Sunday, February 17, 2019

MoA - The Deep Nation Of Russia

In a newly published essay, a close aide to the Russian President Vladimir Putin describes the system of governance in Russia. It stands in contrast to the usual 'western' view of the 'autocratic' Russian state.
U.S. media often depict Russia as a top-down state, run at the whims of one man. They cite western paid scholars to support that position. One example is this column in Friday's Washington Post:
Why Russia no longer regrets its invasion of Afghanistan
Putin is reassessing history to make the case for adventures abroad.
On February 15 1989 the last soldiers of the Soviet army left Afghanistan. Later that year the Congress of People’s Deputies, the elected parliament of the USSR, passed a resolution that condemned the war:
Now, however, the Russian government is considering reversing this earlier verdict, with the Duma set to approve a resolution officially reevaluating the intervention as one that took place within the bounds of international law and in the interests of the U.S.S.R.
The authors ascribe the move to the Russian president and claim that he makes it to justify Russia's engagements in current wars:
The Kremlin is rewriting history to retrospectively justify intervention in countries such as Ukraine and Syria as it seeks to regain its status as a global power.
To avoid domestic opposition, [Moscow] cannot allow the public to perceive Syria through the prism of the Afghan experience. Putin and his allies have decided to tackle this problem head-on by reinterpreting that experience.
That is why perhaps Putin, and Russian lawmakers, are marking the poignant anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan by attempting to ascribe meaning to that long-lost meaningless war.
The columns is typical for the negative depiction of Russia, and its elected leader. Each and every move in the bowels of the Russian Federation is, without evidence, ascribed to its president and his always nefarious motives.
It is also completely wrong. The new resolution it muses about never came to a vote:
Most anticipated the Duma’s Afghan bill would re-appear for final consideration earlier this week, signed by Mr Putin in time for today’s anniversary. Unexpectedly, however, the bill disappeared from view at the last minute, with insiders citing a lack of agreement of a final draft.
On Friday [its author], Frants Klintsevich confirmed to The Independent that his initiative had failed to receive “necessary backing”. He says drafting problems were to blame, and that the bill had been sent back for amendments. It “might, or might not” be resurrected, he added: “We will continue to fight for it. I don’t know if we will be successful.”
The resolution, which the Washington Post authors claim is motivated by Putin's need to justify current interventions, was not pushed by Putin at all. It was the Kremlin that stopped it. How does that fit to the presumed motives they muse about?
The 'western' view of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the "long-lost meaningless war", is that it was the catastrophic for the Soviet Union and led to its demise (pdf). That view is wrong. The war was neither meaningless, nor lost.
The war was seen as strategically necessary to keep fundamentalist Islamists, financed by the United States, from penetrating the southern republics of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet army pulled out of Afghanistan it left a well equipped and capable Afghan army behind. The Afghan government was able to resist its U.S. financed enemies for three more years. It fell apart only after financial support from Russia ended.
In size and relative cost the Afghan war, and its domestic impact in the Soviet Union, was only a third of the size and impact of the U.S. war in Vietnam. The Vietnam war did not destroy the United States and the Soviet war in Afghanistan did not destroy the Soviet Union. The reasons for its demise were ideological inflexibility and a leadership crisis.
Those problems have now been solved.
Last Monday Vladislav Surkov, a close aid to Putin, published a fundamental essay about the nature of governance of Russia:
The intentionally provocative essay is central to understand what motivates the new Russia and how and why it functions so well (when compared to earlier times).

Vladislav Surkov - bigger
“It only seems that we have a choice.” is its first sentence. The illusion of having a choice is only a trick of the western way of life and western democracy, writes Surkov. After the social and economic catastrophe of the 1990s, Russia became disinterested in such a system. In consequence:
Russia stopped collapsing, started to recover and returned to its natural and its only possible condition: that of a great and growing community of nations that gathers lands. It is not a humble role that world history has assigned to our country, and it does not allow us to exit the world stage or to remain silent among the community of nations; it does not promise us rest and it predetermines the difficult character of our governance.
Russia has found a new system of governance, says Surkov. But it is not yet up to its full capacity:
Putin’s large-scale political machine is only now revving up and getting ready for long, difficult and interesting work. Its engagement at full power is still far ahead, and many years from now Russia will still be the government of Putin, just as contemporary France still calls itself the Fifth Republic of de Gaulle, ...
He points out how Russia early on (see Putin's 2007 speech in Munich) warned of the dangers of the U.S. led globalization and liberalization that tries to do away with the nation state.
His description of the 'western' system of governance is to the point:
Nobody believes any more in the good intentions of public politicians. They are envied and are therefore considered corrupt, shrewd, or simply scoundrels. Popular political serials, such as “The Boss” and “The House of Cards,” paint correspondingly murky scenes of the establishment’s day-to-day.
A scoundrel must not be allowed to go too far for the simple reason that he is a scoundrel. But when all around you (we surmise) there are only scoundrels, one is forced to use scoundrels to restrain other scoundrels. As one pounds out a wedge using another wedge, one dislodges a scoundrel using another scoundrel… There is a wide choice of scoundrels and obfuscated rules designed to make their battles result in something like a tie. This is how a beneficial system of checks and balances comes about—a dynamic equilibrium of villainy, a balance of avarice, a harmony of swindles. But if someone forgets that this is just a game and starts to behave disharmoniously, the ever-vigilant deep state hurries to the rescue and an invisible hand drags the apostate down into the murky depths.
In contrast to the western system, Russia does not have a deep state. Its governance is out in the open, not necessarily pretty, but everyone can see it. There is no deep state in Russia, says Surkov, there is instead a deep nation:
With its gigantic mass the deep nation creates an insurmountable force of cultural gravitation which unites the nation and drags and pins down to earth (to the native land) the elite when it periodically attempts to soar above it in a cosmopolitan fashion.
Vladimir Putin is trusted with leading Russia's deep nation because he listens to it:
The ability to hear and to understand the nation, to see all the way through it, through its entire depth, and to act accordingly—that is the unique and most important virtue of Putin’s government. It is adequate for the needs of the people, it follows the same course with it, and this means that it is not subject to destructive overloads from history’s countercurrents. This makes it effective and long-lasting.
This unique Russian system makes it superior:
The contemporary model of the Russian state starts with trust and relies on trust. This is its main distinction from the Western model, which cultivates mistrust and criticism. And this is the source of its power.
Surkov predicts that it will have a great future:
Our new state will have a long and glorious history in this new century. It will not break. It will act on its own, winning and retaining prize-winning spots in the highest league of geopolitical struggle. Sooner or later everyone will be forced to come to terms with this—including all those who currently demand that Russia “change its behavior.” Because it only seems as if they have a choice.
Putin will have signed off the essay before it was published. It is, like his Munich speech, a public challenge to the western ruling class. "Wake up," it says. "Don't rely on those dimwits who ascribe this or that superficial motive to us. This all goes much deeper."
The western Russia analysts will write heaps of bad articles about the Surkov essay. They will probably claim that it shows that Putin has  delusions of grandeur. I for one read it as a honest description of Russia's natural state.
We thankfully do not have to rely on the 'experts'. Those who want to understand Russia can read the essay themselves.