Category Archives: Death of Democracy

Putin’s Fascism

 

Jason Stanley and Eliyahu Stern wrote an interesting article in Tablet Magazine. They pointed out that “The admiration of religious traditionalism and hatred of cosmopolitan liberalism is part of the Kremlin’s fascist ideology.”

 When Russia invaded Ukraine in February of 2022, Vladimir Putin claimed it was necessary for Russia to “denazify” Ukraine and end the genocide of Russians who lived in Ukraine.  It would have been difficult to come up with a more absurd claim, but that’s what he said. He did that to elicit memories of Russia’s memorable and heroic defeat of Nazi Germany in what the Russians called “The Great Patriotic War,” and we in the west call the World War II. Stanley and Stern point out that Putin’s claims are “a diversion from his own fascism,” and ““an expression of antisemitism.” I agree with them.

Stanley and Stern say this about fascism:

“Fascism embraces a mythic past, where the nation, once great, has experienced humiliation and loss of land, the result of weakness and decadence brought on by liberal democracy. To make up for these losses, real and supposed, fascist leaders encourage violent reassertion of previous greatness, as well as the destruction of liberal democracy in favor of a one-party state or, more typically, a single autocratic ruler who is synonymous with the nation.”

 

This strikes home for many recent fascist movements, including, even the near fascist movement led by Donald Trump.  As Stanley and Stern said,

“In the Russian nationalist version of the mythic past, Ukraine is central. According to this mythology, there are no Ukrainians—just lost Russians living, whether they know it or not, in the heart of historic Russia. Under Putin, Russia has been harshly sexist and homophobic, familiar manifestations of fascist ideology. But Russia’s violent imperial war against a neighboring cosmopolitan democracy that it seeks to absorb is the clearest manifestation yet that its animating ideology is something akin to classical fascism.”

 

Alexander Dugin was the intellectual leader of Russian fascism.  He and Putin both deny being racists or Nazis but frankly that is what they are. I think the evidence is overwhelming.   They claim the real enemy of their movement are not any racial group but rather “what they refer to as confused cosmopolitans, liberals, and secularists. The same enemy found by many fascists, including Donald Trump and a host of American conservatives. Those American conservatives say their enemies are the “elite-racist ultra-liberal that seeks to annihilate American values.” These “liberals” stand for minority rights and and the replacement of political leaders by democratic means.  A substantial number of Americans would agree with these “classical fascists.” To me that is a scary thought.

According to Stanley and Stern, the clear enemy of modern fascism then is liberalisms which it sees, rightly in my view, as “cosmopolitan liberal democracy.” That has been demonstrated by both Putin and Trump.

 

Fascists want to preserve ‘traditional values’

 

According to philosopher Jason Stanley, who wrote the book How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them,  Russian fascism,  is different from German fascism which wanted to install Germans as dominating the world. Putin is about traditional ethno-nationalists dominating each of their countries  with a strong powerful masculine leader. The leader might be a woman of course, like Marine Le Pen  had she won the French national election in 2022. Usually the strong leader though is a man—like Putin—i.e. a traditional male bully.

Stanley says  the job of the fascist leader  is always about “protecting traditional values against democracy.” The fascist parties therefor must show that they are not corrupt decadent and weak like western democracies. That is what Putin believes and fosters. The strength of the bully. This is what Putin has claimed to be doing in both the 2014 and 2022 wars in Ukraine.

 

Putin is not alone either. For example, the United States has had such anti-democratic leader too—I.e. Donald Trump. To resist, the democracies must show that they are strong. They can be strong, but they must show it now that they are under attack from anti-democratic forces. We will see if they are strong enough.

So far Ukraine has showed it is strong–perhaps stronger than Russia expected. That is what Ukraine is facing.

 Putin is demonstrating Russian  fascism Putin style.

 

The Politics of the Bully

What is fascism?  It obviously has many faces depending on which country it is operating.  I have my own definition that I think works. Fascism is the philosophy of the bully. I really think that is the essence of fascism.

