Unwillingly returning to Russia’s shabby reality after long winter feasts, various periodicals have been intently trying to determine the country’s location in the system of the world’s political and economic coordinates.
Kommersant has cites the statistics of the State Statistics Committee about the growth of prices in 2001: this figure was 18.6%. Thus, the forecast of Economic development Minister German Gref that inflation would not exceed 18% in 2001 was denied. The main object of the government’s pride, the industrial growth, ceased in October, and in November it was followed by the industrial decline. Meanwhile, oil prices are not rising, although all oil extracting companies, including Russia, have agreed on slashing the extent of oil extraction.
Rossiiskaya Gazeta has once again touched on the issue of Russia’s foreign debt, which is dwindling too slowly despite the government’s demonstrative accuracy about terms of its repayment. Overall, Russia’s foreign debt amounts to $140 billion now. However, Russia also has to pay interest on all its debts, and even if the government accurately repays all debts, they will not be exhausted until 2030. By that time Russia should have paid $250 billion, which is unreal in the opinion of Professor Vladimir Azovtsev, an expert of the Duma. The newspaper notes that there is not a uniform opinion about a strategy of seeking a solution to this problem in the government.
As for the foreign politics, the situation here does not look very optimistic either. Although Vremya Novostei does not deny that after September 11 Russian-American relations changed, it asserts that the so-called improvement of these relations is only empty words. Although the Pentagon has not refused to fulfill George W. Bush’s promise to slash the number of nuclear warheads, it has announced already that it does not intend to destroy them in the near future. The warheads will be dismantled and accurately stored in case of “unforeseen circumstances.”
Moscow experts have interpreted this announcement as Washington’s aspiration to retain its military domination at whatever expense. The newspaper notes that the world’s stability will again depend on “the strength of the manly friendship between Putin and Bush, just like it used to depend on the friendship between Gorbachev and George Bush the Senior, and Yeltsin and Clinton. If America wishes to sign a new treaty, it will sign it. Otherwise, it may disarm itself without any documents and store warheads at warehouses so that it will be possible to reinstall them within a few weeks.”
The press is saying that America has made it clear for Russia once again that it is not treated seriously any longer despite its aspirations to support the anti-terror operation in Afghanistan.
As for spirits in the Russian society, experts rate them as anxious too. The situation in the world completely changed after September 11: all forecasts were devaluated then and suspense has begun reigning “in a most demonstrative and impudent way.”
Of course, the current situation in Russia may be viewed as relatively stable. However, this stability does not suggest much joy.
Andrei Kolesnikov, observer of Vremya MN, says that according to formal indications, the economy in Russia is healthy. However, is it worthwhile to trust the apparent impression? Budget incomes are still high, but they are still based on the export of raw materials. People’s revenues are still growing, but they do not exceed 41% of the level of the pre-default era. Apparent prosperity that is not based on a serious economic fundament may easily develop into a national catastrophe, which may be proven by the current ruin of the “Argentinean economic miracle.” Besides, Kolesnikov believes that stability is always hazardous, since it lulls people’s attentiveness and generates indifference, which is threatening for democracy.
The government was ideological in Russia for a long time. However, it is too early to triumph over the victory over the ideology. The country “has disregarded” the disgraceful sentence to journalist Grigory Pasko, has not reacted to the recent abolition of the Pardoning Commission, and will ignore the decision of the Supreme Arbitration Court on closing TV-6.
Kolesnikov notes that the government is more interested in the “sleeping society” than a politicized one. It is much easier to conduct such reforms as the housing reform and the pension reform in such a society. However, this society is practically unpredictable from the political and economic points of view. In the journalist’s opinion, “such a society will not remember its interests if an authoritarian regime is intruded on it. At the same time, it may riot someday for some reason because the social tension will reach the critical level. The composure of this society is deceptive.” The observer believes that to make forecasts in such a situation is a pointless affair.
Novye Izvestia has assessed the decision on liquidation of TV-6 as follows, “The information security doctrine has been gradually forgotten by the society, whereas it is being steadily implemented now. The information field of the country is being thoroughly cleared out.”
