Monday, May 24, 2004

liberal Chekist

Vladimir Putin, considered at length by Neal Ascherson.

Sakwa writes about Putin's choice between 'pluralistic statism' (imposing the authority of the law without diminishing the structures of civil society or regional autonomy) and 'compacted statism' in which civil society is regimented in the name of enforcing the rule of law, while power and patronage are concentrated on an undemocratic elite at the centre. At present, Putin's Russia looks increasingly compacted rather than pluralistic. Jack shows that Putin's Kremlin is increasingly composed of 'enforcers' - officials who have served either in the KGB/ FSB, or in the military. The proportion of such people among federal officials was under 5 per cent in Gorbachev's time. Now it is 58 per cent. Democratic self-confidence does not grow well in their shadow.

Jack defines Putin as a 'liberal Chekist'. He sees parallels with Andropov, the head of the KGB who came to lead the Soviet Union in 1982, when it was too late (and he was too sick) to carry through his ideas. He wanted to liberalise the Soviet economy without corresponding political reform. 'First we'll make enough sausages, and then we won't have any dissidents.'


One theory about the demise of the Soviet Union, apparently popular in US intelligence circles, is that the whole reform process in the 80’s was initiated by the KGB. According to this, Russia’s technical development was fuelled mainly by industrial espionage (remember Concordski). Examples of high technology would be stolen and the Soviets would fill the gaps in their knowledge by figuring out how it worked. By the early eighties, the West was so far ahead that Soviet scientists couldn’t work out how to reverse engineer the stuff, so the game was up.

Andropov wanted to launch Chinese style economic reform, but died before he got properly going. Gorbachev eventually took over and tried the same thing, but didn’t have the authority to carry it through while preserving the integrity of the state. Hence Putin’s fondness for enforcers.