Few thinkers are as cogent and convincing about fascism as Jason Stanley a professor of Philosophy at Yale University and author of the book How Fascism Works: the Politics of Us vs Them. Fascism is often linked with empire and the attempt to restore colonial glory and with that the glory of the colonizing state. This is a classic kind of fascism.  Both Hitler and Mussolini employed it and nearly 70 years later so did Donald Trump though his fascism was aspirational. He wanted to bring it about. He tried to bring it about, he just didn’t quite get there. At least not yet. He is still hanging around ready to try again.

There are a range of fascists or near fascists around the world. For example, Viktor Orban of Hungry who is so popular among the American right, particularly Trucker Carlson.

Classic fascism can appeal to many different forms of bigotry, racism, and authoritarianism such as hatred of blacks, Jews, LGBGTQ and other groups. Such fascism loves to attack weaker and more vulnerable people. That is why I call it the politics of the bully. That is why racism is so vital to fascism.  Fascists love to pick on vulnerable minorities.  As Damon Young said, “cowardice is the fuel of white supremacy.” I will come back to that later in a subsequent post.

Classic fascism like all of these is closely linked to violence and militarism. I characterize it as the politics of the political bully. As Jason Stanley said on Amanpour & Co. “we find fascist leaders gaining in popularity when they can talk about lost empire and when they tell their citizens that they are going to be ones to restore their empire.”

According to Stanley, since Russia is no longer a super power either militarily or economically like China and the United States are, it has tried to become a super power ideologically instead. That is why Putin has emphasized so much ideology. That means, according to Stanley:

 “Putin is trying to be the leader of the world’s traditionalists–the ethno-nationalists,  the patriarch , the anti-democrats, and white supremacists. He tries to convince people that he is going to defend traditional values against decadence and weakness.

 

Really that is exactly what Tucker Carlson is trying to do as well. He is trying to gather all the ethnonationalist movements to him.  At the same time he said he wanted to de-Nazify Ukraine. Of course, he did that to tap into deep historical roots and anxieties of the Russian and Ukrainian people. Stanley says that is “classic fascism. Classic fascism involved calling your enemy what you yourself are.”

 

Since the Maidan revolution of 2014 Ukraine has adopted a democratic revolution so Putin will remove it from institutions, schools and politics. He will place the leaders on show trials, if he can, execute or imprison them and then replace them with puppets or Russian fascist ideologues and extinguish completely Ukrainian democratic identity and Ukrainian identity full stop. That is what Ukraine is facing. That is fascism Putin style.

Bullies never stop. We learned that with Hitler and Mussolini. That is why we had to help Poland against Hitler and that is why we must help Ukraine now against Putin .

 

Truth Under Siege

Despite the confusion manufactured by the Russian fascists and their allies around the world, not all forgot what the Fascists had done. They remembered the young students who were beaten on a cold November in the Maidan in Ukraine in 2013.  Ukrainian Mothers and fathers heroically came to the streets in support of “their children.” Thousands of people came to Kyiv and put their lives in danger. Since then and again in 2022 people around the world have come to appreciate the heroic defiance of ordinary Ukrainians. No one else has defended truth like Ukrainians.  Timothy Snyder described their appearance in the Maidan and Kyiv in 2013 this way:

 

“One can record that these people were not fascists or Nazis or members of a gay international conspiracy or Jewish international conspiracy or a gay Nazi Jewish international conspiracy as Russian propaganda suggested to various target audiences. One can mark the fictions and contradictions. This is not enough. These utterances were not logical arguments or factual assessments, but a calculated effort to undo logic and factuality. Once the intellectual moorings were loosed, it was easy for Russians (and Europeans and Americans) to latch on to well-funded narratives provided by television and the internet, but it was impossible to work one’s way  towards an understanding of people in their own setting: to grasp where they were coming from, what they thought they were doing, what sort of future they imagined for themselves.”

 

Ukrainians were not only fighting for their country they were fighting for the truth. They were battling unreason.  I am sorry to say most of us around the world did not realize that at the time. At least I know I did not realize that until about 6 years later.

 

Ukrainians had begun by defending a European future they had chosen but, as Snyder said, they found themselves fighting for a sense that “there could be a past, a present, and a future.”

