Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Another flawed Stratfor article on Putin's Russia

Forbes has published the first part in a three-part  series on Russia's leadership after Putin eventually leaves office. There is no mention of the author/authors - the only information given is that the article is provided by Stratfor - but the text bears the hallmarks of Robert D. Kaplan, Chief Geopolitical Analyst at Stratfor. 
Although the article contains some interesting analysis, its point of departure is utterly false. Kaplan and his associates at Stratfor clearly idealize autocracy and dictatorship as the "natural" way of governing Russia:
Without a heavy-handed leader, Russia struggles to maintain stability. Instability is inherent to Russia given its massive, inhospitable territory, indefensible borders, hostile neighboring powers and diverse population. Only when it has had an autocratic leader who set up a system where competing factions are balanced against each other has Russia enjoyed prosperity and stability.
A system of balances under one resolute figure existed during the rule of some of the country’s most prominent leaders, such as Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Alexander II, Josef Stalin — and now Vladimir Putin.
Each Russian leader must create and tinker with this system to ensure the governing apparatus does not atrophy, fracture or rise in mutiny. For this reason, Russian leaders have continually had to rearrange the power circles beneath them. Significant adjustments have been necessary as Russia grows and stabilizes or declines and comes under threat.
In keeping with its general tone, the Stratfor article also emphasizes "the decade of chaos" during the Yeltsin presidency, completely neglecting the fact that Boris Yeltsin - in spite of his many mistakes - was a force for good, as professor Herbert J. Ellison points out in his book "Boris Yeltsin and Russia's Democratic Transformation":

He created a new office of Russian president, to which he was elected; designed a democratic constitution for the Soviet Union that precipitated a coup attempt by traditionalist communist leaders; granted independence to the nations of the Soviet Union; and replaced Communist Party rule with democracy and the socialist economy with a market economy. In a short period, he had succeeded in becoming the first popularly elected leader in a thousand years of Russian history. He had blocked violent attempts at counter-revolution and overcome powerful resistance to his reform program. His achievements rank among the most extraordinary feats of political leadership in the twentieth century.

And there were other good things during the Yeltsin presidency:

Of all of Russia's many rulers since the country was unified some 500 years ago (excluding the shortlived Provisional Government of 1917), Yeltsin was the only one who permitted almost complete freedom of speech and religion. The 1990s was the only time in Russian history when adherents of almost every ideology were free to express their views and criticize the government. Adherents of virtually every religion were for the first time free to practice their faith. Yeltsin also deserves credit for dismantling most of the Soviet Union's huge military-industrial complex, which once accounted for anywhere from a third to a half of GDP. Finally, the Yeltsin era saw a vast expansion of both political and economic freedom, even if tainted by corruption. Here too, there was greater progress than under any other Russian ruler, with the possible exception of the 19th century reformist Czar Alexander II, who abolished serfdom and thereby freed the majority of the population from a state of near-slavery.

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