Valery Yakov, observer of Novye Izvestia, has described the society’s reaction to the government’s escapade by Pushkin’s famous quotation: “The folk is keeps silent.” He says, “Russian citizens are mesmerized by the face shown by all TV channels and still think that the attacks concern only one particular channel or one particular journalist. They do not understand that having tested its strength on the press, the government will heed the spectators. But nobody will know about it because there will be no witnesses.” However, Yakov concludes that the country that “experiences foolish raptures like a colt and is only slapping its lips and moving its ears when being harnessed” should not count for a different destiny.
Dmitry Shusharin, observer of Bremya MN, asserts that the government’s announcements that TV-6 has been closed only for purely economic reasons are worth nothing. However, he wonders who exactly formulates the political demand. “The sufferers certainly want to accuse the first person of the state of initiating these campaigns.” This makes it possible to them to appeal to the people to fight “Putinism,” a phenomenon allegedly engendered by special services, and talk about the necessity to set up some opposition. However, Shusharin is of the opinion that TV-6 journalists are merely “victims of the current inter-clan fight, which is one of the main components of the style of the current government.”
The newspaper holds that unfortunately, the government has assumed the position of a listless onlooker now, whereas the president’s status of the guarantor of rights and freedoms of Russia’s citizens makes his interference in the current situation not only desirable but also obligatory from the “formal-legal” point of view. Nevertheless, the executive branch has ignored the anxieties of the part of the society worried about the situation surrounding freedom of speech. The Kremlin behaves is if it were not its business.
As a result, as Shusharin stresses, interests of a large part of TV spectators “have fallen victim not to the president’s evil will but to those to gain profit from the media business, including many high-ranking officials.” The author notes that it is an open secret the one of the most important aims of the proceedings was reduction of the price of TV-6 and partly a revenge for “LUKoil’s old grudge against Boris Berezovsky.”
But the saddest thing about this situation is that the government acts in this situation “not as the main malefactor but as nothing. Its readiness to accept and analyze information is questionable.”
At the same time, the society does not look attractive against this background either. It has proved not to be ready for such a turn. It has not expected the country’s politics to be based not on “opposition between atrocious rulers and wise fighters but on something petty, bleak, and unattractive – on nothing.”
Meanwhile, Vitaly Portnikov draws readers’ attention in the newspaper Vedomosti to the fact that no sooner had Yeltsin given a “conciliatory characteristic” of TV-6 in his interview on new year’s eve than the process of liquidation of the TV company was interrupted. Portnikov notes, “Boris Berezovsky had two weeks to come to an agreement with his old acquaintances. However, this agreement was not reached, which was obviously caused by some tiffs inside the clan.”
Alexander Tsipko calls Yeltsin’s interview “symbolic” in the newspaper Rossiya. It not only demonstrated the layout of political forces before the upcoming new round of the battle for power but also “reminded the society of the dead end to which it has been driven as a result of the change of the government in Yeltsin’s way.”
To retain control of the situation, Yeltsin and his “family” have to constantly repeat to the successor and the “dear Russians” who is the boss of the country and on what conditions the current president was allowed to the Kremlin. It is clear that it is difficult for Putin to become the leader of the nation in such a situation: his hands are tied and he is not entitled to make decisions independently.
Tsipko says that the “family” obviously still controls state-run TV channels and therefore is still able to make “uncontrollable political initiatives.” Putin has had to hear once again that he is not the leader of the people but just a figure selected by Yeltsin and his retinue.
Unfortunately, Yeltsin does not understand that “he is undermining the vestiges of his legitimacy by his current actions.” Tsipko thinks that “hazing” Putin he only “introduces chaos into the country’s political life.”
It is time to definitely admit that Yeltsin’s sporadic returns to the public politics are harmful not only for Putin but also for the country in general. Once he gave rise to Russia’s disintegration aspiring to show Gorbachev who is the boss of the country. The journalist concludes that this is a very dangerous game, and it will not do to keep silent about it.