Russian propagandists claimed the protest at the Maidan was “a right wing coup,” but the real coup according to Snyder was when Putin in 2011 and 2012 returned to the office of president in Russia, which was then not allowed by law.  Snyder believes that Putin wanted to divert attention from his illegal usurpation. He was quite successful as many people in Europe and North America were duped into thinking it was a right-wing coup. As Snyder said,

 

“The Russian claim of a “coup” in Ukraine was among the most cynical of the Kremlin formulations, since the very Russians who made it that, had expected Yanukovych (Ukraine’s president ) to be removed by force and organized (failed or successful) coup d’état in nine Ukrainian districts. The issue in Ukraine was the weakness of the rule of law and the associated inequality of wealth and ubiquity of corruption. It was obvious to protesting Ukrainians that the rule of law was the only way to distribute resources collected by oligarchs more equitably through the society, and to allow others to succeed in the economy. Throughout the entire period of the Maidan, social advance in predictable and just conditions was the central goal. The first protesters were concerned with improving the rule of law by the Europeanization  of Ukraine.”

 

In the current war in Ukraine, the Russian propagandists have been trying similar tricks, like claiming the Russians are there to remove Nazis in control of the Ukraine government and many people in Russia believe that. However, I have not seen much evidence that anyone else believes their propaganda except to some extent American conservatives like Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump.  That is a huge improvement over what happened in Ukraine in 2013 and 2014.

Once again it seems like Ukraine is the bulwark against fascism and once again it is paying a heavy price, but this time at least with great support from the west. Once again Ukraine is defending truth again under siege.

Night Wolves and Little Green Men

 

Sometimes propaganda gets down right weird. This was one of those times.

During the invasion of Ukraine in 2014 an incredible thing happened. The country was invaded by “little green men.” At least so it appeared.

Beginning on February 24, 2014 approximately  10,000 Russian special forces, in green uniforms without any insignia, moved northward from their bases in the southern Crimea through the Crimean peninsula. They had the right to be in Crimea pursuant to a treaty that allowed them to have military bases, but the moment they left those bases their actions were illegal, since the treaties did not permit that.

Unfortunately, Kyiv military authorities were caught by surprise and in order to avoid further violence ordered Ukrainian soldiers not to resist and as a result by February 26 the “little green men,” as they came to be called, and who were actually Russian soldiers in disguise, had seized the regional parliament in Simferopol where they raised the Russian flag. On February 28 the Russian parliament approved the annexation of Ukrainian territory into Russia. On that day, for the first time President Obama made his first public statement about what was happening in Ukraine.

An amazing public spectacle was provided by a Russian biker gang (I kid you not—little  green men and a Russian biker gang). I told you sometimes things get weird in the world of Russian propaganda. The gang was called the Night Wolves. They were actually “a paramilitary and propaganda arm of the Putin regime,” according to Timothy Snyder in his book The Road to Unfreedom. The bikers had organized rallies in Crimea for years sometimes accompanied by President Putin. Earlier one of the Night Wolves had described their ideology this way:

“You have to learn to see the holy war underneath the everyday. Democracy is a fallen state. To split ‘left’ and ‘right’ is to divide.  In the kingdom of God there is only above and below. All is one. Which is why the Russian soul is holy. It can unite everything. Like in an icon, Stalin and God.”

 

As Timothy Snyder said,

“Here was Ilyin’s philosophy, Surkov’s geopolitics, and Putin’s civilization expressed in a few words.

            The Night Wolves found concise ways to translate sexual anxiety into geopolitics and back again. As a male-only club devoted to black leather, the Night Wolves naturally had a strong position on homosexuality, which they defined as an attack by Europe and the United States. A year later, celebrating the Russian invasion, the supreme leader Alexander Zaldostanov remembered their proud parade around Crimea in this way: “For the first time we showed resistance to the global Satanism, the growing savagery of Western Europe, the rush to consumerism that denies all spirituality, the destruction of traditional values, all this homosexual talk, the American democracy.” According to Zaldostanov, the slogan of the Russian war against Ukraine should be “death to faggots.” The association of democracy with gay Satan was a way to make law and reform foreign and unthinkable.”

