Saturday, July 31, 2010

Reading up on Russia

A commenter at Sublime Oblivion posted a link to a collection of biographies of the people who are currently running Russia. I haven't been following Russian politics closely at all, so that book has proven to be very interesting reading for me. 

The foreword has confirmed my previously vague impression that if Medvedev had ultimate power, he would move Russia in a "Westernizing", "liberalizing", defeatist, Yeltsin-like direction. Perhaps most damningly, Anatoly Chubais - one of the authors of Yeltsin's ruinous privatization - was named in this book as a supporter of Medvedev in internal administrative conflicts.

The book goes on to say that the faction opposing Medvedev, which is led by this guy, argues for a coalition with China against the West, for a more imperial Russian policy towards the former Soviet republics, for a more state-directed economic policy and for electing Putin to a third presidential term in 2012. Medvedev, of course, wants a second term for himself.

What can I say, I'm rooting against Medvedev here. Putin is called a virtual tsar in the foreword, though the powers ascribed to him seem to fall a little bit short of autocratic. Since Putin is from St. Petersburg, a large share of the people at the top, including Medvedev, are from St. Petersburg too. There is a pattern of powerful men elevating their former classmates from university or co-workers from the time before they had achieved real power. In a more clannish culture (the Middle East, India, etc.) nobody would ever care about former classmates. The extended family would always come first. But Russia's not like that.

The foreword says that "in the cultural-civilizational sense Putin is a Westerner", but that he harbors "disgust for Western democracy". I couldn't agree more. The people running Western countries now harbor disgust towards Western culture and civilization, so there's no reason why someone who hates those leaders shouldn't be called a Westerner.

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