In the opinion of the weekly Vek, “a steady situation of trench warfare has been formed on the Russian political arena. There cannot be obvious winners in this war, and successes of its sides will be only half-successes.”
Views of analysts on this show are different. Many of them believe that the president just lacks financial, information, and personnel resources to finish the reformation of the political elite. The number of supporters of this point of view is growing. Rumors about some agreement between Yeltsin and Putin, according to which Putin should not have hurt representatives of Yeltsin’s team for two years, do not sound convincing now that two years have already passed since Yeltsin’s transference of power to Putin. Meanwhile, Vek states that all rumors about disintegration of Yeltsin’s “family” as a strong financial-political clan seem to be poorly grounded too. These rumors are likely to have been initiated by the “family” itself in order to protect itself against accusations of blocking Putin’s reforms. The “family” ideologically reflects the point of view of the most of the political elite formed in the Yeltsin era. This elite still controls most of the national wealth. The sense of its informal message to President Putin is like this: “You needn’t change anything in the country, and we’ll provide reelection for you.”
However, there is different point of view. Some analysts think that the president does not want radical changes himself. Indeed, the economic and political stability in Russia has been gained; the people’s revenues are growing. Vek notes, “In Russia political battles have always influenced the economic situation, and this time radical personnel changes are fraught with a loss of the stability.”
At the same time, people seem to be completely indifferent to personnel battles between the Russian powers-that-be. People trust their president, and this is quite enough for the normal administration of the country. Besides, the president himself is hardly sure that his “new St. Petersburg team is able to adequately substitute for the old Yeltsin personnel.” There are many people in the top echelons of the government who think so. They certainly try to impart this point of view to the president. There may also be another reason for the president’s irresoluteness. The weekly notes that the system of checks and balances launched by Yeltsin provides Putin with a broad space for political maneuvers. If one of the conflicting groups wins, even if it will be the group whose views are close to Putin’s, this may considerably reduce Putin’s independence in making decisions.
In any case, Vek stresses that “the logic of preservation of the current status quo may give good results in 2002, whatever reasons for this logic may be.” The current situation is likely to positively develop if oil prices remain high enough and thus let the Russian budget survive. However, the dependence of the Russian economy on world oil prices is the vulnerable point of this logic. Meanwhile, there are some anxious symptoms in the Russian economy: inflation is exceeding the level promised by the government and is threatening to devour all the increases of salaries and pensions. The weekly notes that wage arrears are beginning to grow again. In other words, “old diseases have not been cured and are now having a slight recrudescence. Sooner or later these diseases may lead to another financial or political crisis with large-scale political outcomes.”
Alas, if the current situation is not changed, such outcomes are too real. “In this case the country will be engaged in interminable running in a circle lagging behind developed countries more and more.”
Nezavisimaya Gazeta asserts that the scandal surrounding TV-6 is the government’s “PR error.” The government should not have abstracted from this scandal on the plea of “not interfering in the argument between two economic subjects.” It would be more relevant if the government gave its assessment of the situation. And now the government should not count for loyalty of the humble media” they are able to become the “fifth column that will gladly push down their former idol.”
Boris Berezovsky, the owner of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, has given an interview to Kommersant. When asked to estimate the intention of TV-6 journalists to set up their own channel, he called it the sign of their weakness. “It seems to me that the collective has wavered.” Berezovsky noted magnanimously that he does not have any complaints about TV-6 journalists: “These are people who have lived through so much during the scandal surrounding NTV.”
Nevertheless, having repeated for several times that he does not criticize the journalists, Berezovsky passed his sentence to them: “To turn people into cattle it is necessary to rape them for three times. For the first time they will be indignant. For the second time they will be scared. And for the third time they will cry ‘Hooray!'”
Sociologist Vsevolod Vilchek, who is an expert on problems of television, has expressed his opinion about the scandal surrounding TV-6 in Moskovskie Novosti without much sarcasm but with sadness. In his opinion, the liquidation of the TV company is not the main problem: “The main problem is that Russia is returning to its slavish state in which it existed for over a thousand years.”