 

This is what Timothy Snyder meant by “Christian fascism.”  The Christianity was surprisingly similar actually to American evangelicalism and that is no accident.

 Just as they did later in their second invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Russian leaders claimed they were not invading Ukraine, because Russia and Ukraine were one. You can’t invade your own country. Thus Russia ignored 1,000 years of history and the referendum in Ukraine following the collapse of Soviet Russia in 1991 where they voted to be independent. Of course, as Snyder said, “this is the language of empire.” Not the language of truth. Putin explained that Ukraine’s problems were a consequence of having democratic elections which led to changes in power. He called democracy, “an alien American implant.

Russian international lawyers, who for years had been arguing obsessively that territorial boundaries and state sovereignty had to be respected, they changed their views, as lawyers sometimes do, and began to spread further confusion when they said because the Ukrainian state had withered away, invasion and annexation were justified. Of course, that chaos was caused by the Russian invasion, but somehow that was not relevant to these lawyers.

As Russian propagandists have done so often, (Including the invasion of 2022) they limited Ukrainian access to all independent media so that their own media could spread the false “truth” that Ukrainians had a choice between Russia and Nazism. As I write they are doing the same thing in Russia. The Russians thus arranged for a “referendum” where Ukrainians had 2 “choices” both of which affirmed the Russian annexation of Crimea by Russia. The first option was to vote for the annexation of Crimea by Russia. The second option was to vote for the restoration of the “autonomy” of Crimean authorities who had been installed by Russia as puppets and who requested annexation by Russia. The turnout for the vote was 30% and about half voted for each option. Then Putin announced that he would accept the will of the Ukrainian people as expressed in that vote.

Thus the boundaries of the Russian federation were extended because of the “will” of the Ukrainian people. In the world of propaganda that makes sense.

 

 

Sniper Massacre and Fictitious Atrocities

 

On February 20, 2014, 44 Ukrainian civilians were massacred by snipers on the Maidan. Ukrainian President Yanukovych at the time agreed to leave office, as the protesters would no longer accept him and the Russians were happy to get rid of him as well. He fled his garish mansion that included records of cash payments to his advisor Paul Manafort who later resurfaced in the US as campaign manager for Donald Trump in his successful 2016 presidential election campaign. The downfall of Yanukovych provided cover for the Russians in their efforts to disintegrate the Ukrainian state. As Timothy Snyder said,

“In a few days between the sniper massacre of February 20 and the Russian invasion of February 24, shocking but fictitious reports appeared about Ukrainian atrocities in Crimea, and about refugees from the peninsula who needed urgent assistance. Russian military intelligence created fictitious personae on the internet to spread these stories. A group of paid internet trolls in St. Petersburg, known as the Internet Research Agency, was at work to confuse Ukrainian and international opinion. This was by now a signature of Russian foreign policy: the cyber campaign that would accompany a real war.”

 

I don’t know if they ever read Hannah Arendt, the brilliant political philosopher, but Putin’s propagandists learned what she said, namely that it was not necessary to convince people of the truth of their outrageous claims. All that was needed was that people were confused so that they did not know what to think, and this was sufficient to open the door to fascist manipulation. That insight proved invaluable in Ukraine in 2014, the UK in 2016 and most astonishingly, the US in 2016.

That is an essential insight into fascist propaganda and how it works its incredible magic. That is why the sleep of reason and decay of belief in truth is so important. As Goya said, and a I have quoted many times, it brings forth monsters. That is what we see in Ukraine today and what we saw in both the UK and US in 2016.

Ukraine had Oligarchs Too

 

After the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Ukraine was far from a perfect democracy, but it was much better than Russia. Unlike Russia power changed hands democratically. Unlike Russia before the financial crisis of 2008 The European Union was seen by Ukrainians as a cure for the corruption that prevented social advancement and economic reforms to make income distribution more equitable. Ukraine’s leader at the time, Viktor Yanukovych, promoted the idea of a European future for the Ukraine even as his policies made that more unlikely.

