New empire style in Russia and new nation style in the US: will George W. Bush merit the lofty title of "the American Putin"?


Soon it will be the first anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s real presidency. According to Delovye Ludi magazine, December 31, 1999 turned out to be “the most dramatic flourish” of Boris Nikolaevich Yeltsin.

“The style and content contrast between the previous and the current presidencies was so striking, that a question inevitably arose: why the rush?” says Vek weekly.

According to the media, now, a year later, there is still an impression of an election race in Russia. As Moskovskie Novosti weekly notes, “Political consultants are working non-stop.” One of the latest presidential PR campaigns was the story with state symbols; however, according to Moskovskie Novosti, its results can hardly be called a success.

The media and the whole political beau monde considered the president’s preference for Alexandrov’s anthem as a miscalculation: “This music is not history yet; it is still politics for everyone.” Moskovskie Novosti weekly believes that, having made his choice, President Putin joined not the “majority” as he announced, but the minority, which “has started a badly calculated game.” (Besides, there are no doubts that the people will soon forget about Alexandrov’s anthem; while the intelligentsia “will remember the insult forever”).

According to the weekly, “decent people” are getting tired of Putin’s “too effective policies”, for instance, “technical decisions on issues which demand if not conscience, then at least ethics and tact.”

So, Putin had better wait on state symbols and removing Lenin’s body from the Mausoleum; at least, he could have explained to people “cleverly and touchingly” that there is no need to rush.

Thus, Moskovskie Novosti concludes, sometimes, the victory can be disastrous too.

Of course, the return of Alexandrov’s anthem is a sudden pleasant surprise for the left, says Paris-based Russkaya Mysl. However, even the Communists are not delighted with the price they will have to pay for supporting Putin’s policies. The right is still discussing the possibility of liquidation of the Red Square necropolis in order to get compensation for their concession. However, the latest persecution of the Media-Most holding will undoubtedly make them think twice about the price of the president’s promises.

“Putin’s favorite style is to declare a war… and to cancel it soon, pretending that the Kremlin had not even intended to attack,” the paper shares its observations, noting this is what happened with Andrei Babitsky’s case, and nominating Valentina Matvienko and Sergey Stepashin for St. Petersburg governor; as well as Gusinsky’s arrest in Moscow. And now the President “is attacking on all fronts, signaling to different political forces that he is ‘their man’, and simultaneously building artificial obstacles to real intimacy.”

“In any case,” Russkaya Mysl writes, “the regime has though of a new intrigue: restoration of the Soviet anthem is either Putin’s sincere gesture, that finally discloses his real political preferences, or it is a new game, that is supposed to leave the lefts (and ideally – everyone) empty-handed.”

Inostrants weekly reminds that first the word “compensation” was first used by Anatoly Chubais, who said that the Soviet anthem can be “made up for” by carrying out Lenin’s body from the Mausoleum. Later, it was said that the right wing had been promised that the Duma would pass the Land Code, which would finally resolve the issue of free land trade. Then, the rumor had it that the Kremlin administration did not like the position of the Duma left factions and was thinking of withdrawing a number of Duma committees from the Communists’ control. However, according to Inostrantets, the Duma left are not worried about that: Nikolai Kharitonov, leader of the Agricultural Party of Russia, who has been gaining some influence in the Kremlin lately, that the president “does not support commercial turnover of the agricultural lands.”

As for the redistribution of the Duma committees, they say the lefts are hardly likely to be subjected to total expropriation. Moreover, they say that redistribution, if there is any, is likely to be made in favor of the Fatherland – All Russia faction, since the latter has lately improved its relations with the Kremlin.

According to Segodnya newspaper, Yury Luzhkov has in fact announced about the end of Fatherland’s “opposing status”, calling the faction “the new center of attraction for the regional elite and transforming their potential into a constructive dialogue with the Kremlin.” Moreover, Luzhkov also announced that the Fatherland-All Russia has a “ready team of managers”, which “might be rather useful for the president in certain circumstances.”

At the same time, the paper thinks that so far the Kremlin does not need the political services of the Luzhkov’s party; if only as a disciplining mean for the no longer effective the Unity: “So that its leaders knew that the Kremlin always has a reserve political force. Perhaps, not the only one.”

Inostranets asks, why should the rights count on any compensation at all? “Is there a burst of liking for the liberal ideas in the society? Or are the Union of Right Forces and the Yabloko movement gaining weight?” These are rhetorical questions.

There is no hope that President Putin, after choosing such odious state symbols, will want to change the opinion of the West about himself: “The general direction of Russian foreign policy is becoming more and more anti-Western, and no wish to compensate for this trend is being shown.” The Pope case and the plans to sell arms to Iran also prove this idea. Inostranets also assumes that the “Kremlin’s compensation intentions” are nothing but a direct information leak: “It is necessary to have the ‘liberal youngsters’ cherish their hopes and not stand in the way.”

