yet, drive alongeI guess you could say, when you drive alone, you drive with Putin.
3.7.2009 7:13am

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