 

As Timothy Snyder said, “Yanukovych’s career demonstrated the difference between Ukrainian oligarchical pluralism and Russian kleptocratic centralism.” He ran for the presidency of Ukraine in 2004 and won the election by virtue of voting manipulation. Russia supported him and declared him the victor. Yet there were 3 week’s of protests in Kyiv that were called the Maidan in 2013 as a result of Yanukovych reneging on his promise to bring Ukraine into the European Union. As Snyder said, “This was an important moment in Ukrainian history; it confirmed democracy as a succession principle. So long as the rule of law functioned at the height of politics, there was always hope that it might one day extend to everyday life.” As Timothy Snyder said in an interview with Ezra Klein in the New York Times, “So the Ukrainians think of Maidan as a moment where they were together and they resisted and they won.” As Snyder said in The Road to Unfreedom,

 

“After he lost the election, Yanukovych hired the American political consultant Paul Manafort, who later became famous for working on Donald Trump’s campaign. Manafort tried to improve Yanukovych’s image. Manafort used the same technique in the Ukraine that he later used with Donald Trump. He emphasized cultural differences. As Snyder said, “In the United States, this means playing to the grievances of whites even though they were a majority whose members held almost all the wealth; in Ukraine it meant exaggerating the difficulties of people who spoke Russian, even though it was a major language of politics and economics of the country, and the first language of those who controlled the country’s resources. Like Manafort’s next client, Donald Trump, Yanukovych rose to power on a campaign of cultural grievance mixed with the hope that an oligarch might defend the people against oligarchy.”

 

 

In other words, this populist approach was exactly how Trump persuaded a large part of the American working class that what they needed against the elites was an elite business man who would look out for their interests. It was just as absurd in the US as it was in Ukraine. And in both places the strategy worked.

Yanukovych’s strategy worked just as the same as it did for Trump.. Yanukovych used his time in power to concentrate wealth in his own hands. He used Russian practices for his own advantage and stopped rotating oligarchs as had been done in Ukraine. As Snyder said, “His dentist son became one of the richest men in Ukraine.”

Although there was certainly corruption in Ukrainian politics at least, as Snyder said,

“Whatever the flaws of the Ukrainian political system, Ukrainians after 1991 had come to take for granted that political disputes would be settled without violence…In a country that has seen more violence in the twentieth century than any other, the civic peace of the twenty-first was a proud achievement.

 

That was why the police attack on protesters in the Maidan came as such a shock to Ukrainians. When their children were beaten by police the Ukrainian people came to their support because they were bothered by the violence initiated by Yanukovych. All of this was in support of Ukrainians siding with Europe rather than Asia as Putin wanted. After the fact, Yanukovych legalized his use of force against the students and criminalized the action of the protesters. Copying Russian measures laws banned public gatherings, freedom of expression, and undefined “extremism” which ultimately meant anyone Yanukovych did not like. Russians helped him to do this.

At the end of 2013 Russian forces invaded Ukraine to rescue their puppet Yanukovych. Ukraine had many of the things Russia did, but it was not the same.

Ukraine had at least a rudimentary democracy. And that is important. From that beginning it grew.

 

Managed Democracy

 

After Vladimir Putin was in power he ushered in a new system that was called managed democracy. Russia became so skilled at this they began to export the system to its satellites such as Belarus and even, for a while Ukraine. The basic technique was derived from the Nazis of Germany. As Snyder explained, it involved “a mysterious candidate who used manufactured crises to assemble real power.  This technique really started with Hitler in Nazi Germany when the Nazis who had been elected took advantage of the burning of the Reichstag to consolidate tyrannical power. Many thought they had started the fire to do that.

 

Ivan Ilyin like the fascist he was, used a similar technique. As Snyder explained it:

 

“Ilyin had performed the same trick: he called his redeemer a “democratic dictator” since he supposedly represented the people. Surkov’s pillars of Russian statehood were ‘centralization, personification, and idealization’: the state must be unified, its authority granted to an individual, and that individual glorified. Citing Ilyin, Surkov concluded that the Russian people should have as much freedom as they were ready to have. Of course, what he meant by “freedom” was the freedom of the individual to submerge himself in a collectivity that subjugates itself to a leader.”