A year after actually coming to power in the Kremlin, the president is himself destroying the support that he has received from his voters all that time, writes Dmitry Shusharin in the Vremya MN newspaper. Shusharin believes that the contradictions (characteristic for the beginning of “perestroika”) between “pragmatic North Atlantic values and patriotic feelings” are being smoothed out of late: “A normal bourgeois patriotism is being formed in Russia, which is hostile toward the romance of Imperial poverty, as symbolized by Stalin’s anthem. Russian society is overcoming its divisions, which have never been fatal.” At the same time, in the opinion of the Vremya MN observer, the president’s choice of Alexandrov’s music is creating new reasons for a confrontation.

Dmitry Shusharin admits that Putin’s choice might as well be backed by “an unconscious wish to change the regime’s social basis, and turn into an opposition that part of Putin’s ‘majority’ which should be targetted for cooperation and dialogue.” The point is that it is possible to rule that part of the society only on the basis of agreement, while it is much easier for the regime to deal with “those who prefer to be not ruled, but manipulated.”

At the same time, the author says, it is impossible not to notice that the arguments about the anthem left no room for more urgent issues, such as the problem of Chechnya, the military, state reforms (while the presidential envoy is sorting out his problems with a regional governor, the problems of the Primorie territory are being sorted out by the Emergency Ministry), and so on. And now there is another “internal enemy” in Russia, a “new opposition” to the president, that the Russian regime has not had for a long time. Now, everything is like in all normal democratic countries.

“The biggest lie is to call Russia a democratic country,” Yelena Bonner recently said at the ceremony to present her with the Hannah Arendt award for political thought. According to the widow of Andrei Sakharov, Russia has lost its newly-born democracy in the two Chechen wars. Currently, Russian society is “a teenage society with all the characteristics of that age – the leader and full imitation of his actions, aggression and taking offense easily, mendacity and gullibility.”

In the opinion of Yelena Bonner, the current federal reforms are leading to establishing unlimited presidential power in Russia and in fact, turning “multi-ethnic Russia from a federative state into a strictly centralized and unified state.” The militarization of the regime is also being proved by multiple appointments people from the Federal Security Service and the army at “high state positions.” All the aforementioned is going on against the background of the permanently high popularity rating of the president. Speaking of that, Yelena Bonner recollected a saying of Andrei Sakharov: “The slogan ‘People and party are united’, that decorates every second building, is not just empty words.”

(According to anonymous jokers from the “secret services”, whose words are quoted in Argumenty I Fakty weekly, “the intelligentsia is again moving into its kitchens. And we will be eavesdropping on them again there.”)

However, according to the weekly, the intelligentsia’s offence at the president’s musical preferences does not worry the Kremlin too much: the president’s rating is supposed to rise by 10-15% as a consequence of restoring the Soviet anthem.

In Russia there are no legal standards, no accountability for the secret services, “not even what there was in the Soviet system,” says Boris Kagarlitsky in Novaya Gazeta. He believes that as a result of the decade of democratic reforms, the situation in the secret services, in fact, has turned out to be “worse than in the Brezhnev era.”

As a result of a mass outflow of professionals from the secret services (on the one hand, the prestige of the service has fallen, and consequently, material advantages have also decreased; on the other hand, former officers of the secret services have turned out to be extremely popular in new capitalist Russia) and the consequent replacement by inexperienced newcomers, the professionalism of the secret service employees has sharply decreased. But what is of greater importance, even the ethical standards and the judicial culture of the “late-Soviet KGB officers” have disappeared. As a result, Novaya Gazeta says, “the psychological type of the FSB officer has not approached ‘the western professional standard’, but, on the contrary, has drawn nearer the standard of a NKVD officer of the 1930s.”

Besides, the secret services have again become necessary for political battles; though this time not for fighting the dissidents, but for sorting out internal issues in the government. It is clear, Kagarlitsky writes, that “the group which controls the secret services has many more advantages in the faction fights.” It only should not be forgotten that the methods which have been used in intra-tycoon conflicts and for fighting disagreeable journalists, may also be used in repression against ordinary citizens. Or, to be more exact, adds Kagarlitsky, there are already being used, but there are less known about than persecution of the tycoons or the media: “Since tycoons publicly complain about each other and the secret services, while ordinary citizens keep silent, for they know that there is no one and nowhere to complain to.” On the one had, ordinary Russians guarantee their security, since they do not aspire to power; on the other hand, while people are keeping silent, they might be ignored. Kagarlitsky asks: “Why are we so sure that such ‘democracy’ is better than Brezhnev’s ‘totalitarianism’?”

