The Russian Question

Where is Russia headed? – That seems to be the question baffling people outside and inside, and it’s leaders – even more so. The new president is impatiently looking for salvation, sadly not in the people and history within, but in the myths of global capitalism…

Not so long ago, Russia used to be part of the second largest economy in the world. Indeed, it wielded the most respectable position of authority as the progressive superpower, engaged in anticolonial struggles, the foremost nation to flaunt technological excellence, to aid the globally challenged countries and to lead the world’s oppressed into reclaiming their worth. Russians were the hope for the Third World.

Today’s Russia, little more than two decades following dissolution of Soviet Union, is on its path to become the Third World, according to President Dmitri Medvedev, if drastic changes are not implemented. Economic growth of Russia is not a matter of concern; the dismal performances at the Olympics are. Russia’s nuclear capabilities are no longer the headlines; her states of victimhood and ethnocentric terrorism are. Neither is Russia any more in a position to guarantee financial stabilities for the developing countries, nor is she able to salvage herself from lost glories and economic dislocations.


Money Matters:

In attempts at introducing the concept of a Resurgent Russia, Medvedev has been experimenting of late with economic renovations, latest of which is the demand for replacement of dollar with a “united future world currency”. As the new blue-eyed poster boy of global capitalism, Medvedev has earned rightful praises for his corporate leadership at the energy giant Gazprom, and he continues to use this wealth to direct Kremlin foreign and domestic policy. But he has terribly undervalued the ways of global capital.

For the first time in history, the mighty Russian identity will perish under WTO accession, and Medvedev is going to be its architect. With the accession slated to occur in 2010, Russia will lose its global influence while at the same time being declared a global player. One such ironies played out recently with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent talks with Medvedev, which resulted in a successful economic partnership. Hailed by both parties, in reality, this $10 billion commodity turnover target is among the least impactful of collaborations in their shared histories.


War and Peace:

Medvedev has acknowledged Stalin’s heroic legacy, but only after he understood why Russian youths are voting the former communist dictator as most important leader in history. Russians have always looked towards their leaders to keep them united, strong and proud. However, post-Soviet era, Russia has not seen a dynamic leader who could withstand national expectations or deserve international ovations. Medvedev has decided to take nationalistic positions, no matter how unpopular.

For starters, NATO has become the scapegoat: “The Warsaw Treaty Organization ceased to exist twenty years ago, but to our regret at least, NATO’s expansion continues full steam ahead….NATO is bringing its military infrastructure right up to our borders and is drawing new dividing lines in Europe, this time along our western and southern frontiers. No matter what we are told, it is only natural that we should see this as action directed against us.”

Typically akin to his predecessors, Medvedev plays the warrior and peacenik at the same time. He half-convinces the world that Russia “must rely on political and diplomatic, rather than military, tools in resolving conflicts.” The Chechens, Yakutians, Tatarstan, and Kuban Cossaks believe in him even less.


Modernization vs Stability:

At the crux of the Russian question today is Medvedev’s emphasis on modernization over stability. His demands for decisive results irrespective of the applied methods, have few precedents. One recent cue includes his impatience over how the country fared at the Vancouver Winter Games. Calling for athletic officials’ heads, Medvedev thundered, “Those who are responsible for training for the Olympics must take responsibility. They must have the courage to submit their resignation. And if they do not have this resolve, we will help them.” Leonid V. Tyagachev, the president of the Olympic Committee tendered his resignation.

Medvedev is lacking in political patience, theoretical understanding, and historical acumen to explicate why Russia is in shambles today. The country has greatest rich-poor gap since the time of Czar Nicholas II. There are hundreds of small towns called monocities that are dependant upon single enterprises. Public trust towards the government is at record low. People, irrespective of economic class, are sending their children abroad for education. Russia has suffered its worse recession in a decade. And Medvedev is right in losing patience.

But modernization requires more than mere monopolies a la, Gazprom. At a time when Russian citizens are devoid of basic minimum sense of security in essential sectors, the solution does not lie in emulating the mindless capitalism outside, but in drawing lessons from the history within, slowly built through cooperation among people who once stood in solidarity with inspiring camaraderie.

Saswat Pattanayak is a New York-based journalist, photographer, atheist, third-wave feminist, LGBT ally, black power comrade and academic non-elite who refuses to give up his association with Kindle. A true comrade.

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