 

Snyder would not call that freedom. He would call that “unfreedom,” because that is what it is.

Surkov, first on behalf of Yeltsin, later on behalf of Putin, helped deliver to the Russian people things they liked, such as an average increase in the Russian economy of 7% per annum and a successful war in Chechnya in the first 8 years of the 21st century.  High prices for oil and gas provided the grease needed to keep the machine well-oiled. Some of those profits were even shared with the people of Russia not just oligarchs. Everybody was happy. To many Russians, a little loss of freedom, as they saw it, was worth what they got in exchange. All of this helped Putin secure  support to remain in power. In the long run of course, it helped the country to slide into fascism with Putin at the controls.

 

The Russian election of 2012 appeared to be democratic, but  was controlled by Putin. Like before he cheated and when he was caught, he even admitted it. After all he was now identified with the institution thanks to Surkov. Putin was able to convince enough people that more democracy than they had was not necessary.

 

This election proved important for many reasons. It taught Putin that there was more than one way to control “democracy.” As Snyder said,

“The fakery was repeated during the March 4, 2012 presidential election. Putin was accorded the majority that he needed to be named president after one round of balloting. This time most of the electoral manipulation was digital rather than manual. Tens of millions of cybervotes were added, diluting the vote cast by human beings, and giving Putin a fictional majority.”

 

Digital manipulation techniques featured prominently in subsequent Putin campaigns, first in Ukraine in 2014 and then in the UK and the United States in 2016.  He or his team were becoming increasingly sophisticated in producing the electoral results that they wanted.

 

Timothy Snyder summed up Putin’s victories in Russia this way:

“Putin chose to regard the transient illusion of winning on the first ballot as more important than law, and his own hurt feelings as more important than the convictions of his fellow citizens. Putin casually accepted that there had been fraud; Medvedev helpfully added that all Russian elections had been fraudulent. By dismissing the principle of “one person, one vote” while insisting that elections would continue, Putin was disregarding the choice of citizens while expecting them to take part in future rituals of support. He thereby accepted Ilyin’s attitude to democracy, rejecting what Ilyin had called “blind faith in the number of votes and its political significance,” not only in deed but in word. A claim to power was staked: he who fakes wins.

If Putin came to the office of president in 2000 as a mysterious hero from the realm of fiction, he returned in 2012 as a the vengeful destroyer of the rule of law.”

 

As was required by any Russian political leaders, Putin always claimed to be against Nazism, since their experience of Nazism in the Second World War was so horrific, but in reality, he learned the techniques of the Nazis and used them well. Like the magic elixir with which he could turn democracy into fascism and the people would accept it. It happened in Germany, then Russia and he tried it again in Ukraine in 2014, UK in 2016, and the US in 2016.

What is astonishing is how close he came to achieving his goals in the mature democracies.

The Big Lie and Putin as Redeemer

 

Vladimir Putin began his political career claiming to champion democracy.  That was how he persuaded Yeltsin to appoint him his successor.  Putin saw himself as the only person who could fill the position of the purely innocent redeemer.  Putin started off by discrediting democracy and its institutions. As timothy  Snyder said,

“In discrediting democratic elections in 2011 and 2012, Vladimir Putin took on the mantle of the heroic redeemer and placed his country on the horns of Ilyin’s dilemma. No one can change Russia for the better so long as he lives, and no one in Russia knows what will happen when he dies.”

 

The Soviet Union started out as a world revolution that failed.  After the collapse of Communism Russia, established a constitutional republic, legitimated by democracy. It would have a parliament with free elections. All of that was on paper.  But in Russia paper rarely matters.

Ivan Ilyin had thought that when the Soviet Union collapsed it would be replaced by a fascist dictatorship. What else would a Christian fascist propose? Although his ideas did nothing after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the oligarchs thought his ideas might be useful. Ilyin had thought a pure redeemer would emerge from a realm of fiction and act from a spirit of totality—i.e. the totality of Russia. The pure redeemer for the pure nation.  That miracle never happened, yet, as Timothy Snyder explained,

“Yet a feat of scenography by skilled propagandists (or, in the Russian phrase, “political technologists” might create the appearance of such an earthly miracle. The myth of a redeemer would have to be founded on lies so enormous that they could not be doubted, because doubting them would mean doubting everything.”