Meanwhile, speaking about the “crusade of the KGB officers into power”, the topic that has been on the pages of the Russian papers for the past several months, “the insight from the inside” by Lieutenant General Vadim Kirpichenko, main consultant of the Foreign Intelligence Service, might also seem interesting. In his interview with Vek weekly, he answers the question about the reasons for appointing so many intelligence officers to the top rank positions and proudly refers to Academician Sakhrov, who had once said that the only non-corrupted structure in Russia is KGB. Besides, according to Kirpichenko, the president likes people from the special services so much, because he estimates their professional skills very high. In Kirpichenko’s opinion, an intelligence officer is a person who can always made the right decision, because, unlike many others, because he can always weight the situation very objectively. “An ambassador is interested in attracting credits to the country where he represents Russia, so that the Kremlin appointed a certain person at some certain position. The main military consultant says: it is necessary to supply arms to this country, add some more our consultants, and then we will be able to exert more influence there. Trade representative says: let’s give more wood, flour, oil to this country – the more we give, the better the trade will be. All these people are initially engaged.” While an intelligence officer, according to Kirpichenko, is independent on the situation, and his information is always objective: “Finding the information, and new sources of information deprive an intelligence officer of any chimeras. We cannot afford to indulge in ideas, sensations, fantasies.” Let alone the possibility to involve an intelligence officer into a doubtful transaction: “Their nature is different.” To put it short, Kirpichenko is convinced that “journalist’s wailing about ‘KGB officers crusade’ has no grounds. Do they think that laboratory heads and Marxism lectures are better?” The last argument seems the hardest to argue against.

Participating in the discussion about Russian new state symbols, Itogi magazine reminds that since the very beginning the major idea of the new authorities has been putting the country in order, strengthening the power hierarchy, and establishing the dictatorship of law. All these activities have been supposed to create “conditions for prosperous life for people and for prosperity of our Motherland,” as the Russian president said once.

However, in the long run, says Itogi, these measures have become the end in itself. As Gleb Pavlovsky, head of the Effective Politics Foundation says, with the introduction of the new state symbols, Russia has started “counting new time.” All the efforts of the presidential milieu, which has so thoroughly tried to impose on the president the idea of his exclusive role in the Russian history, have been a success: “Putin has believed them, and now, having forgotten about the recent past is trying to become a heir to the two powerful empires – Russian and Soviet, to the whole Russian history.” Only the last ten years do not belong to this history, the years, when the regime, from the point of view of the current president, was not authoritative enough: too weak, engaged with excessive obligations to the parliament, to the regions, to all public, political, and financial groups.

It should be said that many doubt that all these plans correspond to the major problems of current Russia. Obshchaya Gazeta publishes a letter from its reader, who thinks that “tough power hierarchy is not adequate to the objective of improving the living standards of people.” According to the author, this was proved by decades of the Soviet power: “Bolsheviks and other Russian leaders have many times tried to fill in different gaps with mass repression, deportations, total nationalization and privatization of the properties, collectivization, innumerable programs for raising this and that…” It is very important that all this was always enthusiastically supported by the people. The author stresses that we should “remember about this, in order to understand the present, and a little predict the future.” According to him, the possibility of returning to the “initial idea of the Soviet power” must not be ruled out, though this time without “multi-colored Bolsheviks and proletarians.”

It is generally noticed, that the incredible saturation of the Russian history of the past several decades with bright characters and all kinds of crisis situations has turned the majority of attempts to analyze new events into finding historical analogues from the recent past.

The examples are graphic: recently Nezavisimaya Gazeta announcing the victory of George W. Bush in the US presidential elections stated that “Bush and his team are the same as Putin, only American.” The paper also sadly added: “The sun of the Russian liberalism has set down” (It is an open secret that Russian pro-western liberals are often accused of being fed, both ideologically and materially, by “American imperialists”). Nezavisimaya Gazeta specifies that ideologically it was American liberals, Al Gore’s supporters, who fed Russian liberals. Rossia newspaper, on the contrary, thinks that nostalgia for “good old Clinton’s days” is inappropriate. “If think twice, it is clear that friendly relations between Russian and the US have never gone further than demonstrative ‘fraternization’ of Boris and Bill in from of TV cameras.” That is why, according to the paper, it is not ruled out that with Bush’s coming to power, “we do not lose much; and perhaps we will even acquire something”: there is hope that the new US administration will be more direct, which will allow to “greatly simplify the work of the Russian foreign ministry.” The major conclusion, Novaya Gazeta makes of the procrastinated US presidential elections is very simple: from now on the US will not be able to “point out” to many countries, especially Russia. since this time, the US “most democratic election system” has failed, thinks the paper. According to Novye Izvestia, “considering that it was a real draw game, to announce someone a winner in the fight means to make at least half of the country believe ‘we have been cheated, and we will not let it go.” It is not ruled out that despite all “the strong statements”, the new president will, in fact, be “rather weak.” Vedomosti newspaper also states that the “next four years are hardly likely to be happy for the Texas man.” For many Americans, especially Gore’s supporters, Bush is a “caricature character.” He “entertains liberal intellectuals, just like Yeltsin used to do during the last years of his presidency,” writes Vedomosti, since he could “mix up terrorists and terriers, and IRS with IRA.” Thus, concludes the paper, the new US president is a “politician of Yeltsin’s type, who undoubtedly has charisma for some people, and is ridiculous for others – in any case, he is unable to go into details.”

