Ben Judah has done an impressive job in showcasing his travels and interviews throughout Russia. Recent events with Ukraine and the Crimea have done much to put Russia in the center of western media. What has become evident is that the budget cuts and lack of funding for academic research into Eastern Europe has led to a dearth of knowledge about Russia and Putin's administration. The end result is a glut of news anchors dithering about, trying to decipher what it all means, all the while forgetting any type of journalistic integrity and commencing to scream at the top of their lungs that the end of the world is nigh.
journalists, and many others, would do well to read Ben Judah's
discussion about how Vladimir Putin has created a country that has both
impressed and depressed many of Russia's citizens within the span of the
last fifteen years. The embarrassment that was the Yeltsin
administration saw Russia turn to the west for help with her transition
to 'capitalism' with the end result being a fall off an economic
precipice that left many regretting the end of the Soviet Union while
billions were stolen and sent into overseas bank accounts as a few lucky
future oligarchs were able to game the system for their own needs.
Those same oligarchs helped retain Yeltsin's presidency in 1996 and
thought they could control his successor with as much ease.
Unfortunately Putin was playing a different game than the perpetually
With Putin's ascension to power much began to
change. He first went after the main source of information for the
population, television stations/channels, and forced two former
oligarchs out of the country after their channels featured attacks
against his administration. With power over television programming in
the hands of the Kremlin, Putin's PR campaign could truly begin. His
next major target was Khodorkovsky as he retained control of one of the
major companies within Russia. Khodorkovsky reaped his rewards in the
1990s like all the other oligarchs, through any means necessary. In the
early 2000s he decided that Russian oil and Russian companies in
general were worth more than many outside Russia had valued them and he
began to overhaul his operations, utilizing western techniques in not
only the actual drilling and exploration of/for oil, but in how he
managed his company's finances (focusing somewhat on transparency).
This gave the impression that this was a company that seemed bent on
fighting corruption rather than partaking in it, but in all fairness
this was done to boost the image and profits of Yukos as much as it was
Khodorkovsky trying to make amends (perhaps) for what he'd done in the
1990s. He began to donate to political organizations (including Putin's
party) and gave money to the public for schools/education, etc.
Unfortunately, getting involved in politics is exactly what Putin had
warned the oligarchs against after he had come to power. Being warned
numerous times wasn't enough for Khodorkovsky. He continued to pursue
his interests and eventually that resulted in charges being filed
against him and his company. He would sit in jail until 2014 while
Putin reaped the benefits of the company he had revamped and built up in
the form of taxes on oil, which Putin and his associates would use to
enrich themselves and make life somewhat more comfortable for the rest
of the Russian state.
Pensions would be funded and raised, as
would salaries. For Russians coming out of the 1990s, where the murder
rate was one of the highest in the world and workers often failed to be
paid for months at a time, having regular salaries and a leader
presented through his PR campaign as bent on fighting corruption meant
Putin's popular continued to rise during his first two terms in office.
But all the gains made in moving against the oligarchs and providing
minor, yet useful and badly needed, benefits to the Russian population
soon wore off as Medvedev came and went while Putin stayed either in the
back or foreground. Todays Russian billionaires and major political
figures within Russia owe their position(s) to Putin. They've created a
new segment of the population that controls the majority of Russia's
wealth and power and have begun to put their children into future
positions that will continue their 'legacies'.
opposition movements have begun but have yet to find a voice that speaks
to the entire country, or at least the majority of the voters. Many
are unhappy with the continued abuse and corruption that's become a
common feature of their lives, including the fact that Moscow is akin to
Paris and New York, a microcosm that is not representative of the rest
of the nation yet contains much of its wealth and intelligentsia. From
the former battleground of Chechnya to the Far East, corruption, abuse,
apathy, and neglect are readily evident in every city and region.
There's a bitter feeling, whether true or not, that Russia is falling
into the hands of 'immigrants', be they from China or the central asian
republics (Chechens are included here as well). Russia hardly produces
anything aside from natural resources and those will not last forever;
oil production is already projected to fall by over 100 million barrels
per day in the next few years unless tens of billions are invested in
new wells and drilling techniques. Thus in many ways the 'stability'
that Putin has created in Russia is a fragile one that's currently being
tested on the international arena with the 'Crimean Crisis'. Nothing
lasts forever, but the question that's becoming more evident is will
Russia revert to the days of the 1990s without Putin and his 'entourage'
or continue to move in a general, albeit all too slow, direction of
'democracy' and 'capitalism'?