 

This is the fundamental insight of the autocrat. It was endorsed by Hitler then Putin and later Trump. A big lie could usher in big power. As Snyder said,

“It was not so much elections as fictions that allowed a transition of power a decade after the end of the Soviet Union, from Boris Yeltsin to Vladimir Putin. Then Ilyin and Putin rose together, the philosopher and the politician of fiction.

 

Sadly, democracy never took hold in Russia.  Power never changed hands after an election.  This is exactly what Trump tried in 2020, but he failed, because the US had enough democratic institutions with enough believers in democracy to thwart his grab for power, but this apparent stability seems more illusory than real.

Ivan Ilyin did not foresee one development of the transfer of power in Russia, namely, that the extremely wealthy would choose Russia’s redeemer. Snyder described that scramble for power this way:

“The wealthy few around Yeltsin, christened the “oligarchs” wished to manage democracy in his favor and theirs. The end of Soviet economic planning created a violent rush for profitable industries and resources and inspired arbitrage schemes, quickly creating a new class of wealthy men. Wild privatization was not all the same thing as a market economy, at least as conventionally understood. Markets require the rule of law, which was the most demanding aspect of the  post-Soviet transformation. Americans, taking the rule of law for granted, could fantasize that markets would create the necessary institutions. This was an error. It mattered whether newly independent states established the rule of law, and above all whether they managed a legal transition of power through free elections.”

 

The western countries, led by the GeorgeH.W.  Bush regime was incredibly naïve about this.  Putin was not. The redeemer was far from innocent. And as a result everyone was left with a mess. And now we are all paying a hefty price for that.

 

Fiction Written in blood: Managed Democracy

 

President Yeltsin was for a while considered the savior of Russia. That did not last long. Too many considered him a drunkard and buffoon. Briefly he was the hero of the anti-communist revolution. In 1996 his own team admitted that he had faked an election in which he won another term as president.

 

In 1999 it was recognized that he was in ill health and a successor should be chosen. By this time, they had a lot of power.  Vast amounts of money will do that. The oligarchs of course wanted to manage this process so that someone who would be sympathetic to their cause would come to power. They wanted to manage the process for their own benefit. They wanted someone who would allow them to retain their gains, maintain their wealth, and keep them alive.

 

It took a while for Yeltsin to choose his successor but eventually picked  Putin. Later, he told Bill Clinton it was a big mistake. Vladimir Putin was hardly a likely prospect because he was so little known. Putin held a meaningless KGB post in East Germany. From there he took a post as assistant to the mayor of St. Petersburg and used that position to enrich himself. After all that was the Russian way.

Putin was considered to be a team player in the Kremlin. When Yeltsin appointed Putin as his prime minister he was not a plausible candidate because his approval rate was only 2%. That was not because so many despised him. That was because so few people knew him.

That all changed in 1999 after a series of bombs exploded in Russian cities killing hundreds of Russians.  It was possible that the perpetrators were FSB officers. The FSB was the new Russian intelligence service that succeeded the well-known KGB. Some thought the FSB had engineered the attacks for their own private gain. Timothy Snyder described the situation this way:

“Though the possibility of self-terrorism was noticed at the time, the factual questions were overwhelmed by righteous patriotism as Putin ordered a new war against the part of Russia deemed responsible for the bombings: the Chechen republic of southwestern Russia, in the Caucasus region, which had declared independence in 1993 and then fought the Russian army to a standstill.   Thanks to the Second Chechen War, Putin’s approval rating reached 45% in 1993. In December, Yeltsin announced his resignation and endorsed Putin as his successor. Thanks to unequal television coverage, manipulation of the vote-tally, and the atmosphere of terrorism and war, Putin was accorded the absolute majority needed to win the presidential election of March 2000. The ink of political fiction is blood.”

This launched Putin into a career of what was then called “managed democracy.” That  of course, was fiction written in blood. There seems to be an endless supply of blood.