In any case, no matter if George W. Bush is an American Putin or an American Yeltsin, one thing is clear for sure: according to Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper: “Country-style is again popular in America.”

Unlikely Russia, where “the new imperial style” is in fashion in upper strata. Current intentions of the authorities arise different reaction of businessmen and liberal intelligentsia. Trud newspaper presents a number of opinions of participants of a conference on the results of a decade of reforms in Russia, that has been organized by the “Liberal mission” fund, headed by Yevgeny Yasin. Petr Mostovoi, head of the Round Table of the Russian Business public organization does not doubt that the Russian liberals will have hard times: “We must admit not only the possibility of worsening of the situation in Russia, but start to prepare for this today.” Well-known publicist Yevgeniya Albats agrees with this opinion: “Business, merged with bureaucracy and having special privileges, does not need continuation of the liberal reforms. At first, Russian may turn into an authoritarian bureaucratic state – the first phase – and then into a totalitarian state.”

Well-known economist Oleg Vyugin, on the contrary, believes that it is easier to cooperate with new Putin’s nomenclature: it is “more enterprising, smarter, and more energetic” that the previous one. Vyugin is convinced that the main thing is to put the priorities in the right order: tycoons of the Yeltsin’s presidency “have gone too far and decided that money comes before power.” While the major principle of Russia is completely different: “Power is money”, which means that the regime is always stronger. “Those major businessmen who have accepted this principle are currently all right.”

Those who dares to be disrespectful to the regime are having troubles. The intricate story with the suit of the tax inspection against a number of companies of the Media-Most holding, despite all the detailed explanations of the tax inspection that their claims have been dictated by “common sense and not a political order”, have assured the media that everything is quite on the contrary.

Few people doubt about the final objective of the regime: “The NTV television network, but without Gusinsky. Maybe, without Kiselev. Or with Kiselev, but without his ‘Itogi’ program as what it is now,” writes Kommersant-Vlast magazine. As it turned out, exiling Gusinsky out from Russia does not help to resolve the issue: the media-magnate can successfully manage his network from abroad. Now, after his arrest in Spain, after the suit of the tax inspection against the holding, it is absolutely clear that what is going on is just an exemplary execution of an irreconcilable tycoon. The new strategies of ruling Russia mean not only a tough power hierarchy, but also obedient media.

As Delovye Lyudi magazine noted recently, over the year of Putin’s presidency not much has changed at first glance: the current presidential administration is almost the same as during Yeltsin’s presidency. And the stability in the government is just fantastic: “during Yeltsin’s presidency there was not a single year with such a low personnel fluidity.” Basaev and Khattab, despite all the threats directed against them, are still free. “Putin has done nothing irrevocable – neither good or bad – in any area of public life,” writes the magazine. Nonetheless, Russia is different: any action of the authorities benumbs the people.”

According to Delobye Lyudi the matter is not only what Putin is doing, but how the society reacts, since it seems to have “completely lost its ability to conscientiously publicly resist”; not even in order to reject a president’s initiative, but in order just to “primitively test: what this means and what we will have of it?”

According to Vitaly Tretiakov, editor-in-chief of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, who is also one of the most active commentators on Putin’s policies: “On the one hand, Putin is learning how to be the president, i.e. the person who is supposed to resolve all the problems of Russia, by various methods… On the other hand, it seems to me that Putin is starting to seriously believe in his higher destiny.”

Tretiakov says that the Messiah complex which the president had a year ago when taking over the presidency, is starting to transform into a firm belief in his own infallibility. He also gives some graphic examples: making a speech at a recent celebration of the birthday of famous ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, the president never used “I”, only “we”: “we are happy”, “we are proud.” Tretiakov says: “I had an impression that he did not mean all Russians when he said that, but was only speaking about himself in plural.”

By the way, this is in full harmony with the “neo-imperial style” of the new regime, as well as with its beliefs about its abilities and destination.