August 29, 2005

Freedom on the Defensive Crouch

Anders Aslund looks at Russia's remarkably rapid slide from pseudo-democracy to authoritarian state over the past few years. This, it seems, is pretty bad. Not because Russia's planning to become a nuclear-tipped foe of the United States once again, or about to embark on imperalistic adventures around Central Asia and the Caucasus regions—Putin's become too inept at foreign policy and diplomacy for that sort of thing—but mostly because, on Aslund's account, things didn't have to turn out this way. I don't think you can fairly blame the United States for Russia's despotism of late. That would, of course, be rude. Still, Bush has given Putin a free pass on domestic issues since 2001, in exchange for mostly ephemeral "war on terror" support.

Also of note: Aslund claims that Putin sits low on the totem pole among his little circle of ex-KGB officers running the Kremlin. At some point his friends and associates might just decide to give him the old heave-ho, especially if he keeps sliding in the polls. "Sorry Vlad, it's strictly business," that sort of thing. Okay... Or, as Aslund suggests, Russia's turn at the helm of the G8 this year might just shame Putin into opening the country back up. But that seems unlikely without some sort of push from the outside. Meanwhile, what's happening with Russia's loose nukes? Anyone? No? Okay, then.

UPDATE: Via Nadezhda in comments, Peter Lavelle says Aslund's all wrong about, well, most everything. Lavelle's commentary seems a bit over the top in places (Aslund's not condemning the terrorists strongly enough! or You can learn important political lessons from dismantling the pension system!) but it's mostly quite incisive. Lavelle's note that centralization of power isn't inherently un-democratic, and that Yeltsin's "decentralization" approach was a disaster, all seems persuasive, although historically these "desperate times call for desperate measures" rationales don't usually end well, so Aslund doesn't seem so off-base to be a bit nervous. Still, Lavelle seems to have the better argument.
-- Brad Plumer 2:11 AM || ||