In Vilchek’s opinion, there is a classical method of returning the people who have tasted of freedom to their slavish state: “Somebody should be punished, cynically raped, for three times in front of the people’s eyes.” The first two public executions have taken place already: NTV and TV-6. The third execution may be unnecessary, since the execution of TV-6 is leading to the death of the civil society, since there will be no one who could oppose the government.
However, the campaign against TV-6 also has an applied aspect. Vilchek stresses, “A serious propagandistic and ideological instrument is being prepared for the upcoming elections and serious economic changes.” In the observer’s opinion, other TV channels allow “crumbs of the truth” to their programs only because “there is TV-6 and it will tell this truth itself if they do not tell it.” And now this only stimulus is to disappear. Then there will be a uniform information environment, and it will be possible for the government “to deceive people at will and make anything about people’s consciousness.”
The author does not believe that the president is unaware of all the details of the gloomy finale of the TV channel. “It is necessary for someone to exert strong pressure to make the presidium of the Supreme Arbitration Court make such a cynical decision.”
Well-known politician Vladimir Ryzhkov has told Obshchaya Gazeta, “Putin is not quite a democrat. It is un indisputable fact that for the two years of his presidency freedom has been reduced in the country.”
However, in Ryzhkov’s point of view, Putin’s authoritarianism is based on his disbelief in effectiveness of democracy rather than on his desire to gain the absolute power. Having been scared by the chaos that was reigning during the Yeltsin era, Putin is sincerely sure that it is only concentration of the power in one person’s hands that will pull the country out of the crisis.
However, Ryzhkov asserts that this is a dangerous illusion. “The authoritarian structure is the best environment for development of corruption, embezzlements, political intrigues, and degradation of the personnel. Effectiveness is out of the question in this case.”
Meanwhile, Putin did not look like a “real democrat” from the very beginning of his presidency. But now everyone in Russia can answer the question “Who is Mr. Putin?” is this or that way.
The press asserts that Vladimir Putin has chosen an example to follow in Russia’s history. Here and there journalists compare Putin’s policies to those of Emperor Nicholas I of Russia. Some journalists believe that this is not the worst choice. Observer of Sobesednik Dmitry Bykov is of the opinion that Putin has just drawn the proper historic parallel. “The circumstances under which Putin accepted power from his predecessor are very similar to those of the time when Nicholas I assumed the throne.” Predecessors of both of them retired having been disappointed with reforms and practically did not rule the country before the retirement for several years. “The last years of reformers Alexander and Boris are much alike by the profound depression that gripped them and their country.”
Indeed, there are many common points between Putin and Nicholas I. Both of them are pragmatists understanding that convictions are not the same as actions. Both of them managed to slightly “freeze” the country without large-scale depressions. Nicholas, like Putin, intimidated the society by the public execution of Decembrists.
Besides, Nicholas, like Putin, traveled throughout the country, could successfully communicate with people, cared for construction of railroads, and paid much attention to the church. Under Nicholas Russia was conducting a rather strict foreign policy. The Caucasus war was also activated under him. But the main point is that it is Nicholas I who set up the secret police of the new structure in Russia: the Third Department, which was also called “blue suits.” Thus, he was a quite sensible ruler by Russian standards: he was active and moderately strict; he liked flattery but did not create a cult of his personality.
Dmitry Bykov thinks that although the expression “the Nicholas Russia” has a negative meaning, the “golden age” of the Russian culture might have failed to take place without this empire.
The parallel is obvious: “Look at today’s Russia! It celebrates its holidays without joy; it is so dull, and all people are irritated with one another…” At first sight, people should be glad that there is stability in the country and that the West counts with Russia. “But there is such anguish in people’s hearts…” At the same time, the “imperial spirit is reviving.” But people are glad all the same: “Although people are pressured, they get their wages on time…” This must be better for Russia than the preceding degradation…
Nicholas the First was reigning for 30 years: from 1925 until 1855. Then he was succeeded by Alexander the Liberator, who was assassinated by terrorists from the People’s Will organization.
Is Marx really right and history is developing by a spiral indeed?